It’s one of intrepid, adventurous travelling’s greatest ironies; that while the most exotic places have been conquered and captured, with mountain top selfies and endangered species stowed in suitcases as memento, those less far flung remain criminally overlooked. As such, the truly untapped and untouched places now lay a little closer to home. One of the world’s most beautiful and least in thrall to tourist baiting (in other words…bloody great) is located just off the southern coast of Italy. Yep, we’re talking about Sicily.
Though one of the least affluent places in Mediterranean Europe, the island is rich in so many ways. Home to sandy white beaches, rock formations, an incredible cuisine and a hugely loaded history, Sicily is once again set to be one of the hottest tourist destinations of 2019. If you’ve booked a trip there, with pen in hand and a blank itinerary on the page, then read on; our 5 IDEAL things to do in Sicily.
A SEAFOOD LOVER’S PARADISE
As with many of the best foods in the world, both history and geography play a huge part. The positioning of Sicily is unique; European but close to the Middle East and on historic trade routes between Turkey, Greece and Tunisia, meaning a heavy influence of North African and Arab ingredients, spices and techniques in the cooking. All this has led to a poetic mash up of dishes that distinguishes the flavours of Sicily from the rest of Italy and beyond.
Of course, as an island, the sea’s bounty takes centre stage in much of the cooking. As with all cooking of an Italian bent, premium ingredients treated respectfully is the mantra here, but with the added nuance of all of that historical intrigue’s effect on the food. Perhaps the greatest realisation of this, and one of Sicily’s most iconic dishes, is pasta con le sarde; essentially, pasta with sardines. Where things get interesting is the addition of raisins and pinenuts, attributed to North African historical influences, and seafood friendly fennel. Glorious. Other brilliant dishes celebrating the surrounding seas include pasta allo scoglio, which is (usually) spaghetti served with clams or mussels, and pesce spada (swordfish steaks), a hugely popular protein on the island.
The volcanic terroir of Sicily lends itself to some incredibly complex, delicious wines. The slopes of the island’s Etna brings the red grape nerello mascalese and with it some excellent, though not cheap, drops. Our favourite is perhaps the Etna Rosso Carusu blend. Close to the city of Messina, in Northeastern Sicily, the famous Malvasia wine is produced; a gently fortified dessert wine with full bodied flavour and an essential companion to Sicily’s hugely popular treat, cannoli. If your sweet wine tooth still isn’t satisfied, then the island’s Zibibbo (akin to Muscat) is equally wonderful.
It should go without saying that any place’s wine culture isn’t simply about drinking it, and in Sicily there are plenty of wine experiences which involve much more than getting squiffy. These include a private helicopter flight over Etna followed by a tour of the perilous wineries closeby, and a more all encompassing tour of the salt, wine and olive oil production of the fertile lands areas surrounding Palermo.
TAKE A DEEP DIVE INTO THE PAST…
Sicily is home to the great Greek temples Agrigento, Selinunte and Segesta. The most famous is perhaps Agrigento where the Valley of the Temples lies – explore it on foot then cool down with a ricotta-based pecorino ice-cream that this part of Sicily is known for. Though it may sound an odd proposition, it’s truly spectacular.
Described by Cicero as “the greatest Greek city and the most beautiful of them all”, home to the mathematician and engineer Archimedes, and arguably one of the greatest cities of Western Greek diaspora, Syracuse is famous for its ample amphitheatres and architecture. Today it’s listed as a World Heritage Site. The surrounding Ortygia, the island Syracuse calls home, is a must visit and there are plenty of Sicily villa holidays in the area, offering the ideal location from which to explore this part of the island. If you visit in the summer, catch an Ancient Greek play at the Parco Archeologico, a fifth-century BC theatre, with one of the most stunning backdrops you’re likely to find anywhere in the world.
…AND INTO THE SEA
With more than 1’000km of coastline, the lure of Sicily resides firmly on the beach. There are certainly plenty of choose from, and high on the hit list has got to be San Vito Lo Capo in Trapani. Its turquoise waters and crescent-shaped sandy beach are a well-kept secret (until now, sorry about that) making it one of the best in Sicily. The beach is set against the imposing backdrop of Monte Monaco, a charming coastal town beloved of climbers and hikers for its stiff peaks and sweeping views. These peaks cast an ominous shadow over the beach at sunset.
But probably even more imposing and impressive is The Scala dei Turchi, or Turkish Steps of Agrigento; an amazing sight as it features a bright white rock formation reminiscent of a moonscape scene, named Scala Dei Turchi, with a beautiful long sandy beach below. Over the years, sustained wind and sea spray erosion have carved into the limestone to form a staircase like structure; one which really has to be seen to be believed. The natural white rocks set against the blue sea are pretty as a picture, that’s for sure. Also well worth taking a look and long sunbathe are Scopello, Selinunte, Mefi and Noto. Superb.
GET THE LAY OF THE LAND
Where the land and sea meet in Sicily is, of course, spectacular. You’d be foolish, however, to overlook the rest of the island, inland, which is a nature lover’s paradise. One of the most impressive natural sites is the Gole dell’Alcantara which, created by waves of lava centuries ago, is a series of canyons running along the Alcantara River. Further south, close to the little town of Avola, you’ll find the Cavagrande del Cassibile, which is wonderful for walkers and known for having one of Europe’s biggest canyons. Originally shaped by ancient lava from Mount Etna, the area’s natural rock formations have created a system of fresh water pools and dramatic waterfalls which in warmer months are ideal for taking a dip in. Blissful stuff.