If Italy is a big open air museum overflowing with culture, orgasmic food, stunning landscapes and passionate people, then I would say that Sicily is just like Italy – except on crack. Thousands of years of history, a merge of cultures from Greece, the Orient, Africa and Europe, breathtaking nature, arts, architecture and zipper-busting cuisine, all concentrated in a relatively small mass of land in the middle of the Mediterranean: intense.
I’ve travelled to Italy many times, as it is the country that calls me back again, again and again. I’ve eaten my way through its North, its South, motorcycled through its middle, and taken road trips with no maps (this is pre-GPS and Google maps, folks) pretty much all over it, just for the pleasure of getting lost.
I love Italy so much, that when I lived in South Korea I learned Italian instead of Korean. I know, I know… but sometimes I get premonitions that I may end up living there at some point in my life. Also, I really like to eat in Italy, and ordering food always sounds better in Italian.
When I travel with my boyfriend, we can never plan our trips like regular people. He’s a pilot, so together we fly on stand-by, and as sweet as the flight perks are, we’re never really sure where we’re going until a week or two before we fly out. And even then, we don’t know for sure we won’t get bumped off the flight last minute, so we kind of just wing it (pun intended).
I was not at all expecting the intensity of the real Sicily, which I’m sharing with you in the hopes of changing limited perceptions such as mine were prior to this trip. As I take you through my Sicily tour, I hope you will fall in love with the intense, palpable beauty of the largest island in the Mediterranean as much as I did.
Imagine my delight when our plans for Peru fell through and without much preparation room, we were headed for Sicily!!! I’m a little ashamed to admit that all that came to mind when I thought of Sicily was “The Godfather” movie and Al Pacino’s face.
NOTO: BRIDES & BAROQUE
Noto is a baroque lover’s fairyland in south-eastern Sicily. If you love Baroque architecture, weddings, and have romanticized ideas about strolling through beautiful old places while eating gelato, this is the place for you. While exploring Noto, we were struck by the sheer number of wedding parties in the streets, in side-by-side cathedrals, and spilling over into restaurants, cafés, and ice-cream parlours.
We were also struck by the local’s decadent sugar consumption – Sicilians love their sugar almost as much as their weddings. They put it in everything, and have it in various delicious forms throughout the day, breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks and in-between. But I digress.
Apparently Sicily is THE place to get married, and Noto takes the cake. No shy brides here, folks. The sight of newlyweds getting their photos taken on busy streets and stopping traffic in intersections became so common, we lost count after the first six.
Syracuse: A Historical Gem
On the Southwestern coastline, close to Noto, is the important historic city of Syracuse. Ortygia (aka “the white pearl of Syracuse) is a small island which is the city’s historical centre, and the perfect place to get lost among winding streets, beautiful piazzas, and lively street scene.
Ortigia island, also known as the Città Vecchia, holds countless historical landmarks, beautiful fountains, baroque architecture, and tons of yummy food. Syracuse is an important historical landmark with a long history and many layered cultures – an important city-state under Greek rule, and under subsequent Roman rule, it served as the capital of the Byzantine Empire before being taken over in importance by Palermo.
We spent a day in Syracuse strolling around the port, Ortigia and history-filled spaces of the Old town. If you love Rome as much as I do, Syracuse feels like a more concentrated version of it, in a smaller area, and right by the sea.
Trapani: Hikes, Sweat & Tears
Just kidding, there were no tears, but there WAS quite a lot of sweating. Moving on to Trapani in the Northwestern part of Sicily, we found that the best beaches are worth hiking for (hence the sweat).
Trapani is home to natural parks, unspoiled beaches, tourist beaches, beachside towns, and some of truly unforgettable blue-lagoon swimming spots, if you’re willing to walk for them. The highlights for us were the village of Scopello on the coast, and the Zingaro nature reserve, with its stunning and varied coastlines and idyllic hidden swimming spots.
If you want long, large, fine-sand beaches that you don’t have to hike to, you will love San Vito lo Capo and Castellamare di Golfo.
If you prefer more crystal clear, off-the-beaten-track, nook & cranny beaches, it’s really worth it to do the 2-4 hour coastline hike (it’s not a difficult terrain) from San Vito Lo Capo to Scopello and back – there are some unforgettable sea-views and small intimate beaches peppered along the way that will make you forget that you’re tired, as you will most likely find yourself running towards the beckoning blue waters below you. Yes they’re that pretty.
SCOPELLO: SMALL & SUBLIME
Scopello is a small, idyllic village that was once a tuna fishery. It’s teeny-tiny and it has no beach, but it is so charming that you could literally spend an entire day just admiring the colour of the water, petting many cute stray beach-cats, and counting the birds flying around the tall surrounding rock formations. In fact, that’s exactly what we did: we bought some olives, antipasti and a nice bottle of wine from the shop 1 km down the road, and installed ourselves on two complimentary chairs by the water. Then we simply stared at birds, cats, water and sky for the rest of the day. See for yourself.
PALERMO: PALAZZOS, ART, FOOD & MARKETS
Sicily’s capital, Palermo, is known for being the island’s economic and cultural hotspot. If I may add my two cents, it’s also a place to eat your way through – especially fun are the outdoor food markets, where you can pig out on anything from liver sandwiches to fresh seafood cones, and anything else you may be craving. When in Eataly…
EASTWARD TO CEFALÙ
Driving east-bound from Palermo to the beautiful seaside town of Cefalu, we had no shortage of blue seas, port cities and perfect painting landscapes to gape at.
VOLCANOES AND CASTLES IN THE SKY
I would need more time and more pages to fully give justice to the intensity and beauty of the Sicilian experience. But for now, I’ll leave you with some highlights (get it?)…
The mountaintop fortress of Erice, the always active Etna volcano (you’ve gotta try the wines from this region, the volcanic soil makes them quite distinctive, and extremely yummy), the medieval mountain towns in central Sicily, the agrotourism regions in the Madonie mountains are often overlooked in favour of beachside vacatiners, but trust me when I say that the heights and interior terrains of Sicily are worth more than just a few days of your time. From blindingly beautiful sunsets, to distinctive cuisine and varied microclimates, it’s worth a whole new trip, and gives me yet another reason to return.
À piu tardi Sicilia. You’ve been intense, in the “good” kind of crazy 🙂
To shop the silk scarves inspired by Italy’s mosaics and coastlines that I’m wearing in these pictures, click below: