SICILY

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Sicily (Sicilia) is the southernmost autonomous region of Italy and it is largest island of the Mediterranean Sea. Sicily is separated from the Continent by the Strait of Messina and surrounded by the Ionian, the Tyrrhenian and the Mediterranean Seas. Sicily is Italy’s (and Europe’s) most historically cosmopolitan region, having been ruled by Asians, Africans, and Europeans.

The climate is typically Mediterranean, with summers that can be blisteringly hot, especially in August when Sicily is at its peak tourist season. The best time to enjoy everything Sicily has to offer, without the crowds and oppressive heat, is September and October.

Sicily is a place of vast, mixed cultural influences that has added to the island’s intrigue. Home to white, sandy beaches, majestic mountains, and Europe’s greatest natural wonder, Mount Etna, the highest active volcano in Europe, Sicily is an amazing stop on any Italian vacation. Here vacationers will find everything from art and architecture, to vast history, and all of Italy’s natural wonders in one place lush forests, rolling hills and plains, ancient olive groves, almond, lemon, and orange orchards, and finally, endless wheat fields.

Agrigento

 

TOURS AND ACTIVITIES

Palermo Walking Tour: Explore the sites of Palermo on this half day walking tour. Meet at Teatro Bellini (Martorana Church), and tour the area with an English speaking local guide that will escort you through the city to visit the Quattro Canti, Piazza Pretoria, Martorana Church, San Cataldo, the Cathedral, the Norman Palace & Palatine Chapel, and the Church of St. John of the Hermits.

Biking: If you’re looking for a rural adventure, take a bike and explore the seemingly boundless countryside along quiet minor roads without encountering towns or villages.

Skiing: From November through April, you can ski on the slopes of Mount Etna or Madonie Regional Park in Piano Battaglia.

Rock climbing: Looking to touch history? The 220 million year-old Nebrodi Mountains are not only for Alpine skiing, but they are also an epic climbing experience for rock climbers.

Caving: Is the thrill of exploring the depths of the earth something that excites you? Sicily is the place to visit. Sicily is full of caves, tunnels, passages, and canyons that offer amazing underground sites not seen by many.

Canoeing: In the rainiest periods of the year, you can ride the rapids in the canyons and descend along the river Simeto, also famous for its papyrus groves. From May through September, the Gole dell’Alcantara near Taormina offers canoeing activities.

Water skiing: Major seaside cities like Catania, Palermo, Messina, Trapani and Syracuse have centers to start and/or practice water skiing off the bays and beaches. If you’re looking for calmer waters, there are plenty of small lakes, such as Lake Arancio and Lake Pergusa, to practice your off-side turn.

Scuba diving: If exploring the nautical depths of the earth is your thing, Sicily offers many great opportunities to scuba dive for beginners and experts. Some of the best places to dive are located in the smaller islands around Sicily, like the Aeolian Islands and Aegadian Isalnds. Don’t forget to check out some of the wrecks, like The Wreck of Columns, an ancient Roman wreck at the south eastern extremity of the bay of Cape Taormina. It sank more than 2000 years ago on a voyage from North Africa.

Horseback riding: With acres of beaches, Sicily has many options for taking a ride on horseback across the southern coast of Sicily.

Windsurfing and Sailing: Sicily’s waters offer wonderful windsurfing thanks to the winds off the coast of Africa. Small and large boats can be rented to sail by the bays, gulfs, ports, and islands.

Golf: A more recent trend in Sicily, golf has become a place for golf lovers to enjoy. With several new courses on the island, and the host of the Sicily Open, there are options for both players and spectators.

PLACES TO VISIT

Catania: Catania is an ancient, medieval, and then finally Baroque city. Throughout the centuries Catania has been damaged by several Mount Etna eruptions, and earthquakes. Here you’ll find sites like two Roman amphitheaters, the Piazza Duomo, with the fountain with the elephant, the city’s symbol monument, and the city’s cathedral with the Chapel of Sant’Agata looks out onto this square, where precious treasures are kept.

Palermo: A city with vast cultural influence, including Arabs, Normans, the French, Spanish and the Byzantines, Palermo is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Sicily. In Palermo’s historic center, impressive monuments testify to its diverse past, examples of which are the Palazzo dei Normanni with the Palatina chapel featuring ancient mosaics. The Church of San Giovanni degli Eremiti is surmounted by five red domes; meanwhile, the majestic Cathedral contains the Royal and Imperial Tombs of the patron Saint of Palermo.

Agrigento: Agrigento is most known for the Valley of the Temples, one of the most representative archaeological sites from the classical Greek period, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The 5 Doric temples include: the Temple of Concordia, the most well-preserved of them all, the Temple of Juno, which still boasts 25 of its original 34 columns, the Temple of the Dioscuri, considered the most symbolic temple, and finally, the Temple of Hercules, the oldest of them all. Together with the Temple of Olympian Zeus, these five colossal structures dominate the Valley.

Taormina: Standing over 600 feet above sea level, overlooking the Ionian Sea, is Taormina. Taormina’s most notable attraction is the Greek-Roman amphitheater overlooking the city, sea, and Mount Etna. Beyond the spectacular vantage point, this amphitheater is still used as a stage for operas and plays, today.

Aeolian Islands: The Aeolian Islands, named a UNESCO World Heritage sites, are a volcanic archipelago in the Tyrrhenian Sea north of Sicily. The Archipelago of the Aeolian Islands consist of seven exquisite islands off the coast of Sicily – Lipari, Panarea, Vulcano, Stromboli, Salina, Alicudi and Filicudi. They all emerge from an unadulterated sea, created by still-active volcanoes on Stromboli and Vulcano. The islands, a top destination for tourists, are part of the Province of Messina.

Lipari is the largest island in the chain, and the main locality of the archipelago. Here the Archaeological Museum, housed inside Lipari Castle, is not to be missed. There is also a marvelous Greek acropolis and a Norman cathedral. Finally, if you’re looking to explore nature and capture some of the most beautiful picturesque views take a boat around the island’s coast and admire the many inlets (Fico in particular) and the beaches of Vinci, Valle Muria, Punta della Castagna, and Capo Rosso.

Pantelleria:  The island of Pantelleria is right in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. It’s the largest of the Sicilian islands, located above a drowned continental rift in the Strait of Sicily and has been the focus of intensive volcano-tectonic activity. If you are looking for an uncultivated island to explore this is your paradise getaway. Trek your way through the narrow streets, and see villagers in their damusi (typical local houses with white washed roofs), and explore the many acres of vineyards and olive orchards, caves, grottos, and inlets, while stopping along the way to take a tour of the winery, and of course, tasting the Passito wine.

Taormina

Taormina

FOOD SPECIALTIES

Cannoli: The cannoli, originating in the Palermo area, is a classic dessert of Sicily. Translated to little tube, this sweet little party dough-tube is filled with a sweet cream filling, usually containing ricotta cheese. They range in sizes no bigger than a finger (cannulicchi) to the classic fist size.

Cassata: Another dessert from Palermo, cassata consists of round sponge cake moistened with fruit juices or liqueur and layered with ricotta cheese, candied peel, and a chocolate or vanilla filling similar to cannoli cream. It is covered with a shell of marzipan, pink and green pastel colored icing, and decorative designs. The cassata is then topped with candied fruit characteristic of Sicily.

Granita: The original icee, granita is a semi-frozen dessert made from sugar, water, and various flavorings, such as: lemon juice, mandarin oranges, jasmine, coffee, almonds, mint, and when in season, wild strawberries and black mulberries.

Caponata: It is a tasty salad made with eggplant, olives, capers and celery. There is also an artichoke-based version of this traditional dish.

Pasta con le sarde: A dish that could not be more representative of Sicilian cuisine, pasta con le sarde (pasta with sardines) can be found all over the island.

Zibibbo: The zibibbo grape is a hearty grape that thrives in the dry, sunny Pantelleria Island climate, and is used in Passito wine.

Vino alla Mandorla:  A beautiful golden color dessert wine, made from almonds, it is perfect after a nice dinner, similar to sherry, but softer this can be enjoyed alone or with biscotti. It can be enjoyed straight from the source, in Castelmola, a village perched precariously on a cliff above Taormina.

SPECIAL EVENTS

Festival of Sant’Agata: Celebrate in Catania with the Festival of Sant’ Agata, the patron saint of the city. The 3rd of February marks the start of the annual festival, with a long and solemn midday procession, followed by an international cross-country race. In the evening Piazza Duomo is lit up by a fantastic fireworks display. Over the next two days an effigy of the saint is carried through the streets on a silver cart, crossing the city without interruption through the night.

Carnival of Acireale: The Carnival of Acireale in February is popularly known as the most exciting, beautiful, and fun carnival in all of Sicily.  It is one of the most involving and historical festivities of the island. The Allegorical Floats depict celebrities, politicians, animals, and fantasy creatures, brought to life by mechanical movements and arms. Here you’ll also see an endless amount of dancers, originating from Italy and throughout the world, masked performers, and playful marching bands create music with everyday kitchen utensils.
This is a fun event where onlookers are encouraged to take part in the paper confetti and silly string fun.

Festival di Morgana: Set in Palermo in November since 1985, the Morgana Festival’s exhibition of pupi (puppets) has brought to the stage its shows where historical Sicilian pupari exhibit. Pupari families preserve this art from generation to generation, maintaining the charm of a tradition that UNESCO has proclaimed a, ‘masterpiece of oral tradition and intangible heritage of humanity.’