If you’re hungry for travel delights then Sicily is the perfect bite-sized destination. Its dynamic history informs an island fought over for centuries by Goths and Saracen Arabs, Normans and the Spanish. Punic cemeteries and Roman homes, Norman palaces and baroque churches coupled with rich agricultural valleys, Sicily, like its famous Cannoli, is an island ready to be devoured.
Arriving at Catania airport, it’s a 50-minute drive (think fast and furious) to this picturesque mountain-top resort town that’s been described as a Sicilian Monte Carlo minus the casino. It’s also where the self-exiled writer D. H. Lawrence wrote the scandalous Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Riddled with tiny passageways and medieval streets, it’s certainly perfect for secret assignations. A bustling tourist honey-trap in the shadow of Mount Etna who huffs, puffs and occasionally emits a fiery flow of lava down snowy slopes, the town is constructed on Roman foundations, protected by ancient walls and guarded by two fortresses including the Saracen castle atop Mount Tauro. Stone walls hide secluded gardens, restaurants and ice cream shops abound and the views from the main square overlooking an endless seascape is sublime. Beautiful by day, Taormina is enchanting at night.
People watching at Caffe Wunderbar on Piazza IX Aprile where waiters don’t need Fitbits. They know they walk thousands of kilometres during the season ferrying refreshments to small tables dotted either side and on hot nights, there’s no better place to hear cool jazz.
Eating ‘Norma’, Taormina’s signature dish of homemade macaroni with tomato, ricotta, and eggplant at Gambero Rosso, which is happy to prepare without garlic… “We cook in the moment so no garlic is no problem”.
Taking the cable car (and beach shoes) for a spectacular ride to Mazzaro beach for a cooling swim before a snack on the terrace at Lido La Pigna.
Exploring the 2,000 Greco-Roman amphitheatre built in the 3rdcentury BC and augmented by the Romans. Sited high on a hill, sea and mountain vistas eclipse anything on stage.
Discovering the Odeon, an intimate Roman theatre hidden behind the Church of Saint Catherine and if your visit coincides with the annual Taormina Film Festival each July, indulge in a spot of star-spotting. Nicole Kidman was there this year.
Locals will tell you they’re Sicilians first, Italians second and nowhere illustrates this better than Siracusa. With its vibrant markets, unique local cuisine, grand baroque buildings and the occasional delightfully decayed façade, renting your own accommodation in this port city is a real chance to live like a pseudo-local even if only for a few days. Ours is behind the vibrant daily Ortigia Street market where summer berries, mountains of tomatoes and olives, piles of pistachios, fresh herbs and fish are being snapped up. Making artisan cheeses for 50 years, a long queue of people are selecting their cheese of choice at Borderi Gli Artish before watching it being assembled into a monster sandwich. Next door at La Salumeria, alfresco eating is in full swing with anti-pasta and a chilled bottle of spumante being enjoyed at 10.30am after the morning’s marketing while tourists pop into sublime local providore Fratelli Burgio for take-home local delicacies.
Shopping for fashion and food in a choice selection of stores featuring local designs and delicacies.
Listening to music whether strolling accordion players at twilight, some seriously Sicilian rock n roll at local restaurants or checking out the sleek nightclub action down on the waterfront.
Eating at any local restaurant along the waterfront where the fish is fresh off the boat moored in front.
Visiting the spectacularly decorative Cathedral of Siracusa. Surrounded by grand baroque buildings it stands on the site of the 480BC temple of Athena whose Doric columns remain at its centre.
Getting a caffeine fix at Al Sud in the old town, coffee specialists with an extensive menu to complement great Sicilian breakfasts and lunchtime salads.
Exploring nearby Noto the famous UNESCO listed baroque Sicilian town where around 50 churches and 15 noble palaces dwell in the town’s historic centre or elusively conceal themselves above. International art exhibitions and museums now occupy many splendid former palaces while in others, the business of government grinds on in spectacular style.
Swimming in San Lorenzo’s crystal clear water just 10 minutes from Noto before snacking at the beach café next to the Vendicari nature reserve. From here, the Planeta Buonivini vineyard is 5 minutes away and the perfect spot for an aperitivo.
The big drawcard for Agrigento is a visit to the extraordinary Valley of the Temples but there are also some spectacular coastal surprises nearby. Approached via a long sandy beach, the Scala dei Turchi or Turkish Steps have been carved by wind and sea over millennia from a moonscape-bright white rock headland that dips startlingly into the Mediterranean Sea. Wading through shallow water, stepping carefully over rocks and pebbles, the sloping climb to the top produces a dazzling azure panorama and the perfect Insta-moment. Exploring the Valley of the Temples archaeological park, a significant area of pre-Christian temples and burial sites overlooking the sea that date from 6thcentury BC, the grandeur of the spectacular fortification and ancient places of worship, some of which are still under excavation, is ideal to visit late afternoon. Not only are the crowds thinner but the warm light adds a soft beauty to these spiritual archaeological treasures.
Attending some of the mythic-inspired events held at the Archaeological Park over summer.
Buying a ticket online for a special dawn tour that follows the Gods in their temples. Scheduled each Sunday from July until September. Cost 20 Euros.
Booking a guided tour and see a special exhibition on the building techniques employed in temple construction.
For more go to www.parcovalldeitempli.it/en
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