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Sicily is the largest and most populated island in the Mediterranean. Lying close to the mainland of Italy and just 90 miles from the African coastline, it retains Arab as well as Greek and Roman influences in its architecture and culture. Sicily is dominated by the dramatic landscapes around Mount Etna, Europe’s most active volcano.
The island’s towns and cities are each unique. Palermo is a chaotic mix of crumbling villas, ancient churches and buzzing markets selling everything from seafood to vintage clothes. Cefalu is a bustling seaside resort with a wide sandy beach and meandering cobbled streets lined with local craft shops. Then there’s Taormina, often referred to as the most beautiful town in Sicily thanks to its impressive amphitheatre, dramatic cathedral and clifftop location.
Off Sicily’s northern shore are the UNESCO-protected Aeolian Islands. These postcard-worthy landscapes remain beautifully unspoilt. The island of Vulcano is a popular choice for visitors, with its volcano hiking opportunities and natural mud springs.
One of the best ways to discover the best of Sicily is by hiring a car and driving round it yourself. Roads between towns and cities are easy to navigate, and you'll be able to appreciate the island's spectacular scenery along the route. The motorways in Sicily are wide and well-signposted, which makes driving fairly straightforward, although it can get busier once in the towns and cities and we don't recommend driving in Palermo.
For rich Greek history and culture, be sure to visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Syracuse. Birthplace of Archimedes, the ancient Greek mathematician, physicist and engineer, the city is home to a plethora of archaeological wonders, including the Roman Amphitheatre and the Greek Theatre, dedicated to the Goddess Athena. One of Sicily's most famous historical sites is the Valley of the Temples, just outside Agrigento. Here you can explore the site's ten temples and visit the archaeological museum which showcases a wide range of exhibits from the area including statues and ceramics.
Be sure to stop off at Taormina and Cefalù, two of Sicily's prettiest coastal towns. Explore Cefalù's medieval district and study the glorious mosaics and twin towers of the duomo. Use Taormina, located on the east coast of Sicily, as a base from which to visit Mount Etna. You should also visit the Teatro Greco, the town's 3rd century BC theatre which is used during the summer months as the venue for international arts and film festivals.
Flights from the UK to Sicily arrive into Palermo (PMO), Catania (CTA) or Comiso (CIY) airports. Flights to Palermo are available from London Gatwick and London Stansted and take approximately 2 hours 50 minutes, while flights to Catania depart from Birmingham, London Gatwick, London Luton and Manchester and take approximately 3 hours. Flights to Comiso depart from London Stansted and take approximately 3 hours 15 minutes.
Thanks to its southerly location, Sicily enjoys mild temperatures all year round. Spring and autumn are both lovely times to visit, with temperatures in the high teens and early 20s (although up in the hills and on the slopes of Mount Etna it can be significantly cooler). In summer, you can expect temperatures in the high 20s – perfect for spending time on the island's beautiful beaches.
Sicily's food and wine boasts worldwide fame and once you've visited this verdant Mediterranean island, you'll see why it's a well deserved accolade. The island's varied cuisine reflects the different cultures that have shaped Sicily over the centuries, resulting in some mouthwatering dishes that make a holiday to Sicily a foodie's dream. As expected on an island, seafood features heavily in the Sicilian diet, with freshly caught fish being used in many dishes including the popular pasta con le sarde (pasta with sardines). Other popular dishes include arancini (deep fried rice balls usually filled ragu, mozzarella or vegetables), pasta alla norma (pasta with tomato, fried aubergine and ricotta) and cannoli, a dessert of fried pastry tubes filled with sweet ricotta and topped with pistachios.
Wine is deeply rooted in Sicily's culture - according to Greek legend, Dionysus was the God who bought pleasure to mankind and wine to Sicily - and the island boasts more vineyards than any other region in Italy. The fertile lands that surround Mount Etna produce award-winning labels including Etna Rosso, Bianco D'Alcamo and the well-known dessert wine, Marsala. There's also an abundance of olive groves in Sicily, producing about 10% of Italy's olive oil, and you can sample the many different varieties by drizzling it over freshly cooked bread as a delicious appetiser.
Sicily's history makes it a unique and fascinating island. Its strategic location in the centre of the Mediterranean has made it a melting pot of cultures, each leaving a distinctive imprint which is evident in the almost overwhelming mixture of architectural treasures and classical ruins.
In ancient Roman times, Sicily was known as Manga Greacia, which translates to Greater Greece, and the ancient Greek's influence is still evident today. They introduced vines and olives to this fertile island, some of the best preserved Greek temples in the world can still be found in Agrigento and the ancient Greek Theatre in the centre of Taormina is a must-see for visitors.
Over the years the island has been invaded by a host of nations, including Romans, Arabs and Normans. Even the British Administration briefly invaded in 1806. Its varied history means the Sicily's towns and villages have a unique feel with some interesting sites to explore. Villa Romana del Casale at Piazza Armerina has the world's largest collection of ancient Roman mosaics, which were unearthed in the 19th century, while the Normans fascination with Arab architecture resulted in them expanding, altering and adding to many existing buildings. Fine examples of this can be seen mainly in Sicily's capital, Palermo, such as the Palazzo dei Normanni, originally an Arab Castle to which the Normans added towers, levels and the Capella Palatina, a delightfully ornate chapel that was completed in 1143. Other buildings in Palermo include the churches of San Giovanni degli Eremiti and San Cataldo, which are crowned with a series of red domes mounted on cubic towers - reminiscent of the modern Arab architecture you can see in North Africa today.
If you would like to pre-book one of our excursions, please call our Italy Experts on 01293 762410*.