A clockwise tour of the biggest Island in the Mediterranean sea: from Palermo to Lampedusa
Sicily, or Sicilia in Italian, is the largest Island in the Mediterranean Sea. It's mainly known as the cradle of the Italian mafia, but just thinking of Sicily as 'mafia-island' would almost be considered a cultural cruelty. Sicily boasts five of the biggest archeological Unesco sites, has several excellent, Blue Flag-rated beaches and has 11 Michelin-starred restaurants, just to cite a few numerical details.
What makes the island different from the rest of Italy is its multicultural society, having been ruled by Asians, Africans and Europeans. As a result, Sicily is home of a stunning selection of architectural splendors, dating from ancient Greek and Roman times to impressive Baroque cathedrals and monasteries. Historic sights, such as the Val di Noto and Rocky Necropolis of Pantalica, attract visitors from throughout the world.
During a visit to the island, you will be surprised by the many facets of Sicily's enchanting landscapes, often wild and untouched, but always charming in their simplicity. A special mention goes out to Sicilian beaches due to its coasts which surpasses 620 miles (1,000 km) -- or even 931 miles (1,500 km), if the smaller islands are included!
This 'top 10 places to visit in Sicily' (also make sure to check out this Top 10 for Tuscany) starts in the Sicilian capital Palermo, and will take you across the island to Lampedusa, which is the southernmost part of Italy.
1. Palermo -- The historical markets (Vucciria, Ballarò, il Capo, Borgo Vecchio)
If you want to have a taste of the authentic Sicilian life, take a trip to one of Palermo's markets! Locals and tourists alike come to peruse and shop for fresh vegetables, fish and fruit, possibly tasting the food specialties as breads and cheeses, but definitely taking part in the ritual of strolling around the narrow medieval streets and buying something "slow food km 0". Vucciria, Ballarò, il Capo, Borgo Vecchio are the main street markets of Palermo and each one has its unique characteristics.
2. Aeolian Islands
The Aeolian Islands are a volcanic archipelago with not only rugged coasts, caves and cliffs, but also splendid views, thermal resorts, water sports, good fishing and, of course, sandy beaches. It consists of seven main islands (Vulcano, Lipari, Salina, Panarea, Stomboli, Alicudi and Filicudi) and the are frequent ferries from and to the islands many during the summer. The largest island is Lipari, which is also the most crowded during the hot Sicilian summers.
Tindari is a small town in the province of Messina, a place of pilgrimage but also the site of an ancient Greek town. Well-known for the poem written by Quasimodo, Tindari hosts the famous Sanctuary of the Black Madonna and a large archaeological site. Founded by Dyonisus in 396 BC, the beauty of Tyndaris is still present in its ruins: the original Greek walls, but most of the remains are on the north-western sea-facing side, and Roman typical habitations and baths with wonderful floor mosaics.
Located on the east coast of Sicily, close to Messina and Catania, Etna is the tallest active volcano in Europe, visible also from the moon. It recorded very large lava flow and, from ancient times, it is considered a sacred mountain. It is possible to organize interesting trips to and around the mountain Etna which offers stunning panoramas which embrace the complete landscape of eastern Sicily.
Syracuse (Siracusa in Italian language) is one of the main historic cities of Sicily. Located in the southeast corner of the island, it was founded in 734 or 733 BC by Greek. It is worth visiting for its rich Greek history, culture, amphitheatres and architecture, but also because it was the birthplace of the mathematician and engineer Archimedes. The ancient Siracusa is also listed by Unesco. It includes Ortigia, the ruins of the Temple of Athena, a greek theatre and a roman amphitheatre.
6. Val di Noto
The cities of south-eastern Sicily, which are also often referred to as the late Baroque towns of the Val di Noto (or Noto Valley), are Caltagirone, Militello Val di Catania, Catania, Modica, Noto, Palazzolo, Ragusa and Scicli. Listed by Unesco in 2002, they were rebuilt in 1693 after a terrible earthquake. The best period to visit the Val di Noto is in spring, especially during Easter with many religious and emotional processions.
7. Piazza Armerina e Villa Romana del Casale
Piazza Armerina is a Sicilian commune, precisely one of the so-called "Lombardic" towns, due to its dialect which notably differs from the main Sicilian dialect. Strolling around Piazza Armenia offers the chance to admire some of its houses, which show Norman or Gothic architecture. An additional point worth visiting is Villa Romana del Casale, characterized by impressive mosaics. Villa Romana is a Roman estate located about 3 km to the southwest of the city centre and has been declared a World Heritage Site.
8. Agrigento -- Valle Templi and Scala dei Turchi
If you visit Agrigento, an ancient and still fascinating Greek colony of Magna Graecia, you can not miss both the Valle dei Templi and Scala dei Turchi. Included in the UNESCO Heritage Site, Valle dei Templi (Valley of the Temples in English) is not only one of the most outstanding examples of Greater Greece art and architecture, but also one of the main national monuments of Italy. Scala dei Turchi is a rocky cliff on the coast of Realmonte, very famous because of its unusual white colour. Scala dei Turchi beaches are also some of the best in Sicily yet are not crowded.
9. San Vito Lo Capo (Zingaro Nature Reserve)
The tourist location of San Vito Lo Capo is among the most popular destinations in Sicily, very busy during the summer months. It is part of the Zingaro Nature reserve and its long coastline boasts five Blue Flags, thanks to the beauty of the sea and the many services offered along the beaches. It is located at the foot of Mount Monaco, between San Vito and Solanto, easily reachable from Trapani and Palermo. In September, San Vito Lo Capo is home of the "Cous Cous Fest", a tribute to the Mediterranean food & wine tradition.
10. Lampedusa (Pelagian Islands)
Lampedusa, the largest of the Pelagian Islands, is the southernmost part of Italy. Lampedusa, Linosa and Lampione are the three main islands of the archipelago, also called in Italian "Isole d'alto mare" . Lampedusa is located about 200 km from the coast of Sicily, between the island of Malta and Tunisia. It has rugged coastlines, sandy beaches and coves protected by cliffs and long ridges.