(Taormina side streets)
I’ve had a few requests asking me about places to see in Sicily. I’ve come up with my own personal list of places to visit on leisurely day trips or over a weekend or a few days in order to savour the tastes of Sicily.
Cefalù and Santo Stefano
Cefalù, a short train ride from Palermo and it is a real hidden jewel often overlooked by commercial tours of Sicily, a wonderful city filled with suggestive medieval streets and a spectacular Norman-Arab-Byzantine cathedral. It’s easy to find a lovely little Trattoria (family run restaurant) to eat some fresh seafood.
Further down the train line is Santo Stefano the ceramic capital of Sicily, where you can browse endless ceramic artisans stores, the larger stores even have international shipping if you can’t resist. The train station stop is actually below the town so it is best to catch a bus if you don’t want a steep walk.
I think you can easily take a day at each of these intriguing places, but you can even do the three quickly with a hire car starting from Catania. I’d spend a day exploring the mixture of the different architectural styles through Catania from the Ursino Castle to the Baroque and neo-classical styles in the other parts of the city rebuilt in the eighteenth century after earthquakes and volcanic eruptions from Etna.
Taking a drive up the many scenic routes through the Etna national park it’s easy enough to find a spot for a rustic picnic, a perfect way to celebrate an exceptional lunch time with a difference
While driving further inland there is Randazzo at the foot of mount Etna which is the host to a wonderfully diverse Sunday market and its countryside is filled with little wineries and surprising rustic pizzerias and restaurants to explore.
I have a soft spot for Messina being a cosmopolitan university town, it’s easy to get lost in its side streets to discover the Duomo and its impressive clock tower (which goes through an elaborate series of clockwork motions at midday and midnight) there are many other smaller churches to discover, the Town hall is impressive and it is easy to catch the local tram to the regional museum and art gallery.
Catching a bus or cab to Taormina is easy from Messina and defiantly worth the cost as this ancient town is a dream spot to visit. Taormina’s streets have a medieval flavour with many suggestive piazzas, churches and residences all at the centre of town in walking distance. It is a terribly charming magical place to wander around filled with cute shops and cafes, you can see why it has attracted and inspired so many artists and writers like D.H. Lawrence.
There is funicular cableway connects Taormina to coastal Mazzarò below and nearby Giardini Naxos has some nice seafood restaurants.
Agrigento is a bit more of a challenge to get to as it is a long car drive from most of the major centres of Sicily but it is easily reached along the Autostrada highway. While the city itself is charming enough to visit the real tourist attraction to see is out of the town at the Valley of the Temples (Valle dei Tempi) where there are some wonderfully well preserved ruins of an ancient Greek town site.
To be honest this is one trip that I haven’t done yet but I think that it is best to avoid doing this trip in the terribly uncomfortable heat of summer and would be ideal in the autumn or spring when the countryside is filled with greenery and wildflowers. I’m sure a wonderful picnic lunch in amongst all of that ancient history would create an incredible memory that would last a lifetime.
This is another considerable Sicilian road trip to negotiate, but it is do-able as these cities are connected by the Autostrada, but you have to be patient and be open to a long leisurely road trip.
These three picturesque Sicilian towns are filled with wonderful history and spectacular sites to see. Siracusa (Syracuse) Noto and Ragusa are one after the other along the autostrada nearby the coast of southern Sicily, a beautiful part of the island that is rarely explored by commercial tour groups.
Sircacusa is filled with ancient Greek, roman and medieval treasures to explore the Orsi Regional Archeological Museum is defiantly worth a visit The Bellomo Palace, on Via Capodieci, was built as a castle during the 13th century and houses an art gallery with notable works from Caravaggio and Antonello da Messina.
Noto is about forty kilometers from Siracusa and was rebuilt after a violent earthquake in 1693 in the majestic and elaborate Baroque style. The centre of Noto seems like an elaborate film set for a period time, it is unbelievably beautiful and it takes your breath away.
Ragusa is unbelievably rich in history, that you won’t know where to begin, you can experience a bit of ancient Greek, Roman, Byzantine or any other usual mix so common here in Sicily. I advise you to stretch these three towns over three days, as they deserve all of your attention, if you are crazy to do them all on one day trip be prepared to be overwhelmed and tired of seeing beautiful things by the end of it.
(Houses at Randazzo)
A great source of information for this article is the online magazine the Best of Sicily (www.bestofsicily.com) which provided me with the extra details of places to see and some images.