The Aeolian Islands are Lipari, Salina, Filicudi, Alicudi, Stromboli, Panarea and Vulcano. They are located off the north east coast of Sicily and are filled with wonderful beaches and fabulous scenery.
The largest of these islands is Lipari and is terribly crowded over the summer, but a visit in the autumn will give you more time to explore the archaeological museum and the beautiful walks around the island, without any confusion. Vulcano is nearby to Lipari and is famous for its thermal baths which are open all year round.
Salina is the second-largest of the islands with a beautiful natural environment which made it perfect as the setting for the Italian film Il Postino. I think Salina is a great spot for some nature photography for those who are keen photographers.
Stromboli, is faraway from the other islands and is dominated by a single large volcano. Its deep waters are a favorite for divers. Like Salina, it is the setting for a famous movie directed by Roberto Rosselini titled Stromboli, starring Ingrid Bergman.
Filicudi and Alicudi: These smaller islands have no direct links to the main lans, so you’ll have to hop over from Lipari. With their landscape and few residents, they’re a perfect place to get away from everything. Panarea and Basiluzzo, popular with scuba divers, are even smaller and barely inhabited.
The main islands are reached by boat from Milazzo or Messina. There are often small mini-cruises offered by local travel agencies that allow you to take a day trip around the main islands but if you are feeling adventurous I suggest you stop and stay on Lipari and try to hop around to all of the islands. Be sure to bring your photo camera, be open to meeting the locals, explore every hidden spot, watch the sunset, eat loads of seafood and be ready for the odd volcanic eruption for an exceptional experience.
Palermo is one of the most fascinating cities in Europe with endless things to see and do, so I suggest you simply go online and create your own personalised tour of the city, for me I’d simply buy a map at the train station or airport and take a walk around the centre of town and simply let the city surprise me, you’ll be sure to find something interesting. A little word of warning though please if you find a part of town that is a little too seedy or dodgy just use your instincts and avoid it, like you would in other big city.
I have to mention one unmissable sight to see which is actually a little out of Palermo which is the Monreale cathedral and abbey which has the largest concentration of Norman, Arab and Byzantine art in one place. It is incredibly beautiful and it will literally take your breath away.
Our friends at The best of Sicily (www.bestofsicily.com) suggest to extend your visit to Castellaccio which is five kilometers north of Monreale on the steep, winding Via San Martino. Castellaccio is perched atop Mount Caputo, over seven hundred metres above sea level it is a twelfth-century fortress erected by the Normans. It’s the perfect place for an unforgettable picnic.
Piazza Armerina, Enna
Enna is literally the belly button of Sicily, the geographical centre and the heart of the islands mythology. Enna is where Hades the god of the underworld first saw the light and beauty of the earth, after deciding to journey from his subterranean kingdom to explore the world above. It is here in the rolling plains that Hades saw Persephone for the first time, struck by her beauty, kidnapped her and took her as his wife.
Enna’s main attraction is the Lombard Castle, built by Frederick II in the early part of the 13th century. The Duomo, the city’s principal church, is located on Via Roma. It was built in 1307, and almost destroyed by a serious fire in 1446, to be restored during the 16th and 17th Centuries. Thus its architectural styles range from medieval Gothic to late Renaissance to Baroque. The church of San Giovanni (St. John) in Piazza Coppola is a fine example of Gothic lines with Arabic construction.
Here approximately thirty kilometres from the main city of Enna we find an archaeological site of the late Roman villa at Piazza Armerina filled with beautifully preserved mosaics. The Villa del Casale, dates from the fourth century B.C and contains the most complex collection of Roman mosaics in the world, making it an important UNESCO World Heritage Site. Thanks to a recent period of restoration these works of art of even more outstanding than ever.
Trapani and Marsala
Trapani and Marsala are two suggestive coastal towns located one after the other on the north western tip of this triangular shaped island.
Trapani is a spectacular port city dominated by four outlook towers: Torre Vecchia, Torre del Castello di Terra, Torre Pali, Torre di Porta Oscura or Dell’Orologio all surrounded by the ancient fortress walls. Trapani is filled with monuments, churches and buildings which narrate the town’s history over the course of the various centuries.
Needless to say this is the place to taste wonderful seafood including the Trapanese signature dish of seafood flavoured couscous (they even have a Couscous festival every year towards the end of the summer, dedicated to this wonderfully exotic dish).
Marsala is a little further down the coast line, to see where this part of Sicily ends and the sea begins. Sicily’s wine country lies to its east, and Marsala is the home to this famous sweet dessert wine so it offers the opportunity for wine tasting.
Keep an eye out for Sagra’s and Festa’s
The beauty of Sicily is the Sicilian’s love of food which is reflected by a constant stream of celebrations of local products and cuisine in the form of Sagre and Feste throughout the year.
Be sure to keep an eye out for different towns Festa’s or Sagra’s literally for a taste of everything from seafood couscous, to salami cured meats, pistachios, olive oil, literally everything you can think of.
I suggest looking at the major Sicilian city’s web pages for updates or check out this great site I’ve just discovered for the latest Sagra news: www.karasicilia.it
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 photos.