Ocean Deep, Mountain High - A Town-By-Town Guide to Sicily
The minute you land in Sicily, you immediately know you're in for the experience of a lifetime. Its diverse landscape proclaims myriad offerings, and from the sparkling mountains of Golfo di Castellammare to the majestic (and slightly threatening) peak of Mt Etna, and from the jewel-like Aeolian Islands to the ruins of the Temple of the Valleys in Agrigento, there is no end to the experiences offered by this multifaceted region.
This is not a destination for the hit-and-run traveller, however. Like its fine wines, the best way to enjoy the region is slowly and thoughtfully. Below, we present a short guide to how to best experience everything Sicilian - rentals of villas, fishing boats and motorcycle rides all come highly recommended.
If you've come to this gorgeous Italian island to experience the good life, head south to Taormina, a summer resort town popular with celebrities and jetsetters, and a favourite of writers, artists, and other bon vivants. Despite its touristy reputation and decidedly high-end shops, it has retained its old town charm with medieval churches, an ancient Greek theatre, and amazing views of the Gulf of Naxos and Mt Etna. Because of its tiny narrow streets, motorcycles and bicycles are the preferred transportation here, and zipping through the streets is an experience that is very authentically Sicilian. Rentals of both bicycles and motorbikes are easy and cheap if you're game for some fun.
The Aeolian Islands: Variety
If getting the most of your time on the island and doing as many things as possible is your goal, then head north from Taormina - and keep going! You're going to have to cross some water to get to any one of these seven magical islands, but you'll definitely be spoiled for choice with regards to experiencing life like a local Sicilian. Rentals of small craft to navigate your own journey will suit the adventurous, or you can catch one of the regular regular ferries or even catch a ride with a local fishing boat.
The islands of Lipari, Panarea, and Salina are truly bucolic, offering the iconic Sicilian countryside of olive groves, cobbled streets, medieval buildings, and gorgeous coastlines. The islands of Vulcano and Stromboli are both volcanic, presenting a stark beauty carved by centuries of geothermal activity; you can bathe in the sulphuric mud baths of Vulcano or hike up to the peak of Stromboli and peer down at its molten crater. Further out are the islands of Filicudi and Alicudi, whose pristine beaches and tiny fishing villages with equally tiny populations make you feel you've left the modern world behind.
If connecting with history is what you want most from your trip, then Scicli, with its extensive Baroque architecture is the next best thing to actually travelling back in time. While considered a peasant town, there is nothing sparse or impoverished about Scicli - from the grand edifice of the three-tiered Chiesa di San Michele, with its ornate faade, walls covered with stone carvings and murals, and mosaic floors, to the ornate Baroque-style buildings and mansions. Along with seven other towns in the Val di Noto region, Scicli was designated a World Heritage site in 2002 (after being completely rebuilt following the devastating earthquake of 1693) due to its Baroque magnificence - a beauty that is distinctly Sicilian. Rentals of holiday villas in this lovely area will enable you to explore its wonderful history in depth at your leisure.