Issues to do in Sicily
Almost every empire over the past thousand years has gained a foothold here. The island of Sicily, located in the Mediterranean Sea, is one of the most unique in Europe. People have lived since 12,000 BC. On the island and around 750 BC. BC Phoenician and geek colonies emerged on the island. Sicily was an important place during the Punic Wars until the fall of Rome when it was ruled by the Vandals, Ostrogoths, Byzantium and the emirate of Sicily. It didn’t become part of Italy until 1860, so for much of their human experience the island wasn’t even part of the country people associate it with today. And that’s what makes it so unique. Very few places in Europe were at the confluence of so many people and empires, all of whom in some way left their mark on the island. Sicily is Greek, Roman, Arabic, Norman, African and Italian at the same time, but neither is any of these things and just Sicilian.
With Mount Etna looming dominating the Sicilian sky, the island has a rugged landscape made up of 9 regions. There are also around 9 cities on the island, with Palermo being the largest and the capital known for its 3000 years of history, architecture and gastronomy. Other cities like Catania and Agrigento are home to UNESCO sites and the island itself is one of the hottest in Europe with long dry summers and sunny winters. While some people speak English, most speak Italian with a Sicilian accent, but if you want to impress the locals, try learning a few words in the Sicilian dialect.
Climb Mount Etna
The constant presence of Mount Etna dominates the landscape. The smoking silhouette of the volcanic mountain is a constant reminder of the uncertainty of life on the island. The volcano is the second most active in the world, and smoke rises almost constantly. Because of this, it’s a pretty big tourist hotspot.
For the more adventurous, the ride up the mountain can be as easy or as difficult as you want it to be. If you’re looking for a low-level activity but still want to climb up, you can take a cable car. All you need is cash and good walking shoes. While the cable isn’t a shortcut and you have to walk a little, it won’t be the same hike as if you started from the bottom. The base of the mountain, known as Etna Sud, has shops, restaurants and even some hotels so you can do a bit of preparation beforehand. While you can go quite high, tourists cannot climb the top due to the volcano’s unpredictable nature.
Spend a day on the beach
Maybe climbing mountains and seeing volcanoes is a little too much if your looking for a relaxing vacation. Fortunately, Sicily has some amazing beaches where you can relax, get a tan, and come back like a bronzed god. The island becomes dry and sunny in summer. Minimal rain makes it a fantastic beach vacation spot. Just outside the city of Palermo is Mondello Beach, a popular spot with tourists and locals. There is a small fee to be paid to access the beach’s amenities and facilities. Otherwise the beach is free. Another place to see if you want to spend a full day is the coastal town of Cefalu. The small coastal town has a flourishing beach, an imposing Norman cathedral with beautiful mosaics, narrow streets with small restaurants and a lively central square. Snap some shots of the beachfront villas and huts here and start planning your retirement right away.
Feel like an archaeologist in the Valley of the Temples
The story of Icarus has it that Icarus ‘wax-made wings melted and he fell to the sea and drowned when he flew too close to the sun during his and Daedalus’ escape from Crete. Daedalus sought refuge in Agrigento on the undiscovered island of Sicily and mourned, after which he built the Temple of Apollo in Apollo’s honor. The temple would become the first of the city’s famous temples.
This is all just a myth, of course, but the Valley of the Temples is one of Sicily’s most famous landmarks. In reality, the city was a Greek colony that existed around 500 BC. BC, and its archaeological heritage remains in a wonderfully low-key state to this day. Since Daedalus believed to have founded the city of Agrigento, this place became an important center for culture and religion.
The area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and in total there are about 7 different temples and other small landmarks in the area, dating from around 400 to 500 BC. Were built. Some other notable temples here are the Temple of Hercules, the Temple of Concordia, the Temple of Juno, and the Temple of Zeus. Some smaller monuments and attractions include a mausoleum of a former tyrant named Theron and an 800-year-old olive tree. At its peak, Agrigento is said to have had over 300,000 inhabitants.
Admire the Roman mosaics of the Villa Romana del Casale
The Villa Romana del Casale was built around the 4th century and is home to one of the best preserved and most complex Roman mosaics and frescoes in the world. The complexity of art has made it a UNESCO World Heritage Site. While the villa was abandoned in the 12th century, it took another 6 centuries to uncover its treasures. The frescoes cover not only the interior but also the exterior walls on around 3,500 square meters. The quality and uniqueness of the preservation are partly due to landslides and floods that covered parts of the villa. The entire villa was finally and completely excavated in 1959 and shows mosaics of hunters, teenagers playing, sailors and perhaps most famously women in bikinis playing sports.
Eat one (or more) cannoli
“Leave the gun, take the cannoli”. The famous line that Peter Clemenza introduced in The Godfather is one of the most recognizable lines in cinema. Take a cue from the movie and indulge in some cannolis while you’re here. The legendary pastry is available all over the world, from Italian bakeries in New York to supermarkets in Australia, but the origin of the tubular dessert has its roots in Sicily.
Non-Italian speakers that mean “little tube” in English may be interested to know that “cannoli” is said in the singular, while “cannolo” is technically the correct pronunciation of the singular. If for some reason you weren’t familiar with this dessert, a cannoli is a tubular fried batter that’s filled with a sweet creamy ricotta filling and sometimes dressed in things like nuts, chocolate, fruits, and other sweets.
The origin of the dessert is said to date from Caltanissetta between 827 and 1000 AD and was made by the concubines of the local princes to attract his attention. Though some other food historians attribute it to a historically prepared indulgence during Carnival season, its creamy center and tubular shape is attributed as a fertility symbol. Its popularity then became a year-round staple.
Cannoli can be found almost everywhere in most of the island’s bakeries, but some of the best are in Palermo and are specially made with local sheep ricotta cream.
Explore the local flora and fauna in the Zingaro Nature Reserve
Sicily’s local flora and fauna are among the most unique in the region, and the Zingaro Nature Reserve is an excellent way to spend an afternoon and do some hiking (especially if you’ve just eaten a few cannolis). With the exception of a few rural houses, there are no buildings, no roads, and the only noise comes from the wind and the sounds of the Mediterranean. While cities like Palermo are great fun, the density and hustle and bustle of life can make anyone want to flee for a while, and the Zingaro Nature Reserve is your best chance to do so. Experience Sicily as it was thousands of years ago only with the sounds of nature and the animals on the island and walk along the paths, see the exotic plants and maybe take a dip in the aqua blue pools.
Try some local wines in the Tasca d’Almerita vineyards
There are, without a doubt, some of the best wine regions in the world and one of them is Italy. Italian wines are exported almost everywhere so you would be mistaken if you did not indulge (responsibly) some local wines. The Tasca d’Almerita vineyards are about an hour outside the city of Cefalu and are a wine lover’s paradise. Green rolling hills full of vines as far as the eye can see. Over 1000 hectares of vineyards can be found here along with idyllic houses and villas. Try different types of wine such as Inzolia, Catarratoo, and Nero D’avola. Trying a good wine wouldn’t be the same without trying a good meal too. So be sure to book a leisurely gourmet menu with your wine tour.
Explore Palermo’s food scene
Italians are very proud of the culinary mark they have left on the world, and Sicilians even more so. Without the huge influx of Sicilian immigrants to the US in the 19th and early 20th centuries, Italian-American cuisine would be nowhere to be found. Besides cannoli, the island’s food scene is one of the best in the world and despite the relatively small size of the region, the food here is diverse, fresh, healthy and of course delicious.
Palermo, the largest city, has many restaurants and is in fact home to Sicilian cuisine. Although pizza could be credited to the Neapolitans, Sicilian pizza is a different world in itself. Frida Pizzeria is located in a picturesque square in the heart of the city and serves some of the best pizzas in the world. With classic Sicilian toppings like buffalo mozzarella, capers, ricotta and peppers grown on Mount Etna, there is nothing more authentic.
If street food is your thing, try a pani ca ‘meusa. One of the most famous Sicilian street food delicacies may seem strange to foreigners, but the cooked cow’s spleen, trachea and lung sandwich served on a freshly baked bun with some cheese is a classic street food dish. Sounds a bit strange, but it’s tasty, ubiquitous, and cheap.
When in Syracuse, visit the huge and lively Ortigia Market and enjoy a little of everything. The market mostly attracts locals but is a great place to enjoy local dishes at a fair price like almond cake, pistachios, snails and sun-dried tomatoes. Being on the coast also means that fresh seafood is plentiful and tasty here.
Our last word
Sicily is a beautiful island with a rich and varied history that spans thousands of years. The rich have come and gone on the island, leaving behind something that truly makes Sicily a unique place.