Towns and Villages
Historic centres, small medieval towns, fishing villages, castles, temples, ancient theatres and even pre- and post-industrial archeology
At first glance it might appear that Sicily, being an island, can be visited in a brief holiday of only a few days. However, those that know the island a little better will confirm that this is not exactly the case. In fact Sicily is not only a large island whose coastline stretches for more than 1,000 kilometres but is above all an island rich in natural, historic and cultural treasures which often lie hidden away and therefore remain inaccessible to the casual traveller. To discover the island in depth it is necessary to prepare your journey well, read up in advance, obtain good guide books, have sufficient time at your disposal (at least a couple of weeks) and be capable of disentangling yourself from the various difficulties that you will encounter during your journey such as the language, road signs that are sometimes neither complete nor exact and the scarcity of services at your disposal. Alternatively one can choose to enjoy in peace the sea and sunshine which normally accompany your journey here and decide from time to time to visit the places that you consider to be unmissable. For more demanding visitors, we try to provide an indication of the most important things to see. We commence by saying that there are really only four cities that merit a visit. Palermo which has the second largest historic centre in Italy and where many of the architectural masterpieces of Sicily are hidden away, bequethed to the Sicilians by the powers that have dominated them in the past such as the Moslems, Arabs and Normans. In addition to the imposing cathedral of Monreale which is located nearby, there is no shortage of houses and buildings constructed in Liberty style such as the beautiful aristocratic villas that you will find in the magnificent gulf of Mondello which is also famous for its beautiful white, sandy beach. Catania, a city with fewer treasures but certainly more multifaceted and exuberant, which also has many places of interest to visit in its immediate surroundings. Syracuse, which apart from its unmissable archeological park, offers the opportunity to admire its small historic centre on the island of Ortigia which was declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 2005. Trapani, frontier city, in the extreme western edge of the island; a classical city of the sea which has been restored to its former splendour after its 'make-over' for the qualification series for the last America's Cup. A few kilometres away you can find Marsala, a city of wine par excellence and visit its various historic wineries. There are also several small villages and towns that are worthy of a visit but which often are difficult to find, including magnificent Erice, medieval town perched on the top of the mountain of the same name at an altitude of approximately 750 metres; Cefalù, the most beautiful seaside resort in Sicily which is now very popular with tourists but still maintains its fascination with the past; Taormina, a long-time favourite of many international VIPs with its magnificent Greek theatre and spectacular view of Etna and the less well-known medieval towns of the Madonie Nature Reserve which include Castelbuono, Gratteri, Polizzi Generosa and Ganci; the cities of Baroque, a UNESCO world heritage site, which include Modica, Noto, Ispica, Ragusa Ibla, Scicli and Palazzolo Acreide; for the purchase of exquisite handicrafts there's Caltagirone, city of the finest Sicilian majolica which also has a beautiful small, historic centre and, if you still have time, the small and secluded seaside towns of Acitrezza with its view of the Nature Reserve of the Ciclopi Islands, Acicastello, Santa Maria la Scala, Alì Terme, Sampieri, Marzamemi, Sant'Elia, Portopalo di Capopassero and the mountain villages of San Marco d'Alunzio, Tusa, Sperlinga, Novara di Sicilia, Castiglione di Sicilia, Adrano and Militello in Val di Catania (UNESCO world heritage site). There are numerous archeological sites to visit which include the archeological parks of Selinunte and Syracuse, the Valley of the Temples, the temple of Segesta, the ruins of Solunto, the archeological areas at Gela, Imera, Megara Iblea, Morgantina and Mozia, the grottoes at Gurfa, Tindari, Eloro, Kaukana, Pantalica and Eraclea Minoa. Not to be missed are two Roman villas, Villa del Talaro at Noto and Villa del Casale at Piazza Armerina. Sicily also has a considerable wealth of castles and fortifications some of which are now in complete ruin; those worthy of mention are the Castello di Donnafugata, the Castello di Mussomeli, the Castello di Sperlinga, the Castello di Ventimiglia, the Castello di Santa Lucia del Mela, the Castello di Ursino, the Castello di Caronia, the Castello di Brucoli, the Castello di Lombardia, the Castello di Caccamo, the Castello di Carini, the Castello di Naro and the Castello di Venere. Traces of the past can also be found in the tuna fisheries which numbered around twenty at the beginning of the 19th century; only one still functions today as a tourist attraction, located on the island of Favignana, and the others are now in ruins or have either been converted into 4 star resorts or are used for cultural activities. Two former tuna fisheries where you can still sample some of the atmosphere of the past are located at Scopello and the small island of Formica. Then there are the National Parks and Nature Reserves; undoubtedly the most important and attractive is the Etna National Park which contains numerous natural attractions including the volcano which can be visited by Jeep, off-road bus or helicopter and the Gorges of the Alcantara river where you can swim in its cool and clear waters. The Madonie National Park which, as already indicated, includes several of the best-preserved medieval towns in Sicily and some areas of countryside of great importance where you can go walking as you can in the nearby Nebrodi National Park which is more wooded and impervious and whose slopes run down to the north coast of Sicily. Finally there are the natural oases, the most important of which are: the oases of Vendicari, Pantalica and Zingaro, the Reserve of Cavagrande del Cassibile and the oases of the rivers Anapo, Belice, Irminio, Simeto and Ciane. For those who decide to visit the small surrounding islands, difficult to combine with visits to other destinations, we recommend the Aeolian islands not only because they are the most accessible but also because the archipelago consists of seven islands located close to one another (each with its own, very different morphology) which provides you with an opportunity to visit at least 3 or 4; we recommend Lipari, Salina, Stromboli and Filicudi and, to complete the list, Alicudi, Panarea and Vulcano. The other islands, apart from the Marine Reserve of Ustica, located around 30 miles north of Palermo, are the Egadi islands off the west coast of Sicily (an archipelago formed by the islands of Levanso, Favignana and Marettimo) and then, far to the south of Sicily, the impervious but splendid island of Pantelleria and the Pelagie Islands of Lampedusa and Linosa which are located nearer to Africa!