We were stuck at the airport without any informations for another two hours. The airport staff was very kind and helpful, though. They really did their best and arranged for all of us, who decided to wait for another flight the next day, an overnight stay with breakfast in a cozy hotel in Trieste and informed us about another flight the next day at noon. The reason for flight cancelation was not because the largest European active volcano Etna erupted a few days ago, but because of some strange foggy phenomenon over the sea, as the pilot explained us during the next day flight.
When we arrived to Catania Airport, the weather in late March did seem like a lazy November mood. The next morning sun came out and the feeling was completely different, so we were immediatelly eager to explore.
We rented a car, Italian Fiat 500, which was not so easy to get, as everybody wants to rent it, because it is just too cute. The car rental plus full car insurance costed us about hundred euros for three days.
Sicily is all about cannoli, cappuccino, pasta, cherry tomatoes, olive, orange and lemon trees. The Mediterranean gem of flamboyant history meeting the modern world, offers the most beautiful heritage connected with today's city lights. Sicily is not just a brief flirtation. It is passion, beauty, mystic and magic scent all in one. It is love at first sight.
Sicily has Greek, Roman, Arab and even Norman roots and it is the largest island in the Mediterranean. Today's Italy quickly gained its nickname 'Lo Stivale' (The Boot).
As we were exploring 'The Toes of The Boot' and by that I mean Sicily, floating in southernmost point of Apennine Peninsula, I thought to myself, it is not a wonder that Italians are such fashionistas. If you look on map, they literally live in a country with the shape of a female boot. Is that why they design the best shoes on Earth? Is that why Milan is world's number one fashion mecca? Maybe ...
If you plan a trip just for a few days, I don't need to tell you how sad we were, as we lost one day. Nevertheless, we managed to see surprisingly many beautiful places and aet some real Sicilian foodies. If we had more time, I wouldn't mind spending a few days in an authentic agricultural environment of some rural village with 'una nonna' prepairing pasta together with us.
In my opinion, the most exagurated fact about Sicily - special thanks to Hollywood - is a fame about Sicilian mafia, Cosa Nostra. The Godfather was just one of many immortal movies, filmed in Sicily. We missed Savoca town with the famous Bar Vitelli and the wedding church from the movie, though. Let me just say that in Sicily we felt perfectly safe and we enjoyed every corner of this astonishing historical island.
In this short time we had to plan this trip really carefully, not to miss the main attractions. The first day we visited Taormina in North-Eastern part of the island and its famous Greek Theatre. The entrance fee for visiting the theatre was ten euros per person.
The view would have been much nicer, but it was cloudy that day, so the photos don't show the real beauty of Taormina, a charming town on top of the hill, with many boutiques, open-air bars and restaurants. And all those orange trees and beautiful gardens are simply fascinating! I haven't seen so many orange trees anywhere in the world.
Taking a stroll in the narrow streets will leave you breathless.
The White Wall (Scala dei Turchi)
Scala dei Turchi (‘Stair of the Turks’) is a rocky cliff on the coast of Realmonte in Southern Sicily. It is known for its white steep cliffs and many travellers want to take pictures on the rocks.
Scala is formed by marl, a sedimentary rock and it has become a tourist attraction due to its unusual characteristic white color. It lies between two sandy beaches and is accessed through a limestone rock formation in the shape of a staircase, hence the name.
There is a nice bar and restaurant nearby, in case you get thirsty or hungry after climbing the wall. A few years ago the municipality of Realmonte applied for the inclusion of the Scala dei Turchi (together with the Roman Villa Aurea in this area) in the UNESCO Heritage List.
Akragas, an archaeological site of today's Agrigento, was amongst largest Greek cities in The Mediterranean Sea. It is best known for its Valley of Themples ...
The Valley of the Temples (Valle dei Templi) is one of the most outstanding examples of Greater Greece art and architecture. It is one of the main Sicily's attractions and also Italy's national monument. The area was included in the UNESCO World Heritage Site list in 1997. Much of the excavation and restoration of the temples was due to the efforts of archaeologist Domenico Antonio Lo Faso Pietrasanta (1783–1863), who was the Duke of Serradifalco. The archaeological park and landscape of The Valley of the Temples with its 1.300 hectares is the largest archaeological site in the world.
If you want to take a cab from the lower parking spot, it will cost you three euros per person one way. We took a shared taxi for going up and we walked back to the parking area, where we left our rented Fiat. The entrance fee for The Valley of the Temples costed us ten euros per person.
The Temple of Concordia is ranked as one of the most notable edifices of the Greek civilization and is the best-reserved remaining in the Valley. In front of The Temple of Concordia you can find a beautiful massive olive tree and The Fallen Angel, cast out of heaven. :-)
There are also other temples, like Temple of Juno. Juno was the name of an ancient Roman goddess. Her Greek equivalent was Hera, that's why it is also known as The Temple of Hera Lakinia.
Further down you can find a stunning place with a stage, where concerts and festivals take place.
Villa Aurea ...
Temple of Heracles was one of the most venerated deities in the ancient Akragas. It is the most ancient in the Valley and was destroyed by an earthquake; it consists of only eight columns today. Temple of Olympian Zeus was built in 480 BC as a celebration of city-state's victory over Carthage. The Temple of Castor and Pollux is a symbol of modern Agrigento. The Temple of Vulcan was once one of the most imposing constructions in the Valley, but today it is the most eroded. The Temple of Asclepius was the goal of pilgrims seeking cures for illness. Valle dei Templi is without a doubt an exceptional historic testimony.
Modica has a unique baroque architecture in the shade of old olive trees, marking the town and making it kind of rustic and cozy. It is an attractive historical town with its own unpretentious character and glorious cathedrals. You can walk or drive up to the hill. We did both. Firstly we wanted to see the churches and cathedrals, which are stunning. But most of all we came here, because Modica is a Sicilian treasure with an interesting ancient secret ...
Antica Dolceria Bonajuto
The very important thing Modica is famous for is its special chocolate 'cioccolata modicana', inspired by the Aztec original recipe for Xocoatl. If you want, you can take a 30-minute tour of minimal eight visitors, with laboratory access, chocolate tasting and history introduction included. If you don't decide for a tour, you can try various tastes of chocolate in Antica Dolceria Bonajuto shop for free, without required appointment needed. You can try this authentic experience and buy their chocolate in all sorts of flavours (we brought home eight of them and they were all very tasty), from classic, vanilla, cinnamon, orange, salty, dark, milk, almond, chilli, etc. A package of hundred grams costs three euros. It looks and it tastes almost like a dark chocolate, just the structure is a bit different, somehow more foamy. As I am not really a typical chocolate addict, it was a bit too sweet for me, but that one with chilli flavour was an absolute winner.
Modica totally seduced me ...
Located on the northern coast of Sicily and notable for its beautiful sunsets, Cefalu is a real pearl and a famous seaside resort. The town of Cefalu was founded by the Greeks and got its name after a precipitous and lofty rock formation above it. The view from above must be an absolute pleasure, but we ran out of time to experience that.
Where to eat brunch in Cefalu ...
We anchored at the main square, the magnificent 'Piazza Duomo' at Duomo Restaurant, where they serve also dinner and lunch. Pizza Calzone was delicious and so were the bruschettes with pecorino cheese, of course with a glass of red wine. I would recommend cabernet sauvignon - you will be more than satisfied.
The restaurant also has an amazing view on The Cathedral or Basilica of Cefalu ('Duomo di Cefalu') and on the huge rock behind it - 'La Rocca', which is nicely seen from the road, entering the town of Cefalu and it is a great symbol, the confindence of Cefalu.
Cefalu sunset ...
Need for something sweet in Siracusa ...
If Modica was my favourite Sicilian spot for exploring the historical sites, the fishing village of Marzamemi was my favourite spot for relaxing at the cafe. Marzamemi village, located in Pachino's region, truly is one of a kind and I think it is the cutest village I've seen in Sicily.
Rustically designed Piazza Principale and all those cute little houses, made of stone, look like they had been taken from a movie with Al Pacino. Marzamemi often hosts International Film Festival, usually in July with the retrospectives and film premieres, projected directly on the walls of the buildings. Many call this 'borgo' (village) a paradise for a soul, the deepest 'canzone' (song) and the warmest heart of Southern Italy. Here you really get the feeling that time has stopped.
'In America almost everybody who's Italian is half Italian. Except me. You get your full dose with me. I'm all Italian, mostly Sicilian.' Al Pacino
If you are exploring Sicily by car, it won't take you long to notice, that agriculture is the primary economic sector around Marzamemi, especially the production of fruits and vegetables. I was amazed to see so many cherry tomatoes, olive, orange and lemon trees by the road. If you ask some older locals, they will tell you, that in the 19th century cotton farming and wine cultivation had gained importance. Throughout the years the export of blending wines to northern Italy and France markets has strengthen.
In the 10th century the Arabs settled this part of the island and also gave it its poetic name. The Arabs also built the original 'Tonnara' (Tuna Canning Plant), which is no longer in function. Marzamemi with its colorful wooden boats in the fishing harbour continues its handcraft activities, like dried tuna roe (bottarga) or canned tuna. We visited Campisi local market, where we degustated delicious tuna salamis and marinated anchovies. You can also order their products on-line on their web site: www.campisiconserve.it. The only thing we didn't like was the taste of garum (dark brown Roman fermented fish sauce).
Catania is a great base for excursions, but don't skip the city itself. We were walking at night for two hours from our rented apartment and found the city centre very interesting. The architecture is astonishing, especially the main cathedral.
Because of Etna volcano being active again whilst our stay in Sicily, we were not recommended to go up there, because we would probably see only fog and smoke.
Europe's tallest active volcano Etna from the air ...
Famous Sicilian Food
Whenever I mentioned Sicily at home before my first visit, all of the people who had been there, told me that Sicily is the queen of delishes food. I knew Italian food is heavenly and most of us love it, but Sicily has its special dishes, every traveller must try. Food is a lifestyle in Sicily, it is a cultural way of living. This island is famous for its delectable feasts, especially those dishes, made by Sicilian 'nonna' (grandma). Because of those grandmas some well hidden recipes still exist today.
Lately it has become some kind of a trend, that many travellers want to experience the rural parts of Sicily, where they can try their delicious food. Travellers here usually try to 'export' themselves from reality of stressfull lifestyle and vanish into a totally different environment than they live at home.
Sfincione is a kind of pizza, a focaccia, but this Sicilian pizza is thicker than classic Italian pizza. It is more like a pizza pie. Its most important ingridient, the tomato, has been cultivated since the sixteenth century in Sicily, imported from South America. Usually it is made of tomato sauce over the dough, anchovies (optional), onions, caciocavallo or ricotta cheese and dried breadcrumbs, drizzled with olive oil.
Arancini are deep-fried risotto balls or rice patties, filled with melting mozzarella cheese, ragu or peas. It is a totally different story in Central Sicily, where they fill them with chicken liver.
Pasta alla Norma is a mixture of ricotta cheese, tomato sauce, capers and aubergine (you will notice that aubergine is a very popular vegetable in Sicily) with pine nut, oregano or fresh mint on top. It is called Norma because of Puccini's opera. It tastes even better with some garlic and chilli.
Cassata is an Arab dish, an energy-giving dessert, which usually includes marzipan, ricotta, candied fruits, chocolate drops, vanilla and pistachios. Cassata is an opulent culinary tradition.
Granita is like an inspiration for ice cream - half drink, half sorbet. This quintessentially Sicilian frozen dessert is made of ice with various ingredients, from strawberries with mint, melons, tomato with basil, caramelised pineapple, topped with yogurt or it can be also made with mango and vanilla. It is a perfect solution for dinner party starter.
Pasta con le sarde is a typical dish of the Palermo side of the island with a distinctive fragrance. This kind of pasta with local sardines, fried capers, white fennel, bread crumbs, pine kernels and fresh parsley is a Sicilian classic.
Caponata is kind of a sweet and sour, piquant veggie feast of stewed Mediterranean vegetables, enriched with shallots and the main ingredient: an aubergine, which is an absolute star of caponata, cooked and served with raisins, capers and celery.
Before I visited Sicily, I've heard a lot of their passion for pastres, called cannoli, how they can be totally different in one part of the island than in the other. It was true. You can get them very sweet, almost too sweet, or they can also be less sweet – I liked those better.
Tip: If you are headed towards Sicily and want to experience the real Sicily, I would suggest you to stay at the locals. It is safe, plus it is more personal than in some hotel in the city center, I think.
Sicily's pros and cons ...
- great coffee
- great food, especially street food
- the weather
- lower prices than the rest of Italy
- cozy rustic towns
- rich history
- beautiful beaches
- the locals (although they are very loud) :-)
- bad infrastructure - many highway exits are closed or under construction
- too many industrial areas near the coastline (in some parts of the island)