Best places to visit Sicily the land of Granita and Brioche
The island of Sicily is a magical land of sunshine, oranges, awesome food and of course the famous granita and brioche. The best places to visit Sicily should include local cafes for a tasting session of fresh fruit granita ice, a warm brioche and a strong cup of coffee!
Sicily is the largest Island in the Mediterranean and an autonomous region in bella Italia at the southern tip of the boot of Italy. It has a vast and interesting history stretching almost 15,000 years with a rich an unique culture. The eastern part is dominated by Mount Etna, the largest active volcano in Europe which stands at over 3,300 metres and is one of the best places to visit Sicily.
Sicily has 3 international airports, Catania, Palermo and Trapani. It can also be reached by ferry from mainland, Italy.
Another sea connection runs from the Island of Malta to Pozzallo. This fast daily trip by catamaran is how we visited Sicily last September. We traveled by motor bike and spent a week touring Ragusa, Siracusa, Catania and Taormina – and of course some wonderful beaches along the coast in between!
Pozzallo is often overlooked as just a port of entry, has a charming town center with a good selection of shops and cafes along its cobbled main street. The promenade and beaches are also well organized. Although we just drove through briefly, I can imagine it to be a popular holiday destination and can be considered as being among the best places to visit Sicily.
From Pozzallo, if you wanted to drive up north, the fastest way would be to take direction Ispica and then the highway from Noto. The alternative route, if you had more time would be to drive along the coast on the strada provincial 67 and visit the charming fishing villages of Portopalo and Marzamemi. A short drive up further north is the super beach club of San Lorenzo and the rural beaches of Vendicari and Cala Mosche along the nature reserve.
Although the beaches are clean with wonderful fine sand, even the most remote spots can be quite populated in the peak of summer.
Our first stop was on the outskirts of Syracuse, at a charming B&B which had a choice of farmhouse rooms and glamping tents! This was perfectly located for best places to visit in Sicily; ideal to explore the whole region, with mountains, rural villages, the coastal towns, remote beaches and Ortigia, the old beautiful part of Syracuse just a short drive away.
The gulf of Syracuse is well known for its shellfish and mussel farms, so on the first evening we were invited by our host, who besides advising us on the best places to visit in Sicily, took us to one of the many fantastic shell fish restaurants outside the city. We over ate a wonderful meal of spaghetti with clams and mussels and a marvelous platter of fresh local fish, washed down with a dry white wine.
The old town of Ortigia, which is the historical heart of Syracuse is one of the best places to visit Sicily. It is actually an island joined by 3 bridges and overlooks the stunning Gulf of Syracuse. I would advise spending a few hours walking through the narrow cobbled streets and checking out the little shops and historical points of interest. The perimeter road is also full of cafes that enjoy fantastic views the Gulf.. This is a good place to taste your first granita and brioche. Make sure you dip the brioche into the melting granita and wash it all down with a frothy café macchiato!
If you drive south along the Gulf of Syracuse along Via Elorina for 10 or 15 minutes, you come across the river Ciane. Just before the bridge there is a turning into a small estate, boatyard and restaurant. Here you can rent a canoe and paddle along the river relaxed in the shade of the tall trees along the banks watching the fish swim by and the many species of birds overhead and papyrus plants growing along the banks. It was a bit sad to see a tourist boat using the same route; its propeller sometimes hit the carp swimming in the shallow waters. We noticed a few scarred fish along the route.
One of the most spectacular and the best places to visit Sicily are the steep gorges and natural fresh water pools of CavaGrande. Sadly, the gorges where closed because of a massive fire which damaged the main pathway down. The guard on duty stopped anyone from entering but like everything else in Italy, the country takes a siesta after 1pm so we waited until the guards left and made our way down. One word of warning, if you are not reasonably fit, do not attempt the climb down! It takes a good 40 minutes of walking down steep steps and 90 minutes of torturous trekking back up! Once down at the bottom however, the place is completely stunning, the river runs through different levels and mini waterfalls drop into beautiful pools of ice-cold water. When the rest of the island is sweltering in a 30+ Celsius heat wave, this is the perfect place to be!
Catania, the second largest city is one of the best places to visit Sicily for shopping and nightlife. It is also located at the foot of Mount Etna, a surreal place and must see! Mount Etna’s volcano is always active, the landscape on the upper roads leading to the peak are burnt and barren and resemble a lunar landscape.
The coast between Catania and Taormina is a well-organized stretch of beach concessions known as Marina di Cotone. The beach clubs here are comfortable with restaurants and organized beach furnishings all around. If visiting in the peak of summer, especially Ferro Agosto, make sure you book your sun bed in advance!
My favorite town and one of the best places to visit in Sicily, is Taormina, a rich and cultural town on a mountaintop with many luxury hotels. Enjoy some of the most magnificent views of the coast below and Mount Etna to the west. The whole place has a mystical feel, with stunning views, cobbled streets and designer shops. Once can’t forget the inevitable little restaurants and café’s serving the best granita and brioche!
There is yet a higher town called Castelmola. We were lucky enough to visit on the day they organised an international song festival. The whole place was alive with local and ethnic music, a real memorable and buzzing evening! A visit to Castelmola is not complete without stopping at Bar Turrisi Besides the stunning views on the terrace, the whole place is furnished with wooden penises of all shapes and sizes! Even the menu is shaped like a phallic symbol.
If you are lucky enough to have time to spare, the northern coast around Palermo have some of the most stunning and best places to visit Sicily, with majestic views of the Aeolian islands of Lipari and Stromboli.