Ask most people what comes to mind when they think of Sicily, and they’ll probably mention scenes from The Godfather, a landscape of searing beauty and a smolderingly intense history and culture. But Sicily goes far beyond this limited image. It is a land of diverse scenery, with sun washed seacoast villages, hilltop hamlets, and bustling cities. Its five million people are warm and welcoming, energetic and animated. Its long history intertwines with that of Greece and Rome, as reflected in its architecture and culture.
Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean, located just off the “toe” of the Italian peninsula, separated from Calabria on the Italian mainland by a scant three kilometers. Sicily is also Italy’s largest wine region and one of the world’s top wine producers. For wine travelers, it offers an ideal destination, an opportunity to discover the island’s diverse natural beauty, rich history, fabulous cuisine, and new and old wines. Its three wine regions provide an intriguing mix of offerings, derived from both local grape varieties and more recently planted major varietals such as Syrah, Chardonnay, and Cabernet Sauvignon. Recent efforts to upgrade the product have attracted top winemakers from Australia and Argentina, where the climate is similar, resulting in more and better wines.
To reach Sicily, it is recommended that you fly into either Palermo or Catania and leave out of the other city at the end of your trip. This lets you explore the maximum area between these two gateways without having to retrace your steps for departure. Alitalia Airlines has flights to Sicily from most of the major cities in Italy.
Without doubt, the best way to explore Sicily is by car. Rentals are easily available at either airport of entry. Driving in the big city centers of Palermo and Catania can be a little scary at first but wineries are generally located in the countryside where driving is a lot easier. Many parts of Sicily are not reachable by highways and are mostly connected by smaller “SS” roads (one lane in each direction) requiring more time between locations. Our local source warns that road signs in Sicily can be tricky so be prepared to get lost. If you do, relax and make it part of the fun in exploring a new wine region. Residents are always more than willing to help guide you to your destination.
When to Visit
Plan to devote at least two weeks to discover the island fully. There is so much to see and do! The best time is spring (May/June) and fall (September/October). You’ll find smaller crowds, fewer tourists, and better weather. The summer months of July and especially August are high season for Europeans on holiday looking for beach vacations, and Sicily is one of their destinations, so avoid those months if you prefer a bit less bustle and fewer people. April to June the spring flowers are in bloom, while in early autumn you have will have shades of gold and the harvesting of the grapes.
In the western wine region:
This 2,700-year old city is the capital of Sicily and its largest seaport. It is the fifth most populous in all of Italy, with well over a million inhabitants within its metropolitan area. There is a lot to explore here. Many feel that Palermo has the greatest sights and museums in all of Sicily. One can find 12th century mosaics, art museums, one of the most beautiful Italian palaces, and colorful outdoor markets. Most of the architecture is a unique blend of Norman and Arabic influences. With so much to see and do, your best bet is to get a good reference guide and do some homework before arriving so you can prioritize how you want to spend your time.
This enchanting village is a wonderful day trip east of Palermo. It’s an unspoiled seaside town whose narrow streets were made famous in the Oscar winning film “Cinema Paradiso.” The city’s main attraction is the Duomo, considered one of the finest Norman cathedrals in Sicily.
Formerly a small fishing village that has become a beach resort for wealthy Palermo residents. It has a wonderful beach that spans one and a half miles (2.4km) where one can sit and relax while taking in the breathtaking bay of Mondello.
This town is best visited on your way to Erice. It is famous for having one of the best Greek Temples in Italy, arguably in the world! It is so well preserved that it looks like it was built yesterday. The temple sits on a beautiful remote hillside. Nearby is a wonderful Greek Amphitheater. The theater is carved out of the side of the mountain and has beautiful panoramic views. It is estimated that the theater could hold as many as 4,000 spectators and was used for staging plays during the summer months. Today it hosts concerts and classical Greek dramas during July and August.
San Vito Lo Capo
A small, ancient fishing village located in a valley surrounded by magnificent mountains. Its public beach is a favorite among the locals. It is considered a special vacation spot known to few tourists. This town is also known for its annual couscous festival held during the third week of September each year.
An enchanting medieval town nestled on top of a mountain. There are wonderful vistas everywhere, and on a clear day you can see all the way to Tunisia. However, be warned that blue skies are rare here. Except for the summer, the city can be engulfed in fog most of the time, and is especially cold during the winter months. One can easily spend a full day taking in the views and wandering the medieval stone streets. This town was the location for the cult of the fertility goddess Venus Erycina. Built on the temple's site is an old Norman castle, Castello di Venere. Erice is also famous for its delicious pastries, rugs, and ceramics.
This town was originally settled as a fishing village. Its name is an ancient word meaning “hook” which describes the shape of its harbor. Old Trapani is situated westward on a narrow peninsula with spectacular Mediterranean views and sunsets. The best architecture here is found in the churches, especially the Cathedral of San Lorenzo and Chiesa del Collegio dei Gesuiti. The town hosts a music festival, the Luglio Musicale Trapanese during July and in the spring an annual tuna festival.
In the eastern wine region:
This city is the capital of its province. As neither the city nor the province is popular tourist destinations they offer perhaps the cleanest and least crowded beaches in all of Sicily. The town is really two in one. The upper city, Ragusa Superiore, contains newer buildings built during the early seventeen hundreds after the devastating 1693 earthquake. The architectural style is mostly Baroque and Neo-Classical. The older, lower town, Ragusa Ibla, is connected to the upper by a steep winding road and four bridges over a deep ravine that separates the two. Some of the best countryside views in Sicily can be seen from this town.
This was once the most important and powerful Greek city and was also considered the most beautiful, according to the Roman consul, Cicero. The city is also famous for being the birthplace and home of Archimedes, the noted mathematician. There are two areas of the city that are a must to see. The Neopolis Archaeological Park on Terminite Hill has many historic sights but its well-preserved and impressive Greek Theater also is very popular. The other spot is Ortygia Island, the historic center of the city and a great place to stroll and sample its many cafes.
This is the second largest city in Sicily, next to Palermo. The city was destroyed in the 1693 earthquake and, being close to Mt Etna, has seen lava rained on it from time to time. Called the “baroque city” it is noted for its imaginative buildings made from lava. Though most people come only to use the airport, one should not miss the city’s baroque architecture, which is considered the best in Europe.