by Michelle Jackson
There are places that make you feel as if you’ve escaped from the rest of the world and Sicily, formed by its myriad of cultures, is one of these places. Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, with stunning coastlines, sandy beaches and the ubiquitous olive groves that make it distinctly Italian, but it is famous for much more than being home to the mafia. Mount Etna majestically sits on the skyline with smoke rising from its crater like a plume from Don Corleone’s cigar. A trip to the towns of Savoca and Forza D’Agrò is a must do for fans of The Godfather Movies, and this is just one of the Sicily highlights lined up for us on our stay.
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Mount Etna isn’t the only volcano Sicily boasts, it is home to two other active volcanoes off the northern coast in the Aeolian Archipelago. Vulcano Island is named after the roman god of fire Vulcan, and boasts an abundance of wildlife. Stromboli is a real firecracker which has been active for as long as there have been records made. Nothing beats a boat trip with a view of Stromboli shooting off as the sun sets behind the crystalline waters. A guided tour of these unique features is just a sample of the added value extras made easy by our guides.
Our base is in Giardini Naxos and this bustling seaside town has so much on offer for visitors who just want to wander by the harbour or potter at the craft stalls in the evenings. It’s easy to ramble along the promenade with plenty of choice for places to eat and Sicilians like to add their own twist on signature dishes. You can expect to find lemons and pistachios in the most unexpected dishes and do not leave the island without tasting the arancini, a delicious blend of rice and vegetables inside a ball or pear-shaped case.
My favourite taste of Sicily is a small shot of Granita. This delicious Sicilian speciality is an icy sorbet and orange flavour is my personal favourite but it’s available in pistachio, coffee, chocolate or any fruit you prefer. Apparently, locals discovered that fruits left on the icy slopes of Mount Etna during the winter turned into rather delicious sorbet when brought back down to sea-level after spring. Don’t leave Sicily without tasting the Cannoli. The tube-shaped shells of fried pastry are filled with creamy sweet ricotta, which are worth every calorie counted in each bite.
The honey in Sicily has a distinctive taste too and we found many sellers of the organic variety when we took our excursion to Mount Etna next day, the biggest volcano in Europe and one of the most active in the world. On our coach tour we got off at 1900 feet and considered getting the cable car up to 2990 feet but instead decided to do some soft trekking on the Silvestri Crater, close to base camp and several shops and cafes. The moon like landscape makes a visit to Mount Etna a unique experience and with breath taking views down to the sea it really is a highlight of our stay.
Another of our Sicilian highlights is a day trip to the city of Syracuse. Only 1.5 hours down the road from Giardini Naxos, it boasts a charming old town laced with cobbled streets to wander around. The mix of architectural styles from Greek, Roman, Moorish and Baroque, make this island a living cultural masterpiece and eclectic mix of European and North African craftsmanship. The waterfront is lined with luxury yachts, and I get the feeling that Syracuse is one of the best kept secrets that Italians like to keep to themselves.
A night in Taormina is a must do and the perfect place to people watch is at IX Aprile Square. Here we stop and have a drink while a hen party walk by, oozing Italian panache and style. A mixture of designer clothes stores, pizzerias and ceramic shops crowd the Corso Umberto which runs through the centre of the town from the Gate of Messina to Catania. Little has changed in the facades of the buildings or style of the passers-by. Local fruit sellers gather in the evenings selling watermelons, peaches and strawberries. The Greek Amphitheatre hosts concerts in summer and if you can co-ordinate this with a live performance it will be a highlight of your Italy holiday.
Expect to find ceramic Sicilian Heads everywhere. Legend goes that a young Sicilian woman fell in love with an exotic Moorish man who forgot to tell her about his wife back home in North Africa. She didn’t want him to leave so she cut off his head and placed it on her windowsill and planted basil in his skull – which apparently thrived. Revenge is a dish best served cold, indeed! Hence in a rather gruesome homage Sicilians took to making ceramic effigies of the couple so that their basil too would grow.
Giardini Naxos was the perfect base for our guided Sicily tour, placed idyllically under the gaze of Taormina and Mount Etna. For remarkable landscapes and delicious surprises Don Corleone would certainly agree with me, if you’re looking for a unique Italian experience then, let Sicily make you an offer you can’t refuse.
With 25 years’ experience perfecting tours to 100 destinations worldwide, Travel Department’s escorted holidays typically include flights, accommodation, transfers and guided tours. They carefully plan your trip, so you experience the best holiday highlights accompanied by a friendly local guide. With Travel Department you see more!