Scala dei Turchi, Sicily
Destinations in Sicily
Attractions in Sicily
Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea and is separated from the Italian mainland by the Strait of Messina. Although the region generally has a typical Mediterranean climate with mild winters and sometimes very hot summers, there are a variety of different landscapes here: from gentle hills to the heights of the Nebrodi and Madonie mountains, from the sand dunes on the beaches to the cliffs dropping into the blue sea, from the high cliffs of northwestern Sicily to the volcanic landscapes of Mount Etna, where the climate is similar to the Alps. You should also not forget the smaller islands of Sicily. A varied landscape awaits you, which can be discovered on foot, by bike or mountain bike, on skis or by water sports.
Discover the natural beauties of Sicily
One cannot talk about the natural beauties of Sicily without starting with Mount Etna, which at 3,357 meters above sea level is one of the highest active volcanoes in the world and the highest mountain of all the islands in the Mediterranean. It is located in the northeastern part of Sicily in the territory of the metropolitan city of Catania. Etna is considered the symbol of Sicily and is simply called "a muntagna" (the mountain) with great respect by the residents of the region. Since 2013, it has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its scientific and cultural importance.
To protect the volcano and the extraordinary territory that surrounds it, the Etna Park (Parco dell'Etna) was established in 1987, divided into four zones with different levels of protection. On the way to the top of the volcano, where there is a lava desert devoid of vegetation, one can admire a varied flora that changes according to the altitude: from vineyards, orchards, olive trees and the typical Mediterranean scrub, to oak, chestnut, beech and birch forests, to formations of Astragalus, a species endemic to Etna, and other seedlings that grow amidst the lava sand.
A hike on Mount Etna and through the Parco dell'Etna is an experience not to be missed on a trip to Sicily. Walking between smoking craters and lava rocks over the dark earth, which in places turns all the colors of autumn, and admiring the view from above is a unique experience that is worth every effort. Etna is always a discovery, because the shape of the already very complex volcano changes with each eruption. There are many nature trails of varying difficulty (the most famous is certainly Sentiero Schiena dell'Asino, which leads to the impressive Valle del Bove). Apart from the craters, there are other places worth visiting in Etna Park (Parco dell'Etna): the numerous caves of Etna, such as Grotta del Gelo and Grotta di Serracozzo, and the impressive Monte dei Morti.
Besides hiking and trekking, Etna is also ideal for other outdoor activities: from climbing to mountain biking (but only for very fit bikers, as the average gradients are 6-7%), from horseback riding to ski touring. Etna's two ski resorts, one on the north and one on the south side, offer alpine skiing, cross-country skiing and snowboarding. Families with children can enjoy adrenaline-filled tobogganing in the snow.
Up to an altitude of 2,800 meters, it is possible to explore the volcano on your own. Higher up, for example to the summit craters at about 3,300 meters, you must be accompanied by a guide. With an experienced guide, it is even possible to hike in safety while the volcano is erupting and admire this fascinating (but also somewhat disturbing) spectacle.
In every season Etna shows a different face to its visitors: the foliage of the trees at the end of autumn, which is very short but a real spectacle; the white and very cold winter; the flowers in spring; the breathtaking sunsets and pleasant temperatures in summer. However, from the end of September to the end of October/beginning of November it is not recommended to go to high altitudes because of violent thunderstorms.
Sicily's mountain ranges delight those who love mountain hikes, beautiful elevation changes and magnificent views. For example, the paths and routes of the Parco dei Nebrodi, Sicily's largest natural park, lead to crystal clear lakes, dense forests and cool waterfalls. Among the latter is the 30-meter-high Cascata del Catafurco, located in the magnificent natural cave Marmitta dei Giganti. Another can't-miss spot in the Nebrodi Park is the Rocche del Crasto, where you can see the Nebrodi griffon vultures and other majestic birds of prey. In the Madonie Nature Park you can get to know the rugged and barren landscape of the Alps: it is not for nothing that the botanist Lojacono Pojero called the Serre della Quacella "Sicilian Alps". The "path of the giant hollies", on the other hand, leads to the discovery of extraordinary hollies that are more than 15 meters high. The Peloritani Mountains are a popular destination especially for mountain bikers and from their summits you can enjoy the view of the Ionian Sea, the Tyrrhenian Sea and the Aeolian Islands. Complex routes with many altitude differences between the peaks and deep gorges make the experience unforgettable. Also hiking trails, such as the "path of the two seas", are numerous and have different levels of difficulty.
Photo: Gianclaudio Marino, CC BY-SA, Wikipedia Commons
Avid hikers are attracted by the not-so-easy trails that lead to the sparkling lakes of Cavagrande del Cassibile in the nature reserve of the same name. For lovers of the sea and outdoor activities, the famous Riserva Naturale Orientata dello Zingaro offers an excellent meeting point. The paths that wind along the coast and lead to seven wild little beaches are scenic and not at all difficult. This nature reserve is an unspoiled place where you can observe a variety of animals, including several species of sea birds. If you want to take a leisurely bike ride along the Sicilian coast, there are plenty of opportunities to do so. For example, along the pleasant paths of the Foce del Fiume Platani nature reserve, which can also be explored on foot or on horseback, you can explore the beautiful mouth of the Platani River and the nearby forests and beaches.
Another landscape not to be missed by visitors to Sicily is the Stagnone Islands Nature Reserve in Marsala: an area with ancient salt pans (founded by the Phoenicians!) and their spectacular mills pleases the eye and the heart. The best time to admire this panorama is at sunset.
That Sicily is a popular destination for a beach vacation is beyond question. The sea is clear and clean, the sun shines generously and the beaches present themselves in all their diversity: rocky or sandy, wild or well-kept, secluded or urban, in this region there is something for everyone. Water sports enthusiasts will not be bored in Sicily either. The constant wind makes the west and north coasts of Sicily the ideal place for windsurfers and kitesurfers, while SUP and kayaking are possible almost everywhere.
Among the most beautiful beaches in Sicily (and it's really hard to choose!) are the beaches of San Vito Lo Capo in the west with the nearby Zingaro nature reserve and its beautiful bays, the beach of Giardini-Naxos near Taormina, the beautiful (in name and in reality) Isola Bella and the beach of Mondello, the beach of Palermo's residents. The perfect destination for those who love snorkeling among the rocks is undoubtedly the beach of Brucoli, located in a natural fjord. A unique and wonderful place for those who love the sea is the Scala dei Turchi, a white rock that resembles a staircase thanks to its undulating shape created by centuries of erosion. However, access to the beach is limited.
The Sicilian Islands
More beaches and beautiful natural landscapes can be found on the islands surrounding Sicily, including five archipelagos - the Aeolian, Egadi, Pelagian, Cyclops and Stagnone Islands (the last two are almost completely uninhabited) - and a number of scattered islands, including Pantelleria.
- The Aeolian Islands (also called the Lipari Islands) are seven in number and lie off the northern coast of Sicily. They are all of volcanic origin, which has earned them inclusion on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The only two volcanoes still active are Stromboli and Vulcano.
- The Egadi Islands (three larger islands, some islets and rocks), located between Trapani and Marsala, host the largest marine protected area in Europe.
- The Pelagic Islands, consisting of Lampedusa and Linosa and three uninhabited islands, and Pantelleria, are located in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, closer to the Tunisian coast than to the Sicilian coast.
- Pantelleria is of volcanic origin and the largest of the Sicilian islands.
They are all popular destinations for snorkeling, diving and sailing, as well as other water sports such as SUP and windsurfing. Many of the islands can also be explored on foot, and the larger ones even by bicycle.
Photo: Hein56didden, CC BY-SA, Wikimedia Commons
Between water and rocks: adrenaline-packed adventures
The beautiful gorges of Alcantara, not far from Taormina, are the ideal destination for those who want to practice canyoning (or body rafting, as it is called in some parts of Sicily) and river trekking. Going up the Alcantara River against the current, you can admire and touch the very peculiarly shaped lava walls, up to 25 meters high and 4 meters wide. Then turn around and let the current carry you along: a surely exciting and unforgettable experience in contact with nature! The water of the river is always cold (below 10 °C), even in summer, and what better way to escape the high summer temperatures?
Sicily is also a paradise for climbing enthusiasts. The northwest coast of the island, between Trapani and Palermo, is the ideal area to tackle wonderful climbing routes on high cliffs. San Vito Lo Capo is a popular destination and hosts the San Vito Climbing Festival every October. In the vicinity of Palermo is Monte Santa Margherita, which offers routes of medium to high difficulty. Another popular area, especially in the winter months, is the area around Syracuse and Ragusa, where the famous cliffs of Canicattini Bagni are located, suitable for both beginners and experts.
So many stories
Sicily has a rich, millennial past just waiting to be discovered by you, and an incredible number of archaeological sites, monuments, churches and castles (including no less than 7 UNESCO sites) bear witness to it. Due to its strategic position in the Mediterranean, the island came under the rule of numerous peoples, especially the Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs and Normans. This mixture of West and East is still reflected in the island's culture, architecture and cuisine.
For those interested in ancient history and archaeology, Sicily offers numerous opportunities throughout the year to explore the remains of ancient buildings or necropolises. Some examples are:
- Valley of the Temples in Agrigento, is the most famous and popular archaeological site in Sicily and one of the largest in the world.
- Neapolis Archaeological Park in Syracuse, with the Greek Theater, the largest Greek theater in Sicily, and a Roman amphitheater
- Necropolis of Pantalica, a UNESCO site in the province of Syracuse, with more than 5,000 rock-cut tombs dating from the 13th to 7th centuries B.C.
- Ancient Theater of Taormina, the second largest on the island, from which there is an enchanting view of the Gulf of Catania and Mount Etnathe Roman Theater of Catania
- Villa Romana del Casale in Piazza Armerina, which contains numerous mosaics that are among the best preserved in the world and have been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO
- The archaeological parks of the two rival ancient cities of Selinunte and Segesta, in western Sicily
- The remains of the ancient Phoenician city of Mozia on the island of San Pantaleo off Marsala
Photo: Ludvig14, CC BY-SA, Wikimedia Commons
Even a short walk or bike ride through the towns and villages is like diving into the past of the island and, at the same time, of the entire Mediterranean. In Palermo, the biggest city in Sicily, for example, you can admire seven of the nine buildings that are part of the UNESCO World Heritage of Arab-Norman buildings (the other two are the cathedrals of Cafalù and Monreale), in particular the Cathedral, the Martorana Church and Palazzo Reale. Also worth visiting are the Teatro Massimo and the Palazzo dei Normanni with the beautiful Palatine Chapel. If you want to discover the medieval soul of Sicily, be sure to visit the numerous medieval villages of the region, such as Erice, Caccamo, Novara di Sicilia and Salemi, but also the Castello di Lombardia in Enna, one of the largest medieval castles in Italy.
The so-called Val di Noto, on the other hand, in southeastern Sicily, awaits those who want to admire the traces of the splendid Sicilian Baroque. This area, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2005, includes a number of towns and villages such as Noto, Modica, Scicli, Caltagirone, the city of ceramics, and the beautiful Ragusa with its old town of Ibla. Catania is also part of the Val di Noto, but here many buildings were partly built from the lava rock of Etna, creating a black and white Baroque style. Baroque architecture of exceptional beauty can also be admired in other Sicilian cities such as Messina, Trapani and Syracuse and its historic center on the small island of Ortigia.
Delicious Sicilian cuisine
You like good food? Then you've come to the right place! Sicily has a rich and varied gastronomic tradition that offers something for every taste. Here, the products of the land meet Mediterranean flavors in tasty, hearty dishes. From Arab-inspired couscous alla Trapanese (with fresh fish) to pasta with sardines, from arancini (breaded and fried rice balls, also called "arancine") to caponata (a side dish with sweet and sour vegetables). From cassata (a cone-shaped cake made of sponge cake and ricotta cream, enriched with candied fruit and chocolate chips) to cannoli (tubular, deep-fried wafers filled with ricotta cream and decorated with candied fruit), the list of typical Sicilian dishes is almost endless. Take a trip to the fish market in Catania to buy fresh fish directly from the people who caught it, or enjoy the best street food in Europe in Palermo. Visit the region's many festivals and events, such as the Bronte Pistachio Festival, the Chocomodica Chocolate Festival in Modica, or the Dolce Sicily Nougat Festival in Caltanisetta. Wine lovers will particularly appreciate the tastings in the wineries of Etna or Marsala.