- Countryside Vineyards, villages, volcanoes
- Country life Exotic, eruptive, erudite
Shrugging off size limitations to reveal bustling cities, dramatic coastlines and mountainous countryside, this have-it-all Mediterranean island is Italy in microcosm.
Drive around and you’ll be soothed by palm trees and scented orange groves one minute, and exhilarated by exotic architecture the next: Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Arab, French, Spanish, Austrian and Brit invaders have all planted their flags. Dominated by Mount Etna – Europe’s largest active volcano – the east is Sicily’s most built-up sweep. Punchy capital Palermo crowns the north coast with a glut of gutsy galleries and ornate churches, linked by a spaghetti-tangle of mediaeval streets. Due south, serene sandy beaches and pretty fishing villages quietly partner flourish-filled Baroque towns. Whether you venture up or down, on this isle, it’s easy to enjoy un poco di tutti.
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Do go/Don’t go
It’s textbook lovely throughout the year, although the beginning and the end of the summer months are ideal as the sun isn’t too scalding and the beaches less crowded. August is best avoided, as this is when the mainland Italians descend in their droves.
Planes There are three main airports: Palermo (gesap.it), Trapani (aeroportotrapani.com) and Catania (aeroporto.catania.it). For the south coast, Catania is 30 minutes nearer by car than Palermo, a little over two hours away.
Boats Sicily can be reached by boat from the Italian mainland. The shortest ferry crossing (20 minutes) leaves the mainland at Villa San Giovanni for Messina (carontetourist.it). Sailings from Naples and Salerno take more than eight hours; there are also occasional services to Sardinia (tirrenia.it).
Trains Though the system is quintessentially Southern Italian – ie, unreliable and a bit haphazard – Sicily’s trains are an affordable and easy way to get between the island’s major towns and cities (trenitalia.com). It’s possible to take the train from mainland cities to Messina, via the train ferry from Villa San Giovanni in Reggio Calabria; island intercity trains link Messina, Palermo, Taormina, Catania and Siracuse (trenitalia.com).
Automobiles Thanks to mountain hairpins and a carefree regional attitude to bumps and scrapes, driving in Sicily is not for the faint-hearted. But wheels are essential for exploring, especially if you want to see the rugged interior, and well-maintained motorways link major towns.
- Taxis Cabs are cheap and easy to find in Palermo and the island’s major resorts, but you’re better off hiring a car if you plan to do any longer journeys around the island. For fares around Palma di Montechiaro, try Licata-based Agenzia Cafa’ Viaggi (+39 0922 770031).