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Sitting right at the southern tip of Italy, the beautiful but rugged island of Sicily is separated from the mainland by the two-mile-wide Straits of Messina. Although it is probably most famous as the home of Mount Etna, the largest active volcano in Europe, Sicily has so much more to offer visitors – think fantastic food and wine, ancient temples, beautiful beaches and a bustling capital city.
Sicily’s Mediterranean climate means hot summers and mild winters, so plan your vacation here for either late spring or early autumn to make the most of the warm, sunny days. The easiest way to reach Sicily is to fly into one of the island’s main airports, in either Palermo, Catania or Trapani. However, if you’re coming from the Italian mainland you can also take either a train or a ferry.
The fascinating city of Palermo brings together Byzantine, Arabesque and, of course, Italian influences, which is a testament to its 2,700 years of history. In many ways, however, Palermo is a thoroughly modern city: its contemporary art scene is thriving, pioneering new restaurants open up regularly and some of the more run-down neighborhoods are becoming fashionable hang-outs. A perfect day in Palermo might start at the Mercato del Capo, a souk-like market where throngs of locals barter with vendors over fruit, vegetables, meat, fish and a variety of household goods. From there head to the dazzling Cappella Palatina, a gilded chapel that boasts incredibly intricate Byzantine mosaics. For a further culture fix, the Museum of Contemporary Sicilian Art at the Palazzo Riso and the Galleria d’Arte Moderna, which is housed inside a 15th century-Franciscan monastery, are both well worth a visit.
As a country, Italy is famous for its cuisine – and rightfully so – but the island of Sicily has its own specialties which are well worth a try. Many Sicilian foods fall into the street food category – they can be picked up at the market or a hole-in-the-wall café and eaten on the go. They also tend to err on the side of unhealthy – but don’t worry about that on vacation! The first must-try is arancini: these fried rice balls can be stuffed with ragú, mozzarella, and peas, and are usually served in bite-size pieces, although at Palermo’s Antico Caffè Spinnato you’ll get one, delicious, softball-sized arancino. Other savory specialties include fritti misti (mixed fried seafood), stigghiola (barbecued intestines) and panelle (chickpea fritters). For dessert, a refreshing granita might be all you have room for, but be sure to try some of Sicily’s famous pastries, which include cannoli and cassata, a sponge cake made with ricotta and candied fruits.
Mount Etna, Europe’s largest and most active volcano looms over eastern Sicily. With stripes of snow up its sides and the occasional plume of smoke coming from its crater, Etna looks from a distance as though it might not be real, but in fact, the volcano erupts around three times per year on average. Visitors, however, can rest assured that volcanic activity is closely monitored and dangerous areas are quickly closed off. The best way to reach the summit is via a cable car, although it is possible to hike to the top from the base at 1,800 meters. After your trip to the top, head down to the upscale town of Taormina, which sits right in Mount Etna’s shadow. A popular tourist destination since the 18th century, this hillside town offers panoramic vistas, as well as a fantastic 3rd century BC Greek amphitheater and some excellent cafes and restaurants.
You can find remains of Ancient Greek civilization in Sicily all across the island, but the stunning Valle dei Templi is well worth a visit for anyone interested in history or archaeology. The site encompasses the ruined city of Akragas, which is now the modern-day city of Agrigento on Sicily’s southwest coast. The ‘valley’, which is, in fact, a ridge on the outskirts of town includes seven temples, the most remarkable of which is the Temple of Concordia. Constructed in 430 BC, the temple has remained almost intact for over 2,000 years and is one of the most notable examples of ancient Greek architecture in existence today.
On Sicily’s Ionian coast in the southeast corner of the island, the gorgeous city of Siracusa is made up of quaint cobbled streets, dramatic Ancient Greek ruins, lively piazzas lined with cafes and colorful citrus orchards. Set right on the Mediterranean Sea, Siracusa offers a winning combination of beach life and urban culture. If you want to experience all that the area has to offer, be sure to check out our selection ofSiracusa vacation rentals . Ranging from ultra-modern villas to artfully restored former farmhouses, our properties can accommodate up to 24 guests – perfect for family trips or larger celebrations.
The second largest city on the island after Palermo, Catania on Sicily’s east coast is an ancient port city that buzzes with an energy that belies its 2700 years of history. Sitting right at the base of Mount Etna, Catania has been destroyed by volcanic eruptions several times throughout the centuries, but this resilient city keeps rising from the ashes and is nowadays widely perceived as one of Italy’s most interesting destinations. To see for yourself, discover our handpickedCatania villas , which have everything you need for a stylish Sicilian getaway.
Located on Sicily’s western coast, not far from Palermo, Trapani is a buzzing port city and the gateway to the nearby Aegadian Islands. However, the city has plenty to offer in its own right, with its charming historic center and its lush countryside surroundings. OurTrapani luxury rentals can sleep from 8-16 guests, making them the ideal base for a Sicilian vacation with family or friends.