- Family-run Aeolian farmhouse
- Il Postino country
- Gargoyles and grandeur
- Noto’s historic heart
- Farmhouse in the olive groves
- Coast into country
- Designers’ playground
- Overlooking ancient Modica
- Trad buildings, mod interiors
- Secret Modica courtyard
- Lava’s all around
- Fertile foothills, sea-facing slopes
- 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.
See our separate guide to Sicily’s Aeolian Islands.
Seaside, sightseeing, sunsets… there are things you want on your holiday tick-list, and things you don’t: funding organised crime, say. To help you avoid lining the pockets of Sicilian gangsters, the Addiopizzo movement was set up by a group of students with the aim of promoting businesses who refuse to pay the Mafia’s ‘taxes’ (pizzo). Visit addiopizzo.org to identify which cafés, restaurants and shops to spend your cash in.
- 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).
- Tipping culture
- A service charge is often added to restaurant bills, but an additional tip of 10 per cent is usual for good service.
- Siesta and fiesta
- Banks and most shops close between noon and 4pm, and outside the big cities you’re unlikely to find anything open during this period. Bars and restaurants stay open late, so do as the locals do and head out to eat around 10pm. In more rural spots, be prepared for earlier closing times.
- Packing tips
- Bring an extra bag to fill with all the jars of spices, condiments, and packets of dried tomatoes and chillis you’ll pick up at Palermo’s street markets. And bring some anti-nausea tablets – those inland mountain roads can induce car-sickness in the most iron-stomached of travellers.
- Recommended reads
- Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa’s classic novel The Leopard is the definitive Sicilian novel, chronicling the slow decline of a noble family over half a century – it’s also a great Visconti movie with Burt Lancaster and Sophia Loren. Want to know more about that secretive world of the Sicilian mafia? Midnight in Sicily by Peter Robb and Boss of Bosses by Clare Longrigg are essential reads. If it’s guiltier pleasures you seek, then Mario Puzo’s The Godfather and The Sicilian are packed with descriptions of the island’s landscape and culture.
- Feast on pasta and risotto, freshly baked focaccia and tasty seafood, such as grilled swordfish or stuffed squid – all in one sitting. The Italians are suckers for four (or more) courses when they’re dining out, so don stretchy waistbands if you plan to keep up. As for the wealth of drinkables, red-wine lovers will revel in the abundance of this inexpensive ruby-coloured tipple. This is also the land of the sweet fortified wine, Marsala, named after the city on the west coast from where it originates.
- Regional specialities
- Ricotta is a regional obsession, at its sweetest in tubular pastries called cannoli. Snack on panelle, fritters made with chickpea flour, or try a brioche con gelato: the island’s take on an ice-cream sandwich, abundant in Palermo’s pasticcerie. Sicilian winemakers’ output is largely sun-sweetened Marsala and moscato, although sunny climes also produce robust reds and super-dry whites; try some chardonnay and Santa Cecilia nero d’avola from famed family winery Planeta (planeta.it).
- Euro (€).
- Time zone
- GMT +1.
- Dialling codes
- Country code for Italy: +39. Palermo: 091; Catania: 095; Siracusa: 0931.
- 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.
Don't go home without...
…tasting Marsala wine straight from the cask in its birthplace: you’ll find the restored barrel cellars at Carlo Pellegrino in the centre of town – take a tour and get up close with gold, amber and ruby versions of this fortified dessert wine (carlopellegrino.it).