This summer, I decided to do something a bit special. I selected some of the most beautiful islands in Europe and spent a long time there. Islands with turquoise colors but also emerald islands and of course terra cotta. I took the opportunity to take a post-covid overview of the most hotels, tables and other wild coves. Now heading to Sicily.
As raw as it is beautiful, Sicily is an island of all extremes. Like the rocky volcanic coasts that line the white sand beaches. Baroque canvases parading alongside perfectly preserved ancient remains. Restaurant menus that range from gourmet pasta to fresh seafood platters. Or luxury hotels that coexist with small designer boutique hotels and charming traditional farmhouses. It’s a cliché, yet there really is something for everyone in Sicily. Not to mention that two new five-star hotels have just opened their doors in the heart of the two most prominent cities. The opportunity for Roadness to unveil its favorite spots where to stay, eat and enjoy all the best facets of this island at the crossroads of the Mediterranean.
1. Because Sicily wins beautiful places
Famous for its idyllic little mazes where bougainvillea grow, but also its Greek amphitheater which welcomes musicians every summer for outdoor concerts under a star-studded sky, Taormina is also known for bringing together the greatest number of five hotels. Sicilian stars. With this year, a great novelty: the San Domenico Palace has just been given a facelift (it opened in 1986). Between the walls of an old monastery, the original frescoes have been restored through an array of sumptuous suites. With its breathtaking view of Etna, there is also an infinite swimming pool, restaurants plunging on the Sicilian coast where you can sip spritzes facing the sea. All a few steps from the shopping street of Corso Umberto.
Another very popular city, Palermo shines at the top of the list of places to put your suitcases. Especially if we bet on Villa Igiea, a new hotel from the Italian group Rocco Forte. Very quiet, the place has the advantage of being located not far from the city center, just 10 minutes from fabulous historical sites with Arab-Norman architecture and good tables expert in Sicilian cuisine. Above the marina, the hotel has its own private port. And you can also enjoy a turquoise swimming pool as well as a brand new restaurant that offers raw fish and fresh pasta. Not to mention its spa with its own line of Irene Forte treatments and the rooms with spectacular views. A dream drop-off point before getting lost in the streets of Palermo, animated by the verbal jousting of the merchants, the rumor of the Ballaro market, and the local fauna that gather every weekend in the bars around the opera Teatro Massimo.
2. Sicily, kingdom of mythical hotels
You can’t just find ancient ruins and luxury boutiques in Taormina. The town is also famous for its idyllic beaches which stretch out over the bay and encircle the town. To visit this little corner of paradise, there are also many other beautiful places to stay such as Villa Sant’Andrea. A private villa which has been converted into a hotel by the Belmond group on the bay of Mazzarò. A former 19th century villa, then inhabited by a family of aristocrats, the place has preserved lush tropical gardens from this flamboyant era that are still as beautiful today. And won a restaurant overlooking the sea.
To discover the city center and the local beaches, the other option is to stay at the Grand Hotel Timeo (which also belongs to the Belmond group). Once the headquarters of great writers and intellectuals, such as David Harsent Lawrence, Jean Cocteau or Truman Capote, the place is perfectly located right next to the amphitheater. For lovers of sea bathing and diving, two other hotels are worth a visit. Located a few minutes from each other, they also overlook the nearby bays with spectacular views. The first is Mazzarò Sea Palace (on the magnificent sandy beach with deckchairs by the water) and the second: Villa Sant’Andrea.
And if you are looking for a quieter place during the summer season, you can head to the Atlantis Bay Hotel. A more modern hotel, with private access to the sea, and located on the bay nicknamed the “Baia delle Sirene” in reference to the mermaids who, according to legend, have swam around the rocks in centuries past. Equipped with a gourmet table, each room has its private terrace where you can drink a cocktail when the Sicilian sky turns midnight blue. Deserted by daytime tourists, you can walk there, later, by the sea with the feeling of having the beach all to yourself.
3. Roads to get off the beaten track
Shaped by many cultures over the centuries, the island’s landscape is just as contrasting. There are many treasures to be discovered outside of Taormina and Palermo. Like the white sand beaches that surround the towns of Trapani and Marsala on the west coast or the baroque architecture of the island of Ortigia in Syracuse. Hilltop towns abound, valleys as far as the eye can see as well as the sumptuous south-eastern coast of the island, with towns like Ragusa, Modica and Noto. Other assets are the rocks and lava fields near Etna, as well as the wonderful Aeolian Islands.
The island of Pantelleria is perfect for the more adventurous. Made famous by the film A Bigger Splash by Luca Guadagnino released in 2015, it is the holiday resort of Marianne played by Tilda Swinton. Remake of the famous La Piscine, she parades, like David Bowie in sumptuous landscapes in Dior haute couture signed Raf Simons. Still unknown to the general public several decades ago, it was designer Giorgio Armani who first acquired a property there in the north of the island. Then joined by Madonna, Julia Roberts or Sting.
Often considered as “an island without beaches”, with its wild winds, its winding roads and its raw landscape, it is nevertheless full of dozens of magnificent coves where you can swim. Very comfortable, the Sikelia Hotel is a gem with its titanic golden gate located near the charming town of Scauri on the south side of the island. With 19 meticulously decorated suites, the place combines the minimalism of traditional dwellings called dammuso with the opulence of Frette linen sheets and contemporary works of art. This holistic aesthetic was designed by its owner, former basketball player Giulia Gelmetti.
On site, the specialty is of course seafood, which chef Diego Battaglia magnifies through a menu inspired by Tunisian and Sicilian cuisine, working with sea urchins, red prawns and swordfish. Otherwise, spending an evening at Hotel Coste Ghirlanda’s vineyard, just 10 minutes away, is a must. If only for the tasting menu created by chef Luca Mastromattei.
4. The best seafood in Italy
Sicily is known for its local cuisine. Its best culinary specialties are often found in the most discreet places. The culture of street food is very developed. You can taste the famous arancini famous all over the world in the markets, or the sfincione, a pizza garnished with tomato sauce and breadcrumbs. The island is culturally very rich, we will come back to that later, and this has fatally impacted its culinary scene. Like couscous from North Africa, raisins from Persia or sesame seeds from the Levant, pistachios, eggplants, oranges, olives, almonds and prickly pears which are also very present. in the colorful Sicilian cuisine.
To taste on the spot? Seafood from Ortigia market in Syracuse, raw sardines from Piscaria fish market in Catania or fruit and vegetables from Ballaro market in Palermo. Also in the Sicilian capital, for shellfish lovers, the tables Osteria Nonna Dora, Trattoria Trapani and Osteria dei Vespri are not to be missed. For a more contemporary twist, head to L’Ottava Nota, in the cosmopolitan Kalsa district, for a ceviche or amberjack tataki. A’Cuncuma, is also a must. For those with a sweet tooth, Sicilian pastries are of course a must, from cannoli to cassatelle stuffed with ricotta. The Pasticceria Cappello, is more than an institution in Palermo. It is a short walk from Palazzo dei Normanni and serves all of the greatest Sicilian classics, such as the famous “setteveli” cake, made of seven layers of chocolate and hazelnuts. In Taormina, the Otto Geleng, located in the heart of the Grand Hotel Timeo, has only eight tables that overlook the bay of Naxos and offer a spectacular view of Mount Etna. Not to mention that chef Roberto Toro inventively revisits traditional Sicilian dishes. Finally, the restaurant St. George by Heinz Beck, has one of the youngest starred chefs in Italy, Delfo Schiaffino.
While in Pantelleria, the Osteria il Principe e il Pirata, near the idyllic village of Gadir, is known to be Giorgio Armani’s favorite restaurant. He goes there when he receives guests at his vacation home. It is also recommended to start the meal with grilled octopus or mackerel before tasting homemade linguine or tagliolini accompanied by fresh seafood caught the same morning.
5.Sicily is full of ancient and baroque treasures
Sicily is often considered the crossroads of the Western world, due to its location in the center of the Mediterranean and its cultural diversity. The island has been colonized by many civilizations such as the Greeks, Romans, Normans, Arabs, French, Spaniards as well as the Swiss. Each of these cultures has left an indelible mark on the island, Sicilian architecture is proof of this.
For those who are particularly interested in the ancient world, the Valley of the Temples, near the city of Agrigento, and the ruins of the ancient cities of Segesta and Selinunte, on the west coast of the island, are among the most popular sites. most spectacular and best preserved of ancient Greek architecture outside the Acropolis.
Mordud of Roman art, the extraordinary mosaics of Villa Romana del Casale, a few kilometers from the charming Piazza Armerina, provide a glimpse of the more than fascinating decor of an old holiday home. Including a series of exotic animals transported from Africa to Europe to gymnasts decked out in bikinis, the house is full of sumptuous mosaics. The towns of Ragusa and Noto still impress with their grandeur and their beauty faded by time. Sicily experienced its second golden age in the 17th and 18th centuries, when it was part of the Spanish Empire. The heyday of Sicily gave birth to sumptuous towns with Baroque architecture. Fans of Caravaggio, two of his paintings can be found in Messina and Syracuse, while a third can be found in the Oratory of San Lorenzo in Palermo. Only one replica remains because one of the paintings was stolen by the Sicilian Mafia. Sicily was devastated in the southwest of the island by an earthquake in 1693. The towns of Noto and Ragusa were largely affected by this disaster. These two towns were rebuilt in the theatrical and baroque style peculiar to Sicily.
For those in search of avant-garde, the island also has gems of contemporary art. First, the Palazzo Riso in Palermo, houses a number of works by the arte povera movement from the 1960s and 1970s. It features artists such as Jannis Kounellis, Carla Accardi and Giovanni Anselmo. Palazzo Riso also exhibits international artists such as Richard Long and Christian Boltanski. Otherwise the Francesco Pantaleone Arte Contemporanea (FPAC), Nuvole Incontri d´Arte and RizzutoGallery galleries are also interesting in this area.
6. Sicily has the most unspoiled beaches in Europe
A vacation would not be a vacation without a dip in the sea. To find the best beaches in Sicily, two regions must be explored. First, the west coast of the island, near the towns of Trapani and Marsala. The sand is white and the turquoise blue Mediterranean water is warm even in autumn. Among the best known, the beaches of San Vito lo Capo, Tonnara di Scopello, Cala Marinella and Marakaiobbo. Other more distant beaches are perfect for the intrepid, the island is full of numerous coves close to the beaten track.
Another place where one can find some of the best beaches on the island is in the southwest of the island, in the provinces of Ragusa and Syracuse. Even though the beaches are difficult to access, it is definitely worth a visit. The beaches of Calamoshe and Marianelli are worthy of postcards. Pack some arancini for lunch, sunscreen, and plenty of water, and you’re good to go. And if you’re in the area and feeling particularly intrepid, take a tour of the Cavagrande del Cassibile Nature Reserve, which remains one of Sicily’s best-kept secrets. The place is full of beaten paths, after a long hike you will discover the highlight of the show, magnificent lakes with crystal clear waters, waterfalls and rock pools where you can cool off when the sun begins to set behind the rocks.
Find your guide to take everywhere from Instagram “guide tab“.
Safety: In large cities like Palermo and Catania, avoid conspicuous valuables. There are many robberies, whether in the street or even in the car, especially in high season. In the car, for example, on the passenger side, do not keep your bag on your knees, because it is easier for a team on a scooter to steal it from you. Do not leave anything visible inside or your luggage in the trunk. Remember to remove the parcel shelf to show that you have nothing in the car. We had inquired about this point from friends, but also on many sites and forums and the locals did not confirm it on the spot.
When to go: May-June or September-October. The climate is mild, swimming is possible, site visits are pleasant and you avoid the tourist influx from July to August.
Getting around: The car is the most efficient way to get around Sicily. Connections between cities and seaside resorts are possible by public transport, but this is not ideal. On the other hand, be very careful on the road because driving Sicilians is really dangerous!
Road: Many cities like Syracuse, Scopello etc… have a Limited Traffic Zone which requires a subscription to be able to travel there. There are cameras located in these areas and it is $ 100 fine if you walk under one of these cameras without permission. On the other hand, if your hotel is located in one of these zones, you can most of the time reach it by car by notifying the hotel in advance of your arrival and by indicating your license plate on arrival.
Language: The official language is of course Italian, but Sicilians have their own dialect, which is sometimes very difficult to understand even if you speak Italian.
Culture: Sicily has many sites listed as World Heritage by Unesco: the archaeological area of Agrigento, the Aeolian Islands, the towns of the valley of Noto, Syracuse, Etna etc …