Lovely, welcoming bargainous B&B (45-90 euro per night) clinging to the hillside above Taormina. Huge balconies overlooking the bay and Giardini-Naxos. Reward yourself after climbing back up the hill after dinner with a bottle of wine and fireworks; more often than not there is of course Etna or be there on 8 September when man-made fireworks are let off all evening to celebrate the feast of the Immaculate Conception.
This small island, closer to Africa than Europe, is the southernmost tip of Italy. It has some of the prettiest and remote beaches in the Mediterranean, most of which are empty outside the months of July and August. Snorkel with manta rays, watch dolphins from a boat, or hire a bicycle and cover the island's 20 sq km in a day. Loggerhead turtles lay their eggs on the Isola dei Conigli (Rabbit Island), and the Riserva Naturale Isola di Lampedusa, a wildlife nature reserve, is an undiscovered land of walks and megalithic sites. If you visit, don't forget to pack Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa's literary masterpiece "The Leopard", his grandfather used to own the island.
West of Palermo on Sicily’s northern coast, picturesque Scopello is the ideal place to soak up the atmosphere of Sicilian village life. Enjoy the evening sun in the fairy lit walled square, surrounded by olive trees. Visit the beautiful ‘tonnara scopello’ set on the edge of the turquoise sea in an isolated bay covered with fragrant oleanders. The more energetic can walk in the stunning Lo Zingaro nature reserve or explore the rugged coastline by boat.
Ortygia was by far my favorite place in Sicily: much friendlier than Palermo and much less touristy than Taormina. If fact, it's one of my favorite places ever.
Once again, if you're unfamiliar with driving in Italy, beware: navigating the island is terrifying.
I loved staying at Approdo delle Sirene. The owner is sweet, the location is ideal, and the decor charming (plus you can't beat having your own personal netbook).
You are obligated to visit the Parco Archeologico if you go to Siracusa. I liked it -didn't think it was great - but would have kicked myself if I had missed it.
And as long as you're in the area, check-out the Santuario della Madonna: the contemporary, geometric design was a welcome departure from the multitudes of duomos.
Speaking of duomos, don't miss the Piazza del Duomo and surrounding buildings. I enjoyed perching on the steps and eating my weight in pistachio gelato while people-watching.
If you're in Ortygia on a Saturday, be sure to visit the market in the morning while everything is fresh.
Visit Noto: it's only about a one-hour drive away. Quaint town, interesting architecture.
My big regret was not eating at Il Duomo in Ragusa, approximately two hours from Siracusa. I was just too frazzled from the crazy driving to take on a four-hour adventure. It's the only two Michelin star rated restaurant in Sicily, and obviously the best. I'm truly an idiot for canceling my reservation.
First off, if you're driving to Taormina, ensure that your directions to your hotel are spot-on perfect: the twisting hills are confusing. The Michelin Guide directions (online) are extremely detailed.
I liked the Bel Soggiorno: great location and some character. But I hated my room. Book a perimeter room with a balcony/view.
Another tip: be careful of crime. I'm pretty sure that I was targeted while I was there.
The Palazzo San Domenico hotel is an atmospheric place: sneak in and roam the halls at night.
I regret not having visted Castelmola, the village on the cliff overlooking Taormina. I've since heard that there's a phallic-themed bar (Bar Turrisi).
I love the wonderfully bizarre Atelier Sul Mare art hotel in Castel di Tusa: each room was designed by a different artist. If you're in the area you should spend a half-day in the charming village of Cefalu and climb La Rocca: the view is worth the work.
Atelier Sul Mare: www.ateliersulmare.it/applicazione/index_asm.asp?lang=en
My Sicily trip report: www.travelmusings.net/sicily-2009/
The Sicily podcasts were the reason I chose Sicily as a destination. I found them invaluable when planning my trip because they are informative and successfully convey a sense of place.
Rick's podcasts: www.ricksteves.com/radio/archive.htm
BB22 is centrally located: close to main roads and two bus stations. The setting is intimate and the breakfast room is charming. The decor is very Elle Decor.
Taormina, like the rest of Sicily, is unreal whether you're looking at it from a five-star perspective or sleeping in a makeshift tent on the beach... or relaxing on your hotel's own private beach, which I must say was definitely the feature that won me over about the Mazzaro Sea Palace.
Of course that isn't its only outstanding feature, just one of many in a structure that compliments the natural beauty and tranquility of the surrounding area so completely that de-stressing is actually possible here (but contrary to popular belief I DO manage to get quite a bit done on these business trips).
Not to mention that the staff is again kind and happy to arrange massages and such for guests, which is a perfect end to a hard day's work or even just walking around taking in all the breathtaking scenery. The staff is also really great about organizing outdoor activities, which made me incredibly happy since lovely as my room was, Taormina is not a place to enjoy indoors by any means. It's a sparklingly hypnotic gem and as always, I can't wait to go back.
Thanks Mazzaro Sea Palace for being the icing on top of my last stay!
Via Nazionale, 147 - Taormina Mare (ME)
And they did prove themselves to be 3 times lucky:
CiaoRental is an Italian website for holiday rentals. It has many vacation homes listed by owners in many places in Sicily. If you plan to rent homes to visit Sicily and other Italian regions you can find a home along your travel route.
Perched high on the hillside overlooking the sandy bay of Giardini Naxos, Taorimina is a cosmopolitan town with a Greek past. Walk along the main pedestrianised street filled with designer shops and restaurants, to stop at the piazza with a stunning view of the bay dominated by the magnificent Mount Etna.
Take the windy road up even higher to the small village of Castel Mola which looks down on Taormina and the bay, or take the cable car down to Isola Bella and enjoy a swim in the clear sea.
Taormina is in the province of Messina, nearest airport is Catania. Reachable by motorway, shuttle bus or train.
At the southern most point of Sicily, just under the town of Pachino (famous for its tomatoes) you literally reach the end of the road and the point where two seas meet. The waves of the Ionian Sea crash diagonally into the waves of the Tyrrhenian Sea in spectacular style while visitors endeavour to walk through the middle to the small island. A truly exhilarating battle against nature (at least in September when the sea is almost hot). Afterwards, run into the waves from the sandy beach, then sit back and enjoy watching the next batch of vistors try and make the crossing. Then stop at a trattoria for a local fish speciality with of course some pachino tomatoes.
From Pachino, in the south east corner of Sicily, follow the signs to Isola Dei Currenti (its about another 5km). Park at the end of the road, just a couple of minutes on foot to the beach.
Driving onto the ferry at the port of Palermo in northern Sicily, we headed straight to the top deck and settled down into the deckchairs to take in the late afternoon sun. The sun sank slowly and magnificently into the Mediterranean Sea, its last rays silhouetting the North African coastline as we pulled into port ten hours later at Tunis.
The scene that greeted us in Tunis could not be further from the quiet life of Sicily: the hustle and bustle of street markets lining the pavements, lively malouf music and the smell of burning incense and fragrant spices drifting in through the car windows... this ferry ride to the other side of the Mediterranean might just as well be to the other side of the world!
We turned up at the port at Palermo and bought our tickets on the same day as the boat's departure, though there are only two sailings weekly so it could be safer to book at www.directferries.co.uk
For a fantastically unique and cheap (from €9 one way) ferry hop around Sicily’s beautiful, charming and untouched Aegadian islands you can’t beat the Favignana, Levanzo and Marettimo trio, leaving from the port of Trapani, northwest Sicily.
The round trip is a couple of hours and there are enough ferries to allow you to sample all the islands in a single day, but equally there is accommodation on all the islands if you wish to extend your visit.
The tiny island of Levanzo hosts the cave of the Genoese with its pre-historic paintings. Favignana is known for its butterflies, grottoes, beaches, bays and tuna fishing – and don’t miss the local restaurant speciality of spaghetti and tuna botargo at the La Bettola restaurant in the port. The final island on the route is Marettimo, with its whitewashed, colourfully shuttered homes, ports filled with fishing boats and unbelievably blue water.
"Bellini", the night train from Rome (Termini) to Siracusa, leaves around 9pm, and is loaded onto the ferry across the Straits of Messina very early the next morning (6-ish). You just lie in bed while it's loading, and can then go up and have a coffee on deck and watch the light over the coast of Sicily, although you could just stay in bed and wait for the attendant to bring you the cappuccino or espresso you ordered the night before (at the carriage door, when you get on).
There are four-person couchettes, but there's something really romantic about proper sleepers, and a two person compartment (single bunks with proper sheets, plus complementary toiletries, mineral water, coffee...) - costs just €75 pp. If you want something more luxurious you can have a double bed compartment with ensuite shower etc for €140 pp.
The air conditioned train then follows the coast, through Taormina, and arrives in Siracusa at about 10 am. We love going to bed and waking up 500 miles away, right where we want to be - it's a great way to unwind at the start of a holiday.
Italian night trains are all good value, but the crossing - and the destination - makes this one the best.
'Mountain' restaurants (restaurants found up in the Nebrodi and Madonie mountains, which are along the north coast of Sicily).
Fantastic food and wine, and enough of it for even the biggest of appetites, and for the smallest of wallets.
Multiple courses of speciality foods, all washed down with locally produced wine. Life can't get any better, especially when it costs in the region of €20 - €30. And lets not forget the views!
Too many to put here ! Just ask the local people and I'm sure they will point you towards one of their favourites.
A bold venture by an excentric - maniacal, even - proponent of 'natural wine. That's to say, wine made entirely naturally without ANYTHING added, and which tastes like no wine you've ever drunk. Sounds crazy, but it really works!
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