For a slice of unpolished Sicily, catch the hydrofoil from Trapani to the Egadi, a mini-archipelago off the north-west coast. We stayed on Marettimo, the smallest and most remote. There are walking trails across the island but the real joy is in the simple pleasures — sunning yourself on an empty, rocky beach, ordering a brioche con gelato in La Scaletta, the local ice-cream parlour, watching the fishing boats offload their catch on to wooden trolleys to be sold through the village.
When you arrive at Marettimo’s tiny harbour you’ll be greeted by locals offering rooms in fishermen’s houses. To guarantee a bed for the night — and more space — book into the Residence, the island’s only hotel. May and September are sleepy; in July and August the Italians pile over.
No, really. Clearly most people aren't visiting Florence to watch films in English, but should you be rained-off, or feel the onset of Stendahl's syndrome, then this splendid little cinema in the middle of town might be just the thing.
The interior is spotless and well-appointed, and the domed-ceiling is a gem. They don't make them like this anymore. Check the schedules - there are usually 2 or 3 foreign (read English) language films per week.
Piazza Strozzi 2, Florence
Restaurant in a converted oil mill with much-coveted terrace overlooking the sea (the views are beautiful but, more importantly for Italians, it's outside so you can smoke). The main attraction is the lobster, clams, sea bass, cuttlefish and just about anything else that can be removed from water with a net, pot or hook. But it's also a great place to come to watch people make idiots of themselves: get a table in the atmospheric stone-walled interior (much more room, aircon), order a prosecco and watch as the beautiful people attempt to beg, threaten or bribe their way on to the terrace. We saw cash, fags and what looked like an offer of sex, but the maitre d' stood firm: no prenotazione, no prime preening spot.
Via Bordonaro 96
From Palermo airport to the centre of town, the airport bus leaves every half hour and costs 5 euros. We arrived at the airport at 9pm, and were in our hotel (near the top of Via Roma) by 9:40.
The airport is now also known as Falcone-Borsellino Airport in honor of Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, two anti-Mafia magistrates killed in separate bomb attacks.
Palermo airport website: www.gesap.it
An unusual hotel in Verona, lying right by the river and just a short walk from the Arena. If you've not been before it's a bit tricky to find, hiding as it does behind a large set of doors (drive through these for private parking shaded by a pergola), but once inside you'll find an interesting building with a splendid communal area downstairs. We loved our stay, and this is very much a 'boutique' hotel.
They do have their own site, but we preferred to book online at the site below, useful for the Google map aside from anything else.
Tel. + 39 045 59 77 21
Okay, I'm going to be totally perverse here by suggesting a place that isn't in Sicily. Vulcano is actually one of the Aeolian Islands just north of Sicily (others include Stromboli and Lipari) and is quite unlike anywhere else I've visited. The name's a bit of a giveaway (Vulcano/volcano geddit), as these islands are all volcanic (and there's Etna on mainland Sicily of course. Vulcano itself has (apparently) Italy's largest 'non submarine' volcanoes, there are little 'fumaroles' spouting steam, the beach has black sand - unbelievable - and there are thermal spas and mud baths. A bit like Iceland with hot weather we reckoned. Stayed at a very nice modern hotel on the Gulf of Ponente.
This fourth century AD villa houses truly spectacular mosaics, mostly in suberb condition. Follow the trail of rooms and corridors to enjoy vivid hunting scenes of exotic beasties. Covered with a roof to protect the tiles from direct sunlight, it is worth avoiding the midday sun as the greenhouse effect can make for sweltering conditions!
Villa Romana, Casale, Piazza Armerina
A small fishing village between Palermo and the airport. Most of the seafront restaurants serve a 6 - 7 course set lunch (around 20 euros). No menu as such, just what's been caught fresh that morning. Bottle of wine or two included. I've never seen anyone who's not Italian eating there and its time to share this wonderful place. Ryanair's summer schedule means you can have a decadent day out and have lunch in the Med (if you don't mind the early start). Delfina is the one I'd recommend. It's busy between 1-3pm when the locals descend for their feed but I've never had to wait too long for a table.
Central Palermo by cab is around 20 euros and takes around 20 minutes, traffic permitting. Local trains stop close by en route to/from the airport.
We took the train from Rome to Palermo and it was an amazing journey through the south of Italy and across the north coast of Sicily. Highlights included crossing the Messina Straits at 6am after being shunted whilst still on the train onto a ferry and passing by whole neighbourhoods of backyards in the villages of northern Sicily, getting a snapshot of semi-rural life.
On a train from anywhere in mainland Italy!
Beautiful old town that's perfect for mooching around and seeing the sights. Grab a limoncello or three at one of a strip of waterside bars as the sun sets and go for a stroll amongst the locals. Clear your head the next day by exploring the ancient ampitheatre at the edge of town (catch a bus from the central station).
South-east Sicily. Rent a car for max flexibility when touring the island.
Sicily has many stunning beaches, but the 7km string of coves that run along the coastline of this nature reserve are particularly special. Grab a map at the information hut in the car park, and make your way along a winding cliff-edge path for 20 minutes and you will come across the first white pebbled beach 20 metres below.
If you can resist the lure of the dazzling crystalline waters a little longer, it is well-worth trudging on another 3km to the next series of bays, which will be less crowded.
A word of warning: it can get painfully hot in July & August, & the path enjoys little shade, so the walk can be torturous without sufficient clothing or litres of water.
There are entrances to the Nature Reserve to the South near Scopello, and in the North at San Vito Lo Capo.
Hidden in a piazza away from Palermo's traffic clogged streets, Pizzeria Bellini offers a slice of pure Sicilian drama (apt as it sits behind the theatre with which it shares it name). Rock up around 8pm to join the long queue of chattering punters eager for an outdoor table with romantic views of the old Roman wall and San Cataldo's red domes. Sip on deliciously cheap, local, house vino rosso whilst you wait (& it does take a while) for a huge pizza to arrive hot from the wood-fired oven. Look out for regional toppings with sardine, fennel and pinenuts. And, if your stomach can take the strain, indulge in every good godfather's vice - homemade cannoli.
Piazza Bellini, just off Corso Vittorio Emanuelle, Palermo
Want a taste of Aeolian island luxury, but can't afford the prices over on Panarea? Located on nearby Salina, the lushest Aeolian island in the archipeligo, Signum makes for a deeply relaxing, stylish retreat. After a short hop on the hydrofoil from Milazzo, and a thrilling cliff-edge bus ride to the village of Malfa, drag your suitcase down a winding footpath past traditional white washed houses to a cacti-filled, antiques laden reception.
All the components of a trendy boutique hotel are in place: myriad balconies with splendid sea views, (modest) horizon pool, and vine covered terrace where you can feast on terrific local seafood by candlelight. And don't miss the cute pebble beach, backed by crumbling fishermen's huts.
Hotel Signum, Via Scalo 15
Tel: 0039 090 984 4222
The old city of Noto was destroyed by an earthquake in 1693. Which wasn't such a bad thing for the modern tourist, because the whole city was rebuilt in Sicilian baroque style. The creamy, fine local limestone glows warmly in the sun, or shines eerily white on a stormy day. If Bernini had lived in the Cotswolds, he would have built Noto-on-the-Water... Prepare to be impressed - or to fall in love.
40 minute bus ride from Siracusa
The bones of Santa Rosalia, patron of Palermo, are preserved in this cave. A network of metal bars and gutters directs the seeping water from the roof of the cave into little bottles; it's supposed to be miraculous. The whole place is slightly surreal - natural rock contrasting with baroque glittering furniture.
Monte Pellegrino - outside Palermo: you'll need to drive.
This is the artichoke growing heartland of Sicily. The season starts in December - so if you're after summer sun, watch out for huge mounds of them in the market - and eat them in the restaurants while the season lasts.
Cefalu - anywhere!
These hills are beautiful, high, and very little visited. There are some wonderful towns where you can feel the atmosphere and brooding isolation - Castelbuono, Petralia Soprana. The beach at Cefalu is beautiful. Just don't expect to drive at more than 30mph on the hairpins!
I've not done the whole villa thing before but with 6 of us on holiday this worked out at about £100/person for the week. Italian Breaks is run by Cristina, a Sicilian ex-pat, so just about every nook and cranny on the island is covered and we had the best value for money holiday for a long time. Recommended!
Tel: 020 8666 0407
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