Whether you’re picking a path through ancient ruins, unravelling spaghetti in a candlelit trattoria or picnicking in a field of orange trees, holidays to Sicily offer up a snapshot of ‘la dolce vita’
This triangle-shaped island at the bottom of Italy’s boot is a constant travel award contender. In fact, Condé Nast Traveller readers voted it ‘The World’s Favourite Island’ in 2009. And it’s easy to see why this romantic slice of Italy has clocked up so many devotees over the years.
It may be small, but Sicily is perfectly formed. Medieval villages, Roman ruins and sprawling countryside make up the island’s interiors, while vineyards, olive groves and lemon trees march down to the coastline. Then there’s Mount Etna to think about. Sicily’s volcano is the tallest in Europe and, at 10,890 feet, it towers over the cities below.
The big three
Taormina is the Italy you see on postcards. Its sand-coloured buildings are hidden behind vines and flowers that spill over balconies. And, at its centre, a Greek amphitheatre overlooks the beach. Down the road from Taormina is family-favourite Giardini Naxos. Cefalu is another big-hitter. This place flaunts a maze of backstreets and a collection of ancient Greek ruins, like the Temple of Diana.
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Size-wise, Letojanni doesn’t come on a grand scale, but its narrow sweep of Sicilian coastline certainly maximises its exposure to the sandy shore. It’s a haven for holidaying Italians as well as international tourists, and part of the appeal is the pace – it’s more siestas and sunsets than clubbing here. And it’s also really close to upmarket Taormina, dubbed the Monte Carlo of Sicily.
For most of the year, this town on Sicily’s north coast is a sleepy fishing port. But come summer, its population is swelled by a cosmopolitan mix of holidaymakers from Italy and further afield. Cefalu’s giant sandy beach is the obvious draw, but its rustic fishermen’s quarter and Medieval old town, backdropped by La Rocca, add to its rock solid pedigree.
Cary Grant and Greta Garbo used to be regular visitors to Taormina, on Sicily’s east coast. And today this charismatic resort still attracts a glamorous crowd with its Medieval old quarter, elegant piazzas and hold-your-breath views of Mount Etna. There’s also a well-kept Greek amphitheatre, designer shops and some of the best pasta in this part of Italy.
Palazzolo sits high up in the Hyblean Mountains. It’s an elegantly attired town that gazes down on the historic city of Syracuse and Sicily’s southern tip. And it’s on the UNESCO World Heritage list with neighbours such as Ragusa, thanks to the remarkable Baroque architectural style in which it was rebuilt after the earthquake of 1693. A low-key chic pervades the town, which is a stone’s throw from the ruins of Akrai and the vine-clad Sicilian countryside.
In the ancient world, Siracusa stood toe-to-toe with Athens in terms of sheer beauty and world influence, attracting the likes of Plato and Aeschylus to its shores. Today, it’s one of Sicily’s most-visited destinations, offering a combination of historic sights and chic Italian style. Ortigia island, a square-kilometre packed with Baroque palazzos, piazzas and fountains, is the heart of the action. And the Greek ruins in the north of the city are some of the best in all Sicily.
Castelmola is an eye-catching hilltop village perched almost precariously over historic Taormina and the bay of Giardini Naxos on Sicily’s Ionian coast. In the background, the peaks of Mount Etna are outlined in bold against the sky. And if Castelmola figures on the official list of Italy’s most beautiful villages, it’s not just because of its lofty location but also its tall, Medieval town houses and irresistible old-world charm.