We had looked into the idea of property buying in Sicily, particularly the local €1 home renovation schemes. It was easy to imagine us doing that and having somewhere nice and warm to retire to. We set up some visits to view properties, but after extensive research, we found that we were highly unlikely ever to be able to obtain a visa to live there due to Brexit. We had already booked and paid for our flights, so we decided to go ahead with our trip and see the sights of this magical island. Hiring a car we decided that driving around the Sicilian Coastline anticlockwise was the way to go!
We arrived at Catania with no real plan of where we were going to visit. I had pre booked the first night’s accommodation and booked car hire in advance but that was it! The beach front property with amazing views of Mount Etna. What we hadn’t realised is the close proximity to the airport. It wouldn’t be for everyone, however Beteyo Hostel Don Brasco was a really unique place and we enjoyed our stay. The views including a bit of dorky plane spotting overlooking the runway were absolutely stunning. We liked it enough to book a second night there!
The town of Catania is a hectic place for driving. We had a nice calm drive from the airport so were feeling comfortable driving in Sicily so far. This all changed when we decided to head out for some food. We were met with by challenging driving conditions as we headed towards Catania city centre. Nerves of steel were required. Mopeds buzzed around us like wasps seemingly prepared to attack from all angles. Driving was such an experience I decided it warranted its own blog post. See Should I hire a car in Sicily for more about that. We can’t comment too much on central Catania but the traffic was enough to make us want to move on.
I’ll be honest, whilst I’d heard of Etna from news and from school I didn’t realise where it was. When I looked at local attractions I realised how close we were going to be to it. Of course we had to do it! We were already wowed by our views from our accommodation so we had to get a closer look.
Etna is a stratovolcano, meaning it is cone shaped and made up of many layers of hardened lava and tepha. It is still very active with its last activity seen over the past few months and it has been active for over 2700 years. We researched how to visit and drove to the cable car station where we got the funivia dell’etna up to 2500mtrs and then did the 4×4 trip up to 2750mtrs. We had a good day for it and again it warranted its own post Thinking of visiting Mount Etna? so please read more about it at the link above.
Visible from the top of Etna and nestled in a hilltop on the east coast is the enchanting town of Taormina. Just an hour north (and slightly east) from Catania we navigated the steep windy roads to reach this hidden gem.
We booked into B&B Giulia high up in the town. It wasn’t a cheap option by any means; in fact the whole town seemed in demand and quite expensive but as it was our wedding anniversary we thought why not. We also had a lovely meal out for our anniversary.
We have made a separate post about our time here, A short stay in Taormina, but below are some of the stunning pictures of the views we saw around the village and from the Teatro Greco. Be aware of the busy traffic, narrow roads and parking difficulties, but don’t let any of that put you off, it is beautiful!
Another cute hilltop village but this one has gangster links! There are parts of this town and the adjoining town Forza d’agro featured in the original Godfather movie. The town is located about 30 kilometres south west of Messini and dates back to medieval times. It was surrounded by a wall build by the Norman’s which still remains in place today.
If you’re a film buff maybe you recognise some of the famous places in these photos?
According the office site for the bar, in 1971 the Bar Vitelli was chosen by the director Francis Ford Coppola as the set of the most famous scenes in his masterpiece The Godfather. Savoca is the place that is the backdrop to the love affairs of Mike Corleone and Apollonia, the daughter of the owner of the bar, Mr. Vitelli, from whom Mike will ask for the hand of the future bride. The church featured above, is the Chiesa di San Nicolo, where Mike and Apollonia got married. Both inside and outside the bar it is possible to relive the atmosphere of the American cult for every lover of history and cinema. The bar and hotel have been well preserved and you can even stay there (for a hefty £500 a night). We settled for a drink!
Torre Faro Point
Found in Messina, Torre Faro is on the most north easterly point of Sicily and Italy mainland is clearly visible at a distance of only 3km away. The prominent feature here is the Pilone di Torre Faro which as the name suggests is a pylon. This pylon, which stands at 224mtrs tall, used to bring electricity from the mainland to Sicily until it was decommissioned in 1994. The opposite pylon is visible in Calabria on the mainland.
The point has a lovely but rather choppy beach area. It appeared a popular gathering spot for young people when we visited. The point is unique in the fact it overlooks the Strait of Messini, which is where the Ionian Sea meets the Tyrrhenian Sea.
In addition the beach and the pylon there was also a lighthouse, Faro Capo Peloro, which is still active. It was constructed in 1853 and is 37 metres tall.
Milazzo is a municipality of Messina and is known for being the main port for trips to the Aeolian islands. For us this was a welcome stop on our road trip. We booked a last minute minute stop at Agriturismo II Gelsomino Ritrovato. We were hit by terrible weather with wind and rain so we decided to stay an extra night. From reviewing local attractions online we discovered there was a headland walk at the Cape of Milazzo which leads to the Pool of Venus so waking up to a sunny morning that’s where we headed. Parking was fine and we started our walk to the Cape in the Nature reserve.
Just to note there are a LOT of stairs involved to get to the Pool of Venus however the views were stunning. We were able to see the Aeolian islands including Volcano and Lipari in the distance and the pool was pretty stunning too. It is definitely a lovely spot to see when if you find yourself in the area.
Driving back through the main town of Milazzo we stopped at Marina Santa Maria Maggiore for a photo opportunity. The Marina is known not only for the docking opportunities but there is a real chance of seeing dolphins. Unfortunately we were unlucky.
A 2 hour drive from Milazzo towards Palermo found us at the lovely seaside town of Cefalù. We booked in at a rather nice B&B Mia Guesthouse for a reasonable £37 a night. It was comfortable just opposite the train station and had a kitchen we could use.
The main attractions in Cefalù include the Cathedral, the Old Town and of course the lovely beach area. We headed to the Old Town, which comprises of mediaeval streets dating back to the 1100’s.
Perhaps the most stunning feature of Cefalù is its white sandy beach which spans over 1.4km. Overlooked by La Rocca, a mountain which is possible to climb (we passed), it is easy to see why Cefalù is such a popular spot in Sicily.
A recommendation from us would be a sunset stroll down to the Old Harbour and around Piazza Marina. Here there are some old restored rubbled walls, sea walls and rocks. Grab a beer (or wine) head down to the harbour and enjoy a magical sunset.
A post sunset walk around the Old Town found us at the Cefalù Cathedral, which unfortunately was closed at this time of day. The cathedral is a Roman Catholic basilica built in Norman architecture between 1131 and 1241.
In order to avoid further traffic and parking chaos we got the train from Cefalù to Palermo and spent the day there. The train only takes 48 minutes to get there and its easy to do a return in a day. We left at 10am and got the 7.38pm train back. This was plenty of time for our poor legs after 23k steps! We saw a lot though and have a separate blog for this in order to cover more of what we saw- Spending a day in Palermo; however below are some of our highlights.
Trapani and Erice
Located on the West Coast of Sicily, Trapani is known for its tuna fish catching as well as a lovely crescent shaped coastline. Our visit however was brief as our intention was to visit the hilltop town of Erice which can be reached by cable car from Trapani. We had a brief visit to Trapani and saw the beach prior to finding the cable car station.
The Trapani-Erice cableway cost €9 each return and takes visitors to a heady 751 metres. Erice can also be reached by car, bus or walking or cycling. We choose the less effort, more scenic option. The cable car ride was fantastic and we had an amazing view over the Trapani. The cable car is 3099 long at a slant up the mountainside and takes 10 minutes to reach the top.
We had a great few hours in Erice so please see our supplemental post Erice – A hilltop adventure not to be missed. Below are a few lovely pictures from there.
Marsala is a coastal town in western Sicily, Italy. It’s known for its ancient ruins, fortified Marsala wine and Stagnone Nature Reserve, with salt pans and migratory birds. Of course, although it sounds like an indian meal we were more than aware of Marsala wine. A sweet dessert red wine which personally I find a little sickly. However when in Rome (or Sicily!) It would be rude not to try the local produce. We found a lovely little wine stop along the way (the are numerous vineyards with shops to choose from) and bought a couple of bottles before heading for brief stop into the town to see the shoreline.
We had looked at Salemi for property but also had seen the TV show featuring Amanda Holden and Alan Carr The Italian Job. In the programme they took 3 months to renovate 2 x €1 properties with the help of local professionals. The property called Casa Alamanda is now for sale. We were keen to locate the property but also see for ourselves what Salemi had to offer.
Salemi is located in the province of Trapani and is located inland in the southwest of Sicily. With a declining population it has been looking at ways to regenerate the town with the €1 scheme but it certainly had a charm to it. With astounding views across vineyards and olive groves we could see the charm this village had to offer. It is located on the slopes of Monte delle Roze Mazzaro so makes for some steep climbing. The old streets of the village were quite enchanting.
The number one question is did we find Casa Alamanda; and the answer is yes we did! We had no address but came across it by accident when walking the streets.
On the South Coast of Sicily perched on a hilltop Agrigento can be found. The town is known for its historical significance; especially its Valley of the Temples. The UNESCO World Heritage site hosts well-preserved Doric temples which date back to the 5th and 6th Century BC as well as the remains of the ancient Greek city of Akragas. We decided to pay a visit as it looked an impressive site. It cost €5 for parking and a €12 each entry fee. It should be noted that the GPS directions were a bit all over the place so we would recommend getting close and following the brown signs to the entrance. There are apparently two entrances and we picked the Juno Temple entrance.
The Juno Temple (or Hera Temple) above was dedicated to Zeus’s wife. It was burnt down in 406 BC by the Carthaginians and had to be rebuilt. There are still several pillars still standing.
The Temple of Concordia is the most well preserved building on the site. It was consecrated as a Christian basilica in the 6th century AD and therefore has been kept in a good condition.
All in all there were 8 temples to visit; however it was hot and we had limited time at the site. These were supposedly the best preserved temples to see and they are spread out over a large area of nearly 1300 hectares.
If you’re a history buff this a great place to spend a day; for us however it was a short but enjoyable visit. It would be easy to spend a day but in the summer you would need sufficient water as it was hot in April.
Found in southeast Sicily nestled in a hilltop is the lovely town of Ragusa. The old town, Ragusa Ibla, is home to many baroque style buildings and churches. The most notable of these is Duomo di San Giorgio which has a paintings and stain glassed windows. There is also an impressive blue dome on the Santa Maria dell’itria church which is visible across most of the town.
For us this was a passing visit; the weather had turned and it had got really cold. Also as it was good Friday there was not much open for us to explore. It was still a nice place but more ‘in season’ and on a better day would be recommended. Apparently the TV series Inspector Montalbano had a lot of filming undertaken in Ragusa and they even offered tours.
Our last nights stop on our tour was in the lovely town of Noto. We had a lovely b&b for our last night at Villa Ambra. Conveniently placed outside of the main town this well serviced b&b had amazing decor, comfortable rooms, a lovely rooftop terrace and an amazing breakfast. On top of that our host Ambra could not have been more helpful.
Noto itself has a lot to offer; it was a friendly place with the locals smiling and wishing us ‘buongiorno’. The town is quite picturesque with the main road Corso Vittorio Emanuele being the location for the most represented buildings in the town. The impressive Church of San Domenico is found in Piazza XVI Maggio a lot of the tours of the city start here.
It was here that we decided to board a tourist train around Noto to get the best out of our experience. Paying €5 each we hopped aboard the train looking forward to the guided tour ahead.
A Disastrous Tour!
Unfortunately for us we got about 2 streets away up a hill before we were stopped by the Carabinieri (military police) and pulled over. Everyone was a little worried who they were after and why we were stopped; alas it appeared there was a bomb scare up the road ahead and we could go no further. Instead we had to walk back down to the town much to our amusement to get a refund. It certainly ended up a more interesting tour than we imagined!
Instead we were left to explore the rest of Noto on our own and continued up Corso Vittorio Emanuele to Noto Cathedral, an impressive Roman Catholic baroque designed building. The Cathedral dome collapsed following an earthquake in 1990 and has since been rebuilt.
Sat directly opposite the cathedral is Ducezio Palace, the seat of the Town Hall, and named after the town’s founder. The palace was designed by the architect Vincenzo Sinatra in 1746, inspired by some French palaces of the 17th century, but was completed only in 1830. The second floor of the palace was built in the first half of the 20th century by the architect Francesco La Grassa. It is certainly an impressive building.
We walked down to the Porta Reale o Ferdinandea, which was built in honour of King Ferdinand and acts as a gateway to Noto before heading back up again.
Noto had a nice vibe and we were fortunate enough to visit whilst they had a music festival. There were some street performers and mime artists as well as stalls selling local produce. It was a lovely town and one definitely worth a stop.
Vendicari Nature reserve
An added bonus was a recommendation by our lovely host Ambra to visit the reserve. It was a little problematic to find using the car GPS but google maps took us there no problem. The reserve is a hidden gem in the area and only a few miles from Noto. There are no bars, beach vendors or umbrella salespeople here just pure nature. The reserve has 3 main paths which lead to various areas of the reserve. We walked to the beach, to the tuna farm and Flamingos and to a second lake. It was a lovely walk and a popular spot amongst locals.
A last minute stop for us on our way back to the airport; we had heard mixed reviews of Siracusa from various people we had spoken to but decided to have a look for ourselves. We were particularly interested in seeing the Greek Theatre; however we were unable to see this alone. We had to pay to visit the entire archaeological park which we unfortunately didn’t have time for.
Unfortunately our trip was now over and it was time to head back to Catania airport to fly home. It had been an amazing 9 days and our expectations of Sicily had certainly been exceeded – We loved it! The driving was mostly fine but parking was pretty problematic at times and we were mostly lucky with the weather, although we had one particularly bad day weatherwise where it was windy and rainy all day.
Foodwise we managed fine, although it can be a challenge to find something that is neither fish, pizza nor pasta, but there are some specialities in Sicily to try such as Granita, a creamy ice cream like drink which is a mix between a slush puppy and a sorbet. The granita originally came from snow found on Etna and originates back 4000 years. I am sure that modern day granitas don’t include snow from Etna, but its a nice idea.
There is also an abundance of lemon products, drinks and desserts given Sicily’s lemon production. Personally some of my favourites in Sicily included Arancini (fried risotto ball with various flavours), Cannoli (tube shaped pastries with sweet fillings including ricotta cheese) and of course the wine.
All in all it was an amazing break and we thoroughly enjoyed it. Driving around the Sicilian Coastline (and inland) should be on everyone’s bucket list. Perhaps with maybe a little more time than we had to make the most of the history and scenery on offer. Let’s end with a bit of trivia, our coastline tour ended with us having added 1,223km to the hire car odometer, and below was the route we took.
Carol & Nigel xx