The sun hits a vast expanse of deep blues and greens, its surface sparkling like the bubbles in a glass of Prosecco. From the top of any hillside, cliff, or mountain road, you can look out in awe at nature’s immaculate beauty. Every vista is like a painting, and the Mediterranean, in all its glory, is seen hugging the curves of the coasts of the island. When you travel down from the cliffs, by foot or by Vespa, the vista changes. This painting is filled umbrellas stuck in the ground of pebble beaches, where clear aquamarine water washes up on the shore. This is the island of Sicily, where life is enjoyed in its glorious simplicity from mountain to sea.
Geography & Demographics
Sicily is a large volcanic island off of Italy’s western Coast, surrounded by the majestic Mediterranean and Ionian seas. The province of Messina, which lies on Sicily’s eastern coast, is home to many of the island’s most beautiful sights, including the historic town of Taormina and the stunning volcano, Mount Etna.
As Sicily is an island, it experiences various microclimates depending on elevation and location. Inland weather is warmer and drier, the mountains are cooler, and the coast breezy but sun drenched. During the winter months (December until February), temperatures average between 50 and 55 degrees Fahrenheit. But, up in the mountains there will be snow. If you plan to visit Sicily during the winter, an exciting ski trip on Mount Etna might lie in your future. Early fall, September and October, are great months to visit Sicily. Enjoy the miles of beaches and wonderful weather, without the crowds of the peak August vacation season. November brings rain and perfect growth conditions for Sicily’s abundance of rich, delicious and rare mushrooms.
If you are headed to Sicily for the summer season, be prepared with all your beach and summer essentials. Pack comfortable sandals to walk in, as the steep streets of Taormina are but coble stone relics from the Greco-Roman times. Don’t forget, as you increase elevation the mountainous regions of Sicily can become cool, so bring a light jacket or sweatshirt for an excursion to Etna. In the winter season, bring a raincoat, long pants, and long sleeves. But remember, unless you are skiing or hiking the more mountainous regions, coastal areas stay mild through the winter, so a parka and boots is not necessary. Dress for fall with pants and light sweaters.
Food & Culture
As in all of Italy, region is reflected in the language. Local dialects are prominently used, and often, knowledge of textbook Italian might not get you as far as you think. Sicilian is a dialect spoken throughout Sicily that is relatively distinct from standard Italian. Even within Sicily, there are sub-dialects that change from province to province. If you happen to take the boat across to the Italian mainland, you will land in southern Calabria where a similar, related dialect is spoken called Calabrese. Italy’s currency is the Euro, estimated to be around $1.35 U.S. dollars each.
Things to Do
Living on a Fruit Grove: Agroturissmo in Calatabiano
Anchor your stay in Sicily at Antico Borgo, a rustic agroturissmo in the small town of Calatabiano, close proximity to Etna, the beach, and historic Taormina. The beauty of this majestic hotel is the bountiful grounds of the estate. Nestled up on a small hill, Antico Borgo is a stone estate in the midst of acres of farmland.
Walk the trails through groves of orange and lemon trees, and smell their citrusy aromas. Pass by cactuses fruiting prickly pears. Outside your room door, you might find fig trees, buzzing with bees looking to taste the delicious nectar. Each morning, enjoy local cuisine at breakfast in the estates cellar room. Early each morning, the chef takes her Vespa to pick up fresh croissants from the town bakery, which she delivers at the crack of dawn. Next, she hits the estate grounds, picking the ripest fruit right off the vine. White figs, pomegranates, and pears line a table with breads, farm fresh eggs, and yogurt. Enjoy your breakfast inside, or sip your cappuccinos and lattes outside, taking in the spectacular view of Etna from under the olive trees and the flower filled veranda.
Culinary Twists and Turns: Exploring Local Cuisine on the Drive to Etna
Mount Etna is Europe’s largest active volcano and is situated between the Sicilian provinces of Messina and Catania. Take a drive up to the top of the mountain and watch the landscape transform. Driving up twists and turns, give a thumbs-up to the brave Italian bikers who train on the mountain, struggling up the curvy, sloping roads. About half way up the base of the volcano, stop in the small town of Zafferana. Pop in one of the many local shops selling the town’s specialty: honey. Don’t pass up the unbelievable and distinct flavor found in the cactus flower honey, made from bees that pollinate the flowers of the prickly pear cactus. You can also visit orchards and vineyards that populate the volcano’s lower slopes, fertilized by the rich volcanic soil, along the way up the mountain. When you reach the top, hike over and inside craters, or take a tram ride up the volcano to get a closer look at the smoke gently puffing out of the volcano’s inner furnace.
Cassata e Cannolo: Pastries and more in Taormina
Sicilians are known for their authentic pastries and it would be a sin to miss out on what will be the best cannolo of your life in Taormina. Walk up the main road to enter the historic Taormina and you will find the Porto Messina, a magnificent stone archway embedded with ancient fountainheads. Across the street from the Porto Messina is pastry heaven at Pasticeria D’Amore.
Inside you’ll find friendly faces behind a rainbow of miniature pastries lining their beautiful sweets display. From babas with rum, to cream puffs, to torts with local wild strawberries, you cannot go wrong. Homemade cannoli shells are freshly filled with rich and sweet ricotta cream studded with chocolate chips, dusted with crushed local pistachios, and garnished with a homemade sliver of candied orange peel. A must have! But the real shining star of this pasticerria is the signature Sicilian cassata cake.
Enjoy a miniature version made with moist Italian sponge cake soaked in an Italian herbal liquor called Strega, layered with sweet ricotta cannoli cream, wrapped in a thin layer of green almond paste, and topped with candied fruit. Don’t forget to take a picture with the giant cannolo statue on your way out!
Grand Hotel Timeo and the Ancient Greek Theater
Wander through the beautiful alleyways of Taormina and stumble upon shops and cafes. Take Via Teatro Grecco to reach the Ancient Greek Theater. On your walk, stop at one of many street side vendors selling granite, a smooth and creamy sorbet. In the summertime, do as the locals do, and try an almond granita on brioche for breakfast before heading into the ancient ruins.
After taking in the wondrous sights of the Ancient Greek Theater, travel next door for a drink at Grand Hotel Timeo. Located just outside the Ancient Greek Theater walls, Grand Hotel Timeo boasts one of the most beautiful views of Mount Etna and the Bay of Naxos that Sicily has to offer. The Literary Terrace and Bar is a romantic and charming place to enjoy a late afternoon Bellini and watch the sunset with loved ones.
Pane e Vino: Wine Tasting and Lunch at COS Vineyard
If you are a lover of wine and olive oil, head to the town of Vittoria for a visit to COS Vineyard. Obsessed with ancient winemaking techniques and dedicated to the art and process behind great wine, COS uses clay Amphorae to age their grapes unlike the typical copper vats of modern day winemaking. Unique in their technique, COS wine develops flavor that transports you to ancient Roman times. Along with wine tasting, the chef at COS will prepare a family style lunch of Prosciutto di Parma followed by pasta with an almond pesto sauce, a secret recipe the chef says has been in his family for generations.