Sicily

Sicily

Sicily


Sicily (Sicilia) is rather more than an Italian region: it's famous for its unique character - and for being a law unto itself. The football that is being kicked by Italy's boot, Sicily lies to the south of the country and just a short distance from the African coast.

Sicily is a good destination for a touring holiday - allow at least a week, and preferably longer, for travelling around and getting a flavour of the main tourist destinations. In the Sicilian heat welcome specialities are the area's fine ice cream and the refreshing drink granita di limone (ice and lemon slush). Marsala is Sicily's most well-known wine.

INTRODUCING SOUTHEASTERN SICILY

Home to Magna Graecia’s most magnificent ancient city and some of Italy ’s most glorious baroque towns, Sicily ’s southeast is the island’s top draw.

RAGUSA

Set amid the rocky peaks northwest of Modica, Ragusa is a town of two faces. Sitting on the top of the hill is Ragusa Superiore, a busy workaday town with sensible grid-pattern streets and all the trappings of a modern provincial capital, while etched into the hillside further down is Ragusa Ibla. This sloping area of tangled alleyways, grey stone houses and baroque palazzi on handsome squares is effectively Ragusa's historic centre and it's quite magnificent. Like every other town in the region, Ragusa Ibla (the old town) collapsed after the 1693 earthquake and a new town, Ragusa Superiore, was built on a high plateau above. But the old aristocracy was loath to leave the tottering palazzi and rebuilt Ragusa Ibla on exactly the same spot. The two towns were merged in 1927, becoming the provincial capital at Modica’s expense.

MODICA

With its steeply stacked medieval centre and spectacular baroque cathedral, Modica is one of southern Sicily's most atmospheric towns. But unlike some of the other Unesco-listed cities in the area, it doesn't package its treasures into a single easy-to-see street or central piazza: rather, they are spread around the town and take some discovering. It can take a little while to orientate yourself in Modica, but once you've got the measure of the bustling streets and steep staircases, you'll find a warm, genuine town with a welcoming vibe and a strong sense of pride. An important Greek and Roman city, Modica had its heyday in the 14th century when, as the personal fiefdom of the Chiaramonte family, it was one of the most powerful cities in Sicily.

SYRACUSE

More than any other city, Syracuse encapsulates Sicily's timeless beauty. Ancient Greek ruins rise out of lush citrus orchards, cafe tables spill onto dazzling baroque piazzas, and honey-hued medieval lanes lead down to the sparkling blue sea. It's difficult to imagine now but in its heyday this was the largest city in the ancient world, bigger even than Athens and Corinth. Its 'Once upon a Time' begins in 734 BC, when Corinthian colonists landed on the island of Ortygia and founded the settlement, setting up the mainland city four years later. Almost three millennia later, the ruins of that then-new city constitute the Parco Archeologico della Neapolis, one of Sicily's greatest archaeological sites. Across the water from the mainland, Ortygia remains the city's most beautiful corner, a casually chic, eclectic marvel with an ever-growing legion of fans.

NOTO

Noto is an architectural supermodel, a baroque belle so gorgeous you might mistake it for a film set. Located less than 40km southwest of Syracuse, the town is home to one of Sicily's most beautiful historic centres. The pièce de résistance is Corso Vittorio Emanuele, an elegant walkway flanked by thrilling baroque palazzi and churches. Dashing at any time of the day, it’s especially hypnotic in the early evening, when the red-gold buildings seem to glow with a soft inner light. Although a town called Noto or Netum has existed here for many centuries, the Noto that you see today dates to the early 18th century, when it was almost entirely rebuilt in the wake of the devastating 1693 earthquake. Creator of many of the finest buildings was Rosario Gagliardi, a local architect whose extroverted style also graces churches in Modica and Ragusa.

SICILY'S IONIAN COAST

The Ionian Coast is studded with enough Sicilian icons to fill a souvenir tea towel. It’s here that you’ll find the skinny Strait of Messina, mighty Mt Etna and the world’s most spectacularly located ancient Greek theatre. Catania is the region's centre, a shabby, swinging city packed with students, bars and nightlife. Its black-and-white baroque is World Heritage–listed, while its hyperactive fish market is one of Sicily’s most appetising sights. Halfway up a rocky mountainside, regal Taormina is sophisticated and exclusive, a favourite of holidaying VIPs and daytripping tourists. Brooding menacingly on the city's doorstep, Mt Etna offers unforgettable hiking, both to the summit craters and around the woods that carpet its lower slopes. Etna is also a wine area, dotted with vines and celebrated wineries. With a car and a little planning, the mountain sets a stunning scene for hunting out the perfect vista.

CATANIA

For all the noise, chaos and scruffiness that hit the visitor at first glance, Catania has a strong magnetic pull. This is Sicily at its most youthful, a city packed with cool and gritty bars, abundant energy and an earthy spirit in sharp contrast to Palermo’s aristocratic airs. Catania’s historic core is a Unesco-listed wonder, where blackand- white palazzi tower lay over sweeping baroque piazzas. One minute you’re scanning the skyline from a dizzying dome, the next contemporary art in an 18th-century convent. Beneath it all are the ancient ruins of a town with over 2700 candles on its birthday cake. Indeed, food is another local forte. This is the home of Sicily's iconic pasta alla Norma and the extraordinary La Pescheria market. Keeping an eye on it all is Catania's skyscraping frenemy, Mt Etna, a powerful presence that adds another layer of intensity and beauty to Sicily's second-biggest city.

MOUNT ETNA

Dominating the landscape of eastern Sicily, Mt Etna is a massive brooding presence. At 3329m it is Italy's highest mountain south of the Alps and the largest active volcano in Europe. It's in an almost constant state of activity and eruptions occur frequently, most spectacularly from the four summit craters, but more often, and more dangerously, from the fissures and old craters on the mountain's flanks. This activity, which is closely monitored by 120 seismic activity stations and satellites, means that it is occasionally closed to visitors. Since 1987 the volcano and its slopes have been part of a national park, the Parco dell'Etna. Encompassing 590 sq km and some 21 towns, the park's varied landscape ranges from the severe, snowcapped mountaintop to lunar deserts of barren black lava, beech woods and lush vineyards where the area's highly rated DOC wine is produced.

TAORMINA

Many describe Taormina, a nineteenth century haunt of the English aristocracy, as a Sicilian Monte Carlo, without the casino or royal family. But anybody who has been to Monte Carlo, or even Positano (on the Amalfitan coast south of Naples), will find Taormina faintly similar yet very different. It has long been Sicily's most famous resort town. It was here, in romantic Taormina, that a self-exiled D.H. Lawrence was inspired to write Lady Chatterly's Lover, one of the most passionate and erotic love stories of its era. Taormina has endlessly winding medieval streets and tiny passages, each with its own secrets - great restaurants, cafés and ice cream bars.

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