Sicily is a fascinating place.  We spent 7 days there in October. It has beaches, mountains, volcanoes, lots of very old churches and cathedrals, Roman and Greek ruins, great food markets and of course the stigma of being the home of the mafia.  This eclectic combination of attractions made our visit very interesting. We enjoyed the beautiful places, but also suffered from a certain feeling of unease as we were always looking over our shoulder expecting to see Tony Soprano or one of his lieutenants. We enjoyed Sicily, but I don't think we'll visit again anytime soon. 

Here are the highlights.

We started in TAORMINA, a beautiful mountain village in the northeastern corner of the island.  As you can see from the picture on the right, Taormina's  topography is very unusual.  This picture shows how it is located on a mountain outcropping with Giardini Naxos below (the main beach resort in the area) and tiny Castelmola above. Actually, the city is far more beautiful from outside than it is inside.  For a closer look, click here...

Taormina is a great place for just walking around and shopping or viewing Mount Etna from the ruins of the Greek ampitheatre. The picture at the top of the page shows this magnificent view of Mt. Etna .


This is no sleepy mountain village.  It's a major European tourist stop and considered one of the 3 most beautiful places in Italy, right alongside Bellagio and Amalfi.  It is definitely a fun place to visit.  On the other hand, it's no fun to drive here, and parking is practically nonexistent unless you're staying in a hotel with its own parking. There is very limited parking on the street for 1 Euro per hour and there are 2 parking garages for 2.50 Euro per hour. On the left is a shot of the main street, Corso Umberto, with Alisa admiring the silverware and glassware displayed outside this store.

We stayed for 3 nights "down below" in Giardini Naxos at the Villa Mora, a very pleasant 2 star B&B right in the center of town.  It's rated at 2 stars but the amenities are more than 2 stars. The only problem is the train that goes by several times during the night, and parking in the summer. We had no problem parking because we were there in October.


Speaking of trains, one of the more interesting sights in Giardini is the train station.  It's like a museum. Here's a picture to the left.  After driving up to Taormina twice and finding parking with great difficulty, we decided to take the bus.  It was very convenient with about a 5 minute walk uphill into the center of Taormina from the bus station. 


Another moderately priced hotel we can recommend in Naxos is the Arethena Rocks Hotel which is located at the far southern end of town right on the beach.  We didn't stay at this hotel, but we did visit and we think it's a great bargain for the price.

Below on the left is a picture of Nando the host at the Villa Mora in the breakfast room, and on the right is a shot of a store window in Taormina displaying marzipan.  It looks like fruit, but actually, it's all beautifully sculpted marzipan, which is popular all over Sicily.  However, all of the "sculptures" taste the same,  just marzipan.



In Taormina, we ate at two very nice restaurants.  One was the Casa Grugno, reputed to be one of the two best restaurants in Sicily.  It was very good and the service was excellent.  The price for a tasting menu was 52 Euro.  The other restaurant was a surprise.  We ate here because it was right near where we had miraculously found a place to park.  The name of it is "Ristorante Da Lorenzo" and it is located on Via Roma, number 12. It was  very good.   Everything was just perfect, and of course it was a whole lot cheaper than the Casa Grugno.

From Taormina, we made a day trip to SIRACUSA, about about a 90 minute drive. In Siracusa, we visited the very impressive archeological park, where one can see a Roman theatre and a Greek theatre just about side by side.  On the right is a picture of the Roman theatre all ready for the next gladiator event. 


To the left is where couples in Siracusa go to get their wedding pictures taken on the day of their wedding.  It's on the island of Ortygia which is part of Siracusa and is where most of the city's interesting attractions are.

Siracusa is also where we learned about the "unofficial parking attendants" in Sicily.  In order to visit the archeological park, we parked on the public street where there were absolutely no signs regarding parking.  We were immediately approached by a very large man with a pack of "receipts" and he explained that we had to pay him 3 Euros for the privilege of parking where we were parking.  This was an offer we quickly realized we couldn't refuse. We later realized that this is apparently a time honored profession, and met several more similar "parking attendants" in various places as we traveled about the island.  We even learned how to avoid paying them.

Taormina or Catanya (located about 30 minutes south of Taormina) are the most convenient jumping off points to visit Etna, the most active volcano in Europe.  We drove for about an hour to get to the "Sapienza Refuge".    This area is about as far as you want to go with your private car.  From here you can take any of several types of tours to the active parts of the volcano - hikes on foot, tours by jeep, or a combo, part in a mountain bus, and part on foot.  The more adventurous can hike by themselves.   To the right is a view of the barren landscape typical of Mt. Etna.


What amused and entertained Alisa the most about Etna was chestnut harvesting!!  We found out that October is chestnut season and the local folk trek into the woods to hunt for chestnuts.  Apparently it's quite a sport.  You have to pick the thorny fruit off the fully laden tree and then smash them with a rock in order to extract the nut.

Above is Alisa's crew of chestnut hunters enjoying the great outdoors and  in the picture to the right is what the fruit looks like on the tree. 

After leaving Taormina, we drove to Enna, a mountain stronghold with incredible views of the countryside.  Enna is well worth a visit, and is very near Piazza Armerina, home to the Villa Romana del Casale, an ancient villa with the most celebrated mosaics in all of Sicily.  This place is really incredible. Below is the most famous of the mosaics - the room of bikini clad female athletes in competition, and to the right are a couple of examples of the detailed and beautiful mosaics located here.



From Piazza Romano, we drove to Agrigento, home to the best preserved collection of Greek temples anywhere in the Mediterranean, outside of Greece.  The temples are fantastic and when lit up at night provide a spectacular view. Below is a picture of the most complete temple in Agrigento.  We spent one night in Agrigento at the "Villa Amico", a very cheap but adequate  B&B.  We paid 50 Euro for the two of us including breakfast and a barking dog next door.  Our host Domenic was very helpful. 

We drove from Agrigento west along the southern coastal road  with the intention of rounding the western end of the island and visiting Erice, another beautiful mountain fortress.  The coastal road turned out to be very slow and very ugly. It was so ugly, that we turned north and drove through the mountains.  The interior roads of the island in general are far more attractive and provide a much more enjoyable drive than any of the coastal roads we were on.  It took a while, but it was worth it when we reached Erice, a really incredible town overlooking the port city of Tramani.  To the right is a view of the streets of Erice and below to the left is a shot in one of the best restaurants we visited in Sicily - the "Monte S. Giuliano" on Vicolo San Rocca right near the center of town.  They had the most delicious home made pasta.  Everything was excellent including the service even though it was only lunch.  Below on the right is the view from the castle down to the sea below.


From Erice we headed to Palermo, the largest city in Sicily.  Palermo is without a doubt the noisiest most chaotic city we have ever been in.  The driving is insane and the road signs are extremely confusing.  Everybody drives and parks wherever they want, and stop signs are strictly considered as recommendations only.  It's really hard to describe the pandemonium, the noise, the cacophony of police and fire sirens serenading one another...

We stayed at the hotel BEL 3, a pleasant 3 star hotel in the hills above the city. This hotel is excellent if you have a car and want to do some day trips in the area.  We discovered a good way into town without parking problems by driving to the San Giulio bus station located on the edge of the city center (plenty of free parking, (but try to avoid the unofficial parking attendant) and then take a bus into the center.

To the left is the view of Palermo from the hotel.  Palermo  looks best from afar.  Generally, the weather in Sicily is very good, but it rained for the better part of the 3 days we were in Palermo.

While in Palermo we ate at a couple of good restaurants.  One was "Cucina Papoff", a restaurant which serves elegant classical Sicilian cuisine.  The place was full of tourists, which surprised me.  We also ate at "Cin Cin" ("cheers" in Sicilian), a most unusual restaurant run by a most unusual Sicilian, who spent most of his life in the United States.  He runs a restaurant which changes the menu everyday and serves very original food.  We enjoyed it.

I can't leave Palermo without mentioning one of the most interesting places we visited while we were there.  It was a wine bar by the name of "Kursaal Kalhesa". Kursaal is located on "Foro Unberto I, within a  what seemed to be a part of the city walls on the eastern edge of the old part of the city.  Why was it notable?? Only because of the setting. It was the most elegant wine bar we've ever been in, The building is old, and the interior is set up as a magnificent library.    The books are real and so was the very wide selection of wine.  They had a very limited food menu.  Below is a pictures showing what the place looked like.


Below are some more links you may find useful if you plan a trip to Sicily...

THE BEST OF SICILY   an excellent PDF document which is actually excerpts from a book
THE BEST OF SICILY   the best web site I found for general information about everything in Sicily
SICILY TRAVELOGUE a wonderfully detailed travelogue about a 10 day trip to Sicily by fellow travelers

This is a page from our site "Travels with Steve & Alisa".  It describes one of the many trips we have made together.  We've built these pages not just to describe our trips, but to help other travelers if we can.  Please use the information we've provided freely, and let us know if you have any questions we might be able to answer about your own planned trip, or just let us know if we have helped you. Or,  perhaps you have some information we could add to the site. Visit our home page using the link to the right.                 

Enjoy your next trip!!                         ~Steve & Alisa~

Last updated:  April 13, 2006