Sicily Travel Guide

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Processione dei Misteri, Trapani

Processione dei Misteri, Trapani

Maurizio Bonura

Sicily is a mountainous arid island — an extension of the Apennine Mountains separated from the mainland by the Straits of Messina. Many powers have occupied this strategically important area: Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Phoenicians and of course the Mafia. Historical sites related to those powers are part of the island’s attraction. (A Mafia tour visits sites of various Family activities and the graves of infamous godfathers and victims.) But there are many other reasons to visit Sicily: water sports, beaches of rock and sand (including black sand), natural beauty, good food and friendly people.

For touring the island can be roughly divided into the north-shore and south-shore areas. The north shore has reefs, olive groves, secluded coves and countless seaside resorts including Cefalu, a gorgeous Arab-Norman city with good beaches. West of center of the north coast is Palermo the ancient capital and the island’s largest city. Be sure to visit the central market and 12th-century Monreale Cathedral which is 6 mi/8 km west of town (it has impressive biblical mosaics). About 50 mi/80 km west of Palermo lies the ancient village of Erice atop a mountain: It still has remains of a temple dedicated to Venus. The southern coast has an even milder climate so there’s swimming most of the year (although it can get cold there between November and March).

Among the areas not to be missed are Agrigento (to see the Valley of the Temples); Acireale (to see puppets); Taormina (a unique beautiful town perched on cliffs overlooking the Mediterranean); and Mt. Etna (10 902 ft/3 323 m) an active volcano on the east coast—its crater is difficult to reach so bring a guide and dress warmly. In April 1987 two people were killed when Mt. Etna erupted. Although it can erupt at any time — most recently in 2002 — deadly incidents aren’t common. There’s good winter skiing with great ocean views from the mountain; drive the 120 mi/200 km around its base to see a wide variety of scenery. Among the ancient Greek and Roman ruins on the island are the Taormina Greek theatre and San Domenico Monastery near Messina the Greek theater in Siracusa the 5th-century BC Temple of Concord in Agrigento and the Casale Armerina (a jewel of a Roman villa with wonderful mosaics) in the town of Piazza Armerina near Enna. It’s also possible to visit the Pantelleria Islands, the Pelagian Islands and the Aeolian Islands from Sicily. There’s enough there to keep one busy for eight days.

Note: Be especially on guard against street thieves and pickpockets in Palermo and other large towns like Trapani.

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