Introduction to Sicily
Temples, volcanoes, natural wonders and delicious pastries...
Sicily airports and travel: For UK budget travellers, Ryanair fly to Palermo from London Stansted. Catania, on the island's eastern coast, also has an airport.
From mainland Italy you can take a ferry or the train. Train carriages are rolled onto boats to cross the Strait of Messina. Approximate journey time Rome-Taormina is 8 hours. Sicily is a large island; towns are connected by train and bus services, but be prepared to
spend significant lengths of time on the move if you want to see the whole region.
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. A long history of invasion and conquest has resulted in a lavish mixed heritage: Greek, Arab, Roman, Norman. This wide range of influences can be detected in the island's architecture, landscape and culture, and has blended to make Sicily a thoroughly unique destination.
Equally important has been the
land's predisposition to natural disasters. Mount Etna, in the eastern part of the island, is Europe's highest and most active volcano (its last serious eruption was in 2002). Sicily is also subject to earthquakes and extreme weather conditions. A devastating earthquake in 1693 destroyed the south-eastern towns, which were rebuilt in a Baroque style.
Nature, disaster and mystery go hand-in-hand in Sicily - at the time of writing (February 2004), a minor news story recounts how both geologists and exorcists are to be brought in to investigate mysterious fires affecting electrical wires and appliances in a settlement near Messina.
Sicily's pastries and desserts (dolci) are famous for their richness, and stuffed with ingredients like marzipan and ricotta. Among the treats are cannoli (thin tubes stuffed with ricotta, chocolate or candied fruit). 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.
Despite Italy's anti-corruption drives of the past decades, the Mafia is still a reality that most prefer not to discuss. It's unlikely to have any noticeable impact on your stay, however. Petty crime, as elsewhere in Italy, is more of a risk for tourists, so take sensible precautions.
Sicily tourist destinations
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. One of Sicily's leading holiday destinations is Taormina, a fashionable resort with beaches nearby, a fine Greek theatre and a stylish film festival (in June). One of the classical world's most important legacies can be seen at Agrigento's Valley of the Temples. The hilltop town of Enna is inland,
set at the heart of Sicily, and offers a different perspective on the island. Palermo, the regional capital, is one of Italy's largest cities; chaotic but with many sights of interest. Over to the south-east,
the Baroque city of Catania, birthplace of the composer Bellini (remembered in the Museo Civico Belliniano), is worth a visit, and makes a good base for the lion-hearted who wish to visit Etna.
Siracusa, perhaps better known as Syracuse, was an important Greek town, home to Archimedes. Its Greek theatre still stands, and classic dramas are performed here each year.
To read a full account of a Sicily research trip, including the boring and irritating details which don't make it onto the website, visit our contributor's
Sicily travel journal.
> Find and book Sicily hotels, B&Bs and apartments, with location maps and no-nonsense reviews by guests.