3 weeks in Sicily
January 5, 2012 12:25 PM   Subscribe

We're going to Sicily in March, it's time to firm up our itinerary. We fly into Palermo and out of Catania. We plan on spending 3-4 days in Palermo, and then renting a car an setting out being in Catania 2 weeks later. We'd like to stay in two different areas for a week each, day trip to see the sights with a car, staying in an apartment or agriturismo if possible. Where should we head? Interests are history, food and wine. Okay I lie, mostly food and wine. We are two adults and two twin girls who are 11. Not that interested in beaches. Which areas/towns offer the best markets/winieries/classic ruins within an hour drive?
posted by Keith Talent to Travel & Transportation around Italy (12 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Taormina. Ruins, volcano, views. Beach you reach by cablecar. 11-year-olds should enjoy the main street, too.
posted by londongeezer at 12:41 PM on January 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Also, from Palermo you may like to take a boat trip to Stromboli and stay the night, so you can take a boat out and watch the volcano erupting in the darkness: unforgettable.
posted by londongeezer at 12:43 PM on January 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

On your Catania end, set aside several days for Siracusa. It has an incredible, operatic outdoor food market--singing, yelling, octopus, sea urchins, tomatoes, artichokes, great food smack dab by some ruins. Check the schedule to make sure you're there when the market is on. There's a fabulous ancient Greek amphitheater, archeological museum, and gorgeous curved piazza in Siracusa. Modica and Ragusa are not terribly far away from Siragusa. We landed in Catania and zipped out to stay in Siracusa for a few days, then a couple nights in Modica with a day visit to Ragusa. Both these smaller towns have knockout Baroque buildings and churches. Palermo's a pulsating wild place that will be a lot to deal with when you arrive. But go for it, especially the mosaics in Montreale--stunning. Don't miss the catacombs with your preteens in tow--short walk from the city center. It will be the highlight of their trip, perhaps not yours.. Run your question over on slowtrav.com for Italy/Sicily. They helped us plan our two-week trip.

I will say the driving in Sicily was hair raising, except for the auto strada. Wish we'd used the auto strada more than the back roads, which were gridlocked from overuse along the coast. Also wish we'd had a GPS. Never got so lost anywhere the way we did in Sicily. The roundabouts were insane and took nerves of steel to negotiate.
posted by Elsie at 1:11 PM on January 5, 2012

Taormina is beautiful mountainside, Agrigento has a lot of historical stuff, Mt. Etna is a volcano you can walk on, and Sciacca has scenic docks. That was my trip, although fair warning as that was about 15 years ago.
posted by zombieflanders at 1:11 PM on January 5, 2012

I found Trapani, Segesta, Erice and environs quite stunning. That was fifteen years ago, but I suspect it feels as off the beaten path now as then.
posted by meinvt at 1:12 PM on January 5, 2012

I love Agrigento and its numerous greek temple ruins, then maybe a trip to the interior of Sicily, with a stop at Villa Romana del Casale, and its well preserved roman villa.

The boat trip to Stromboli, mentioned above with its view of the lava river sliding into the sea is well worth a side excursion, and Siracusa is beautiful. Sicily is really rich in history, with Roman, Greek, Arabic, ans Spanish influences on culture and food.

The food is terrific, as long as you stay away from tourist fare and eat at trattorias or even bar/caffe' places. Agriturismo is the way to go, but sometimes the best agri places are difficult to reach.Don't forget the Salumeria, a cross between grocery store and deli. A lot of Italians rely on salumerias for their midday meals. On one of my recent trips to Italy, my family and I almost entirely relied on salumerias for our lunches when we played tourists.
posted by francesca too at 1:18 PM on January 5, 2012

Stromboli is a bucket list item. I've seen volcanoes all over the world, even some erupting, and nothing has ever been as memorable as scrunching down in the sand so that I could feel the warmth coming from inside the mountain as Stromboli erupted wildly into the black sky. It's absolutely worth the hike up and the overnight (you must do it as an overnight since the hike is done at night.)
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:25 PM on January 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Wholeheartedly nth-ing Agrigento and Villa Romana del Casale (Piazza Armerina).
posted by unknowncommand at 11:56 PM on January 5, 2012

Best answer: Sicily is wonderful. You made a good decision to stay there three weeks - there's just so much to see! I agree with many of the others, but here are a few things I remember from my last two-weak stay.

See the beautiful Renaissance cities Noto, Modica and Ragusa. You could stay there longer, or you could just zip through in a couple of hours. In Modica, there are one or more pastry shops that sell excellent cannoli with ricotta. Try Arancini al rag├╣ everywhere.

Of course visit the churches. Montreale is a must. Pay attention to the weird opening hours. I really couldn't figure out when they are open.

You say beaches are not a priority. Still I thought the beach at Eraclea Minoa (on the main road from Agrigento to Sciacca) to be astonishing - a pine forest, white (beautiful!) beach and a cliff, all at once. Plus there's an archeological cite on the cliff. It doesn't seem to be well-known.

I second Trapani (which is underappreciated) and Erice, which like many cities has a wonderfully morbid charm. From Trapani you could take a boat to one of the smaller islands (I didn't have enough time for this). Catania is beautiful, too.

If you're interested in going to authentica restaurants without spending a forturne, I recommend Slow Food's "Osterie d'Italia" guide. It's in Italian but you'll probably understand enough even if you don't speak the language. Mayber there's an English edition (there's a German one). They list typical local restaurants that specialize in the local cuisine -- and by "local" I mean the specialties of that city. The food there is excellent.

In Palermo, go to Antica Focacceria S. Francesco. It isn't easy to find but it has an amazing atmosphere. They're famous for their "milza" sandwich and (I hear) for standing up against the mafia. Elsewhere, in a grocery store, you can often ask the attendant to make you a sandwich with your favorite prociutto or formaggio.

I didn't go the Etna because the weather was bad, but if it isn't, you probably should see it. You can reach it from several directions. Some of the more interesting tours require a guide.

Whatever else you do, you must see the Parco Archeologico in Siracusa, which is maybe the greatest (Greek) archeological site worldwide.

Cefal├╣ is a beautiful seaside town in the North. It's touristy, but it has ruins as well.

As a European, I didn't find driving in Sicily terrifying. The exceptions, of course, are Catania and especially Palermo. Some Sicilians don't drive into Palermo because the traffic is crazy. I found it manageable. There are parking lots with "experts" who park your car and "guard" it for a fee, which surprised me. Be careful about very narrow streets. Even in a small car, some are difficult to navigate. In Agrigento's old town, a street with "stretto" painted in red ink on the wall disagreed with my rental Fiat's width. At check out, I pointed out the scratches to the rental agent but fortunately she just ignored them. I would try to get a GPS system, not because maps are bad but because it's helpful, particularly when driving in the dark.

To prepare, you could watch Sicilians movies by De Sicca or TV mini-series like Commissario Montalbano, which (I believe) is mostly filmed in and around Ragusa. Enjoy!
posted by faustdick at 7:21 AM on January 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Correction: Although the amphitheater in Sircusa is beautiful, my "greatest archaeological site" comment was meant to refer not to Siracusa but to Agrigento's astonishing Greek temples.
posted by faustdick at 7:31 AM on January 6, 2012

For Palermo, I've been enjoying the wonderful blog , it's written by a couple who moves to different places for three months at a time to really explore the flavor of an area. They've done Savannah, Bolivia, and are now in Palermo. Beautiful photos and reviews of main attractions.
posted by tatiana131 at 4:57 PM on January 6, 2012

http://palermo.for91days.com/ - don't know what I did wrong there.
posted by tatiana131 at 4:58 PM on January 6, 2012

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