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Sunday, 31 May 2009

Seven Days in Sicily

Written by Jonathan Hiltz
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Seven Days in Sicily, travel sicily, travel italy, Sicilian, Taormina, Teatro Greco, Greek Amphitheater, Mount Etna, Villa Angela, Jim Kerr, Cefalu, Palermo, Palazzo Dei Normanni, Teatro Massimo, Quattro Canti, Agrigento, Valley Of The Temples, La Scala Dei Turchi, Catania, Jonathan HiltzThe island of Sicily is a stunningly diverse destination, filled with an incredible mixture of different cultures and some of the best places to visit in Italy. This is evident in many aspects of life there, particularly visible in the region’s food, architecture and art.

Shaped by more than a millennium of various occupiers, Sicily has deep roots in Greek, Italian, Arab and Norman history. Sicily has been Italian for quite some time, but when you ask residents what they consider themselves, they will say they are ‘Sicilian’.

Seven Days in Sicily, travel sicily, travel italy, Sicilian, Taormina, Teatro Greco, Greek Amphitheater, Mount Etna, Villa Angela, Jim Kerr, Cefalu, Palermo, Palazzo Dei Normanni, Teatro Massimo, Quattro Canti, Agrigento, Valley Of The Temples, La Scala Dei Turchi, Catania, Jonathan HiltzSicily is located at the foot of the boot and is the largest island in the Mediterranean, boasting a six hundred mile-long coastline. Travelers who want to get the full experience can rent a car, but be warned that the drive can be challenging at times. This is partially due to the narrow European streets and Italian drivers, who often value speed over safety.

Many travelers choose to visit the main cities of Sicily by driving counter-clockwise around the island. Upon arrival at the Catania Airport, if you’re looking for a quiet and relaxed place to start the journey, head only 45 minutes north to the gorgeous region of Taormina.

Taormina

Seven Days in Sicily, travel sicily, travel italy, Sicilian, Taormina, Teatro Greco, Greek Amphitheater, Mount Etna, Villa Angela, Jim Kerr, Cefalu, Palermo, Palazzo Dei Normanni, Teatro Massimo, Quattro Canti, Agrigento, Valley Of The Temples, La Scala Dei Turchi, Catania, Jonathan HiltzThis sprawling resort town on a mountain boasts breathtaking views of the ocean and Mount Etna, the highest peak in Sicily and a fully active volcano.

Taormina has many points of interest, such as the Teatro Greco or Greek Amphitheater, located near the center of town. This monument to ancient live performance is a testament to the genius of its architects.

Seven Days in Sicily, travel sicily, travel italy, Sicilian, Taormina, Teatro Greco, Greek Amphitheater, Mount Etna, Villa Angela, Jim Kerr, Cefalu, Palermo, Palazzo Dei Normanni, Teatro Massimo, Quattro Canti, Agrigento, Valley Of The Temples, La Scala Dei Turchi, Catania, Jonathan HiltzAlong the main street where various cultures once battled for supremacy over the region, lies a veritable conga-line of high-end stores for shopping lovers.

There are also many types of accommodations to choose from, including resorts and villas owned by local Italian families as well as many foreigners. One such accommodation is Villa Angela where we stayed. A beautiful property of twenty-one rooms, the villa provides guests with a swimming pool, restaurant, chef and perfect view of the volcano. Villa Angela is owned by Jim Kerr, the lead singer of the popular band ‘Simple Minds.’


Seven Days in Sicily, travel sicily, travel italy, Sicilian, Taormina, Teatro Greco, Greek Amphitheater, Mount Etna, Villa Angela, Jim Kerr, Cefalu, Palermo, Palazzo Dei Normanni, Teatro Massimo, Quattro Canti, Agrigento, Valley Of The Temples, La Scala Dei Turchi, Catania, Jonathan HiltzThe most awesome feature of Taormina however, is by far the colossal Mount Etna. Driving up the side of the volcano can be a bit steep at times and the drastic change in elevation is evident as your ears pop like a bag of Orville Redenbacher’s. That aside, the extraordinary view at the top is something every traveler should have on their life’s ‘to do’ list.

Standing on fields of black volcanic ash, surrounded by craters, it can easily feel like you’re on some distant planet. While driving to the top, there are several areas alongside the mountain that contain debris and even the skeletons of burned down housesSeven Days in Sicily, travel sicily, travel italy, Sicilian, Taormina, Teatro Greco, Greek Amphitheater, Mount Etna, Villa Angela, Jim Kerr, Cefalu, Palermo, Palazzo Dei Normanni, Teatro Massimo, Quattro Canti, Agrigento, Valley Of The Temples, La Scala Dei Turchi, Catania, Jonathan Hiltz that fell victim to lava, at some point in history.

 

It wouldn’t be Italy if food wasn’t found almost everywhere, and Etna has a number of Italian bakeries and cafes lining the top of it. These quick stops serve treats such as pastries made from pistachio nuts that are grown right on the sides of the volcano.

Cefalu

Seven Days in Sicily, travel sicily, travel italy, Sicilian, Taormina, Teatro Greco, Greek Amphitheater, Mount Etna, Villa Angela, Jim Kerr, Cefalu, Palermo, Palazzo Dei Normanni, Teatro Massimo, Quattro Canti, Agrigento, Valley Of The Temples, La Scala Dei Turchi, Catania, Jonathan HiltzAbout 100 kilometers away, the coastal town of Cefalu sits filled with tourists and locals lining the incredibly long beaches, eating ice cream and enjoying the hot sun. This is a perfect place to spend a few hours before heading for Palermo. For the beach-loving traveler, it wouldn’t hurt to spend the night and wake up to the spectacular sunrise.

Palermo

The city of Palermo at first glance is indiscernible from many other urban centers across Europe, as it is a mixture of modern age metropolitan meeting old world design.

Trendy clothing stores employ the insides of three hundred year-old buildings, while traffic whizzes by historic monuments and popular cafes. But Palermo is packed full of things to see and do for the curious traveler, and it’s best to spend at least two or three days exploring the Sicilian capital.

Seven Days in Sicily, travel sicily, travel italy, Sicilian, Taormina, Teatro Greco, Greek Amphitheater, Mount Etna, Villa Angela, Jim Kerr, Cefalu, Palermo, Palazzo Dei Normanni, Teatro Massimo, Quattro Canti, Agrigento, Valley Of The Temples, La Scala Dei Turchi, Catania, Jonathan HiltzFascinating historical sites such as the Palazzo Dei Normanni, Teatro Massimo and Quattro Canti offer a detailed look at art and architecture from a variety of different cultures over the last several hundred years. The Teatro Massimo front steps were where the end of the Godfather trilogy was filmed.

For a macabre afternoon try the Capuchin Catacombs, which is an underground graveyard filled with hundreds of the most preserved bodies on Earth, due to advanced techniques used by early embalmers and monks.

On your way out of Palermo, make sure to visit the region of Monreale. It’s a bit of a drive, but Monreale has an incredible Cathedral and a town bustling with outdoor vendors and people.


 

Agrigento

Agrigento is a small, industrial seaside town that happens to have some of the best natural and historical sites in Sicily. The first of these wonders is the ‘Valley Of The Temples,’ which is an astonishing archeological discovery of Greek temples that were built in the 5th and 6th century B.C. This World Heritage site has several structures that have been partially restored and are well-preserved. Some are open for the public to climb and walk on and others are roped off and can be seen from a few feet away.

Another attraction and a natural wonder in the area is the amazing La Scala Dei Turchi, which is a mountainous-like rock that juts into the Mediterranean ocean. This natural formation could pass as an iceberg as its bleach-white color reflects the sunlight. It’s a wonderful place for a hike and to spend a couple of hours. The city of Agrigento can be seen in at most two days and only one night is needed here.

Catania

If you are flying in and out of Catania Airport for your Sicilian adventure, spending your last days in Catania is a perfect way to end the journey. This beautiful region is the grand finale fireworks display; everything together in one big explosion of culture.

Catania is a large, bustling city filled with restaurants, small and large retail stores and many houses and structures all packed together. The diversity in cultures is very evident in this city as you see people of African, Italian, Greek and Arab descent all living together in rows and rows of jagged ancient city blocks. Every food from falafel to spaghetti is available for the hungry traveler.

Catania looks very much like an Italian New York and is filled with things to do, such as visiting the Duomo Di Catania, strolling the famous street market and exploring the city of Lentini where you can view ancient ruins. No more than two nights are needed here and conveniently, the airport is right next to the city, which makes it less of a marathon when having to catch your flight home.

Viva Sicily!

Seven Days in Sicily, travel sicily, travel italy, Sicilian, Taormina, Teatro Greco, Greek Amphitheater, Mount Etna, Villa Angela, Jim Kerr, Cefalu, Palermo, Palazzo Dei Normanni, Teatro Massimo, Quattro Canti, Agrigento, Valley Of The Temples, La Scala Dei Turchi, Catania, Jonathan HiltzSicily is part of Italy in its Geography, but its culture, history, buildings, art and food make it a country unto itself. This is not the Italy the world is familiar with, but it is one that deserves a traveler’s utmost attention. It offers a mixture of many cultures and leaves a lasting impression on anyone who visits.

©Jonathan Hiltz

Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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