One Week in Sicily
We spend one week on Sicily, a magnetic Italian island, where Middle Eastern architecture and cuisine meet Roman history. It’s an enticing mixture of the best both worlds have to offer, which makes for some unique fusions. With gritty yet pretty cities beaming with potential and not yet overrun by tourists, a view of the Etna wherever you are, and a plethora of small islands dotted along the coast; there are a lot of adventures to be had. Add lovely weather and splendid beaches to the mix and you have a destination you can easily spend a month, if not months, at. Unfortunately, we only had one week and stuck to the northern and eastern sides of the island, but we still fell in love immediately. These are the places we would recommend you to go when you get to visit this Mediterranean gem.
1. Climbing Mt. Etna
Mt. Etna, the biggest volcano in Europe, is a must see for everyone who visits Sicily. It covers a huge area in black volcanic stone and every so often you see a plume of smoke rising from one of the craters. Bring your best hiking gear because the walk up is quite physical, but doable for anyone with reasonable fitness. What we liked most about the hike weren’t the craters, but being surrounded by a moonlike landscape, with a magnificent view over Sicily. There are several ways of getting there, the easiest, but most expensive, of which is by going on an organized tour that leaves from most big cities. If you prefer, like us, to go on your own there is an AST bus that leaves every day from Catania to Rifugio Sapienza. You can find more on a self-catered trip to Mt. Etna, what to bring, and other information here.
2. Marvel at exploding Stromboli
Stromboli is one of the Aeolian islands in the north of Sicily and easily ranks in our top 5 most jaw-dropping places to visit. It’s 100% volcano and 100% active all the time. Besides snorkelling in clear cobalt blue waters with pitch black sand at the bottom, the reason to go here is to climb the volcano and watch it explode at night. We had heard and read stories about it, but in reality the explosions were so much more impressive than we expected. Because of a recent accident we couldn’t climb higher than 250 meters, but it didn’t matter because the eruptions that happen every 10 minutes are nothing you can compare to any fireworks. Feeling, seeing, and hearing the low roar of a mountain coughing up molten rock is something you will never forget. After spending probably 90 minutes at the highest point, we walked down again and had diner at l’Osservatorio, a restaurant that lies at 200 meters high right below the volcano. Instead of chairs and tables facing the ocean, they were turned towards the volcano. And, although less intense than higher up, the eruptions are still clearly visible from here and you can have a decent meal and great wine. Extra bonus is that they have a free shuttle to bring you back down, as getting there is quite a hike.
3. Feast on Sicilian cuisine in Palermo
One thing Sicily is known for are its tasty sweets and street food. Throughout Italy, bakeries market their sweets as dolce Siciliana, but the top-notch treats for those sweet tooth’s out there can only be found in Sicily, with Palermo on top of that list. For those who prefer a savoury snack, go for some arancina’s; stuffed fried rice balls. It tastes so much better than it sounds! Luckily Palermo is small enough to walk to almost all places of interest, which is a welcome remedy against stuffing yourself with calorie bombs like tiramisu and cannoli. There are so many palaces, churches, squares, chapels and museums you can keep yourself busy for days. And at the end of a day filled with walking and eating you can opt for some cheap, but amazingly good wine at one of the many taverna’s along Via Chiavettieri have some diner at one of the many great trattorias or have both at a classier Osteria.
4. Roaming the streets of pretty and gritty Catania
Catania: our first stop in Sicily and we immediately loved it. Beautiful squares, churches and buildings like the Teatro Massimo Bellini are interspersed by streets with ran down houses and dodgy bars that cater towards the city’s many students. The main square, Piazza del Duomo, is the perfect place for people watching and has some great sights nearby. There are many streets and alleys to explore where you can find everything from cheap student bars to more upscale restaurants. One street which we particularly liked was the Via Santa Filomena, a bit tucked away, making it a great local hotspot to try mid-range to high end Sicilian cuisine. As we only discovered this street our final night after we had dinner already, we recommend you to just go there, walk around, and choose something that appeals to your senses.
Catania is a city with much potential, it has the same Italian grace like cities such as Rome, but it is more dusty, rough, and less touristy. There are also beaches, of which the cleanest is the third beach. Taking a dive in the Medditerenean sea with a view of Catania and Mt. Etna is an experience we would never forget.