Sicily is a glorious Mediterranean island, a seductive blend of Greek and Roman influences teamed with dramatic landscapes. Its sunny climate brings spring flowers in February and warm seas as late as November, whilst during high summer, coastal breezes offer respite from the baking sun. Here’s why you need to visit.
A scenic hillside settlement on the eastern coast, chic Taormina dates back to the 4th century BC. The town has flourished since the 1700s, when it became a popular Grand Tour destination for affluent northern Europeans. From its elevated location 700 feet above the sea, enjoy splendid views over neighbouring Giardini Naxos bay, whilst volcanic Etna looms in the distance. Taormina’s historic Greek Roman amphitheatre is a major tourist attraction, where you’ll catch outdoor music and theatre performances throughout summer. The pedestrianised town centre of bougainvillea clad streets and pretty squares is a joy to explore. On Corso Umberto’s main thoroughfare you’ll find upscale boutiques, souvenir shops, bars and restaurants.
Stromboli is perhaps the most extraordinary of the eight Aeolian Islands located off Sicily’s north coast. On first sight, its black sand beaches, sparkling clear waters, and sparse, laid back communities suggest tranquillity. Yet Stromboli harbours one of the most active volcanoes on the planet. Mount Stromboli is a continuously erupting furnace, spewing toxic gas and molten lava into the atmosphere.
The easiest way to observe the volcano is from the water. Take a twilight boat cruise around the island and witness the peak venting as you sail past. Eruptions occur roughly every 20 minutes marked by ominous, thunder like rumbles accompanied by emissions of gas and molten rock.
You can hike up the volcano – but only with an official guide. It’s a taxing and exhilarating adventure! Depart Scari village in late afternoon, when temperatures cool. The challenging hike takes approximately five hours and you need good fitness, and ideally a head for heights (this hiker has vertigo but made it, thanks to a fantastic guide!). You’ll reach the summit after dark, which heightens the drama. Prepare to literally feel the earth vibrate beneath your feet as you watch fire explode into the night sky. It’s an extraordinary experience, to stand atop a mountain and hear it roar.
This atmospheric city was founded by the Corinthians almost 3,000 years ago. Explore splendid Baroque squares and ancient alleyways, Historians must visit the Parco Archeologico della Neapolis, whose fascinating ruins span millennia. The Teatro Greco is an amphitheatre built into the hillside around 500 BC, and classical performances still take place amidst the ancient ruins. Linked to the mainland by a footbridge is the enchanting island of Ortigia, a vibrant quarter of mediaeval streets where you’ll find superb bars and restaurants.
On Sicily’s northern coast this charming seaside resort combines golden sandy beaches, beautiful medieval architecture and authentic restaurants. Amongst the old town’s elegant piazzas lined with eateries, you’ll discover a handsome Norman cathedral dating back to 1130. Climb La Rocca, a craggy outcrop behind town for superb coastal views. Cefalu’s attractive crescent shaped beach is one of the most popular in Sicily. For further beach options, visit Lascari (12 km by car, or 6 minutes on train from Cefalu) where you’ll find expansive unspoilt beaches including Capo Playa, a 15km stretch of sandy coastline.
Europe’s most active volcano and Sicily’s highest peak, Etna’s topography is in a constant state of flux, due to regular eruptions. The volcano has been active for over 2,000 years and its smoking crater is a familiar sight to Catania, Sicily’s second largest city. At over 10,000 feet the snow clad peak is a popular skiing and winter sports destination. In warmer months you can hike the wooded hillsides, and explore the changing terrain of gorges and black lava fields. The fertile lower slopes nurture abundant vineyards, citrus groves and orchards.
The expansive metropolis on Sicily’s southern coast may not entice on first viewing. Turn your back on the traffic and high rise, and make a beeline for the scenic old town and the fascinating Valley of the Temples. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the ancient ruined city of Akragas dates back to 500 BC. The sprawling elevated site is split into eastern and western zones. Highlights include the impressive Doric columns of the Temple of Hera (aka Temple of Juno) dramatically perched on the site’s highest point overlooking the sea, and the stunning Temple of Concordia, which after almost 3000 years remains astonishingly intact.
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This article originally appeared on TravelOffPath.com