In the first part of this “An unforgettable 2-week road trip through Sicily”, corresponding to the first week of our trip, we explored the southwest part of this stunning Mediterranean Island.
In this second part, we will visit the northwest, the north, and the northeast part of it. If you missed the first part, you can check it out by clicking here.
That said, let us buckle up, and start this new adventure at the discovery of Sicily with no further ado.
Disclaimer: Throughout these two articles, I will be mentioning a lot of dishes typical of the Sicilian tradition, if you want to know more about any of them, you can download “My Ultimate List & Guide of 16 Sicilian Unmissable Foods” completely FOR FREE by clicking here.
Day 8 started with a substantial breakfast in our B&B in Fiumefreddo, and a 30-minute drive to Santa Venerina, the meeting point for our half-day trekking tour of Mount Etna, the tallest active volcano in Europe with a current height (July 2021) of 3,357 m (11,014 ft), in the company of Francesco, our guide, and the two drivers.
We were a group of 15/20 people divided into two minibuses and one jeep. They took us to see the remains of the volcanic eruption of 1979. After a couple of km, we stopped inside the National Park, and after a walk of about 40 minutes, we visited 5 side craters, one of which is still open. During this walk, the guide pointed out to us different lava, minerals, volcanic desert and pioneer plants.
After that, we made 2 km off-road to discover the last big eruption on the north side; finally, on the east side, equipped with helmets and lamps provided by our guide, we visited the inside of an inactive expansion chamber and a 26 km fracture that divides Etna into 2 parts; it moves 14 millimetres a year.
We like this tour as it was very interesting and educational, the guide was very professional and knowledgeable, and the drivers were friendly and polite.
Half-day trekking tour: 59 €/69.5 $ p.p.
After the tour, we drove to Castelmola, a small village above Taormina built on the ruins of a Norman castle, from where with a single glance you can catch the Ionian coast, the monumental Etna, the Bay of Giardini-Naxos, the Cape of S.Alessio, the strait of Messina and the Calabrian coast.
We parked our car just before the entrance of the village and proceeded on foot. After wandering around for some time and after visiting all its salient features, we had lunch at the unique and creative Bar Turrisi, famous for the sculptures of male “private” parts adorning every space inside it. For sure, not an extremely classy place, but a nice one to have a pleasant laugh. Not to mention the enchanted view over Mount Etna from its nice little terraces.
Then, we headed to Messina, the ancient Greek settlement on the homonymous strait.
After a well-deserved shower in our B&B, we went exploring the city as usual. We visited the Piazza Duomo with the stunning Orion fountain and the magnificent Cathedral, famous for its bell tower that has two unique features: it hosts on its later facade facing the Cathedral the largest and most complex mechanical and astronomical clock of the world; and has a golden bronze statues carousel that every day at noon moves and shows scenes from the history of Messina, including the handing-over of the legendary letter of protection from the Madonna to Messina. The church surprised us also for its unexpectedly wonderful insides.
Another church that surprised us was the Church of the Santissima Annunziata dei Catalani, an astonishing example of Sicilian Norman architecture with its mix of different cultural elements, from Arab and Byzantine to Roman.
Then, we had some dinner at Rosticceria Famulari, a place that used to be only for take-aways (when my family and I lived there back in the 90s) but that now has some tables inside and outside. It is nothing fancy, but the food is great. We had some “arancini”, a baked “Pidone“, a traditional Messinese street food with a half-moon shape, similar to a “Calzone“, stuffed with cheese stringy curly endive, tomato and anchovy. My husband claimed he had the best arancini of the entire trip here. So don’t miss it!
Before returning to the B&B and called it the day, we reached the Lungomare to see the octagonal stele of the Madonnina del Porto.
After a delicious breakfast made of pistachio granita and “brioscia cu tuppu”, we headed to Torre Faro, on the Punta del Faro, Sicily’s north-eastern tip.
There, we dived into the freezing waters of the narrowest point of the Messina Strait with an amazing view over the Calabrian coast.
Then, we went to Milazzo, a small town, mainly used as a transit point for the Aeolian Islands, with a beautiful pebble beach called “Spiaggia di Ponente” on its western part standing just below the Norman Castle and opposite to the port and the industrial plant.
After the morning spent at Torre Faro and with all the heat that it made that day, it was lovely to have dive into the warm water of the “Spiaggia di Ponente”.
Then, we went to our B&B, strategically near the town centre and the tourist port. We had a shower and went out to visit the city and had something to eat.
Unfortunately, we could not visit the castle, but we took a hike to the modern lower town and went up to the Old Town. Then, we had some dinner in a trattoria recommended by our B&B owners, where my husband tried the famous “Briaciole alla Messinese”, also known as “Involtini alla Messinese”. These are meat rolls, usually beef, seasoned with breadcrumbs, parsley, and cheese that are traditionally cooked on the grill.
After another yummy granita and “brioscia cu tuppu”, we left Milazzo for an all-day mini-cruise through three of the Eolian Islands, named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000.
First stop was Vulcano, where you had a dive in the Black sands Beach (“Sabbie Nere”), the largest and most famous beach on the island, and Hot waters Beach (“Acque Calde”), undoubtedly the most particular of the island thanks to the fumaroles that generate a whirlpool effect and the warmth of the water heated by the volcano. Unfortunately, the natural mud baths were closed to the public, though.
The second stop was Panarea, the smallest, pretties, and the most frequented by VIPs and celebrities of the Aeolian islands. Once disembarked at the port, we took a walk and explore the little village of Panarea, instead of taking a taxi to Caletta dei Zimmari, the only true sand beach on the entire island and the closest to the port.
We walked towards the church of Saint Peter and fell in love with the unique and memorable architecture of the houses there, with white and blue doors and windows.
Walking through the narrow streets forming of a labyrinth at the heart of the island, you can spend hours admiring the gardens and terraces immersed in olive trees, bougainvillaea, and palm groves. Once we got to the Church of San Pietro, on a small hill, the remarkable view over the amazing little houses, the lower part of the island, the Basiluzzo, a smaller island near to Panarea, and the wonderful crystal-clear sea shocked us.
Then, we returned to the Port and had a delicious peach-and-Malvasia granita at “Da Carola”, where locals say you can find the best granita on the island.
The last stop was Stromboli, the most remote of the Aeolian Islands, and one of the world’s only constantly active volcanoes, erupting every 15 to 20 minutes for the past millennia.
Once in the port, we took a stroll around the little village, first, and then go back to the beautiful pebble beach near the port and took a dive.
After embarking again on our boat and before going back to Milazzo, they took us to the opposite side of the island to the so-called “Sciara del Fuoco” (“Stream of Fire”), the northern flank of the volcano, running from the volcano’s active crater to the edge of the sea, marked by the path of the lava flows during Stromboli’s eruptions. We arrived there just before sunset, and the Stromboli gifted us with a couple of brief explosions from one of the summit craters.
Then, we headed back to Milazzo, and, once arrived at Milazzo port, we went straight to our B&B.
After a good granita and “briosca cu tuppu” by the sea in Milazzo, we headed to Scopello, in the province of Trapani. It is famous for its two sea stacks, named the “Faraglioni”, and its “Old Tonnara”, originally used for fishing tuna and it has turned now a museum and its old living quarters into rental apartments.
Scopello Faraglioni and Old Tonnata admission fee: 7 €/8.25 $ p.p.
The admission fee includes a 20-minute guided tour of the Old Tonnara and a deckchair to sunbathe on the concrete slipway.
We left our car in the paid parking in the Scopello old village, on the hill above the Old Tonnara, and from there we took reached the coast on foot (a 15-minute walk).
Parking price for the entire day: 4 €/4.71 $.
Otherwise, you can park your car in a paid parking just a couple of hundreds of meters before the entrance of the Tonnara (coming from Palermo) at the cost of 7 €/8.25 $ for the entire day.
From there, we went to Trapani.
I was born there, part of my family still lives there, and my husband and I have been to Trapani many times there together, so we knew perfectly that if you seek a break after a long and hot day of driving and being to the beach, Erice, an enchanted medieval village at 751m above sea level, is the place to go.
I have already written an article about Erice and many other must-see places in the Trapani Province. Click here if you would like to have a look at it.
We reached Erice by cable car, the most scenographic way to enjoy the wonderful view of Trapani, the Aegadian Island, and the salt marshes.
Cable car round trip price: 9.5 €/11.2 $ p.p.
Once on the top, we entered the village from Porta Trapani, went to the jaw-dropping Mother Church, dedicated to the cult of Santa Maria Assunta (click here to have a look at my old article for more details), Piazza della Loggia, where the City Hall stands, the Balio, with its majestic view over the Tyrrhenian coast in the Gulf of Trapani and the tip of San Vito Lo Capo at the horizon, and the Venus Castle, and had dinner at the “Bar the Balio” with an incredible view of Trapani, the Aegadian Island, and the salt marshes at sunset.
From there, before heading back to the cable car and to Trapani, we stopped at “Pasticceria Maria Grammatico” for an almond granita and a “Genovese Ericina”, sweet shortbread with a delicate custard inside and a dusting of icing sugar on the top.
On Day 12 we took a ferry to Favignana, the biggest and closest of the Aegadian Islands, and then a taxi to the Caribbean cove of Cala Rossa at the north-eastern corner of the island and at 5km/ 3mi from the Favignana port (the better way to wandering around the island in total autonomy, though, is still renting a bike or a moped as I said in my previous article about the Trapani province). After a refreshing dive there, we walked to Bue Marino Beach, and then to Cala Azzurra, at the south-eastern corner of the island.
After an entire day in Favignana, we went back to Trapani, have a shower, and took a stroll through the city centre. We stopped to have some “Busiate al Pesto Trapanese”, a type of handmade long helical-shaped macaroni, typical of the Trapani province, with a pesto sauce made of basil, tomato, almond, garlic and Pecorino cheese, also typical of this province. After that, I had some jasmine ice cream, typical of the city of Trapani (you cannot find it anywhere else in Sicily), while my husband opted for a jasmine “granita“.
For more information about Trapani and its province have a look at my “12 places you should not miss in Trapani, Sicily” by clicking here. For more information about typical Sicilian foo, download “My Ultimate List & Guide of 16 Sicilian Unmissable Foods” completely for free by clicking here.
We had breakfast and then headed for a clinic lab where we had a PCR, a requirement for us to get back to Ireland, where we have been living for the last two years.
After that, we went back to Palermo Airport to deliver our rental car, and from there we took a “Prestia e Comandè” autobus to Palermo city centre. It took us almost 45 minutes to get to the stop closest to our hotel.
“Prestia e Comandè” autobus round-trip ticket: 11€/13 $ p.p.
Once in Palermo, we left our stuff at our hotel near the “Quattro Canti”, and visited the wonderful Piazza Pretoria, commonly called by Palermitans as “Piazza della Vergogna” (literally “Square of Shame”) because of the great amount of money that Palermo Senate had to pay for the purchase of this majestic fountain in Carrara marble during a sad historical moment characterized by misery, epidemics and famine.
Then we went to the “Vucciria” market to have some lunch. There we had some traditional Palermitan street food such as “Panelle”, chickpeas fritters, “Cazzilli”, potato croquettes typically an oval and elongated shape, seasoned with parsley, “Arancini”, and “Stigghiola”, guts (usually of lamb, goat or chicken) washed in water and salt, seasoned with parsley and often with onion and other pot-herbs, then stuck on a skewer or rolled around a leek, and finally cooked directly on the grill.
After that, we visited the stunning Cathedral, one of the most important architectural monuments in Sicily. The Normans built it in 1184 as a re-converted Christian church on the site of a Muslim Mosque that was previously built over a Christian basilica.
It has been part of the UNESCO’s World Heritage List since 2015 along with The Norman Palace, the Palatine Chapel in the Norman Palace, Church of St, Jonh of the Hermits, Church of St Mary of the Admiral (also known as the Martorana), Church of San Cataldo, the Zisa Palace, the Cuba Palace, and the Norman Cathedrals of Cefalù and Monreale. We visited these last two the year before, but I still haven’t written about them.
Cathedral admission fee: Free for visiting only the church. 7 €/ 8.25 $ p.p. for the Tombs, Treasury, Crypts and Terraces all together, otherwise you can pay each one separately if you don’t want to see them all.
Then, we had a shower in our hotel room and headed to Capo market to have dinner at “Dainotti’s Cibo di Strada”. There we had a delicious “Caponata”, a Sicilian dish comprising chopped fried aubergine and other vegetables, seasoned with olive oil, tomato sauce, celery, olives, and capers, in a sweet and sour sauce, and some “Pane ca meusa”, a soft bread topped with sesame, stuffed with chopped veal lung and spleen boiled and then fried in lard.
Day 14 was the day of my birthday (!), so we took things easy. We had breakfast, and then we got back to our room, changed into bath suites, and went back down to our hotel spa. We had the whole spa for ourselves for an hour. So we enjoyed the sauna, the Turkish bath and the jacuzzi, and after that a one-hour relaxing massage. That felt amazing!
Once back from the spa, we changed back into our normal clothes and left to the discovery of Palermo. That time we decided we would have lunch in a determinate restaurant close to the Politeama Theater, thus we had a look at all the important landmarks along the way between our hotel and that restaurant, such as the Massimo Theater, the largest theatre in Italy and one of the largest in all of Europe (the only two larger are Opera National de Paris and the K. K. Hof-Opernhaus in Austria), and the Politeama Theater, constructed to have a diurnal multi-purpose theatre to house more popular shows (operetta, festivals, equestrian shows, and so on) than the ones in the more “aristocratic” Massimo Theatre.
We then had lunch at “Flower Burger”, and reached the Norman (or Royal) Palace, the oldest royal residence in Europe. It was the seat of the Kings of Sicily during the Norman domination and served afterwards as the primary seat of power for the subsequent rulers of Sicily. Since 1946 it has been the seat of the Sicilian Regional Assembly.
There we saw the most jaw-dropping landmark of the entire trip (along with King Ruggiero’s Room in the Norman Palace as well): the amazing Palatine Chapel. A magical place where all the multiple characters that forged Sicily (Norman, Byzantine and Arabic) blend perfectly. It indeed exemplarily combines Norman architecture, Arabic arches and muqarnas, and the Byzantine dome and mosaics; besides, typical Christian designs sit side by side with eight-pointed stars, typical of Muslim design.
Admission fee: 19 €/ 22.3 $ p.p. for the Palatine Chapel, Royal Apartments, King Ruggero Room, Neo-Gothic Chapel, Pisan Tower, Royal Gardens, exhibition and Punic Walls (Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday and holidays)/ 15.5€/18.2 $ p.p. for the Palatine Chapel, Royal Gardens, exhibition and Punic Walls (Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, days when the Sicilian Regional Assembly meets).
After that, we headed for the Church of St. John of the Hermits, easily recognizable by its brilliant red domes, erected on the site of an old Gregorian monastery converted into the Mosque in the 10th century.
Admission fee: 6 €/ 7 $ p.p.
After that, we went back to the hotel, have a shower, and left again in the seaside’s direction, the so-called “La Cala” and the “Foro Italico“. There we had some “Pane con le panelle” and “Pane ca meusa”, my husband favourite, and after that a pistachio “Granita” and a “Cannolo”, one of the best known and loved desserts in the Sicilian tradition, comprising ricotta-filled tube-shaped shells of pastry dough, at “Cannoli & Co.” at Via Maqueda.
We had some breakfast at our hotel and then left for the famous Capuchins Catacombs. Unfortunately, we found them closed for renovations, thus we went straight to our next stop, the Zisa Palace, designed entirely in Islamic-style architecture and conceived as a comfortable royal premise to relax during the scorching heat of Sicily’s summer.
Admission fee: 8 €/ 9.4 $ p.p.
After that, we treated ourselves for the last time with an almond and a pistachio “Granita” and a “Cassatina Siciliana”, the mini version of the delicious dessert called “Cassata Siciliana” and made with sponge cake, filled with sweet ricotta and chocolate and decorated with candied fruits and royal icing.
Then, with our hearts filled with great sorrow, it was already time to go back to Palermo Airport, thus we took the “Prestia e Comandè” autobus that brought us there, and after a few hours, we were back to Ireland, where all started, tired and sad, but our hearts and minds fulfilled with all the extraordinary things we were lucky enough to have seen and tasted firsthand.
What an unforgettable experience we had! One of the best we have ever had!
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Want to know more about any of the typical Sicilian food I mentioned in this article, download “My Ultimate List & Guide of 16 Sicilian Unmissable Foods” completely FOR FREE by clicking here.