This was a trip my husband and I had been dreaming to do together for years. As a Sicilian, I fantasized about showing my beautiful but conflicting land to my lovely husband, and he did the same to reconnect himself with his Sicilian half and his one-half of the family roots.
Everything was ready already in September last year (2020), but then things did not go as planned because of serious family problems that led us to decide to abort the trip only a couple of days from its beginning.
This year, though, we decided it had been to be done. First, to exorcise the terrible memories tied to these places due to what had happened the year before, and second, to make our trip to visit Sicily together come true, finally.
Well, we can now say that not only our dreams have come true but also that the trip ended out to be even better than we both had imagined. It was a true blast what we had. We saw and did many more places and things than we had planned and, yes, it was extremely fun and breath-taking.
In retrospect, it would appear extreme to somebody who has a different “style” of tourism but, to be honest, it reflects our way of doing tourism, an “extreme” way, someone could say. We can stay too much in the same place just contemplating, resting or relaxing. We need to hit the sack knowing that we were able the most of the day and the places we visited takes what it takes. During this trip, we usually walked around 12km (7.45mi) every day on average, and we do not even know how hundreds of kilometres we drove.
That said, I will relate our unforgettable 2-week road trip through Sicily as it happened, and then it will be up to you to decide if you want to replicate it to the letter, or just take a cue from it.
So, with no further ado, buckle up, you guys, and let us dive into this new adventure in the discovery of the wonderful island of Sicily.
Disclaimer 1: in this first part of “An unforgettable 2-week road trip through Sicily”, I will tell the first week of our trip, leaving the second week for the following article. Click here to go straight to the second part.
Disclaimer 2: 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.
On the first day, we took a cab to the airport, flew to Palermo airport, grabbed a bit, rented a car, and drove to the B&B we booked near Calatafimi, in the Trapani province. Simple day!
On the second day, we had an astonishing breakfast with a breath-taking view of the Greek temple of Segesta, and then we drove to Trapani to pay a quick visit to my grandpas.
After lunch, we headed to Catania, where, after a 3-and-a-half-hour drive, our trip began.
We arrived around 6 pm at the B&B we booked at Via Antonino Di Sangiuliano, in the San Berillo neighbourhood, in the very heart of the city. We found parking near the premises, and in a matter of maybe one hour, we were already on our way to visit the city centre.
We saw the Massimo Bellini Theater (from the outside) on Piazza Vincenzo Bellini, Named after the local-born composer Vincenzo Bellini, Palazzo Biscari (from the outside), the Archi della Marina, and from there, passing through Porta Uzeda, and reached Piazza del Duomo and the Baroque Cathedral, dedicated to Saint Agatha. Unfortunately, we could not visit the Cathedral insides, so we took some pictures of us with the Cathedral, the most notorious Elephant Fountain, which portrays an ancient lava-stone elephant, the symbol of the city called by local “u Liotru”, topped by an Egyptian obelisk, and the Fountain of the Amenano, on the right-hand side of Palazzo dei Chierici.
From there, we continued over the Fountain in Piazza Alonso di Benedetto, where the local fish (and meat) market is hosts every morning, and, walking along Via Zappala’ Gemelli and Via Auteri, we reached Piazza Federico di Svevia, where the Ursino Castle stands. Built in the 13th century as a royal castle of the Kingdom of Sicily at the behest of Emperor Frederick II, King of Sicily, mostly known for its role in the Sicilian Vespers of 1295, when it became the seat of the Sicilian Parliament that declared deposed James II of Aragon as King of Sicily, replacing him with Frederick III.
From there, wandering around, as we always like to do in a new city, we found a nice place back in Piazza Santa Maria dell’Indirizzo where we had dinner. It was there that my husband had his first taste of horse meat, a city speciality. This time it was in the shape of a burger, but later in this trip, he would have tried it even in the more traditional shape of fillet and meatballs.
After that, we saw the popular as much as wonderful Via Etnea, the city’s major thoroughfare and monumental street. We walked to Villa Bellini, the oldest urban park in Catania. We then sit at Spinella, one of the two most famous and oldest cafes in the street, and had our first pistachio granita. For those who do not know what granita is: it is a cold, sweet treat made from water, sugar, and fruit or nuts that is never completely frozen. It is mixed continuously to get a texture that is simultaneously grainy and creamy. It comes in many flavours, but the most traditional are pistachio, almond and mulberries.
From there, we went back to our B&B, have a shower, and then some sleep.
On day 3, we greeted the day with another delicious pistachio granita from Spinella along with a tasty “brioscia cu tuppu”, traditional Sicilian bread unique to the region of Sicily (you cannot find it anywhere else in Italy), shaped like a hair bun, a hemispherical basis topped with a toupee (“tuppu” in Sicilian).
After that, we went to Villa Bellini before heading to Via Crociferi, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is not only one of the oldest Catania streets in the city’s heart, but it is also the city’s symbol of Baroque because of the presence of some of the city’s most beautiful 18th-century churches, such as the Church of St. Benedict and its connected namesake monastery, the Church of St. Francesco Borgia, the Church of San Giuliano, and the Crociferi’s convent with adjoining the Church of St. Camillus.
We then headed to Syracuse.
Our first stop was just at the beginning of the “new” city to visit the Archaeological Park of the Neapolis, an open-air museum that hosts the most important ruins of the old Greek-Roman city of Syracuse, such as the Greek Theater, constructed in the 5th century BC, and still in use, the Ear of Dionysius, a 23-meter-high (75-foot-high) and 65-meter-deep (213-foot-deep) cave where, according to the legend, Dionysius, the ruler of ancient Syracuse, would eavesdrop on the prisoners incarcerated there, and the Roman Amphitheater, one of the largest amphitheatres ever constructed, dating back to the 3rd century AD. The Archaeological Park, along with the entire city of Siracusa, has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2005.
Admission fee to the Archeological Park: 16.5 €/19.4 $ p.p.
After that, we parked our car just before entering Ortygia, the old city of Syracuse, and went to our B&B for the night to drop our stuff and change into our swimming suits. It was in Ortygia, just behind the Temple of Apollo.
We had two (each) amazingly delicious “arancini”, a staple of Sicilian cuisine, for lunch. They are rice balls stuffed, coated with bread crumbs and deep-fried. The most common fillings are ragù (meat or mince, slow-cooked at low temperature with tomato sauce and spices), mozzarella and/or caciocavallo cheese, and often peas, or “al burro” with ham and mozzarella or bechamel.
Stuffed but satisfied, we went to Piazza Archimede and from there to stunning Piazza Duomo. The square is so breathtaking that I would place it on my top 10 of the most beautiful squares in the entire world, without a doubt. One of the architectonic elements contributing to its magnificence is the Cathedral, originally a Greek Doric temple of Athena from the 5th century BC, as you can still tell by the look of the Doric columns exposed on the right side, and the reason it has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2005.
Then, we reached the Arethusa Spring, a natural freshwater fountain where, according to Greek mythology, the nymph Arethusa, the patron figure of ancient Syracuse, returned to earth’s surface after escaping from her undersea home in Arcadia. Along with the river Ciane, south of Syracuse, and the river Fiume Freddo in the province of Catania, it is the only place in Europe where papyrus grows.
After that, we walked along the waterfront flanking Ortygia’s west coast and got to the corner between Via dei Mille and Ponte Umbertino, where we started a boat tour all around Ortygia and to some coves under the most modern part of the city. Such an incredible experience it was! I had been a hundred times to Ortygia during my adolescence (when with my family we spent five years living near the city of Syracuse), but I had never had the chance to marvel at the sight of it by the sea till that moment. It was beautiful, intriguing, romantic, and refreshing as it ended with a dip in the crystal-clear sea.
Boat tour price: 10€/11.74$ p.p.
After a shower, we continued visiting Ortygia walking along its eastern coastline till almost reaching Castello Maniace, and from there, we had some dinner and went to bed.
Day 4 started with an almond granita and “brioscia cu tuppu”, followed by a visit to the Cathedral.
Cathedral Admission fee: 2 €/2.35 $ p.p.
From there, we went to Noto, the capital city of the Sicilian Baroque. We parked for free in Via Francesco Maiore, a couple of minutes walking from the Triumph Arc or Royal Gate. From there, we took Corso Vittorio Emanuele, the primary thoroughfare, where almost all the most representative buildings in the city stand. Walking along this street, we encountered the Church of Saint Francis to the Immaculate, on top of an impressive staircase and attached to Franciscan Monastery of the St. Saviour, the Church of Saint Clair, the Cathedral of San Nicholas, the Palazzo Ducezio, opposite to the latter, the Church of Saint Charles, the Church of Saint Dominic and the inspiring Fountain of Hercules. Just before the Church of Saint Charles, look at the street on your right, Via Nicolaci, famous for hosting in the middle of May a colourful fiesta known as the “Infiorata“, when flower artists from all over the world create a carpet of beautiful petal mosaics inspired by the year’s theme. Part of a UNESCO Heritage Site (along with the neighbouring towns of Ragusa, Modica and Scicli), Noto is not to be missed!
After some delicious “pane cunzatu” (seasoned bread), a typical poor meal of the traditional Sicilian cuisine made of a loaf of freshly baked bread with a few extra ingredients, such as olives, anchovies, tomatoes, mozzarella or other cheese, salt, pepper and oregano, we decided to “take the afternoon off”, and go to the amazing Vendicari Nature Reserve, halfway between Noto and Pachino.
Vendicari Nature Reserve
The Vendicari Nature Reserve is famous for its beautiful beaches with fine and clear sand alternating with rocky areas, salty marshes, very important for the migratory birds coming from Africa and Northern Europe, such as pink flamingos, storks and herons, the Sveva Tower, and the 18th-century tuna factory on the sea.
Vendicari Narure Reserve fees:
- Parking: 7 €/8.2 $ for the entire day;
- Access to the Reserve: 7 €/8.2 $ p.p.
After a couple of refreshing dives into Vendicari’s crystal-clear waters, we headed to our B&B in Pachino, had a shower, and went to Marzamemi for dinner with a special view of one of Sicily’s prettiest seaside villages.
We found free parking on Via Paolo Callieri, otherwise, you can find easily a spot in the pay parking at the very beginning of the village.
After leaving Pachino, we headed to Scicli (pronounced shi-kli), one of the UNESCO-listed Sicilian Baroque towns of Sicily, but less-known and visited compared with its more neighbours, Noto, Ragusa and Modica.
We found a free spot to park our car in Via Guadagna, just before the beautiful Church of Saint Bartholomew. From there, we headed to Piazza Italia and Palazzo Beneventano, Scicli’s most striking Baroque palace. Then, we took Via Matrice till we reached the Church of Saint Matthew, sat in a commanding position overlooking the valley. From there, we went back to Via Nazionale, and we took Via Francesco Mormino Penna overlooked by an array of stunning buildings such as the City Hall, the Church of Saint John Evangelist, Palazzo Bonelli Patanè, the Church of St. Michael the Archangel, and Palazzo Spadaro. We then took Via Aleardi, walking alongside the dried-up riverbed of the Irminio River, till the Church of Our Lady of Carmel. Finally, we took Via Santa Maria La Nova and visited the Church of St Mary of the Consolation.
After that, we left for Modica.
We parked for free in Piazza Madonna delle Grazie, and have a good “Pasta alla Norma”, a delicious Sicilian pasta dish with fried eggplant, marinara and basil, in Corso Umberto I in Modica Bassa.
After lunch, we visited the Church of St. Peter with its monumental staircase adorned with statues of the 12 apostles on the sides, and we headed for Modica Alta and the Cathedral of Saint George, a monumental example of the Sicilian Baroque style. From the stairs of the Cathedral, you can enjoy a spectacular view of the valley over the valley of Modica, and the underneath garden on several levels, called Orto del Piombo, bordered by the monumental staircase. From there, we went to Pizzo Belvedere to catch another wonderful view of the valley, and the Church of Saint John Evangelist. At the foot of the latter’s staircase, we enjoyed a delicious Modica chocolate ice cream and a no-less-yummy Modica chocolate granita.
The city of Modica is indeed famous for its chocolate and its baroque buildings. What makes the Modica chocolate so special? Its ancient recipe, the first coming from the Aztecs, arrived in Sicily through the Spanish conquistadors ruling Sicily between 1500 and 1700. Unlike in the rest of the world, this chocolate has never become an industrialized product and, therefore, has preserved an authentic flavour based on the purity of its ingredients and craftsmanship of work throughout the centuries.
After that refreshment, we walked along Corso Regina Margherita and Corso Francesco Crispi to visit the Castle of the Counts of Modica, a charming medieval construction that includes a wide variety of museums and exhibitions.
After visiting the castle, we got back to the car and drove to the white stone Neo-Gothic Donnafuga Castle.
After visiting the Castle, we drove to Ragusa.
After a well-deserved shower, we wandered through Ragusa Superiore Corso Italia; we visited the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist, and we had some dinner. My husband had a burger with horsemeat and donkey mortadella. Unbelievable!
After breakfast, we reached Ragusa Ibla, the ancient city of Ragusa, by descending a staircase hundreds of steps long with jaw-dropping views over Ragusa Ibla itself. We visited the Church of St. Mary of the Steps, between Ragusa Superiore and Ragusa Ibla, the Church of Purgatorio, and the Cathedral of Saint George at the top of some 200 steps.
From there, we drove to Caltagirone.
We parked our car in Piazza Innocenzo Marcinnò for free and had another good “Pasta alla Norma” in a restaurant in the same square. Then, we went straight to see the famous Staircase of Santa Maria del Monte. It is a 142-step staircase made from thousands of ceramic tiles, one design per step, as a fitting tribute to a city known for its design and production of ceramics and terra-cotta sculptures. We climbed to the Church of Santa Maria del Monte and enjoyed the spectacular view of the city from above. From there, we went down to Piazza del Municipio, and we saw the Cathedral of St Julian (from the outside).
After seeing Caltagirone, we planned to visit the Villa Romana del Casale in Piazza Armerina, another Sicilian UNESCO World Heritage Site, but, because of a fire and some trees that had fallen on the only street to reach the archaeological site, we could not visit it.
It is famous for its impressive mosaic complex, one of the world’s richest, largest, and varied collections of Roman mosaics.
Thus, we had a stop in Aci Trezza to have a stroll and a pistachio granita along its seafront, and then go to Acireale to spend the night.
Aci Trezza & Acireale
Once in Acireale, we visited the Cathedral and its Piazza Duomo and had a yummy dinner at a place in a street just around the corner. My husband that night had the chance to taste for the first time a horsemeat fillet and meatball. He was enthusiastic!
After a scenographic breakfast with views on the Mount etna from the panoramic terrace of our B&B in Acireale, we headed to the Alcantara Gorges.
After a 40-minute stroll through the Botanical and Geological Park, which allowed us to admire the internal and most suggestive part of the Gorges from above, we had the 1-hour Fluvial Trekking tour in the interior of the Gorges, between lava rocks and waterfalls and through the cold river water with the help of some dungarees and the river assistants/guides.
Fluvial trekking price: 30 €/35.2 $ p.p.
Then, we went to our B&B in Fiumefreddo to take a shower, and, from there, we drove to Taormina.
We parked at Lumbi parking (10 €/12 $ for 5 hours), and then we took the free shuttle bus that left us just at the arch at the very beginning of Corso Umberto.
From there, we visited the Greek Teather, with splendid views toward the Calabrian coast, the Ionian coast of Sicily and the spectacular cone of Etna, Piazza IX Aprile with the Baroque Church of Saint Joseph and the viewpoint over the azure Ionian Sea and of the Mount Etna, and the Sicilian Romanesque-Gothic Cathedral, dedicated to St. Nicholas.
Greek Theather admission fee: 13.5 €/15.9 $ p.p.
We loved Taormina! It is a real gem on the north-western Sicilian coast.
With Taormina, this first part of “An unforgettable 2-week road trip through Sicily” ends. Go to the second part by clicking here.
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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.