Italy is made up of 20 regions, each with distinctive characteristics. Here, you’ll get an overview of Sicily to get you started on planning a Sicily trip.
Border regions often end up being a cultural mish-mash, and Sicily is no exception. The island’s position in the Mediterranean gave it strategic importance to a long list of invading armies over the years, giving modern Sicilian culture a melting pot flavor.
It’s a pretty delicious place.
Sicily is separated from the Italian mainland by less than two miles (you can see Calabria from Messina), but it often feels light years away. Despite a history of repeated conquests by invading cultures – Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Normans, and Spaniards among them – the island has a healthy independent streak. I’ve heard it said that locals will describe themselves as Sicilian first, European second, and Italian only third.
There are beaches all around the island that are incredibly popular during the summer months, some impressive mountains (including one of the world’s most active volcanoes, Mt. Etna), areas of rugged volcanic landscape (including the Alcantara Gorges), and lots of rolling hills. Mt. Etna is a popular ski destination in winter, and great for guided hikes in summer – just be sure you go with a guide who knows the signs of an impending eruption.
Sicily’s cities burst with life (just hang out in Palermo’s markets to understand what I’m talking about), and the island is home to some of the best-preserved ancient Greek and Roman ruins in the country. Sicily’s multi-cultural past can be seen in its architecture if you know what you’re looking for, and tasted in its cuisine – including the island’s signature sweet-and-sour flavor profile that can be traced back to Arab cuisine.
It doesn’t take much time to get to Sicily from the mainland – you can even take a train all the way there, with special boats onto which train cars can roll – and some of the main cities have train stations, but most of Sicily is difficult to explore without a car. From some of the popular cities you can take regional buses to get around, or book day trips to nearby attractions, but to really see the bulk of the island it’s best to rent your own set of wheels.
As is the case with many popular beach destinations, Sicily can be extremely crowded in the summer. Plan well in advance if you’re taking a Sicilian beach vacation in the summer, particularly if you want to be around Taormina (it’s been a happening seaside resort town since the mid-19th century).
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