One of our favorite countries we have visited is Sicily. I really wanted to see it because my Maternal Grandparents came from there and I wanted to see the town of Alia where they met and married. To prepare for my trip, I took Italian classes at the local Community College for about six months so I could confidently ask for directions, find out where a restaurant or hotel was and hopefully track down some relatives with the same family name as my Grandparents.
We flew to Palermo and spent about three days acclimating to the Sicilian life and getting a feel for the country. Our hotel was located downtown and within walking distance to the Opera House, Teatro Massimo which seemed to be the center of town. We tried to see an opera while we were in Palermo but sadly there were no performances during our stay.
One of the things that was immediately evident was how immaculately dressed up the Sicilians were when going out for the evening. Another attraction to see in Palermo is the catacombs where Capuchin Friars used arsenic baths and quicklime to preserve the corpses of thousands of Sicilians.
After three days, we rented a car and we made our way around the island. We didn’t have any reservations, which is the way my husband and I love to travel. We were sure we would find places to stay whenever we wanted to stop and stay a couple of days. For the most part that was the case and we stayed in some interesting hotels and accommodations.
Our first stop was the city of Marsala where we stayed for a couple of days and bought some Marsala wine which can be as fine as a top sherry or port. From there we headed inland to the town of Alia to visit my grandparents hometown. It was a lovely cobblestone street town and was known as a place that grows flowers. Maybe that would explain why my Grandfather became a florist. I went into a pub to ask in Italian if anyone knew of anyone in town by my grandparents name and I was corrected in the pronunciation of the name and told no one in town with that name remained.
One of the things that surprised us about Sicily is the number of Greek ruins throughout the country. Many more in number and magnificence than in Greece. One of the largest ancient cities is in Agrigento and we spent a day climbing through the archaeological park known as the Valley of the Temples.
We continued around the cape of Sicily before heading north where we stayed a couple days in the southeastern coastal town of Siracusa. It is full of ancient ruins and beautiful beaches.
We then made our way up the coast and stayed in the little beach town of Catania which is right on the Gulf of Catania. We had an incredible view of the bay from our hotel.
Then we drove to Taormina which is a bit touristy but interesting because from the ancient amphitheater, we could see Mt. Etna which is the largest active volcano in Europe.
If you are a foodie, you will find Sicilian food to be very interesting because although its cuisine has a lot in common with Italian cuisine, Sicilian food also has Greek, Spanish, French and Arab influences. Many of the dishes are prepared with dried fruits, olives, pine nuts and spices such as nutmeg and cinnamon.
Sicily is a country I would like to return to someday and include exploring the surrounding Aeolian Islands. To sum up my favorite aspects of Sicily they are:
- Breathtaking views of agricultural beauty while you are driving through the countryside;
- Beautiful black and white sand beaches;
- Fantastic ancient Greek architecture throughout the country;
- Friendly and laid back people who make you feel welcome in their accommodations and restaurants;
- Great food;
- A country that is small enough you can drive all around it in a couple of weeks