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Sicily

With history and links to Greece, Rome, North Africa, and various other cultures (Norman, Holy Roman Empire, French, Italian...even American), Sicily offers rich historic treasures, beautiful beaches, spicy cuisine, and a relaxed pace of life.

Getting There

  • By car: From Naples, it is around 6 hours to drive to a town just north of Reggio di Calabria called Villa San Giovanni.  There, you cross the Strait of Messina on a ferry with timetables listed at www.carontetourist.it/v2.0_us/stretto.mvd. The crossing takes about thirty minutes and costs between €29-54 for a round trip (depending on when you cross).  From there it is about 1 hour and 45 minutes to NAS Sigonella.
  • By ferry: From Naples you can take an overnight ferry to Palermo or Catania.  See To Get Around page for ferry company websites from Naples.   (Ferries from other destinations to Sicily can be found at www.cemar.it/dest/ferries_sicily.htm)  Here are the major options from Naples:
    • SNAV leaves Naples for Palermo and vice versa once a day at 8 PM and arrives at 6:30 AM.  Additional departures in August and late July.  Adults are 72 euro round trip; children are 36 and cars are 144 but there is a special deal for 35 euro one way with a car and driver.  The "economy" beds are a 2-bed bunkroom, which is comfy but small; bring your own towels and shower shoes if you want to use the shower.  Although there is a full-service cafeteria, the best value is to bring your own picnic dinner for the ferry (that's what the truck drivers do!).
    • TTTLines leaves Naples for Catania and vice versa at 9 PM (although Sundays and Friday Catania departure is at 7:30); arrival is around 8 AM or 6:30 AM respectively.  Passengers are as cheap as 28 euro, but a cabin can cost 52-118 euro.  Cars cost 75 euro, plus 7 euro tax.  Military get a 20% discount; if you buy a round trip ticket you get a 50% discount on the care fare.  Also, for 2010 there is a "Bonus Stagionale" so that the first 10 people who sign up for a cruise pay only 17 euro (total) for their car...although this offer is not available online ( you have to call or book in person).  High season (Easter, July, and August) tickets cost more.
    • Tirrenia leaves Naples for Palermo and vice versa once a day at 8:15 PM and arrives at 6:30 AM.  Not counting taxes and fees, one-way tickets are 32 euro; cars cost 73 euro.  Round trip for a car and 2 or 3 people is 178 or 223 euro, respectively.
  • By plane: Prices for flights from Naples to Sicily can be rather expensive, in addition to the cost of having to rent a vehicle once there, but occasionally you can find good deals.  Other options include flights from Rome and the occasional "Space-A" flight on U.S. military planes.
  • By train: various trains connect Naples and Caserta with cities in Sicily (Messina, Catania, Palermo, etc.).  For example, there are night trains from Naples to Messina (2248-->0515) and Catania (2335-->0831)...both are around 37 euro (not including a bed).  Daytime trains at 0942 and 1342 to Catania are faster (about 7.5 hours) but slightly more expensive (42 euro).  Train cars go via ferry from Reggio di Calabria to Messina, so make sure you are in the correct car; you can read a description here.

East Coast

NAS Sigonella

This U.S. Naval Air Station can make a convenient, cheap "home base" to explore the East Coast of Sicily if you have access to it.  The base is made up of three different installations:  NAS I, NAS II, and a housing installation.  To get your vehicle on base you will need to get a base pass from Pass & Id.  Visit the base website for more information at www.cnic.navy.mil/Sigonella

Catania

The largest, closest town to NAS Sigonella is fairly nice, and features Roman ruins and a Greek theater.  TTTLines' ferry runs between Naples and Catania (see above for details).

Siracusa

A beautiful old town 1 hour south of Catania, Siracusa features picturesque Ortygia island (including a Greek temple), archeological park with a Greek theater, and the "Ear of Dionysius"

Taormina

Taormina is a touristy but beautiful seaside town between Messina and Catania, whose romantic scenery inspried D.H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterly's Lover.  Apart from the beauty of the town and its views, the main "sight" is a Greek amphitheater overlooking Mount Etna, which still hosts summertime concerts (open 9-4 Nov-Feb, 9-sunset Mar-Oct).  The town can get swamped by busloads of tourists during the day, so it is best experienced early or late.  The town's main street, Corso Umberto I, is great for a passagiata (walk) or shopping.  Note: although only ~40 minutes by car from Messina, it can be frustrating to drive through, as all the streets are one way; if arriving by car you might consider leaving the car in one of the parking lots (Lumbi or Catania) just outside town. Naxos, an old Greek town, is just south of Taormina.  A cable car leads you down to Taormina's beach.  Finally, the town of Castelmola (37°52′N 15°17′E) is a short drive, bus, or cab ride (~€15) up Mount Tauro, which boasts beautiful views (especially from the ruined castle at the top of the hill) and a curious bar called Turrisi, famous for its locally produced vino della mandorla (sweet almond wine) and its phallic decoration motif.

Mount Etna

Valle del Bove...also higher parts of Nicolosi, Linguaglossa, Belpasso, and Zafferana.  Philosopher Tower (Empedocle)...Tenuta San Michele del Murgo, Giardini Naxos ...

North Coast

Palermo

Sicily's capital and largest city has the most activity (including great markets) and lots of history.  Also a convenient embarkation/debarkation point for the Naples ferry (see above for details).  The following are some sights in and around Palermo:
  • Walk around the Historic Center, including several markets (one of the best is Ballero; see below), the "fountain of shame" (Fontana Pretoria) with its naked statues, some cool churches (such as la Martorana), and a cannolli factory where you can try Sicily's most famous foodstuff freshly made.
  • Ballero market, a sprawling vegetable/fruit/seafood/household goods market which surpasses any you'll find in Naples.
  • Palatine Chapel in the Palazzo Reale, studded with mosaics (if you like the Monreale cathedral, below, it's a similar style on a smaller scale)
  • Cappuccin Catacombs - freaky mummies on display.
  • If you're an opera buff (or you actually watched The Godfather Part III) you may want to check out the Teatro Massimo.
  • Monreale - just outside of Palermo on the slopes of Moutn Caputo, hosts a splendid Norman cathedral featuring beautiful mosaics and arab-inspired courtyard.  Cave paintings - at Niscemi's Cave and Addaura Cavern near Mount Pellegrino.
  • San Vito lo Capo and the Greek ruins of Segesta (see West Coast, below) - roughly an hour's drive away
  • Il Chiosco delle Cremolose - Piazza Gentili, rec'd by Katie Parla as some of the best cremolosa (a kind of granita) in town

Enna

Actually in Central Sicily, this hill town is one of the highest in Sicily, on the main highway from Palermo to Catania.  It boasts some fantastic views, especially form near its medieval castle.  (About 1.5 hours from Palermo, 1 hour from Catania.)

Cefalù

Beautiful seaside town halfway between Messina (1.75 hours by car) and Palermo (1 hour by car), Cefalù also has a Norman-Arab-Byzantine cathedral (whose interior is gilded with mosaics not unlike--although a bit smaller than--the cathedral in Monreale), medieval castle, and Greek ruins.  Rick Steves' favorite town in Sicily.  About 30 minutes away, towards Catania is Rick's favorite agriturismo, Il Vecchio Frantoio; one couple said they had "probably the best meal we've had in Italy" there. 

Capo Tindari

45 minutes west of Messina, this town features the ruins of the Roman town Tyndaris.

South Coast

  • Villa Romana del Casale -  (Roman villa with splendid mosaics, see Rick Steves video clip) - halfway between Catania and Agrigento near the town of Piazza Armerina.
  • Selinute - Greek ruin site.  Less extensive than Agrigento, but more rural/scenic.

Agrigento

The most splendid Greek temples are in this town on the Southern Coast.  While the town itself sprawls a bit, it has a cool, medieval center.  A cheap hotel near the center is Bella Napoli, which offers comfortable rooms but not very much hot water (when we stayed in January 2010, our rooms ran out of hot water after only a few minutes of running the shower!).

West Coast and Islands

The major town in the west is TrapaniSegesta, about half an hour from Trapani, has a Greek Doric temple and a Greek theater.  San Vito lo Capo, also around half an hour away from Trapani, has a beautiful seaside area with a park and famous couscous festival.

Islands

Sicily is surrounded by beautiful islands:
  • Isole Eolie (Aeolian Islands) - a chain of islands north of Messina, including Lipari, Salina, Volcano, and beautiful Stromboli with its active volcano.  Stromboli in particular is a great place for couples--a bit like Italy's Hawai'i.  You can reach these islands directly from Naples via ferry.
  • Isole Egadi (Aegadian Islands) - west of Trapani, including Favignana, Levanzo, and Marettimo
  • Pelagie Islands - Lampedusa, Linosa, and Lampione, between Malta and Tunisia
  • Pantelleria - a bit further west, near Tunisia
  • Ustica - north of Palermo

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