Discovering Sicily Off the Beaten Path

I have been to Sicily for long weekends before. That usually means flying into Palermo or Catania and quickly exploring one of the island’s two largest cities, then patting ourselves on the back, and heading back to Rome. However, this year I am determined to find the more unexplored sides of Sicily.

I’ll be traveling back and forth to this little island for the next several months. From hilly farmland, to bustling urban markets and pristine beaches, there is a lot to uncover so I recommend getting a head start looking into your dream Sicily vacation rentals.

Why? Because Sicily is one of those rare last outposts of the Italian dream. Rugged but beautiful, tinged with ancient history and modern intrigues, and boasting the holy trifecta of sun, sand and food.

But to really really see Sicily, I am realizing very quickly that you need to get out the city.

Sicily is an incredibly diverse island. From the foods to the landscapes, it is a place that has already surprised me more than once with its differences from the rest of Italy. That’s why I am deep into vacation planning mode, so here are my tips of where to go to experience a less discovered side of Sicily:

Enna: Central Sicily is often overlooked, but it is an incredibly tranquil setting filled with rolling hills and small stone towns. While most people head for the beaches, you should make your way towards Enna, a city perched at an elevation of more than 3,000 ft (about 940m). The town has views of Mt. Etna, as well as of the surrounding countryside. Plus, there are several monuments to add to the already charming allure. Easily one of the highest on my Sicilian must-see list this summer.

Favignana: I know I just said that Sicily is not all beaches, but I will make an exception for a trip to Favignana. The small island (yes, an island off an island) is between Trapani and Marsala, about 7 km off the western coast of Sicily. It is the largest of the three Egadi islands, and is well connected by ferry. Rather than a resort speckled getaway, the island life remains largely unchanged in the face of tourism — which is exactly what I find so appealing. Rent a bike for the day to cruise around the flat area of the main town, or to access some of the more popular beaches.

Ortigia: Ah, Ortigia. So many Italian friends have told me that this is their favorite part of Sicily, and after a quick visit last week I can certainly see why. Ortigia is also an island, however it is so close to Siracusa that you can easily walk across a short bridge to get there. The city has been beloved since Ancient Greek times, so there are still ruins of the Temple of Apollo as soon as you cross over the bridge. But there is also a buzzing market, flower filled balconies, beachside promenades, and a lovely cathedral. Ortigia is small enough to be explored on foot, but don’t rush it. This UNESCO World Heritage site should be savored between plenty of stops for granita and/or crisp white wine.

Noto: Small Noto packs a powerful punch when it comes to gorgeous architecture. The sleepy feel of the lovely town is in direct contrast to some of Sicily’s other most touristy cities. What Noto lacks in seaside, it makes up for with warmly lit baroque buildings and small streets. It also almost time for Noto’s annual Infiorata flower festival (the third weekend in May), when Via Nicolai is transformed into a carpet of elaborate and colorful designs made entirely out of blooms and other plant material. Top of my to do list in Sicily, however, is to grab a dessert at Caffe Sicilia – which is said to make some of the best sweets on the entire island.

Modica: Another interior town in south-east Sicily that I would love to visit is Modica. Whether you love food or sites, Modica is a crowd pleaser because it well known for both. The city has some of the most impressive examples of Baroque architecture in Sicily. However, I would be lying if I didn’t admit that I’m more interested in Modica’s famous chocolate. The secret to their amazing chocolate is said to have been brought by the Spanish who invaded Sicily in medieval times and remembered to bring cocoa beans (stolen from the Aztecs) along for the journey.

Cefalù: Though hardly undiscovered, Cefalù has earned its reputation for good reason. The picturesque fishing village is set on a hill that slopes towards the water and is a perfect day trip from Palermo. So if you do prefer to stay near major cities, you can still explore the more undiscovered sides of Sicily with short excursions. In Cefalù, that can include hiking to the temple above town for a breathtaking view, or settling in for a glass of wine by the harbor for the sunset.

Anyone else interested in a Sicilian vacation? What are your favorite holiday spots in Sicily? I’m definitely taking suggestions!

 

 

16 thoughts on “Discovering Sicily Off the Beaten Path

  1. Miranda says:

    Well, where to start. Sicily is jam-packed full of places to visit.
    If you’re heading to the UNESCO world heritage site of the Val di Noto with Noto and Modica then you really shouldn’t miss Ragusa Ibla, it is stunningly beautiful like Noto, but with a small villagey feel. Also down that way is that instagram favourite Marzamemi, an extremely photogenic seaside town.

    Favignana is well connected to Trapani and Marsala but you’re better off getting the aliscafo (hydrofoil) than the ferry, unless you’re planning on taking a car. When there, the bike rental places are directly in front of the port, you’ll need some form of id to rent, depending on the season it can cost you as little as 5 euros a day, make sure you remember where you leave it though because the hotspots (cala rossa and cala azzurra) end up with so many bikes parked there that it can be difficult to locate yours! Or if you want an alternative day then fork out for a days sailing on the Alien catamaran. And while on Favignana you shouldn’t miss visiting the Florio Tonnara which is now a museum and perhaps learn about the Mattanza.

    If you really want some untouched nature in the Egadi marine reserve though, you should be heading to the smallest Levanzo, the waters off the coast of Levanzo are truly, truly stunning. Also if you fancy some prehistoric history then head to the Grotta del Genovese for Paleolithic graffitti and Neolithic paintings.

    If you like medieval borgos then you should head to Erice. Cobbled streets, stunning views across the western coast of Sicily, and some pretty spectacular local pastries for good measure. Plus if you do come I’ll let you in on some local secrets as I got married in the castle there!

    I could go on and on, but if you want to know more…or if you really want to experience Sicily with the locals then drop me a line and I’d be happy to help!

    • Donna says:

      Hi Miranda: Hoping to visit Erice and stay for a couple of nights in mid-October. Wondering what your “local secrets” are. Any suggestions on what to see, where to go, where to stay etc. would be much appreciated. Grazie Donna!

    • Gabriella says:

      Hello! I am traveling to Sicily for 4 days in August (prime tourist time, I know) but would love to experience both a big city but beautiful beaches. Would you recommend Catania/Taormina or Palermo/Cefalu.

      Thank you!

      • Natalie says:

        I would personally choose Palermo/Cefalu and stop in Mondello as well. Taormina is beautiful but has a much more touristy feel.

    • Lisa says:

      Hi there,
      I would like to go to Sicily next September 2020 to celebrate my 60th Birthday. My sons and their partners are coming with me and also my two granddaughters aged 3 and 1. My younger son is keen to go off with his girlfriend to climb in the mountains during the day and will hire his own car. The rest of us like a sandy beach, a gentle hike, small villages/very small towns, art. We all like off the beaten track type places as untouristy as possible. Could you give me any suggestions please?

    • Natalie says:

      I would say Rome and then plane to either Catania or Palermo. Car is definitely the easiest way to get around, but you don’t necessarily need one on the smaller islands off the coast of Sicily.

  2. tania says:

    Hi Natalie (and anyone else reading this). Thank you so much for your blog post. I am from Australia (born of Italian heritage) and Sicily has been on the top of my list for as long as I can remember. I am looking to travel there in August and will be traveling solo. I am wondering whether you have encountered any small group tours you would recommend – i thought it might be a nice way to spend some time with others; or whether you think Sicily is better experienced to the beat of your own path (even if that is as a solo traveler). Any tips would be much appreciated!

    • Ishita says:

      Wonderful post!! I love Sicily and can’t wait to visit again. I agree with you about the region being diverse. From the capital onwards to the other side I was stunned by the food and architectural differences.

    • Ishita says:

      Hi Tania! I am a fellow Italophilie and owner of the blog -Italophilia (www.ishitasood.com)
      Sicily can be experienced both solo or in a group but since it is your first time may I recommend the group tours I am starting from this September to Sicily. They will be rolled out in 2-3 weeks or so. For more information please feel free to drop me an email- ishitatravel@gmail.com

      Sorry to invade the space, Natalie but I just thought of informing Tania 🙂 Thanks much and see you in Rome!

  3. amy says:

    my favorite off the beaten path town in Sicily is my family’s town of sperlinga, not far from enna. absolutely the best place of authentic central sicily and amazing troglodytes to see.

  4. Ellen Italiano says:

    My husband & I are in process of driving ourselves around the island of Sicily. We flew into Palermo and have stayed with friends in Altofonte. We had dead on gorgeous views of Palermo and Monreale (across the little valley). We took day trips to Camporeale (birthplace of hubbies nonna & nonno), Trapani. Erice (impressive mtn top medievil town). We did a tasting at 2 local wineries (Tasca, Planeta). We then headed out on our own (AirBnB)…..a stop in Sciacca on our way to 2 days in Agrigento, Piazza Armerina where they have the impressive Villa Romano de Casale (stayed in gorgeous Agritourismo Leono), Caltagirone on the way to 3days in Ortigia/Siracusa, day trip to Noto. 3days in Catania with a day trip to Taormina. 1day in Messina. I liked Messina, a more industrial town, for it’s lack of tourist groups. We felt more integrated, found a great little coffee bar, ristorante and pasticieria. We are now headed to Cefalu, via Santo Stefano Did Camastra (local friend recommends their ceramics). We will head back to Altofonte after Cefalu. We then are looking in the 2towns where my husband’s family originated in hopes of finding some family members.
    Long story, short……we LOVE this method of traveling and eschew tour buses. Locals like the business, but tolerate the crowds. If you can, try going on own…it’s so much more fun. Buon Viaggio!

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