I’ve got big love for this incredible little island, a cultural and historical hodgepodge of beautiful places to swim, hike and explore. Plus, Sicilians eat ice-cream for breakfast.
The ancient city of Palermo is an assault on the senses. From the salty sea air that sweeps in from the harbour and the rich smells of espresso and pastry perfuming its narrow alleyways to the glorious haphazard mix of architecture that stems from the city’s past under Roman, Arab and Byzantine rule (all now covered in modern street art), this small metropolis packs a punch. It’s easy to walk around in a day with regular pizza stops, and the best way to really experience Palermo is definitely to just get lost. We wandered off and quickly found ourselves exploring busy fish markets, walking in the midst of carnival preparations and in stumbling across little pockets of quiet, away from the busy main squares.
La vita e bella in Taormina, a UNESCO site made up of impossibly blue water, lush green coastline and topped by a medieval town and crumbling Greek amphitheatre. Taormina was once loved by aristocrats taking in the sights of Europe on the Grand Tour, and it’s still got an air of old-fashioned resort chic, with posh boutiques rubbing shoulders with sugar craft shops and Mamma and Pappa-run restaurants. The town sits high above the coastline, a cable car ride away. The jewel in Taormina’s crown is the aptly named Isola Bella, a tiny little island surrounded by a sweep of crystalline water you can swim and snorkel in. The island holds a secret, too – wade over to it and explore a labyrinthine set of archways, tunnels and rooms carved into the rock, created by pioneering gardener Florence Trevelyan and known as the Beehives. We stayed in a little flat built into the hill across from the island (quite literally, our terrace was ingeniously wrapped around existing trees and boulders) – the perfect place to sit and watch the sun go down over the water.
Sicily isn’t all sea and sand – escape to the mountainous centre of the island and suddenly you’re miles away from the bustle of the coast, following winding roads up into a land of green peaks and beautiful wildflowers. Just watch out for cows crossing the road. We stayed in a freezing but beautiful little cottage near the remote town of Sclafani Bagni in the Madonie National Park, where the pace of life would please a lazy snail. You can lace up your hiking boots and conquer the peaks, explore old-fashioned stone villages built into the hillside or just have lazy breakfasts against an epic backdrop of snow-covered mountain ranges.