A Week in Sicilia designed by Frommer’s
Designed to let you see the highlights of the island on a very tight schedule, this itinerary touches upon the classical vestiges of Sicily, yet allows for some outdoor fun and relaxation: The splendid temples and ruins that outnumber those in Greece itself, amphitheaters and a plush villa that are a testament to Roman opulence, and three breathtaking heights from which to admire the island — Erice, Taormina, and Mount Etna are all included. The tour winds up in the capital city of Palermo, where medieval jewels stand side-by-side with baroque treasures.
Day 1: Arrival in Catania
Flights to Fontanarossa Airport or trains from Messina will bring you to Sicily’s second-largest city. Once you’ve checked into your hotel or B&B, spend the rest of the day on a walking tour, viewing the vestiges of the centuries side-by-side (Roman theaters, baroque gems, hideous new buildings), all against the backdrop of the menacing Etna. If you get there early enough, make your way to the fish market, close to Piazza Duomo, to feel the pulse of the city. (Be sure to wear slip-resistant shoes that you won’t mind being soiled by the putrid waters on the ground.) The city can be dizzying, stifling, and clamorous, yet Via Etnea is one of the most elegant boulevards in Italy. No visit to Catania would be complete without a granita (a flavored ice with the consistency close to that of ice cream) and a brioche (bread similar to a hamburger bun) in one of its many mouth-watering flavors: lemon, coffee, or blackberry. Better yet, do it the way a real Catanese would: Have your brioche for breakfast. Wind up your day with a visit to the magnificent Castello Ursino.
Day 2: Mount Etna & Taormina
Once you are better acquainted with Catania, it’s time to move on to its main attraction, the highest volcano in Europe, at 3,292m (10,801 ft.). There are a few access points from which to reach the top craters; the best organized one is from the Rifugio Sapienza, on the southern slope. Be forewarned however that things here can change in a nanosecond — if meteorological conditions are prohibitive or the volcano starts to show signs of activity, tours are immediately suspended. From the top, the scenery is like no other. Once your visit to Etna is over, it’s time to head back to the hotel, change, and seek some R&R in the chicest town in Sicily, Taormina. It has attracted visitors for centuries, renowned for its sheer beauty and fame as a hideaway for trysting lovers. Stroll along the main street, Corso Umberto I, and, if time allows, visit the Greco-Roman Theater that has Etna as its backdrop. Have an aperitivo at the Wünderbar in Piazza IX Aprile, which faces the breathtaking Bay of Naxos. It might cost you an arm and a leg, but consider it a necessary expense.
Day 3: Siracusa & Piazza Armerina
It’s time to leave Catania and head south to visit two of the most important archaeological sites in the world, the Neapolis Park of Syracuse and the Villa Romana del Casale at Piazza Armerina. Start your day by visiting the archaeological area of Syracuse and explore the still-working Greek Theater, the Ear of Dionysius (said to have been cunningly used by the tyrant himself to eavesdrop on rebels), and the Roman Amphitheater, where the shows were man vs. man or man vs. beast (the latter often won). After your visit, proceed to the delightful Ortygia Island and have lunch at one of the many eateries that surround the splendid Piazza Duomo, but make sure you pop in to have a look inside the cathedral beforehand — a Greek temple is part of the cathedral. After lunch, travel northwest to Piazza Armerina to view the Villa Romana del Casale. You’ll get a taste of how Romans loved to live large — this hunting lodge houses magnificent floor mosaics that illustrate scenes from everyday life with astounding precision (one girl athlete is depicted with stitches on her leg). If you’re lucky, you’ll also see the experts in art restoration at work; they volunteer their time to preserve the precious tiled artwork.
Day 4: Agrigento & Selinunte
Prepare to spend the day exploring two of the most impressive and powerful cities of Magna Graecia. When Pindar praised Agrigento as “the most beautiful of the mortal cities,” he was not overstating his case. The splendid Valley of the Temples, a Unesco World Heritage site, preserves the vestiges of what was once a main player in the Mediterranean and surpasses Greece’s Athens itself for the quantity and quality of ruins. The near-intact Temple of Concord is the best-preserved temple in the world (check it out at night, when it’s floodlit) and one of the symbols of Sicily.
After taking in the temples in Agrigento, travel west to witness more of the glories of Greater Greece. The almighty Selinunte is a vast archaeological park (270 hectares/667 acres) that’s home to the most impressive ruins in the western world and still the subject of much study; some of the temples have been painstakingly reconstructed while many of the precious embellishments like the Metopes are safeguarded at the Archaeological Museum of Palermo. As the afternoon sun sets, head down to the beach below the site promontory and swim out to see the temples in front of you.
Day 5: Erice & Segesta
Day 5 of the journey brings you to the westernmost reaches of Sicily. As you make your way up to the hilltop village of Erice, take in the stunning views over land and sea as you head to this peaceful oasis far removed from city chaos. Be sure to re-energize at Maria Grammatico’s pastry shop, and take some of her divine sweets for the road. Head back down by cable car and make your way to Segesta to view the miraculously well-preserved Doric temple and the still-working Greek theater, with a hillside backdrop stretching out to sea.
Days 6 & 7: Palermo & Monreale
The capital of Sicily has been a crossroads for cultures and civilizations for 8 millennia. Start at the Norman Palace (open only Fri-Mon) bright and early to avoid the crowds; make sure to visit the Palatine Chapel to see the formidable mix of eastern and western art, especially the mosaics. Walk along Villa Bonanno to theCathedral in Corso Vittorio Emanuele, just to admire the exterior; continue along Vittorio Emanuele to the imposing Four Corners. Admire the Tuscan fountain in Piazza Pretoria and, just behind it, take in two splendid Arabo-Norman churches, La Martorana and San Cataldo. Make your way down Corso Vittorio Emanuele again; on the first left after Via Roma you’ll stumble upon the raucous Vucciria market. Lunch like a Palermitan would: Standing up, eating food from any of the impromptu fry-up places in the neighborhood (don’t ask, just eat). Spend the afternoon taking in the area of the new city, and unwind in the chic pedestrian area of Via Principe di Belmonte.
The following day, spend the morning gaping at the impressive mosaics in the Duomo of Monreale, which lies 15km (12 miles) south of Palermo. Make your way next door to visit the annexed Cloisters, where no two-column capitals are alike. Spend your last evening in Sicily blending in with the locals: Enjoy a meal or a cocktail in Via Principe di Belmonte, the elegant pedestrian area of town. For the truly adventurous, take a walking tour of old Palermo: The floodlit monuments are spectacular.