Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean basin and is easily reached by car ferry across the short Straits of Messina. The channel between the italian mainland and the sicilian Island is only 2 miles wide. From the west coast of Sicily to the coast of north Africa (Tunesia) it's about 100 miles. The Island of Sicily has a 620 mile long coastline on offer, however it is mostly rocky beach in the north and only sandy in the south. Sicily offers something for everyone. Sicily has important mountain groups: Peloritani, Nebrodi, Madonie, Iblei, and groups of smaller islands are scattered round the coast (the Eolie or Lipari, Ustica, the Egadi. the isle of Pantelleria and the Pelagie).
The Etna, rising in the center of a volcanic area of Sicily, is the highest active volcano in Europe (3,323 mt). The isles of Stromboli and Vulcano also are active volcanoes. Sicily, may be just a short hop from the Italian mainland, across the narrow strait of Messina, but it is a world apart in atmosphere and attitude. The island bares a triangular shape and in ancient times it was called Trinacria, which means three pointed. The region consists of nine provinces. They include Agrigento, Caltanissetta, Catania, Enna, Messina, Palermo, which is the regional capital, Ragusa, Siracusa and Trapani. The entire region is surrounded by water. You have the Tyrrhenian Sea bordering the north, the Ionian Sea borders the east and the Mediterranean sea borders the south. Everything Italian seems a little more appetising here, not only the food but the history and culture as well. The sea sparkles on the warm volcanic sands of its many beaches; the numerous invaders of history have left a rich and varied architectural heritage; the lush coast rises quickly to a mountainous and impressively desolate interior, over which the smoking crater of Etna looms ominously. Visitors discover that the Sicilian people are gracious, noble and welcoming and that the island itself offers natural and historic attractions of great beauty and enormous interest.
Sicily was one of the great melting pots of the ancient world and home to many great civilization that existed in the antique. When visiting Sicily one will discover not only Phoenician, Greek and Roman monuments but also the heritage that the Arab and Norman the French, Spanish, and Italian left. Something of all of these peoples was absorbed into the island's artistic heritage, which includes massive Romanesque cathedrals, two of the best-preserved Greek temples in the world, Roman amphitheaters, and delightful Baroque palaces and churches.
The main cities of Palermo and Catania feature some of the most exquisite architecture in the world, a legacy of the many great civilisations that have vied for control of this strategically situated island over the centuries. The continuous blue skies and temperate climate, lush vegetation and rich marine life all add to the island's appeal. Nature has given Sicily Mount Etna, Europe's tallest active volcano, a dramatic coastline and a fertile soil that gives forth much of the bounty on which the island's unique and delicious cuisine is based. The delicious and often rather spicy cuisine of Sicily and its many excellent wines add a finishing touch to a holiday in this fascinating part of Italy.
Sicily's Capital Palermo
Sicily's Capital Palermo is a place of beauty that is slowly being revived and restored by the determined city fathers to regain a semblance of its former glory. At various times during its varied and colourful history Palermo, beautifully sited on a wide bay under the bulk of Monte Pellegrino, has enjoyed a position as one of the greatest cities of Europe, particularly under Arab and Norman domination in the Middle Ages. The legacy of the past is evident today in its treasure-trove of Byzantine, Baroque and Norman historic buildings and relics in its many museums. Today the pulse of the city beats fast and furious even in the oppressive summer heat in its hectic street markets, cobbled squares and narrow alleyways, where sirens squeal and traffic roars indiscriminately. Old, historic quarters like Kalsa are being restored and restaurants, galleries and cafes are opening to cater for the tourist trade. Several days are required to appreciate the sights of the seething city before moving on to explore the rest of the island.
The second-largest city in Sicily, Catania sits in the shadow of Europe's highest volcano, Mount Etna, on the east of Sicily between Syracuse and Taormina. Ugly, decayed and crime-ridden today, it was once called the 'city of black and white' because of the use of white marble and black lava to construct its elegant buildings, many of which have since fallen into ruins or been destroyed by war, earthquakes and lava flows. In summer Catania sizzles; it is regarded as the hottest city in Italy with temperatures often soaring to 104ºF (40ºC). Despite its unattractive aspects, Catania is an ancient city, founded in 729 BC, and boasts some interesting historical relics. There are two Roman amphitheatres, one reminiscent of Rome's Colosseum, and a 13th-century fortress, Ursino Castle, which is now a museum. The city's cathedral contains some royal tombs and was built in the 11th century.
Visitors to Syracuse may be forgiven for wondering whether they are in Italy or Greece. This city on the southeastern corner of Sicily's Ionian coastline once rivalled Athens as the most important city in the ancient Greek world. Its Greek heritage can still be found in abundance in both the ruins of buildings older and more splendid than the Parthenon and in the myths and legends centred particularly on its oldest quarter, the island of Ortygia. Archimedes once strode the streets here and today tourists who stroll around the Neapolis Archaeological Park on the Terminite Hill can still get a feel for Syracuse's golden age of power and prosperity. As well as the Hellenic relics, Syracuse also boasts more than its fair share of Roman ruins and some fine medieval Gothic architecture and art, all treasures to be singled out from among the uninspiring high-rises and motorways that make up the modern city. Parking is a problem in the city, particularly on Ortygia where most of the medieval sights and the best shops are located, and the heat can become unbearable in the height of summer; however no visit to Sicily is complete without exploring the antiquities of Syracuse. Most visitors prefer to make day trips to the city from the more comfortable surrounding resort areas, where soft white beaches and fine wines can be enjoyed on the shores of the Ionian Sea.
Food and Drink
Sicily's food is similar to its architecture, a meeting point between East and West: this "contamination" from different cultures has produced daring, successful mixes of tastes that make traditional Sicilian cuisine a fascinating, unique experience for the senses. Fish, the main ingredient used, is prepared in a thousand different ways, mixing it with the unusual, strong aromas of herbs and spices such as mint and wild fennel. Sicilian cakes, from cassata to frutta martorana, deserve a special mention, and so does the island's wines, especially Nero d'Avola, a quality wine that is rapidly becoming famous overseas too.