My First Time in Sicily
I remember my first time in Sicily, but the big question is will you remember your first time? No matter how many more times you return to visit this beautiful and engaging island, will you always remember the first time you set foot on Sicilian soil?
If you put a little forward thought and planning into your first trip, you can indeed ensure your first time here is as engaging and breath-taking as it has every right to be. You want to have the full Sicilian experience. You will wish to experience life here as the locals do, not just as the tourists do.
While they co-exist together for part of the year, the things the two groups see and do can be very different at times. So let us take a virtual journey onto the island to consider some of the highlights you must seek out, and how to ensure you have the very best experience throughout.
Try real Sicilian food
There is a distinct difference between Italian food and Sicilian food. It is very easy to spend your time in Sicily eating nothing but traditional Italian dishes. These are very nice of course and there is nothing wrong with them, but they do not represent the true Sicilian way of life. To some extent there are even different dishes that hail from different parts of the island, so make sure you seek these out wherever you go in Sicily.
Pasta con le sarde offers up freshly cooked sardines, finished with a variety of additions including olive oil and pine nuts, before being tossed into a mound of pasta. Unbelievably simple yet highly effective, and very tasty as well. Another good example is arancine, which are essentially rice balls. You can find a variety of things inside, from cheese to a tomato ragout. Some are filled with meat to provide a more satisfying snack. These can be eaten on the go to provide a convenient snack.
Fresh ricotta is wonderfully tasty too. When it is this fresh you can do no better than to enjoy it on its own. Talking of things that are fresh, do make the most of fresh ingredients when travelling around Sicily. If you visit more than once at different times of the year you will see how much the food and recipes change according to the freshly available ingredients at any particular time.
How to get to Sicily
Before you decide on the answer that is most appropriate for you (Palermo or Catania if you are flying in) you should consider where you would like to visit while you are there. Travelling around Sicily with so many appealing areas to think about it makes sense to book a flight that will bring you to the best and most tempting parts of the island.
Catania is the ideal place to fly into if you are keen on seeing the eastern part of the island. This is where you will find Siracusa (and its offshoot Ortigia), Noto, Modica, Ragusa and many other charming places. North of Catania lies Parco dell’Etna, where Mount Etna herself can be found.
Alternatively if you opt to fly into Palermo you have the northern reaches of the island to explore. This means you have a chance to see Palermo itself, along with Cefalu out to the east, Trapani to the west, and Marsala too. The famous archaeological site of Selinunte is on the southern coast but still easily reachable from Palermo and thereabouts.
The main sights
While the main sights in Sicily will be seen by all the tourists, you don’t have to avoid them yourself. Indeed some of these sights are famous for good reason, such as Selinunte for example. Other archaeological sites can be found at Tindari, Taormina and Solunto, so wherever you choose to book your accommodation you are bound to be close to one or two sites you can visit.
Sometimes the main sights are the towns and villages themselves. Don’t be afraid to go off the beaten track as well as heading along the direct routes to the well-known towns and cities too. It could be argued that the real Sicily – the side of the island you won’t find in any guide book – can be discovered in making such journeys. Since you are on an island you cannot really go far wrong in your explorations. Make sure you have a map in the car so you know roughly where you are though: this can lead to more discoveries as you get your bearings and stumble over the most charming villages across the island.
Of course there is certainly nothing wrong with visiting the more popular well-known spots such as Siracusa, Ortigia, Ragusa and Modica to name just a few. While we have mentioned some of the archaeological sites to be found on the island, there is plenty of history to be found in these pleasant towns as well. Take Ragusa for example, which is split into the Upper Town and Ragusa Ibla, or the older part of the town. Much can be learned by discovering both sections of the town and noting the differing architecture and the stories of each individual building.
Indeed if you are staying in the popular south-eastern region of Sicily you will almost certainly see the effects of the devastating earthquake that struck the region back in 1693. Although it occurred over 300 years ago, much of the towns and cities you see today in this region will date from that time. Plenty of rebuilding had to be tackled over time to put right the damage, which took the lives of some 60,000 people. Catania in particular was heavily damaged and around two-thirds of all those who lived there died. The shape of eastern Sicily today is largely down to the earthquake that changed the course of life in this part of Sicily. If it had not occurred, you would be seeing a very different landscape because of it, and many much older buildings too.
What time of year to visit?
Well it largely depends on whether you have children or not. If you do you will almost certainly be restricted to travelling during the holidays. If not you have the freedom to visit any time of the year. Another point to consider is how much nightlife and general liveliness you expect to enjoy. Obviously this is at its height during the peak season, and Sicily becomes much quieter and, dare I say, more relaxed when things quieten down.
If you love to walk I would definitely recommend visiting during the cooler part of the year, around March to April time. You’ll find fewer tourists around and the weather will be that bit cooler too. If you are visiting wide open sights with little shade such as Selinunte for example, you’ll appreciate cooler weather and fewer people around too. During the cooler months it can get a tad nippy during the night though, so bear this in mind and maybe pack a jumper or two to wear if you decide to eat out. The same applies if your accommodation offers outdoor spaces to enjoy or perhaps a balcony or veranda instead. You’ll want to make the most of them and it would be a shame to feel too chilly to do so!
Where to stay?
This is largely a matter of personal choice, budget and of course considering the size of your party. If you are travelling with friends or you have lots of kids in tow, a villa would be the most sensible option. It also gives you the perk of having a private pool very often. With so much to see and do in Sicily it is nice to have wonderfully-appointed accommodation that will offer you the perfect setting for a lazy day indoors as well (or by the pool). Sicily has so much to offer your first visit here can be somewhat overwhelming at times (albeit in a good way!). Try and plan to have some lazy days interspersed with more active ones where you dive into the cities, towns and attractions locally.
Your location also depends on what you want to do during your holiday. If you want to see the beauty of Sicily’s beaches you can find the ones you like and book into a villa nearby. If you wish to visit charming towns the north-west or the south-east could be your best bets. If you want to taste the most amazing Sicilian food… well, practically anywhere on the island can make sure you get to achieve that particular aim.
My final piece of advice would be to take it easy. While it is good to make plans and have a rough itinerary, there will be days when you want nothing more than to settle back under the sun by the pool. You will also likely have days when you want to do nothing less than explore. Follow your desires and discover the very best of Sicily first time around.