Sicily: The Joys of Italy’s Greek Island

Is Sicily in Italy?

Of course it is, but it is rarely on a first, second or third trip itinerary. Many American travelers consider Sicily a “maybe” destination after the big three cities (Rome, Florence, Venice), Tuscany, Amalfi and the Lake District in the north.

I have traveled in Sicily three times, so, for me, Sicily is essential to experience the full breadth of Italy’s many cultures, cuisines, art and life style. Here is a brief history explaining in part, why Sicily has a separate identity from the mainland…

The Unification of Italy: The Boot and the Island

Before the “Risorgimento” in 1870, Italy was made up of “city states”, with their own armies, governments, cultures and economics. The Kingdom of the Two Sicily’s was comprised of “the Boot” from Naples to the “Toe” and the desert island in the south. It is interesting to think that the Strait of Messina created a geographic barrier that influences visitors and developers to this day.

My first memories of Sicily are of secluded beaches below scenic cliffs, deserted fishing villages, cities built around Greek ruins and tentacled seafood served in every fish restaurant. It has not changed much from my first visit crammed into a Fiat with 4 of my classmates and driven by one Greek boyfriend.

Why did we decide to return to Sicily?

So, when our friend Larry asked me to plan a trip to experience his Sicilian roots, we were on. First, we booked a stucco’d condo in the Provence of Ragusa in the southeastern corner of the Island to recover from our jet lag. Marsa Sicla was the perfect place to transition to the Italian frame of mind.  We were thrilled to enjoy pristine beaches, local fresh food, lovely plantings and architecture, colloquial furnishings, a huge pool with music and activities everyday, and the perfect weather with not a single American among the guests other than us.

Ragusa: Baroque Towns and Sparkling Beaches

A very enjoyable aspect to our stay in Ragusa was the sprinkling of Baroque towns all over the countryside. We had one sultry evening in Sicli, a half-hour drive inland from the resort. We devoured hand-made pasta and heavenly gelato flavors I have never seen before which we ate in the remarkable Piazza del Duomo as the sun set over the desert landscape.

Roman Ruins and Lunch in Ortigia

On our fourth day we left the Residence to head north to our next destination, the jewel of Sicily and more traveled, Taormina. This town should be on your Bucket List. On the way we stopped for a three hour lunch and exploration of the Island of Ortigia, historic heart of Siracusa. Here you can see the Greek ruins of the Temple of Apollo. Then stroll the Corso Matteotti into the Piazza Archimede with its startling Baroque fountain. Our wanderings inevitably brought us to our favorite part of everyday in Italy… lunch, or il Pranzo. We walked back down towards the waterfront to the vibrant food market offering the catch-of-the- day, local produce, regional meats and an endless selection of cheeses. We briefly waited for a coveted table at The Fratelli Burgio store, where the proprietor sat us down in a shady spot outside to gorge ourselves on their remarkable selection of cured meats, cheeses, olives, pates, crunchy to-die-for breads and marinated vegetables. We toasted with the region’s most honored wine, Cerasuola di Vittoria, a marvelous blend of Frappato and Nero d’Avola grapes. This was the crowning gastronomic event of our trip, and that is saying a lot in a country that rarely disappoints in this regard.

The Beautiful Taormina on the Sea

The evening brought us to the Hotel Sirius on the cliffs of Taormina (which means “butterfly” named for the two rocky “wings” on which the city resides). We spent glorious evenings on balconies hundreds of feet over the Mediterranean, looking north towards the mainland and the Strait of Messina. It was breathtaking and the perfect second stop.

Our first morning we took the 5 minute walk to the funicular down to the well-tended beach for swimming, sunning and snorkeling. Our hotel was just outside the main archway into the town center of Taormina, with its shops bursting with ceramics, art, designer clothing and local crafts. The city is crowned by the Teatro Greco, built in the third century BC, with its nightly performances and spectacular views south along the coast.

Need I say more? Andiamo a Sicilia, subito!

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