Most people plan their first trip to Italy around the big three: Venice, Florence, and Rome. It’s obvious why. Who doesn’t want to take a gondola ride through the Venice’s canals, visit Michelangelo’s David, and tour the Colosseum? Ask any off-the-beaten-path enthusiast, and for certain, they have even seen these landmarks. Adding Sicily to your list is one stop you won’t regret and will give you a complete Italian experience. Here are 5 reasons why you should travel to Sicily.
1) The coastline
To make your stay unforgettable, there are plenty of stunning villa rentals in Sicily that you need to check out. Sicily isn’t swimming with tourists, so accommodation is abundant—and often beautiful. Any one of the accommodations on that page is enough to make anyone swoon, but don’t forget to check out the rentals on Airbnb (especially if you want to experience the island like a local).
Being an island, Sicily is surrounded by beaches. From May to October, it’s warm enough to dive into the deep, clear Mediterranean (or Tyrrhenian, depending on where you visit)! If it’s too cold, you can still enjoy the beautiful views all year long.
After visiting every historical monument on the mainland, Sicily is a perfect final destination to relax, take in the sun, and sip an ice-cold granita (a specialty ice and fresh fruit drink from the region). It will feel like the whole island is yours after visiting crowded piazzas in the historical centers of the other cities.
2) Dolce far niente
Anyone who’s ever visited the Colosseum, Piazza Navona, the Pantheon, the National Monument, and the Roman Forum all in one day (ahem, me) knows that Americans move fast when trying to make their Italy experience unforgettable. But, in Sicily, time will come almost to a standstill. There is a phrase in Italian, “dolce far niente” which in English means “the sweetness of doing nothing”. Sit back, relax, and enjoy your time moving slowly in Sicily. If you must have an agenda, pick one thing to do each day, and let the rest fall into place.
3) The food…obviously
I’m not an expert on Sicilian cuisine, but I do have a taste of it after living with a Sicilian family for a summer. I spent a lot of time with the nonna learning (mostly being fed) all about Sicilian cuisine (and how it is ‘superior’). Before that summer, I never really had a taste for fish, but now I can’t get enough. Some of my favorite Sicilian dishes also happen to be what the region is most famous for. The food is reason enough to travel to Sicily.
- Pasta con le sarde – Pasta with sardines, fennel, capers, and raisins
- Milza – a fried spleen sandwich (better than it sounds)
- Pasta alla Norma – an eggplant, tomato, basil, and ricotta pasta dish
- Parmigiana di melanzane – Otherwise known as eggplant parmesan. It will look a little different than what you’re used to in the U.S., and don’t try to substitute eggplant for chicken or veal 🙂
- Pesce spada alla ghiotta – Swordfish with olives and capers
- Caponata – A kind of fried eggplant salad with capers, pine nuts, and raisins
- Cannoli –. In America, we might think of cannoli as being Italian, but the pastry that’s now synonymous with Italian culture actually originated in Sicily.
4) History of Sicily and La Cosa Nostra
Sicily is historically interesting for many reasons, but the two aspects of Sicilian culture that most pique my interest is the Norman-Arab-Byzantine cultural influence on the region, and of course, La Cosa Nostra.
Sicily is a region of long, rich, diverse cultural history dating thousands of years. It’s architecture, language, food, art, and lifestyle has traces of Greek, Arab, Norman, Byzantine, Northern African and Spanish influence. Actually, some of the Greek temples in Sicily are better preserved than the ones in Greece. You’ll definitely spot a Catholic church that’s actually Byzantine, and if you can, take an afternoon to visit the Ballarò, the oldest of Palermo’s Arabic markets.
One of the things Sicily is infamous for is La Cosa Nostra, or “Our Thing”. Note I said infamous—what Sicilians are proud today of is how they stood up to organized crime in the early 90’s. Definitely do your research before you head to Sicily, and I beg of you—don’t show up in Palermo dressed like this.
Organized crime still exists in Sicily, but not to the level that it was in the ’70s and ’80s. When the most notorious boss, Toto Riina was in charge, Sicilians were living in chaos. To learn more, I highly recommend watching The Mafia Kills Only in Summer, an Italian comedy that explains the fall of the Mafia in Sicily and celebrates the martyrs who died to take it down. But, if the history of Cosa Nostra interests you, you can even take “Mafia Tour”. But keep in mind, locals are not thrilled about them!
Palermo is where it all happens. Between the outdoor markets, historic piazzas, botanic gardens, ancient edifices and churches, chilling catacombs, western coastline, and delish street food and pastries, Palermo is your one-stop destination in Sicily.
Palermo encompasses all the above I’ve mentioned and more. Add Sicily to the end of your Florence-Venice-Rome tour, and you won’t regret it!
What was your experience on the island like? Any other reasons to travel to Sicily that I missed? Share in the comments below!
Grazie to our partner LuxuryRetreats for this sponsored post.