Sicily is one of my favourite places on earth – relaxed, bucolic and without the crowds, it has some of the most beautiful cities and amazing ancient wonders.
Then there’s the food and wine. Here is my guide to enjoying one great week on this beautiful island to give you a taster. You’ll never look back.
My Cornish cousins had never been to Sicily – I know, right! They love their food, know their wine and are friends with someone who is obsessed with the place. So, last year we put this travesty right and I planned a top week in Sicily to show them what I love so much. May is a great time to go, the weather is hot in the day with balmy evenings and there aren’t the crowds of July and August.
Sicily is so wee you can get around really easily so we opted for a two centre holiday, two towns just a short drive apart but with different atmospheres, perfect. I chose Ragusa for its great location. It’s close to the airport and the sea, but also within easy reach of the stunning towns of Noto and Modica so we could visit lots of places without ever spending too long in the car.
We flew into Catania and were soon in the beautiful sweeping countryside where the villages perch on the hill tops, nestling around ancient churches. Ragusa is a sight for sore eyes as it comes in to view. The beautiful red and gold hues of the houses, the myriad of church steeples, the stunning mountainous landscape and the big skies.
Ragusa is perched on a two hilltops in southeast Sicily, and you get two beautiful baroque towns in one – Ragusa Ibla, the old town, and Ragusa Superiore, the city’s more modern part. There is a big free car park at the bottom of the hill so the towns are mostly pedestrian. Strolling along the narrow streets you get glimpses between the houses of a church steeple or a little staircase.
We dropped our bags at our delightful B&B and headed out to explore and find an Aperol Spritz. We wandered to the old town and soon the lanes gave way to an elegant main square where all life is; restaurants, bars, ice cream parlours and the locals perambulating – I love people watching Sicilians, so well dressed, multiple generations out and about together. The square is terribly elegant; a wide boulevard with palm trees and beautiful buildings.
Here we found the spectacular Duomo di San Giorgio which lords it over the square from high above, with its impressive steps up and intricate railings. It’s very beautiful inside with some prized artworks. Alongside the church is the Museo del Duomo which houses stone statues and reliefs.
When it comes to eating in Ragusa, you really can’t go too wrong as all the restaurants serve good traditional Sicilian fare. You are no distance from the sea so enjoy the fresh seafood, such as pesce alla spade – pasta with swordfish.
Try Ristorante il Barocco with its lovely position and outside seating. The service and food are great. The chaps are partial to red meat so enjoyed the beautifully cooked steaks and chops served simply with grilled veg, olive oil and lemon.
We headed back to the square later that night, (it may be even more spectacular by night) after our siesta and scouted a nice bar for the evening in the buzzy streets. Magazzini Donnafugata is a cool bar just on the main street down from the cathedral. Friendly service and lovely Sicilian appetisers with your cocktails. The locals go for a paseo in the evenings, not to drink but to meet with their neighbours and enjoy an ice cream, so the streets are busy and buzzy well into the night. You should try to eat later than you would at home or you will have the place to yourselves. People will still turn up at restaurants between 10 and 11pm.
A’ Rusticana il ristorante is a charming, traditional family run restaurant with a lovely walled garden and indoor dining room. It was very busy the evening we went, definitely one to book ahead. We enjoyed plates of creamy prosciutto and seafood salad for starters, spaghetti with clams and delicious fresh tuna for mains, all delicious and fresh.
We spent a lovely, if slightly windy, day at the beach 30 minutes from Ragusa. The beach club model means you get a sun lounger, brolly and towel for a small fee and can whistle up a cocktail without getting off your backside. They also often have good restaurants for fresh pasta and seafood and a nice wine list.
After three glorious days wandering the alleyways and visiting Noto and Modica – which deserve their own posts – we took the short jaunt to Taormina. We approached along the coast road and watched it hove into view before climbing up in to the hills and tackling the bends on the way up. We oohed and ahhed at our lovely airbnb with its amazing pool, see main pic, and took the five minute walk into town to explore the beautiful high street and amazing views.
Taormina is Sicily’s glamorous, glitzy resort, clinging to the hills above the Ionian sea with a snow capped Etna gently glowing in the background. With a beautiful high street, Corso Umberto, flanked with high end boutiques and the Greco Teatro perched above the town, it’s incredibly scenic. That and the myriad leather bag opportunities are among the reasons why I return here again and again.
Unfortunately, you don’t get all this glam to yourself. It is a mecca for cruise ships and can get overcrowded. But the cruise ship folks are on a tight schedule and have to jump back on board in the afternoons and lots of people think you can ‘do’ Taormina in a day. So, try two or three days in May or September and you get to soak up the atmosphere without rushing around buffeted by the crowds.
Those Greco’s knew a thing or two. Perched on a hill with the sea on three sides, this is a simply stunning spot which retains plenty of the walls and features so you can really get a feel for what it would have been like to come here to watch a show in ancient times. In fact, it still hosts performances so check online before your trip to see if there is a performance on – it would be an unforgettable experience.
Trevelyan Gardens is a shady, quiet spot away from the shopping crowds, which features some cottages and towers and a panoramic walkway overlooking the sea. A great spot for a sit down between meals.
Isola Bella and the beach
When you look over the parapet of the square on Corso Umberto into the blue Ionian, you’ll want to get down there and dip a toe. Take the cable car down to the shore and you’ll find a lido where you can get a sun lounger and brolly and take a dip in the silky, crystal clear water before your long lazy lunch at the Ristorante del Lido La Pigna – grilled fish, gnocchi with pistachio and shrimps (pistachio is a big deal in Sicilian cooking). Five minutes from the cable car is Isola Bella, pebbly but a delightful beach on a wee island connected by a narrow path which is tide dependant.
At night Corso Umberto comes alive with live music and perambulating locals and tourists taking the air, it’s quite the street party. There are lovely bars to enjoy an Aperol, just look up hill in the little alleyways and you’ll find cushioned steps and cosy bars where you can hang out and enjoy the atmosphere.
Piazza lX Aprile is in the heart of Taormina. Corso Umberto opens up into the beautiful square with an amazing scenic overlook, lovely simple church and not a few cheeky cafes taking advantage of the amazing views of Etna. It’s great for people watching as the tourists pose for pictures and the locals look on bemused! As everywhere in Italy, the locals come out for a walk and a chat of an evening which is a lovely sophisticated thing to do, I always think.
As you’d expect, there are lots of restaurants in Taormina and most probably serve perfectly acceptable pizza and spaghetti in a lovely setting, every possible bit of outdoor space – alleyways, steps, sidewalks – are put to good use. If you want something a little more special, here are a few ideas;
Osteria RossoDiVino is spectacular so it’s great that they change their menu everyday – you can go back again and again and have a different, exciting taste experience! Head along the main street, Corso Umberto, until you get to the city gate – the Arch of Porta Catania. Turn left alongside the wall and head down the narrow streets, following the torches, until you come to their inviting terrace. Friendly, knowledgeable service and a delicious, innovative twist on traditional Sicilian dishes, we enjoyed the Osteria for a dinner and a lunch and both were great treats.
La Tavernetta on the steps of the afore mentioned steps amongst a whole slew of look-alike restaurants with their white table cloths and chequered napkins, La Tavernetta is a step above those others and my Cornish cousin was heard to say that this was one of his favourite meals of our week. The boys loved the mussels in a rich sauce just made for dipping the homemade bread. I loved the fresh fish simply cooked and served with delicious, smokey, oil infused caponata. Again, the desserts and wines were fabulous and the service friendly. We hung out having a giggle with the owner and waiters with our rounds of lemoncello before we staggered home.
It’s worth visiting this quaint town just to experience the views, never mind the great restaurant we found. It’s perched way up above Taormina so you can really get the lie of the land.
La Taverna dell’ Etna in Castelmola is a lovely friendly restaurant serving all the traditional fayre you would expect – seafood linguine, risotto, fresh pasta – but with a touch of sophistication. We shared large plates of delicious antipasti and fresh seafood but I kept my chocolate dessert all to myself! It also has a beautiful outdoor terrace with the most amazing views, and a great wine list so you can sip your lusty reds and soak up the scenery.
Sicily is really a food and wine lovers paradise so here is just a snapshot of us in paradise!
I hope this guide inspires you to think about Sicily as a great destination full of beautiful sites and scenery. I’m off to enjoy a bread stick and glass of red as I’m positively salivating as I reminisce about our great times here.