First impressions of Sicily are intense and paradoxical: beautiful and brutal, anarchic and serene, exuberant and insular, the island resists all easy definitions. For many visitors, Sicily’s wealth of superb ancient monuments, many of which enjoy glorious and largely untouched natural settings, are its biggest draw: the Valle dei Templi in Agrigento, a magnificently well preserved Doric temple group, dating back to the sixth century BC; a Greek theatre and Roman amphitheatre at ancient Syracuse; magnificent mosaics at Villa Romana del Casale and gleaming Byzantine decoration at the Norman cathedrals of Monreale and Cefalù, and in the exquisite Capella Palatina in Palermo, Sicily’s chaotic but captivating capital. Taormina, Sicily’s best-preserved hill town, affords superb views of Mount Etna, while the cities of the Val di Noto, built after the terrible earthquake of 1693, are perfect showcases for Sicilian Baroque architecture.
But Sicily’s appeal is more than archaeological and architectural: its landscapes are among the most dramatic in the Mediterranean. Mount Etna, the largest and most active volcano in Europe, dominates the entire eastern coast, and the trip to the top – whether you choose to hike, take the cable car, or a jeep – is thrilling. Huge crowds are also drawn to the Aeolian archipelago in the northeast to witness the spectacular fireworks of rumbling Stromboli.