Recently Product Manager Clare Collins travelled to Sicily on a roundtrip of the island taking in all the sights that can be discovered on our Classical Sicily eight-day tour, which is designed to show the island’s highlights in just one week off work. Here she shares her experience.
"I’ve always wanted to travel to Sicily as I’m a big fan of ancient history, but the island far exceeded my expectations. The food was amazing, the scenery is ever changing and utterly beautiful, and the people were friendly and hospitable. It was a fantastic holiday and I wanted to take this opportunity to tell you about some of my highlights.
Before I travelled to Sicily I knew very little about Syracusa, but it turned out to be one of my favourite places. Ortygia Island is the old town area of the city and is perfect for sitting outside a street side bar. I took delight in watching the world go by whilst eating an Arancini, which is a breaded ball usually filled with cheese, ragu and rice and it’s an wholly delicious snack which goes perfectly with a refreshing glass of cold beer. The buildings on the island are stunning and I could happily have strolled around the narrow picturesque streets and pretty harbour for hours.
On the edge of the city centre and amidst a citrus grove is the Neapolis Archaeological Park, which features a brilliantly preserved Greek theatre and Roman amphitheatre along with what is believed to be the tomb of Archimedes, who was a renowned mathematician, scientist and inventor in the ancient world.
Villa Romana del Casale
Villa Romana was once a grand Roman villa that still has some of the best preserved mosaics to be found anywhere in the world. Until we arrived here I had no idea how special it would be – I was expecting a few good mosaics, but I was stunned by just how many there are. The mosaics are still rich with colour and exquisitely designed. They feature all manner of subjects including the legendary bikini girls. This was probably the visit that surprised me the most and it’s an absolute must see.
We were staying in the nearby town of Piazza Amerina where we enjoyed one of our best meals in a tiny local restaurant near to the theatre. It was owned by a family who wanted us to try everything that the area is famous for and it was all very tasty. The Cassata Siciliana that we had for dessert was beautiful – it’s layers of sponge soaked in liqueur that are sandwiched between sweet ricotta and then covered in green-colored almond paste and decorated with candied fruits. This town was a great place to see normal Sicilian life and I didn’t spot a single other tourist whilst we were there – it’s a lovely tranquil town.
Valley of the Temples
The Valley of the Temples in Agrigento is impressive. The ruins aren’t in a valley but rather set on the ridge above it, so you can see them from quite some distance away, as the temples here are massive. Standing at the foot of the Temple of Concordia I was blown away by the scale and might of this remarkable ancient Greek edifice. As you walk on the path between the temples you have the sea below you on one side along with old rock cut tombs and the city of Agrigento on the hill on the other side. It’s a beautiful spot with many old olive trees dotted around. During our visit a storm was raging over the city whilst we were standing in brilliant sunshine watching the lightning crash over the hill next door. It’s an amazing place.
Erice is different to everywhere else we visited – the architecture and atmosphere is completely unique. It’s set on a hilltop above the coast so the climate tends to be cooler than much of the island. It’s a maze of narrow traffic-free cobbled streets, cute little shops and cafes, tall bell towers and has two castles clinging to the cliff edge. This distinctive walled town offers stunning views of the coast below and is perfect for exploring on foot as there’s a great new view around every corner. The local cafes serve mouth-watering pizza, sweet pastries and nougat that are totally irresistible.
The active volcano of Mount Etna dominates the view on the east side of the island and visiting here was an absolute highlight for me.
We stayed in the peaceful seaside town of Giardini Naxos where you could watch fishing boats come and go and the locals bartering for their fresh fruit from the delivery van that stops on the sea front promenade. It’s a short drive to the mountain from here and the scenery gets wilder as you climb up the mountain side.
From Rifugio Sapienza at 1923m we took the cable car to 2500m and then a four wheel drive bus up to the crater area at 2920m. We were there in October so the top of the volcano was covered in snow that had melted away from the multiple craters where the hot steam in rising from below. Our guide explained the history of its previous eruptions and geology of the mountain. I would definitely recommend a trip up, but do remember that it’s usually considerably colder than the sunny seaside town below (we did see a few people up there in the snow wearing shorts and sandals!).
Palermo is the capital and the most populated area on the island. After spending much of our time exploring the countryside, coastline, sleepy towns and stunning ancient sights, this bustling city offered great contrast. Once we’d mastered our way through the traffic and arrived at our characterful hotel in Politeama Square we set out on foot to explore. The city has a vibrant cafe culture, a selection of fantastic restaurants and good shopping. The city’s theatres are magnificent and Garden Inglese (English Garden) offers a pleasant change of pace.
This is just a small taster of all the amazing things to see and do in Sicily. It’s one of the best holiday experiences I’ve had and I’d return here in a heartbeat. It’s perfect for exploring as the island is quite small, but packed with amazing attractions. I can’t recommend it enough."
If you’re looking to stay on the island for longer and you want to gain even more in depth knowledge of its history and culture then our 15-day Ancient Sicily tour is perfect for you, as you’ll be joined by our local expert Antonio who’ll give you informative and entertaining talks throughout the tour. Or you may choose to combine two fantastic countries together and join our Malta and Gozo Discovery + Sicily Discovery holiday. Or if you’d prefer a more active adventure then why not try one of our amazing walking tours Sicilian Trails or Sicilian Volcano Hike or you may opt to explore on two wheels on our Cycle Western Sicily trip. If you’re looking to take the whole family then we have an option for that too! There’s our Family Active Sicily tour, which includes a magical stay in tree mounted tents.