Our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalk again, we had longer ways to go. But no matter, the road is life. Cit. Jack Kerouac
What I am about to describe is the first part of my journey through the wonderful island that is Sicily, it is not meant to be just an itinerary, but more of a series of hints and tips for those who want to organize a trip without risking to be disappointed (as often happens) about the chosen destinations.
My origins are Sicilian and for this reason I often cross the strait (the Strait of Messina is the narrow sea passage between Calabria and Sicily, to cross it we take the “traghetto” the ferry-boat that connects the Island to the rest of Italy); this circumstance allowed me to visit the most beautiful and well known places this land has to offer. Over my last trip, in addition to visiting some of the most popular destinations, I went looking for places that I personally didn’t know before, and that left me enraptured.
Ready to pack your bags? Then travel with me…
I think I developed over time some expertise and speed in preparing suitcases, beauty cases and bags… in fact, being aware of this, I always end up waiting the last minute, and the departure is invariably postponed a few hours! Loading the car, filling up the gas, briefly greeting friends once again (as if I had to attempt to cross the Atlantic solo) and then finally getting on the highway!
For every new journey I don’t think it is just the beginning of a tourist route but the beginning of a new life experience, I wonder about what kind of reality I could meet, about the new people I’ll meet and the different ways of doing things I’ll learn, I believe there will be something that will change my point of view, something that will give new meaning to my life or new ideas to realise.
After a few hours of daredevil driving (80 km/ph, just joking) I arrived to Villa San Giovanni and embarked on the ferry that would bring me to Sicily… Here I am in Messina and after taking the highway to Catania finally I got to my destination! Catania will be my base for 3 reasons:
- It Is more or less in the centre of the places I want to visit and this is also an advice to you… if you are planning to visit more than one city, choose as base a city in the middle of your itinerary so you can reach, in a relatively short time, many different places;
It’s a big and beautiful historic city, there is much to see and provides various options: the sea, the mountains (Mount Etna which is the highest active volcano in the Eurasian plate), shopping, entertainment (but we will talk further on about Catania);
It’s my father’s home-town, so I have part of my family and friends living there;
I will divide this itinerary into several parts. In this post I will start with the first five destinations:
Step 1: Porto Palo di Capo Passero (Isola delle Correnti – Currents Island)
We are at the extreme south of Sicily (souther than this you’ll find Africa), where the Ionian Sea meets and clashes with the Mediterranean Sea. It is worth the effort to walk on those old and unrefined streets that look like lost in time, to find a spectacular view like this …
Here you will find white sandy beaches, the sea is clean and there are many equipped beaches where you can get tan, eat and windsurf (if the wind allows it); on the little island in front of the beach, there is an abandoned lighthouse and the house where, until several years ago, the lighthouse keeper used to live with his family.
I went to two strands:
- Scialai lido (from the verb “scialare”, in Sicilian dialect means to have fun). You need to book to avoid not to find free parasols, good drinks, it is quite chic;
- Lido Cabana & Nabana… nice owner, very helpful (he improvised and found a place for us even when the beach was full), excellent “bruschetta alla Siciliana” with “caponata” (caponata is a very good mix of vegetables prepared with oil, capers, little tomatoes and so on), you can also do windsurf;
They are both in front of the little Island and you can find this amazing sea:
Are you already craving a dive?! I believe that to get used to the idea of never seeing this sea for several months, it takes me a while, I’m in the “vacation lacking” mood… sigh!
Step 2: San Lorenzo
Not far from Porto Palo, just on the border of the Vendicari nature reserve which is, to be clear, this place down here…
Here you can find some huge and very equipped beaches that also live at night, proposing interesting nights out. In high season, or better, I can speak about the month of August from my experience, these beaches are very crowded (both from families and young people) so it would be bebetter to book in advance (a girl told me that she had booked her place 20 days before the arrival!); umbrellas are large and well spaced and eateries offer good food with great variety of dishes. Of course I talk about beaches I visited, in particular:
- Agua Beach (part of the Agua Beach Resort). Here is the link of the website where you can find all the details and several photos of the place Agua beach
– San Lorenzo lido, here is the link lido San Lorenzo (sorry, I only found the Italian version :/) ;
The photo of the evening was taken during the night of San Lorenzo (the night of San Lorenzo for Italian people, is the night in which you can see the most shooying stars, the sky should be clear and there’s usually a big concentration of shooting stars. So everybody goes on the beach to see them!), and of course there was a big party! Alternatively, there are many guys and girls who don’t want to party, they prefer to lay by the seaside and enjoy the show in the sky, preferably in front of a fire 😉 Beautiful, aren’t they?
Step 3: Marzamemi
When somebody mentioned this place to me for the first time, I was like “huh? Marza… what???”
Indeed not everyone (including me until recently) knows about the existence of this place but, believe me, it is really worth a visit! Pictures don’t do justice to the real thing, my advice is to go there in the evening, maybe for dinner in one of the many typical restaurants open on the main square (that is ahead, following the road that runs along the harbor from the entrance of the village); Food is delicious and they offer very fresh fish.
From the main square several streets branch off, they are full of restaurants and shops selling, as well as famous brands, some (popular or not) Sicilian designer’s clothes… among whom I liked very much Elio Fronterrè, here is one of his boutiques in Regina Margherita square .
And finally I will tell you a legend associated with this place: the legend of the Calafarina cave. Located in the limestone area between Marzamemi and Porto Palo, this cave has been the subject of numerous archaeological studies, but it is also related to the story of a princess, the wife of Emir Ben Avert from Noto. We are in the years when Sicily was being liberated from the Arabian domination and Noto was the only city that was resisting… but not for long because, in 1090, the Emir died during a fight and the widow, when the city fell, decided to leave to Cairo with all her treasure; she headed along with a caravan of people and 100 mules that carried the treasure, to Marzamemi to board a ship. When she got to the harbour she was full of doubts; afraid that during the trip on the sea her treasure could be looted, she decided to put it safely in the cave Calafarina; she sent her slaves who, after transporting and burying the treasure, were killed so that only the princess knew the hiding place. And through a magic ritual she tied forever the souls of the slaves to guard the cave and its treasure, waiting for the nights of February, when someone will call the name of the one who can break the spell!
Step 4: Noto
Now is time to open your eyes because you will find yourself in front of the images of the baroque capital of Sicily: Noto (the name was given by the Arabiansm to indicate its monumental beauty and its importance as a city), the city is an Unesco World Heritage Site.
It’s a destination worth visiting for two reasons:
- During the day is wonderful to dive in the crystal clear sea, there are numerous beaches, but also bays with free white beaches, and you can perform various activities ranging from canoeing to sailing and so on.
- In the evening, going in the old town, you are faced to extraordinary buildings and disarmingly beautiful ancient churches, it’s stunning believe me! In the summer the city is full of people and tourists who like to taste the typical cuisine in the restaurants or drink something in one of the bars you’ll find around the streets, also most of the shops are open till late and I recommend to visit the shops selling ceramics of Caltagirone (typical Sicilian craft).
The “Infiorata” is a very typical historical event about flowers, that takes place on the third week of the month of May, and consists in the creation, by flower artists, of a long floral carpet covering the entire Corrado Nicolaci street. I found this video on you tube showing the festival and various performances which take place in those days, you can watch it, but believe me , nothing you can see in the picture or video, can give you an idea of how wonderful this place is… it’s really worth to see it live !
If you want detailed information about the city of Noto, you can click here the link of the official website of the town and especially the page dedicated to the tourists 😉
Step 5: Isola di Ortigia (Ortigia Island)
Going back North you can’t lose the sunset in this beautiful town, which is also included in the list of Unesco Heritage, this is the oldest part of Syracuse to which the Greeks gave the name of Ortigia, meaning “quail”. Weird, isn’t ?! The same name was given to a Greek island later called Delos (luminous island) because a legend says that on this greek island was born the God of Sun Apollo and Artemis, the Goddess of hunting 😉
Things that I recommend to see:
- Temple of Apollo
Garden Of Ficus
Beneventano del Bosco building
Turn your head up and look at the wonderful and characteristic balconies of historic buildings located in the central square and in the streets!
Parking in the port area, you can walk to the Temple of Apollo, and then continue on to Piazza Archimede where there is the beautiful fountain of Diana.
Continuing to the right (behind the fountain) you get to the heart of the city with its narrow alleyways packed with restaurants, shops, lounge bars. Obviously there are “tourist” restaurants where you could not eat very well and wait a lot for the dishes, and other more peculiars, so it could be better to check reviews on the web first. In the restaurant we chose we were entertained by local folkloristic musicians and we had the company of many kittens (you’ll see several of them around the city, even perched on the columns of the temple!)
Arrived to Duomo Square what appears to the eye is really a show… but apart from the objectively beautiful view of these buildings, you should feel the atmosphere, and this can’t be explained, you have to go there!
And then we go back to the base… with a piece of heart left there, between the wonderful sea and the history… but the journey continues, see you in the next part !