I have been devilishly busy lately, doing translations, writing a book (in Italian! Yoinks!) and eating ice cream with my little lad, whose school has broken up for the summer.
Luckily for us all, my gifted friends are still writing wonderful guest posts for your entertainment!
This gorgeous PHOTO ESSAY is a gift from Rochelle Del Borrello, otherwise known as the UNWILLING EXPAT of Catania. Her insider tips for those planning a holiday in Sicily are truly excellent, and I have actually learned several top tips from this post myself.
Last summer I had a real ball as we had some visitors. They were cousins who had never been outside of Australia and had a wonderful trip planned around Italy and France. It was such an honor to have them stay with me and give them a little taste of Sicily. There is so much history and art to see around the island that I think you would never be able to see it all even if you tried, that’s what I love about this place!
We managed to fit many things in and I thought I’d share some of the great photos I managed to get during a wonderfully sunny, at times uncomfortably humid Sicilian summer. Who knows, perhaps it will persuade other people to come and visit me this summer? (Just a subtle hint to family and friends, we have the space if you’ll want to come, and for those who aren’t family, Sicily is a big island and there are plenty of places to stay!)
Port of Messina
We began our summer picking up our guests at Messina. They caught the train down from Calabria where they had been staying with other relatives. (A special note to who may be considering traveling by train in Italy, try to keep the trips short as train travel in Italy is slow and uncomfortable!) [A note for those of your from the UK: Train travel in Sicily is highly recommended as you will be gobsmacked by how modern and luxurious the trains are. You can even use the toilets!!! Just hold onto your head as you will NOT BELIEVE how fast they go. Ed.]
At Messina, the Madonna of the Port meets and greets everyone, with her blessing: ‘Vos et ipsam civitatem benedicimus’ which is a special salutation the Virgin Mary sent back to the city after a delegation of Messiness went to visit her in 42 AD.
Exterior of Tindari church
Any mildly religious visitor to the province of Messina will visit the sanctuary at Tindari to see the famous religious icon of the Black Madonna of Tindari, a beautiful statue of the Madonna and child that is said to be miraculous.
Interior of Tindari church
The church itself is a living, breathing work of art and the historical icon is amazing. If you manage it, try to sneak into the original little church behind the main altar, which housed the statue until the 1960’s, when the new church had to be built around it to house all the visiting religious pilgrims.
Ceramic store sign
For me, the most spectacular souvenir that one must take home from Sicily are the ceramics. There are many tourist traps around the island who claim to sell authentic pieces but you really can’t go wrong visiting the ceramic factories at Santo Stefano di Camastra. There are endless stores in the town but if you stick to the big warehouses on the other side of the town away from the autostrada exit you will be buying directly from the producers, with wholesale prices and international shipping!
Summer in Sicily must be savored through endless gelato and granita ice drinks. Might I suggest trying a refreshing lemon flavored granita for when you feel dehydrated, strawberry granita topped with fresh cream for a fine dessert and coffee granita and cream for the ultimate iced coffee breakfast?
Iif you are offered brioche sweet bread with it, you must try breaking the brioche into pieces and dipping it into your granita once stirring in the cream with the coffee. It really is a food orgasm! If you are feeling particularly adventurous or hungry for ice cream, try their ‘gelato con brioche’ which is a sweet bread ice cream sandwich packed with at least two different flavors of gelato!
Sicilian beaches can be crowded especially near the major cities but you can always seek out more deserted places around the coast. Why not pack a lunch, beach umbrella, a towel and hunt down a secret spot!
Taormina piazza and kiosk
As much as I hate to admit it, Taormina is really worth a visit, even if it is way too touristy these days. It is really pretty, filled with art galleries, antiques and every major Italian fashion house has a store here, so there’s a little for everyone.
On the other hand it is always overcrowded, over-priced and confusing in the summer. I personally would visit in the late afternoon after it cools down and when there are less tourists, perhaps have dinner or see a show if something’s on at the ancient amphitheater. A good idea I think would be to find a place to stay at the nearby seaside town Giardini Naxos which has next to no tourists, great beaches and seafood restaurants and go up the cable car from the train station to visit Taormina when you feel like it.
I’ve always loved the city of Randazzo at the foot of Mount Etna. It is a beautiful town made of suggestive lava stone, filled with historic buildings, castles and museums. On Sundays there is a huge market which I love to visit, with a bit of everything from local cuisine to antiques and fashion.
Details of Randazzo church
My favorite gem of Randazzo is the Church of Santa Maria Randazzo. Its exterior is a contrast between intricate white lace and charcoal lava stone, while the inside is filled with art and the most outstanding stained glass windows.
Old lava flow from Etna
All tourists who visit the island must go is to Mount Etna! There are many ways of experiencing the volcano and the national park that surrounds it, from taking a tour bus from Catania to see the more touristy spots closer to its peak or take one of many walking tours. You can go up via cable car, riding on four wheel drive buses or on Sicilian donkeys. For the less adventurous types there are many places to explore away from the main peak like old extinguished craters and shopping at higher altitudes for retail therapy.
Old crater, and shops on Etna
Sicily is always filled with surprises and accidental discoveries which makes it such a special place to visit. I always enjoy meeting the locals who are the real treasures of Sicilia. Wherever there is a Sicilian, art is never far away.
Artist displaying his art at Randazzo
Thank you Rochelle for this wonderful post! You can read more fantastic insider tips on Rochelle’s blog, here.
Please note that all the photos in this post are the property of Rochelle Del Borello and may not be reproduced without her permission.