Practical Tips for Trips to Sicily

I know I make jokes about everything but I shall try my best to be sensible and serious on this page, and stick to telling you really useful stuff. I am even using bullet points and everything.

The weather in Sicily

It’s hot. Except when it’s not.

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No seriously, some people think we don’t get any winter and then freeze half to death and moan at me that they’re cold in March. I know Sicily is hot but it’s not on the equator – it does get seasons.

  1. The best times to visit if you want mild weather are September, for guaranteed sun and warmth that is not too hot, or May, for a warm spring that has not overheated everything yet (and for just about all the fruit being in season.) You can get a fabulous early winter holiday in October, when it is still T-shirt weather and mild enough to swim in the sea.
  2. Winter lasts from November to March/April and it is usually humid and often windy. You may get warm enough days to sit outside at a pavement cafe’ in a sleeveless top, but you may also get miserable rain and driving winds. Bring a hat, unless you enjoy earache.
  3. Summer on the other hand is extraordinarily hot. It gets up to 40 degrees centigrade at some point every year. It starts warming up in May, it is stinking hot in July and August, and in September and October it is lovely and you can still go swimming in the sea but you don’t roast when you come out. Bring your own sun block because it is unbelievably expensive in Sicily and often faulty stock that doesn’t actually work.

Some sources of specific data:

 Sicily by Car

Lots of people are scared by the idea of driving around Sicily and I’m afraid I have done nothing to reassure them. Yet everyone I know who who has actually tried it found it fine in the end. Some of them actually became addicted to the adrenaline rush.

 

Here are a few general pointers:

  1. If you hire a car I personally would stick to the larger, international companies. The smaller and more “local” they are, the less recourse you will have if they treat you badly. There’s one company in particular, called “Sicily by Car” coincidentally enough, which has enough long, ranting, very detailed bad reviews to make me think they are well worth avoiding.
  2. You must plan on queueing for at least 2 hours to pick up your car at the airport, even though you have already done all the paperwork online. Sicilians have no sense of haste in any situation so you may as well get used to it as soon as your plane touches down.
  3. There is often some unexpected extra charge for more insurance. You will always end up paying more than you thought you would.
  4. They do not take you to examine the car, they just give you papers and a key and send you off to find it in the colossal airport car park. If there is any damage when you find the car, or if the tank is not as full as indicated on your papers, mark the corrections and photograph any scratches, cavernous dents or breaches in the body work, and return immediately to get these extras countersigned. This may be your first ever experience of barging to the front of a queue, but now that you are in Sicily you will be able to enjoy doing this many more times before your holiday is over.
  5. After your holiday, you may be pleasantly surprised at the degree of devastating damage they happily write off as “normal wear and tear.” Depending how your road trip holiday went, it may be enough to make your 2-hour wait feel completely worthwhile.
  6. My general tips on driving successfully among the good people of Sicily are summarised here: The Ten Commandments of Sicilian Driving

Practical advice:

  • You need to book your car at whichever airport you land at. Check out the Trip Tipp car hire page for more practical infomation on car hire at each airport. It’s written by sensible Germans who don’t exaggerate.

Sicily by Train or Coach

If it’s all too much for you, you can get around just great using trains or coaches instead. Germans think Sicilan trains are old and slow. Sicilians moan about them like mad. If you’re from England you’re likely to think you’ve time travelled into the space age. Their doors have handles on the INSIDE as well as the outside. They floors are clean. They even have toilets on their trains that you can use without needing wellington boots and a friend to hold the door shut.

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General pointers:

  1. Coaches are much faster for long distances, but trains cut through the urban traffic jams and are ideal for shorter journeys.
  2. Trains in Sicily often go along the coastline and you can enjoy some fabulous views on certain journeys.
  3. I love the Trenitalia website, which is available in English and has a brilliant feature showing exactly where the trains are, so you can monitor how late they are in real time. To be perfectly honest, Sicilian trains are usually punctual and I think you may be pleasantly surprised.
  4. If you choose train travel, so good bases to position yourself include Palermo, Cefalu’, and Catania. Be sure to check the available lines from your chosen bases because some areas are well served by rail whilst others are not.
  5. Touring Sicily by public transport is usually best done using a combination of trains and coaches.

Practical detailed info:

Maps of Sicily

General pointers:

  1. They build new roads in Sicily all the time. They have to. Old roads collapse by the minute round here. Honestly, one day there’s a motorway, the next day it’s gone.
  2. All sat navs sooner or later hit a spot that is completely out of date or goes mad and sends you down a wild dirt track. If using one, go online to download all the latest updates.
  3. The map you can trust best in Sicily is Google, which seems to be the best at keeping up with all the changes. It is not perfect, and you also find plenty of spots with no phone reception, but it is what I use.
  4. If you are going to be driving all over the place in Sicily, I would invest in a paper map as your plan B.
  5. Always ask locals to help you plan your route before embarking on a day trip. Some roads in Sicily may look like interstate roads on the map but could turn out to be single lane dirt tracks, or to wind up and down endless hills at such gradients that what looked like a half hour drive will take you all morning. Also, see point no. 1.

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Practical links:

Safety in Sicily

Sicily is a very safe place indeed. I am very definitely not an intrepid person, and I lived there for thirteen years, in high heels.

  1. Are the refugees making Sicily dangerous? People very frequently write to me asking if we are “swarming” with refugees and migrants and if they are making it dangerous. The answers are no, and no. You will see very few migrants walking around and there are very nice people, and certainly not dangerous!
  2. There are a few things you have to look out for wherever you go, though. These are my top safety tips based on years living here: A Dozen Safety Tips for a Holiday in Sicily
  3. Italian Stallions have a bit of a reputation. They consider it a serious responsibility to maintain it. Sometimes they can feel a bit intimidating but, if you read my guide, you’ll learn how to tell if you’re in genuine danger, or simply facing a cultural misunderstanding: Single Woman in Italy? The Sicilian Housewife’s Guide to Italian Men

 

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More advice frm Sensible People

For sensible information on the nitty gritty of organising your holiday, you had best turn to the Germans. They have sneaky travel guides that tell them how to be first into all the art galleries, exactly what time they must wake up to get their towels on the beach before you, and where to park in a jiffy right next to the best restaurant.

For the first time ever, their holiday cunning is available to English speakers.

How’s your Italian?

It’s much more fun having a holiday in Sicily if you learn a bit of Italian.

  1. For beginners, I recommend the BBC Italian book: BBC Talk Italian Course for Absolute Beginners
  2. If you speak intermediate level Italian, and you need to brush it up without getting bored in a grammar book, I recommend “Tutto Italiano” magazine. You get a magazine and a CD as well, so it’s like listening to a radio programme that you can rewind. I’ve been using it for a while now and my bilingual 9-year-old says my Italian is coming along great! Tap one of the images below to find out more.
  3. You could also go the whole hog and book yourself a course of language lessons whilst you’re in Sicily. I have friends who run language schools in Cefalu’ and various lovely coastal villages near Palermo, which can be coupled up with rental villas – you can even have a private tutor come to your villa and teach you on the beach. Just message me via the contact form on my website if you want to know more about these.

FIND OUT MORE about TUTTO ITALIANO

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