Getting There Away

There are buses from Trapani ( 3,30 minutes, eight daily Monday to Friday), Agrigento ( 10, four hours, three daily Monday to Saturday, one Sunday) and Palermo ( 8, 2' i hours), but the best way to travel along this part of the coast is by train. Palermo buses arrive at Piazza del Popolo, off Via Mazzini, in the centre of town. All other buses stop at the bus station in Piazza E Pizzo, in front of the train station. Regular trains serve Marsala from Trapani ( 3, 30 minutes, 20 daily), Mazara...

The Mainland

Although it's not nearly as picturesque as Ortygia, you should still devote time to exploring the sights on the mainland. The Acradina quarter, directly across the bridge from Ortygia, is the modern city, built on Hj H the site of the ancient settlement of the same H H name. To the northeast in the Tyche quarter H are the city's extensive catacombs and the P H renowned Museo Archeologico Paolo Orsi. E H To see the real thing, go west to Neapolis and E H Bombed twice during WWII (by the Allies...

Love thy Normans Sicilian Romanesque

The Normans were prodigious builders, but their reference points were the vertical lines of French Romanesque, visible in the sobriety of Palermo's La Magione or the church of San Nicola in Agrigento. Roger I recognised the superior artistry of the Arabs and to his lasting credit employed their substantial skills and aesthetic sense in the monuments of his dazzling kingdom. The Norman period is characterised by an intoxicating mix of Byzantine, Arab and Norman styles, an organic fusion of the...

Rifugio Sapienza

With a daily bus link from Catania via Nicolosi, the southern side of the volcano presents an easy option for an ascent towards the craters. The AST bus drops you off at the Rifugio Sapienza (1923m) from where Funivia dell'Etna ( 095 91 42 09 www.funiviaetna.com cable car 23, cable car, bus & guide 42.50 S 9am-4.30pm) runs a cable car up the mountain to 2500m. (The ticket office accepts credit cards and cash.) Once out of the cable car you can attempt the long walk (3' i to four hours...

Piazza Del Duomo

Messina's Norman cathedral (Piazza del Duomo admission free S 8am-6pm) is one of the most attractive churches in Sicily and if it hadn't been for its unfortunate history it would probably be on a par with the cathedrals of Cefal (pl35) and Monreale (p99). Built in the 12th century, it suffered its first disaster in 1254 at the funeral of Conrad IV (son of Frederick II), when a mass of candles set the church on fire. Devastating earthquakes in 1783 and 1908 and a WWII incendiary bomb in 1943 put...

Megara Hyblaea

The area north of Syracuse is a largely unattractive sprawl of refineries and heavy industry, but right in the middle of it are the ruins of the ancient settlement of Megara Hyblaea, founded in 728 BC by Greeks from Megara. Its history is largely unfortunate razed to the ground and all its inhabitants evicted in 483 BC by the tyrant Gelon, it was rebuilt on the same spot by Timoleon in 340 BC but only survived until 213 BC when it was destroyed for the second time by the Roman general...

Habibi Club Locallta Mursia couscous

14 S evening Jul & Aug) Bookings are essential at this converted dammuso next to the Mursia Hotel. It only serves the famed fish couscous and it's all freshly prepared for you. II Cappero ( 0923 91 26 01 Via Roma 31, Pantellerla town meals 25-30 S dosed Mon Oct-Apr) Wonderfully unpretentious, with excellent pasta and fish dishes. Try the local speciality, ravioli con menta e ricotta (ravioli with mint and ricotta cheese). Bookings recommended for Saturday. Trattoria Favarotta ( 0923 91 43...

Solo Travellers

There is more of a backpacking culture in the east of the island around Catania, Mt Etna and Syracuse and these are the best destinations for the solo traveller. In the west there are fewer facilities for single travellers. You may feel a little lonesome in some very family-orientated communities, although Sicilians are very friendly and helpful. The main problem facing solo travellers is the dearth of single rooms in popular tourist spots. In these places you will probably find yourself paying...

Nicosia

Of all the hill towns, Nicosia is the quietest and most fascinating. Set on four hills, this market town has played its part as a Greek city, Byzantine bishopric, Arab fort and Lombard stronghold. During the Norman era it was the most important of a series of fortified towns that stretched from Palermo to Messina, but the new autostrada (motorway) has sunkNicosia into profound solitude. Between 1950 and 1970 nearly half the village emigrated and now only old men linger in the piazze, talking in...

The Cathedral

Ambitious builders, the Normans converted mosques and palaces, giving rise to the Arab-Norman style that is unique to Sicily. Chief among these is the cathedral (Map pp78-9 091 33 43 76 www.cattedrale.palermo.it in Italian Corso Vlttorio Emanuele admissionfree S 7am-7pmMon-Sat,8am-1,30pm & 4-7pm Sun & public holidays), an extraordinary feast of ziggurat crenellations, majolica cupolas, geometric patterns and blind arches. It's an impressive building that has aesthetically suffered...

Stromboli

Seeing Stromboli from a distance strangely conforms to one's childhood ideas of a volcano a cone-shaped thing with smoke coming out of the top. This is the furthest and most isolated of the Aeolian Islands, but also the most captivating, largely because it is the only place in Europe to have a permanently active volcano. Its relative isolation is a large part of its appeal to Italy's (and Europe's) social elite who come to holiday on Stromboli (Dolce & Gabbana have a holiday home here). The...

Volcano Climbing

The serious climber will relish the chance to ascend a volcano, and Sicily has these aplenty The Parco Naturale dell'Etna (p208), established in 1987, covers some 590 sq km and includes 20 different communities. The park is fascinating, both for its varied natural environment and its surreal summit. The other two volcanic experiences are on the Aeolians, where there are trails up Vulcano - a bald, sulphurous boil of a cone - and Stromboli, whose constant pyrotechnics seen against a velvet night...

The Anti Mafia Movement

The anti-Mafia movement is alive and kicking in Sicily, tracing its roots back to the beginning of today's Mafia. According to historians, the movement first appeared in the late 19th century, and lasted in its first incarnation until the 1950s. The movement strove for agrarian reform, targeting the Mafia, conservative political elites and the latifondisti (big landowners), but its efforts were shattered when the lack of economic prospects in the postwar era drove thousands of young Sicilians...

Norman Monuments La Casbah

On Piazza Mokarta, the ragged remains of Count Roger's Norman castle have definitely seen better days, although their forlorn ruination is wonderfully atmospheric at night (when they are floodlit). The same goes for the twee little Chiesa di San Nicolo Regale (Porta Palermo admission free), which overlooks the busding fish market. A perfect cube, it has remained virtually unchanged since its construction in 1124. Northwest of the church is La Casbah, a maze of tiny streets and alleyways that...

Festivals Events

Sicily's calendar is full to bursting with events that range from colourful traditional celebrations with a religious and or historical flavour, through to festivals celebrating the performing arts, including opera, music and theatre. The biggest events appear in the following list. Befana (Epiphany) The town of Piana degli Albanesi, near Palermo, celebrates the festival of La Befana with a colourful parade that culminates in a firework display. Carnevale (Carnival) During the week before Ash...

Italian

Italian is a Romance language related to French, Spanish, Portuguese and Romanian, all of which are directly descended from Latin. The Romance languages belong to the Indo-European group of languages, which includes English. Indeed, as English and Italian share common roots in Latin, you will recognise many Italian words. Sicily has a strange relationship with the Italian language. Although it is commonly accepted that modern standard Italian developed from the Tuscan dialect, Sicilians rightly...

Gangi

This beautiful hilltop town is definitely worth a visit if you like soaking up a quiet atmosphere. The town produced two well-known 17th-century painters, Gaspare Vazano and Giuseppe Salerno, the latter nicknamed Lo Zeppo di Gangi (the Cripple of Gangi). You can see Salerno's impressive Last Judgement (1629) in the town's lovely Chiesa Madre. On the second Sunday of August, the whole town is decorated with ears of wheat for the Sagra delle Spighe, an ancient festival that goes all the way back...

Gay Lesbian Travellers

Although homosexuality is legal in Sicily it is not particularly well tolerated - though some say that attitudes are improving. There are a few gay and or lesbian clubs and bars, mostly in Taormina and Catania (apparently the new gay capital). Palermo is lagging behind, though you'll find a couple of bars and clubs here too. Overt displays of affection by homosexual couples can attract a negative response. Yet physical contact between men (and women), such as linking arms and kissing on the...

Enna

Shrouded in myth, the township of Enna dominates the centre of the island with its monumental demeanour, grandiose palazzi (palaces or mansions) and churches and a crisp mountain air. Its unmatched views of the surrounding valley suggest that this has traditionally been the top dog in the province. The atmosphere here is different to that of other Sicilian towns, with the workaday feel of a town unperturbed by tourism. Enna has long been the seat of a sacred cult of Demeter (also called Ceres...

Womans Place

'In Sicily, women are more dangerous than shotguns', said Fabrizio Angelo Infanti in The Godfather. 'A woman at the window is a woman to be shunned', proclaimed the writer Giovanni Verga in the 19th century. And 'Women are too stupid to be involved in the complex world of finance', decided a judge when faced with a female Mafia suspect in the 1990s. As in many places in the Mediterranean, a woman's position in Sicily has always been a difficult one. Sicilian attitudes towards women have been...

Piano Battaglia

More Swiss than Sicilian, the little ski resort at Piano Battaglia (near Pizzo Carbonara) is dotted with chalets that play host to an ever growing number of Sicilian downhill skiers in winter. The Mufara (northern slopes) skiing complex goes up to heights of 1856m and serves 3.5km of runs, while the Mufaretta (southwest slopes) reaches 1657m, with a run about 500m long. There are two ski lifts up to the ski runs. You can also do crosscountry and alpine skiing. With the advent of spring and...

Detour Eraclea Minoa

Despite the scant 6th-century-BC ruins a trip to Eraclea Minoa makes a wonderful detour, taking you through some gorgeous rural countryside, down to Sicily's most photogenic beach and one of the island's best camp sites. Take the signposted exit on the SS115, which will bring you to a T-junction. Turn left and wend your way uphill through acres of vineyards until you reach another junction at the top of the promontory. The road ahead will take you down to the beach, while a right turn will take...

Valley Of The Temples Valle Dei Templi

One of Sicily's premier attractions, the Valley of the Temples (Map p263) is a Unesco World Heritage-listed complex of temples and old city walls that remain from the ancient city of Akragas. The site is a reason in itself to visit the Mediterranean coast of the island. The five Doric temples actually stand along a ridge, not a valley, designed to be visible from all around and a beacon for homecoming sailors. In varying states of ruin, the temples give a tantalising glimpse of what must truly...

Hiking

There are several hiking opportunities in Sicily. The biggest draws for hikers are the Parco Naturale Regionale delle Madonie (pl39) and the Parco Regionale dei Nebrodi (pi42). The Madonie is the more popular of the two and is therefore better organised (maps can be obtained in the tourist offices of Palermo and Cefalu). Nebrodi, on the other hand, is well off the beaten track, beautifully remote but poorly signposted. The Nebrodi and Madonie nature reserves offer the hiker a completely...

Sleeping Eating

Villa Hicetta ( 0941 72 61 42 www.villanicetta .it Contrada Nicetta, Acquedolci r per person ind half full board 50 60) Located just before Sant'Agata di Militello, inland from Acquedolci, is this lovely rural retreat, which is actually a fortified farmhouse with its very own church. You can get involved with farm activities or take one of the trekking, mountain bike or horseback excursions. Villa Miraglia ( 095 773 21 33 www.villamiraglia .it SS289, Cesaro r per person ind half full board 50...

The Lake Circuit Walk Emily Coles

Take the SS289 to Portella Femmina Morta the ISEA bus from Catania and Sant'Agata di Militello stops at Villa Miraglia, just 300m to the south . Just before the pass on the northern side take the forest track that heads east. The track winds through wood and meadow, with tantalising glimpses of Mt Etna in the distance, climbing gently to meet the main road at Portella Calacudera 1562m , a little more than 1km later. Here the route divides the left fork goes to Lago Maulazzo and the right is...

Ragusa Ibla

Your first sight of Ragusa Ibla will be the breathtaking views from the hairpin bends of Corso Mazzini. It is a lovely picture, the austere grey of the buildings nestied amid the green countryside, lifted by splashes of colour here and there from painted palazzi and the majolica-tiled dome of the Chiesa di Santa Maria dell'ltria. If you have the time, the old town is best accessed via the salita commendatore, a winding pass made up of stairs and narrow archways taking you past the remains of...

Lipari

The 'capital' of the islands, Lipari is the most populated and most popular of the Aeolians, not least because it's at the centre of the archipelago. With a good variety of hotels and restaurants it's the best-equipped base for hopping to the rest of the islands. Lipari Town is a delightful maze of pastel-coloured houses but the high level of tourism means that the main street is a little too crowded with beachwear and surf-gear shops. The town's real charm can be found in its back streets and...

History

From the massively powerful world empires to the wanton hands of feudal rulers and mysterious mafiosi, the people of Sicily have long been at the centre of brutal historical events. The island's position in the middle of the Mediterranean, between mainland Italy and North Africa, has meant that it has been involved in nearly every major Mediterranean war. Countless invaders, opportunists and reckless kings and emperors have influenced its language, art, architecture, food, religion and social...

BUS

All intercity buses arrive and depart from the main bus station Piazza Montalto . Tickets can be bought from kiosks in the station. Segesta 0923 2 1 7 54 runs express buses connecting Trapani with Palermo 8, two hours, eight daily . AST 0923 2 32 22 serves Erice 1.80, 45 minutes, 10 daily Monday to Saturday, four Sunday , San Vito lo Capo 3.50, 1 hours, eight daily Monday to Friday , Marsala 3, 30 minutes, eight daily Monday to Friday and Mazara del Vallo 4.40, 1 hours, three daily ....

Discount Cards Senior Cards

Senior citizens are often entitled to public-transport discounts, but usually only for monthly passes not daily or weekly tickets . The minimum qualifying age is 65 years. Admission to all of Sicily's major sites, museums and archaeological parks is free for the over-60s. The only place they may be asked for some ID is at the Cappella Palatina in Palermo. Free admission to galleries and sites is available to under-18s. Discounts usually half the normal fee are available to EU citizens aged...

In Sicily

Excellent health care is readily available throughout Italy, but standards can vary. Pharmacists sell over-the-counter medication for minor illnesses and give valuable advice. They can also advise when more specialised help is required and point you in the right direction. In major cities you are likely to find English-speaking doctors or a translator service. If you need an ambulance anywhere in Sicily call 118. For emergency treatment, go straight to the pronto soccorso casualty section of a...

Panarea

Tiny Panarea is 3km long and 2km wide and feels more like a Greek island with its adobe-style whitewashed houses. Exclusive and expensive, it is popular with the international jet set who come here for one reason only -Hotel Raya. In summer luxury yachts fill the tiny harbour while flocks of day-trippers dock at San Pietro. The island's population lives almost exclusively on the eastern side of the island, in one of the three former hamlets of Ditella, San Pietro and Drauto, although you'll...

Detour Tyndaris

To visit the beautiful ruins at Capo Tindari, turn off the autostrada at the sign for Oliveri, from where brown signs will direct you to the Santuario della Madonna Sanctuary of the Madonna via scenic hairpin bends. If you're coming from the west, it is 6km from Patti on the SS113. You can see the enormous church from miles around it sits right on the cape, its dome glistening in the sun. A sanctuary has been here since the 16th century, when a boat carrying the sacred relic of the Madonna Nera...

Vulcano

Only 1km south of Lipari, across the Bocche di Vulcano, sits the steaming crater of Fossa di Vulcano or Gran Cratere, 'Large Crater' on Vulcano island. Worshipped by the Italian jet set for its therapeutic mud baths and hot springs, this little island is a great place to spend a day or two, enjoying the sulphur baths, taking a boat around the wild coast, and climbing up to the sleeping crater to see the steaming yellow sulphuric rocks. It's not a place to come and enjoy traditional sights -...

Himera

Founded in 648 BC by Greeks from Zankle now Messina , Himera admission free S9am-6pm was named after the river Imera, which flows nearby. It was the first Greek settlement on this part of the island and was a strategic outpost on the border of the Carthaginian-controlled west. In 480 BC the town was the scene of a decisive battie, with the combined armies of Theron of Agrigento and Gelon of Syracuse defeating a sizable Carthaginian army led by Hamilcar, who threw himself on the funeral pyre of...

Getting Around Boat

Regular hydrofoil and ferry services operate between the islands but they can be disrupted by heavy seas. In Lipari Town nearly all hydrofoil and ferry services arrive at and depart from Marina Lunga also known as Porto Sottomonastero . Siremar and Ustica Lines have ticket offices in the same cabin opposite the port. Full timetable information is available at all offices. On the other islands, ticket offices are at or close to the docks. Single fares and approximate sailing times from Lipari...

Orientation Information

From Termini Imerese head east for 22km along the coastal SSI 13 to Campofelice di Roccella and then turn off for Collesano, 13km inland. From Cefal it is even easier just follow the directions for the Santuario di Gibilmanna Sanctuary of Gibilmanna , 14km to the south. The body responsible for the park is Ente Parco delle Madonie 0921 684011 www.parcodelle madonie.it in Italian Corso Paolo Agliata 16, Petralia Sottana S 8.30am-1,30pm amp 4.30-7.30pm Mon-Sat , which has its headquarters the...

Around Syracuse Castello Eurialo

Seven kilometres west of the city in the outlying quarter of Epipolae is the Castello Eurialo 0931 71 17 73 admission free S9am-1hr before sunset , the stronghold of Syracuse's Greek defensive works. Built during the reign of Hieron II, Castello Eurialo Euryalus Castle was adapted and fortified by Archimedes and was considered impregnable. Unfortunately for Syracuse, the castle was taken by the Romans without a fight. The views back to Syracuse make it worth the trip. To get here take bus 11...

Riserva Naturale Dello Zingaro

Saved from development and road projects by local protests, the tranquil Riserva Naturale dello Zingaro 0923 2 61 11 www.riservazingaro.it in Italian adult child 3 2 S 7am-9pm Apr-Sep, 8am-4pm Oct-Mar is the star attraction on the gulf. Sicily's, and Italy's, first nature reserve, Zingaro was created with the support of local people and ecologists. Now its wild coasdine is a haven for the rare Bonelli eagle, along with 40 other bird species and 700 plant varieties, some unique to this stretch...

Useful Phrases

Vo-ray ree-ser-ra-re oon fo-vo-lo I'd like the menu, please. vo-ray eel me-noo perfa-i o-re What would you recommend ko-n mee kon-jee-lya Please bring the bill. mee porta eelfon-to per fa i o re Is service included in the bill eel ser-i ee tsyo e kom-pre-io nel kon-to I'm a vegetarian. jo-no vejeta yono na I'm a vegan, jo-no ve je ta yo no na Vorrei riservare un t volo. Vorrei il men , per fuvore. Cosa mi consigliu Mi porta il conto, per favore 1 llservizio e compreso nel conto Sono vegetariano...

Budget

Camping Jonio 095 49 11 39 www.camping.it italy sicilia jonio Via Villini a Mare 2 per adult 6-10, pertent 6-12, bungalow per person 20-50 This place is about 5km northeast of Catania, close to a beautiful rocky beach. To get there, catch bus 334 from Via Etnea. It also has bungalows. The services are decent here and if you fancy the beach and don't mind not being inside Catania, it's a good budget option. Agora Hostel 095 723 30 10 www.agorahostel .com Piazza Curr 6 dm 18-20, d 40-50 B A...

Dangers Annoyances Racism

As with nearly all European countries, Italy has seen a disturbing rise in racism. For decades Italy was one of the world's largest exporters of immigrants but now, as the first port of call for refugees from the Balkans, Eastern Europe and North Africa, it has become a net importer of people. For such a homogenous society with one of the lowest birth rates in Europe, the sudden influx has been traumatic and there are now an estimated half-million clandestini illegal immigrants in the country....

Marettimo

The most westward of the Egadi Islands, Marettimo is a collection of green mountain peaks and white-washed houses dipping into a little harbour packed with bobbing fishermen's boats. Marettimo is also the wildest and least developed of the islands. However, with the overfishing of tuna affecting fishermen's incomes, the villagers are starting to see the economic potential in tourism. This doesn't mean that you'll find it packed at any time of the year - on the contrary, this tiny island is...

Sciacca Carnival

Sclacca's carnival Is famed throughout Sicily for its flamboyance and fabulous party atmosphere. It's a carnival that requires a lot of preparation from the town's inhabitants - the grotesque papier-mache figures are made by hand for months in advance, using traditional methods from generations ago. There are several different theories about the carnival's origins and traditions. Some say that the celebration stems from Monte Cronio - named after the Greek god of time - where the ancient Romans...

Piazza Armerina

Set amid some of the most fertile territory on the island, this town simply called Piazza until the 18th century takes its name from the Colle Armerino, one of the three hills on which it is built. It is actually two towns in one the original Piazza was founded by the Saracens in the 10th century on the slope of the Colle Armerino, while a 15th-century expansion to the southeast was redefined by an urban grid established in the 17th century. You can easily spend a day or two wandering around...

Getting Started

There are several ways to organise a trip around Sicily besides simply touring the main towns and cities. If you fancy a sea-and-sun holiday, there are plenty of beach resorts and nearby islands. For history and culture it helps to organise travel around a theme - Greek ruins, baroque architecture or volcanoes. An option that is becoming increasingly popular involves renting a house in the countryside. The network of buses is efficient, extensive and cheap. Similarly, hydrofoil and ferry...