Friday, June 23rd, 2017

The Joys and Challenges of Traveling in Sicily

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Kate in Siracusa

Sicily kicked my ass and nearly destroyed me.

I did not expect that. Italy is my zone. I go to Italy once or twice a year. I lived in Florence for four months. I speak Italian (not as well as I used to, yet more than enough to get by).

As a result, Italy is one of the countries where I’m most comfortable. I understand how things work. I know what to eat, what to wear, what to do at different times of day. I’m well versed in the passeggiatta and penalties of not validating your train ticket.

I thought I knew Italy — and then I got to Sicily.

Agriturismo la Rocca della Rosa

The Wild Part of Italy

Sicily was my tenth region to visit in Italy (after Tuscany, Umbria, Lazio, Campania, Liguria, Lombardia, Veneto, Emilia-Romagna, and Puglia). I would immediately designate it the region that has the least in common with other regions.

Sicily had a wildness in the way the overgrown plants spilled onto the highway, in the way gargoyle-like rocks rose out of the sea, in the way children rode their bikes around piazzas at 1:00 AM.

But most significantly, I had a lot of communication issues. English was only spoken in the most touristy areas, and in the more rural areas, the locals spoke Sicilian dialect.

As a result, even when I spoke Italian, we could barely understand each other. I would understand maybe one word, tops, out of the whole sentence.

I’ll admit that this was overwhelming and embarrassing for me on many occasions. Traveling seamlessly in Italy is a mark of pride for me, and I hated feeling so helpless.

I’m not the only one who felt this way. Amanda of Farsickness wrote in a comment on one of my earlier posts:

In a weird way I am so glad you felt that way about Sicily. I spent 2 weeks there in May and found it to be way more difficult than I imagined. I speak Italian and have lived in Italy and I felt lost and confused so, so, so many times. I kept thinking about how I wouldn’t recommend it as a destination to newbie independent travelers or anyone who doesn’t know at least some basic Italian. A beautiful island with killer food and wine, but easy and often, not relaxing.

I am so glad that Amanda said that. It made me feel like I wasn’t crazy after all.

That said, in spite of the difficulties, Sicily is an incredibly rewarding destination. It’s filled with so much natural beauty and so many cultural destinations. The people are warm and friendly. The food is delicious. Everything looks and tastes like sunshine.

The Joys and Challenges of Traveling in Sicily

Tips for Traveling in Sicily

If you’re planning a trip to Sicily, get ready to plan more than you would for a trip elsewhere in Italy.

Here are my top recommendations for Sicily:

DSCF1931

Stick to the Beaten Path Unless You’re an Experienced Traveler

If you stay on the beaten path for foreign travelers, you won’t have most of the challenges that I had.

In Eastern Sicily, that means the Aeolian Islands, Taormina, Mount Etna, Siracusa, and the Baroque cities (Ragusa, Modica, Noto).

In Western Sicily, that means Trapani, Cefalù, Erice, and the western islands like Pantelleria.

In popular tourist destinations, Italian was spoken (not the dialect that I found in other places) and English was often spoken as well. They also had a more developed infrastructure for travelers and it was a less harried, more relaxed atmosphere.

Agriturismo la Rocca della Rosa

Off the Beaten Path Has Its Own Challenges and Rewards

You absolutely can get off the beaten path if you’d like to. Just know that you’ll be dealing with things including but not limited to:

People speaking only the local dialect and not Italian, let alone English.

Limited tourism infrastructure.

Roads in very poor condition.

Limited opening hours and dining options.

That said, getting off the beaten path can be very rewarding. You can end up getting to know locals who rarely see foreign tourists and are eager to share the best parts of their town (and food!) with you.

Taormina Shop

Learn As Much Italian As You Can

Even in popular areas in Sicily, it will benefit your trip greatly if you learn as much Italian as you can in advance.

At minimum, I recommend learning buongiorno/arrivederci/ciao, per favore/grazie, numbers one through 10, mi scusi and permesso (“regular excuse me” and “please move out of my way excuse me”), vorrei (“I would like” — use when ordering in a restaurant), and parla inglese? (“Do you speak English?”). It helps to learn food words, too.

Keep a translation app on your phone so you can double-check translations on the fly.

My favorite way to learn a language? The DuoLingo app. It makes language learning a fun game!

Aci Trezza

Get On Sicilian Time

Like in Spain, you’ll find that most businesses in Sicily take a siesta in the afternoon, often from 1:00 PM until 5:00 PM or a bit later. Oh, and they might not be open when they say they’ll be open. Just know that if you have something important to buy at a shop, do it in the morning!

Dinner is eaten at a late hour — you’re best off waiting until 9:00 PM, and even then you’ll be among the earlier ones getting their aperitivo. People will be out having dinner well past midnight.

Also, make like a Sicilian and avoid being outside during the hottest part of the afternoon, unless you’re at the beach. Everyone stays inside and smaller towns start to feel creepy when you’re the only one out.

Siracusa

Get a SIM Card

I picked up a Vodafone SIM Card in the Rome airport en route to Catania, and I was beyond glad that I did. It gave us so much help when it came to navigation and translation.

I paid 40 EUR ($45) for 5 GB of data with calls and texting. I later ordered another gig of data online for 5 EUR ($6).

I was happy with the Vodafone coverage. It didn’t work on most of the land at our agriturismo (which wasn’t an issue, as they had good wifi), and we didn’t get coverage on some of the tiny roads from Avola to Ragusa, but other than that, it worked great. You can find Vodafone shops in most cities.

Taormina

Rent a Car — A Small, Automatic Car

It is possible to travel around Sicily using only public transportation, but the quality, frequency, and connections aren’t as good as in the north. If you only have public transportation, you’re not going to see nearly as much of Sicily as you could with a car.

Traveling with a car was a very smart decision — one of the best of our trip. It gave us so much freedom to do day trips as we pleased without relying on public transit. Plus, when we stayed at our agriturismo, it was the only way we could leave the area.

Getting a tiny car should be a priority. Streets are narrow in many Sicilian towns and driving our regular-sized sedan felt like like driving a tank. (We survived, but we wish we had rented a smaller vehicle!)

I would only recommend renting a manual car if you’re very experienced with driving a manual. My mom drove a manual for most of her life, but she hasn’t in over a decade, and she was relieved that we had an automatic.

The reason? Sicily is very hilly. If you end up taking small streets, you’ll have tough driving ahead of you. This isn’t the kind of place to drive a manual if you’re iffy about it.

Also, book your car way in advance. Cars often sell out, especially automatics, and even after booking, we were told the night before our arrival (!) that our rental car provider didn’t have any more cars. We freaked out and booked last-minute with a more expensive provider.

Siracusa

Watch Out for Crazy Drivers

The driving in Italy gets crazier the further south you go. (And it doesn’t even stop once you leave Sicily — Malta is home to the most reckless driving I have ever seen.)

Sicily is a place where you should drive more conservatively. Stay out of the fast lane. Look in every direction a few times before driving through an intersection. Remember that many people ignore red lights and stop signs.

Driver super-defensively to maximize your safety.

Sunset at Agriturismo la Rocca della Rosa

Stay in an Agriturismo

An agriturismo is a farm that doubles as a guesthouse. It’s a very popular way to travel in Italy, both for locals and foreigners. You get to relax in the outdoors and sometimes you can help out in the garden if you want to!

We stayed at Agriturismo la Rocca della Rosa in Zafferana Etnea, the base for journeys to Mount Etna. This was a lovely place to stay and I highly recommend it for your time in Sicily.

The agriturismo is in such a convenient location — rural and slightly off the beaten path, but we were able to make easy day trips to Mount Etna, Taormina, Aci Trezza, and our great-grandfather’s hometown of Castanea delle Furie. If we had been more ambitious (or willing to drive 2.5 hours each way), we could have gone as far as Cefalù or Siracusa.

The three of us shared a comfortable two-bedroom suite. And the pool was very welcome on a hot day.

Avola Beach

Give Yourself Downtime — and Beach Time

Sicily is the kind of destination that demands quite a bit of you and exhausts you. If you don’t give yourself ample downtime, you could very well lose your mind. Soon it became apparent that we couldn’t visit all the places I wanted to visit, which was disappointing, but the downtime made it worth it.

The perfect way to have downtime in Sicily? Head for the beach! You’re spoiled for choice on this island.

Avola was home to the nicest stretch of sand we saw in Sicily, while Aci Trezza was a low-key town on the water home to rocky beaches and beach clubs on overwater decks.

Mussels in Siracusa

Dive into Delicious Food

Like the rest of Italy, both Sicily and the regions in Sicily have their own local specialties. Even the towns have their signature dishes!

Some dishes to try:

Arancini — Rice balls stuffed with anything from meat sauce to cheese and vegetables. The perfect snack food for any time of day (yes, I once had one for breakfast).

Pasta alla norma — Pasta with tomatoes, eggplant, basil, and ricotta salata.

Caponata — Fried eggplant with tomatoes, balsamic vinegar, capers, and other vegetables, on its own as a side dish or served on crostini or with other dishes.

All the fresh seafood you can find — It’s the Mediterranean — it’s good. Try everything. I once had a spaghetti alle vongole (spaghetti with clams) that nearly made me cry, it was so good.

Frutta martorana — This is what Sicilians call marzipan. It comes from the town of Martora.

Cannoli — The world-famous pastry is from Sicily (which may be why you couldn’t find one in Venice). Keep in mind that cannolo is the singular form.

Oh, and granita. Which brings me to my next item…

Taormina Granita and Cocktails

Eat Granita Every Day

If you’re used to eating gelato in Italy, go Sicilian — it’s time for granita!

Granita is basically slush for adults, and I don’t know what they put in it, but it’s better than any slush I have ever had. It’s dairy-free, yet tastes so creamy! Sometimes it’s served with brioche. Some people even eat it for breakfast!

Try as many flavors as you can, but I especially recommend mandorla, or almond. Honestly, I have no words for how good mandorla granita is. You won’t find anything like that in your home country, that’s for sure! Simply heavenly.

I loved lemon and caffe, too. My favorite granita cafe was Bambar in Taormina. Try granita with cream at least once, too!

Nuts in Sicily

Count Your Change

I hate to say it, but my mom and I noticed on four different occasions that we weren’t given enough change — and most of the time we didn’t bother to check, so who knows how many other times it happened?

By the time the final incident happened, when a granita seller handed me back a 50-cent piece instead of a euro, I snapped, “É vero?” (“Seriously?”) and held up the coin. He shrugged like it was nothing and gave me a euro.

Keep an eye on your change.

Mount Etna Sunset

Solo Travel in Sicily? It’s Not Easy.

After my experience, I’m not sure that I would recommend Sicily as a destination for most solo travelers. Of course, solo travelers (and solo female travelers) can go anywhere they’d like and have a great time; I just don’t think that Sicily would be one of the better choices within Italy or within Europe.

I say this mostly because of the driving. When my mother, sister, and I traveled together, driving was a three-person job. Mom drove, I navigated, and Sarah looked out for rogue drivers. Once Sarah left and I took on her job, it was still very difficult.

I could not imagine doing that driving on my own. If you drive alone, even with a GPS, know that you will be going down the wrong streets all the time.

Additionally, the communication difficulties mean that you may spend a lot of time feeling isolated and lonely. You may want to stay somewhere like a hostel or agriturismo in order to meet more people, including fellow travelers who speak English.

That said, Sicilians are very warm and friendly people. Even if you’re not able to communicate, they’ll welcome you with open arms. And the island is full of so many cultural treasures that you won’t lack for things to do and places to see.

Finally, if you’re traveling solo in Sicily, consider sticking to the beaten path. You’ll have an easier and more relaxing time. If you want to travel off the beaten path, I recommend getting more travel experience elsewhere in Italy first.

Essential Info: I got my SIM card at Vodafone in Rome’s airport. Vodafone shops are in most towns. I paid 40 EUR ($45) for a SIM card with 5 GB of data, calls and texting. When I ran out of data I got an extra gig for 5 EUR ($6). The coverage was great for Sicily and worked almost everywhere, though know you may not have coverage in more rural areas.

In Zafferana Etnea, Sicily, we stayed in a two-bedroom suite at Agriturismo La Rocca della Rosa, which can also be booked on Airbnb here, for $115 per night plus Airbnb fees. This is a wonderful agriturismo with a pool, great food, and the kindest owners, Maria and Franz. You’ll love it here. It’s in a perfect location for exploring Mount Etna and northeast Sicily; the town of Zafferana is lovely, too (don’t miss Blue Gel gelato!). If you stay there, please tell Maria and Franz that Kate, Deb and Sarah say hi! Other hotels in Zafferana Etnea can be found here.

We did the Etna Summer Sunset Experience excursion from Etna Experience, and it was a wonderful way to see the volcano up close and hike a small part of it, finishing with wine and snacks at a beautiful sunset spot. 54 EUR ($60) in summer, 44 EUR ($49) in other seasons.

While in Zafferana, we made easy day trips to Taormina and Aci Trezza as well as Etna and our great-grandfather’s village, Castanea delle Furie (the latter of which has zero tourist value and you should not visit). It’s best to have a car in Zafferana and vital if you want to do any day trips.

In Avola, Sicily, we stayed at this two-bedroom Airbnb apartment for $40 per night plus Airbnb fees. The apartment is clean, cool, modern, and located right by the main square downtown. Giovanni, the host, is an osteopath, has his office downstairs, and offers both massages and adjustments for very good prices! Hotels in Avola can be found here.

Avola is a bit of an offbeat place, and you’ll be the one of very few non-Italians in town, but it has a great beach. Keep in mind that downtown Avola is dead during the day but comes to life at night. There is a wine bar on Piazza Umberto that makes a FABULOUS cheese and salume plate. Spend your days hanging at the beach or exploring cities nearby like Siracusa, Noto, Modica, and Ragusa; I visited Siracusa and Ragusa and recommend them both.

Make sure you buy travel insurance before heading to Sicily so you’re covered in case something goes wrong. I never travel without it and always use World Nomads.

Have you ever been to a destination that challenged you as a traveler? Share away!

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Comments

89 Responses to “The Joys and Challenges of Traveling in Sicily”
  1. Arancini. Sigh. I think that’s one of those foods I could live on for several days without complaint. Sicily sounds amazing — Even with the challenges, I would still love to explore it.

  2. Anna says:

    My recent stay in the countryside of Bologna were such a challenge for me – the first time I really didnt like traveling alone (I’ll tweet you a link to when I get around to recapping it). I wasn’t prepared for lots of services to be closed for such long stretches mid-day, and many stores – altogether in mid-July. Also I BADLY needed a car to get to restaurants, horseback riding places and Modena’s balsamic facilities (otherwise it would be: long walk, train, train, rare bus or expensive taxi each way), but there were none to be rented on the spot, anywhere around (also needed to be pre-booked WAY in advance). Add to that the fact that it was record-breakingly hot, I got sick from dehydration, and, though the trip wasn’t without its high points, for quite a bit of it I was miserable and really lonely, something that rarely happens when I travel.

  3. Sicily looks amazing, glad you managed to make your trip rewarding despite the struggles! I’d love to go to Italy in the next couple of years; I just came back from travelling around India, would love for you to check my blog out if you have time: http://www.tanisha.co. Enjoy the rest of your travels xx

  4. Great tips! Sicily is one of the places I want to go next!

  5. Katie says:

    Staying in an agriturismo sounds EXACTLY like my kind of travel. I would never have guessed that Sicily was such a challenging region to travel in, and I loved reading your take on it. In a way, it sounds kind of refreshing to me. Travel isn’t supposed to be all holiday and relaxation, right? Personally, I’ve found that some of my best travel experiences are the ones that challenge and push me. Hope you return to Sicily soon-ish, not least because I would LOVE to hear your impressions exploring the region with some experience under your belt!

  6. Wow – I was so glad to read this post as I would have never realized what it’s really like to travel in Sicily. I’m an avid Italy fan as well and have been multiple times – but Sicily is on my list! Honestly, I was glad to hear you say that the driving was a challenge even with three of you….since my last trip to Italy involved me renting a car solo….and really struggling with driving, navigating, and staying sane all at the same time! It makes for a good story now but there MAY have been some tears involved at one point 🙂 So glad you enjoyed your trip and thank you for a wonderful post!
    Jessica
    http://www.thebellevoyage.com

    • I drove in Italy for the first time in Puglia last year, and though I was terrified of southern Italian driving, it actually was really easy and low-key. Sicily, though — could not be more different!

  7. Caroline says:

    This post has perfect timing for me — I actually took my first trip to Sicily this summer too (in June). I also studied abroad in Italy and have returned one other time, and I also found Sicily so refreshingly different than the rest of Italy. The tourism infrastructure was so much less developed, but in a way that I actually loved, because it meant that things felt much more real…and were much less crowded! I stayed in southeastern Sicily this time, but would love to go back soon and see the rest of this beautiful island.

    • Jasmine says:

      Hi Caroline
      I read your comment here and wanted to ask where you stayed with your kids. We are planning a trip for a month with our three year old son and six month daughter. We’ve vacationed here before and went all around. This time we will need to stay in one place or two And relax. Wld love your recommendations and dos and donts. We are thinking of basing ourselves in Siracusa, hadn’t gone there yet. Thanks!!!

  8. Izy Berry says:

    This place is amazing but is hard to comunicate so a recomendation dictionary

  9. Mila says:

    I can agree that traveling in Sicily is really challenging. And all the planning that I had done beforehand was useless. I really don’t recommend to plan every day of your trip as you will end up changing itinerary due to closed roads, inaccurate GPS or simply physical tiredness.. On Google maps all looks straight forward and easy.. But once you get there… A lot of issues may come your way. I had trouble getting my car from hertz, as well as one hotel which ihad booked was simply closed with the front door locked.. And no reception.. I still loved Sicily for its food, little towns, nature, best ice cream etc, but if I decide to go there ever again.. I won’t plan anything at all…

  10. Natalie says:

    Great article. I have not been to Sicily yet but it is high on the list. I’ve been living in Italy for about a year in a not so super touristy city in Liguria. I don’t speak fluent Italian and the majority of people here (even though it’s a pretty big city ) do not speak English. It can be very difficult at times. Some of the best places you can find are when you have a car and get away from the public transportation and “off the beaten path” so I definitely will agree that, even though going off the beaten path can be a bit more challenging, it is totally worth it. Patience is key!!! And like you said, the more Italian you can practice ahead of time, the better! Hand gestures help a lot as well! Italians love to speak with their hands.

  11. Kyle says:

    Cool article. Looking good for early 30’s Mrs. Kate.

  12. Angela says:

    Did you come across any of the places that were processing / housing the people that are doing the crossing over the med from Libya etc?

    • No, I didn’t. If it’s anything like Malta, which has a similar immigration situation, they keep them well hidden. But Sicilian cities (and cities all over Italy) have large African populations these days.

  13. Claudia says:

    If you think Sicily is a world apart, try Sardinia! We don’t just speak a dialect, but an actual language (and there are various dialects of it). So, while I understand the one my mom speaks to her sisters, I can’t get a word when I travel to the north of the island. Even Italians find it different here. The atmosphere is different from that of the rest of the country. But the good news is that Sardinians keep the two languages separate and they speak a very good, clean version of Italian – nice and slow, rhythmic. Very easy to understand.

    Make your way here next time you visit Italy!

  14. I just bought a ticket to Catania – needed this!

  15. Your driving tips are so true. When we visited Sicily to see family I stopped at a red light and almost got rear ended. No one else stopped! That’s definitely a challenge that we learned to deal with.

  16. Brittany Smith says:

    I’d have to disagree completely I don’t speak italian and had a marvelous 2 week trip. Stick to the trains. They are always late. One even stranded us in the middle of nowhere because there was some “flooding on the track” when it was light raining. But we waited a couple hours in this little pocket town and moved on to the next. Agrigento was my number 1 the valley of the temples is one of the most amazing sites out of the 30 countries I’ve been to. Stick to the more touristy areas and you shouldn’t have any problems. One of the most lively, fun, colorful cities I’ve been to Palermo.

  17. Great article! I’ve not heard any complaints about Sicily yet, but that’s probably because most of my friends stick to the beaten path when they visit. I’ve been to small villages in Cyprus where I have encountered some communication issues as well. Not to mention the fact that I hit a car in a narrow side alley in Nicosia and the guy didn’t speak a word of English and was just shouting at me in Cypriot. At that point I was lucky I have a Cypriot friend who I called to help me out!

  18. Andi says:

    Such helpful advice! I definitely want to explore Sicily one day, as I have relatives there.

  19. Alex B says:

    Man, I’m in Italy now and was really hoping to go to Sicily, but this kind of discourages me. I’m an experienced solo traveler and driver (tiny little roads in Corfu? no problem. Rush hour in downtown Manhattan? even easier)… but the whole part about not meeting people and the language barrier ( Solo parlo un po Italiano) doesn’t sound like it’ll be a fun time alone. But I’ll definitely remember your post if one day I find people to travel with me.

  20. Kate, I loved climbing to the summit of Mt. Etna in Sicily. It’s straightforward and the snow is manageable.

    OK, we need to calibrate. If driving/traveling solo in Sicily “kicked your ass and nearly destroyed you,” then I wonder what you would think about doing the same in Chad, Niger, and the DRC. 😀

    We need to travel together so we recalibrate your scale. 😉

    • Ha. I know! But honestly, I think that would be different because I would be expecting those countries to be so crazy! Sicily was far more difficult than anything I experienced elsewhere in Italy.

  21. Juliane says:

    Kate, thanks so much for this article! We – that is my partner, our 4-month old son and I – are heading down to Sicily next month in a Camper Van. To be honest, your blog post is the first piece I read as a preparation for our journey. Thanks so much for your excellent and very helpful tips! I’ve started refreshing my French with the babbel app but after reading this I better change to Italian.

  22. Alex says:

    This is so interesting and surprising! I would never expect Italy to be the wild frontier. I’m in Italy currently but at the other end of the country in Turin. It is also great and so different from the other places of Italy that I have visited. It’s not challenging but I love how it’s an Italian it is. Not too many tourists but still filled with world class museums. It’s great.

  23. Sarah Lynn says:

    I love how honest and candid you are in your posts Kate.
    Sicily wasn’t your favourite destination and you share the various reasons why (language barriers, transportation issues, etc) without talking negatively about the region as a whole.
    I think if I travel to Sicily, I’ll take my born and raised Italian friends as my tour guides. Lol.
    Thanks for the tips!
    Sarah Lynn
    http://www.wanderbeforewhat.com

  24. Britt says:

    There are always those destinations that sneak up on you and kick you in the ass. And it is always the ones you never expect to be difficult.

    South Korea did it to me. Probably the biggest language barrier I’ve had to face while travelling so far!

    Although I’d almost be ready to take all of the crap you described just to eat all of that yummy Sicilian food. Hmmmm cannoli !

  25. Andrew says:

    but still – a great place to get lost in by the looks of it!

  26. I thoroughly enjoyed your article. Very informative. I speak Italian as well, and travel to Italy regularly, but I have trouble understanding anyone from the South of Italy, as the dialect is very different. Thanks for the great information. I’ll be in Sicily in a couple of months. Your post will help me to have a smoother experience.

  27. Really glad you had a good time in Sicily in the end, but I really would encourage solo travellers to visit – maybe despite your misgivings. It’s an extraordinary place and maybe not quite so challenging as all that, provided you’re prepared for the vitality and the differences to Northern Italy. Probably best not to think of it as visiting Italy at all, so different is it! A guidebook can help – I wrote the Rough Guide, so I’m biased! But give Sicily another go, I’m sure there’s more to discover and enjoy!

  28. Kate says:

    Great post! I currently live in Sicily and this is pretty spot on. I must say though that Agrigento is a MUST for those coming to Sicily. Some of the most well-preserved Greek temples in the world! Another great thing about Sicily is the delicious oranges! INCREDIBLE! We have great olive oil, cheap and delicious wines, and gorgeous pottery. Driving is always an adventure here, but over all it is a wonderful experience and a little less hectic than the rest of Italy.

  29. Raghav Iyer says:

    Hello Adventurous Kate,
    Your name is what drew me to your blog and as I read I was really inspired. One needs guts to give up a job for travelling as it can be very expensive. I was looking to travel to Sicily soon and your blog has helped me get some really important points. Thanks for them.

  30. Angela says:

    Very helpful post, Kate. Thank you for being candid with your opinions and experiences. I find too many bloggers focus only on the sweet, and not the sour parts of travel.

    We are planning to spend a couple of weeks in Sicily in late Oct., to early November, after a 7 week stint in Orvieto (our favorite place in Italy). I will be bookmarking this article to refer back to as I plan the next leg of our journey.

    We are thinking of spending our time in Cefalu, Agrigento, and Syracuse, with day-trips as they happen. We have a vehicle, but it is a manual. Hubby does the driving, which is already crazy in Italy. Knowing what we will encounter helps.

    Thanks again!

  31. Alessandra says:

    Hey,

    nice article but I am from Palermo and I got something to add: the name “martorana” does not come from Martora, but it comes from this church ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martorana ). The nuns used to make the marzipan fruit and hang it on the trees “to play a practical joke on the Lord” 🙂

    Also, in Palermo we call the Arancine with a feminine noun, as they are “little oranges” (orange is feminine).

    Cheers,
    Alessandra

  32. I have experienced something similar. On my one-week holidays in 2005 I was standing in Palermo admiring everything around and asking myself why I am not living here when it is so cool place! 🙂 I came home and started to learn Italian (at that time I didn’t know a word in Italian). After a year of hard learning I was quite good in Italian and was already on a way back to Sicily. But what happened… When I get off the train I thought it is a joke. I didn’t understand a word again 🙂 Anyway I spent two amazing months there and even found a great job – painting! 🙂

  33. Silvana says:

    Arancini- that is reason enough to go. My dad is Sicilian and I grew up eating these. I am heading to northern italy in a week and hope they will have some, but they are traditionally Sicilian so I might be out of luck

  34. NZ Muse says:

    Thanks for this post! I really want to return to Italy and travel further south this time. It really does sound a world apart.

  35. Debi says:

    I just want to say if you want to travel in Sicily, join the FB group Speak Sicilian and get the DVD “Learn Sicilian”by Gaetano Cipolla, My entire family came from Sicily and I aspire to live there one day if only for a while. Best of luck , Debi tucker

  36. Kate, if it’s any consolation, Sicilian dialect is very hard to understand even for an Italian!
    Glad you enjoyed your trip in this beautiful island, despite the challenges along the way 🙂

  37. Ernest Bell says:

    Sicily solo is so much better if you know a local. I visited a friend last year who lives in Caccamo…a wonderful experience. I was able to see many sights and navigate with little trouble. I also speak and understand some Italian and I couldn’t understand anything that was said in the Sicilian dialect. I had a wonderful meal with my friend’s family and friends. It was an amazing meal made by my hosts. Sicily is definitely for the seasoned traveler.

  38. Linda says:

    Maybe it is because I lived in Greece ( where the car is used like a gun)for several years before moving that I find it easier to drive in Sicily than on a recent visit to the USA and driving in New England . Germany frightens me, too fast. Sicilian is considered an official language . Couple that with dialects and accents that differ from town to town and I can see it making someone dizzy. Avolese and Ortigiani sound completely different. The island is a bit wild but hopefully it can stay this way a little longer. I wouldn’t change a thing

  39. Donald Bruno says:

    Spent to glorious weeks in Sicily…..have been north,done central and south Italy. Nothing compares with Sicily. The history,the warmth of the people…the food. The history is just breathtaking…seeing 2000 year old greek temples is indescribable. If your a history buff its all there.
    You need a good guide,it makes all the difference,would go back again in a heartbeat. And there was plenty I did not get to see. Sure ,you can always complain about this or that but thats true anywhere..just go and enjoy.

  40. Sara says:

    My husband and I traveled to Sicily a couple of years ago and loved it. Siracusa (Old Town) was probably my favorite spot, but whenever I talk about Sicily I have to recommend doing Sicily in Kayak with Eugenio. He is *amazing.* We did a kayaking trip along the coast of Vulcano, and it is still one of our most talked about travel adventures. http://www.sicilyinkayak.com/home_eng.php
    (We also accidentally drove up the wrong side of the mountain to get to Erice…darn GPS….)

  41. Patricia says:

    Being of Sicilian heritage, I cringe when I read travel reports. This has very very good advice … couldn’t have written it better myself. Five stars 😉

  42. Michael says:

    Great advice! The language barrier is perhaps the biggest challenge.

  43. Thanks for sharing. Think I will try the “friendlier” regions of Italy like Roma, Venice and Florence before Sicliy 🙂

  44. Elaina says:

    This is great! I lived in Sicily for a year and have written blog posts about the samr issues. I had zero italian before moving to Palermo and it definitely found it to be a challenge. It was one difficult place to live as a foreigner but I’m happy I did it and appreciate it for what it was and what i learned along the way. By the way you can read about my impression of sicily here! 😊 https://nomadventura.com/972/still-seriously-sicilian

  45. Natalie says:

    Hi Kate! I am currently in my 20’s and am very interested in going to Sicily…alone. I have been studying abroad for a year in Milano and was really hoping to take a few days to see a small part of Sicily. I found your article very interesting and I was hoping you could maybe suggest one place to travel for a few days alone (I want to stay In a touristy area since I will be alone but I was still hoping for an authentic experience) I was thinking Palermo but I don’t think you traveled to the West? your advice/thoughts would be helpful!

    • My top recommendation would be Siracusa. Stay in Ortigia!

      • Chris Venneri says:

        Hi Kate, I’m planning a family trip to Italy with my wife and her three children and because I have roots and Sicily (my grandparents were born there) I’m excited to get there. This will be our first trip to Italy so were trying to figure where to stay in Siciliy. We land in Rome and then was planning to fly into Catania Airport. After looking at a bunch of hotels online, I am attracted to the Grand Hotel Minareto. Are you familiar with it? It is in Siracusa and faces Ortigosa which is your “top recommendation”. Have you had any experience with this specific hotel? The area looks nice, as do the accommodations, views and beaches. We plan to stay in Sicily for just 3 days no happy to relax and because it is a family trip (kids 12, 16 & 19) we want it to be relaxing and fun. If you give Grand Hotel Minareto a thumbs up, what sites in/near the area would you recommend as “must see” and we will have a rental car. Next question, Siracusa, we are going to adventure to Salina, one of the Aeolian Islands via a ferry from Milazzo – again, do you have any experience on Salina or Aeolian Islands in general? We plan to spend 2 days there and then to Amalfitano Coast via Naples. Would you recommend flying to Naples from Catania or would you recommend going out of Palermo? From Naples we are planning get a taxi or some transportation to Praiano (Amalfi Coast) and stay at La Conchiglia for 4 days – are you familiar with this hotel accommodation and would you recommend it or do you have another idea? After that we were thinking take the economy class train from Naples to Rome for a final 3 days before departing back to Toronto, Canada. Sorry for the long-winded note but wanted to give you much detail in hope that you could validate our itinerary or recommend changes if you don’t like our plans. We are open to your educated opinions and advice of this beautiful country. Thanks again Kate and I will watch for your reply. Sincerely Chris

        • Chris Venneri says:

          Kate, I caught some typos after I hit send but the gist of my email is correct. BTW, I meant “our” three children :))

        • Hi Chris —

          Did you read the Essential Info box on this page? That lists everywhere I stayed. I’m not familiar with your hotels and I did not travel to Salina or any of the Aeolian islands, nor did I travel to Naples. I would fly to Naples from Catania because you’re already there; it’s a long drive to Palermo.

          Good luck and enjoy your trip! Siracusa is a beautiful city, my favorite place I visited in Sicily.

  46. Sara says:

    I plan to head to Erice in October for a business trip. I will be solo and without a vehicle, so this really helped me realize that I’ll spend most of my free time relaxing around my AirBnB appartamento! I might go for a run over to the beaches near the coast if I feel comfortable enough, but being alone, I may stay in Erice exclusively. Also, I’ll be traveling with celiac disease, so it really should be an interesting stay!

    Thanks for the advice and honesty!

  47. Farhana says:

    Kate! Thanks so for the travel tips to Sicily! They came just in time. I am a solo female traveler (been to 40+ countries) am taking off for 17 days there – I’ll be basing at a surf house on the Southeast Coast so will have a community there and be able to reach Modica, Ragusa, Noto and even Siracusa from there. I want to go to Agrigento and was curious if you had a suggested place to stay that is good for solo female travelers where I might meet people? I saw the agriturismos but I was thinking it might be very isolating for a solo traveler?

    I’ll be air B&Bing it in Taormina with a family and then headed to the Aeolian Islands from there. I’ll be alone so that might be a bit of a challenge but gonna try to do my best. Your thoughts on Agrigento most welcome.

    Grazie!!!
    Farhana

  48. Matt says:

    Kate,

    A great article for new travellers to Sicily, and even those who have already been. My fiance, Heather, and I spent about a month there in August of 2015 and were absolutely, positively, beaten down by the heat. Our HQ was in Palermo and often our biggest accomplishment of the day was often just to make it to Capo market for some fresh seafood to cook later that night. It was pretty embarrassing. We also took a wrong turn on Etna and missed the ‘easy’ winding path in favour of the insanely difficult ‘shortcut’. However, even despite the challenges, I would agree with you – Sicily is an incredible place.

    If anyone is interested in checking out video of Trapani, Favignana, Palermo, and Siracusa, we’ve documented our trip to Sicily in the form of a little webseries called All Over the Map. Even if you don’t have time for all 13 minutes, the first 30 seconds depicts the best sandwich we’ve ever had in our lives, courtesy of Caseificio Borderi in Siracusa, and is definitely worth beholding!

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qfinfcWAZQ0

    Oh, and I completely agree. Learn some Italian! Duolingo is great and so is Memrise.

    Thanks again for the info, Kate!

    Matt

  49. Joseph says:

    Thanks the very encouraging and interesting information. Came across your page as I have had an interest in Sicily, having roots in Sicily and Napels. I have been to other regions of Italy but wanting to get to Sicily. Although I look forward to seeing some of the many historical sightsand experiencing as much as I can I am just not in to doing a tour and would welcome as you put it “downtime and beach time”. Thanks again.

  50. Christine says:

    I have been discouraged from making Sicily my first trip to Italy. But in my heart I want to go. My grandmother was a girl there. And I believe the island will be beautiful. Would you also discourage Sicily as a first trip to Italy.

    • I think it’s good to get your feet wet in another part of Italy first before going to Sicily, but if you’re determined, feel free to go for it! Or perhaps you could start in Rome, get your footing there, then head to Sicily.

    • Marica says:

      Hello Kate,

      very interesting and real article about my amazing land.

      I am a wedding planner and I only work with foreigners which I love and all of them have had incredible experience in Sicily.

      Well, no body says it’s easy but it really depends from which point of view. When I go to France, except Paris ( where i need permission to speak in English ) and some very touristic place, no body speaks English to me. I always wonder why everybody pretends from us to speak English and not for whom is traveling trying to make an effort and start communicating in Italian? In most of the touristic places or cities you get people speaking very well English but if you go in a very small village where people live their own life and do not live for tourism you won’t find a soul understanding you. But the issue is that thy are not supposed to…you are the one traveling and you should be the one making efforts to communicate with them. I always do this when I travel or at least I try. You have described Sicily in a very good way and still a lot of things missing about this Island.
      People are very nice, welcoming and they love sharing their love with food….this is how we do it 🙂
      The beauty of the Island is incredible and it changes from area to area.
      I love my country and I love helping people who come and visit us to make sure they can get the best from this experience. If you will ever need help traveling to Sicily, let me know. Happy to help….and DO NO GET SCARED! IF YOU CHOSE SICILY AS FIRST TIME IN ITALY IT’S THE BEST CHOICE!

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