Godfrey Hall is an award-winning UK based travel journalist and member of the British Guild of Travel Writers. He has been in search of elves in Iceland, traveled to the depths of central Australia and been off the beaten track in Bulgaria.

North East Sicily and Mount Etna

Almost within touching distance of the mainland, the island of Sicily can be found at the foot of Italy. A beautiful location full of contrasts, it is famous for its ancient ruins, food and of course Mount Etna. Very different from Vesuvius on the mainland, Mount Etna dominates the skyline in this part of the island.

Sicily is a very big island compared with many in the Mediterranean  and so it is best to concentrate on just one area rather than trying to see all of it in one go. It can get very hot in the summer months and so it is recommended that you travel in April, early May, September or October. In spring the lemon trees on the foothills of Mount Etna are at their best and many of the wildflowers have just started to come out.

Train around Mount Etna (Godfrey Hall)

Train around Mount Etna (Godfrey Hall)

Places to See

This area of Sicily is famous for Mount Etna and a trip on the historic Ferrovia Circumetnea train is a must. The best place to catch it is either in the city of Catania or in Riposto just along the coast from the delightful seaside town of Giardini Naxos. This classic and unique train climbs from the coast and ambles through the foothills of Mount Etna passing ancient lava flows, vineyards and almond trees. A good place to aim for is the town of Randazzo.The train is a real experience. It is a very cheap way to travel and a chance to meet not only tourists but friendly locals.

The Author Amphitheatre at Taormina (Godfrey Hall)

The Author Amphitheatre at Taormina (Godfrey Hall)

Set above the coast close to Giardini Naxos is the spectacular town of Taormina. Known throughout the world for the amphitheatre, it is a great place to explore with plenty of narrow streets and cafés such as the quirky Re Di Bastoni in the Corso Umberto. If you have time, try to visit the public gardens which have superb views of the coastline below. There is a regular bus service from Giardini Naxos which is a seaside resort with great character and a long promenade and a pretty harbour. Here you will also find an interesting archaeological site set amongst the lemon trees. A magical place, you will be able to walk down streets thousands of years old . It has some beautiful views of the bay and should not be missed. There are some very pleasant cafés along the front where you can watch the world go by. I found Sicilian people very friendly and always willing to help. However remember to look after your bag when you are walking through the busy streets of Taormina and always lock your hire car. Also drivers in Sicily can be very impetuous and so you should keep your eyes and ears open at all times!

Giardini Naxos (Godfrey Hall)

Giardini Naxos (Godfrey Hall)

Accommodations

Taormina has some very exclusive hotels such as the Excelsior Palace. However if you want to experience real Sicilian life then you should try and book into one of the agro tourist establishments. Many of these are farms where you can try local food and learn more about life on the island, when I was there recently I stayed at La Villa. Tucked away and located in the centre of an orchard of lemon trees, the rooms are traditional and yet include all the latest facilities. There is a good Wi-Fi signal in the public areas.  The villa has an excellent outdoor swimming pool and there is an outside kitchen and barbecue. A wonderful place for children you will quickly fall in love with the whole atmosphere. Paola really looks after you and her mother cooks some amazing local dishes.  There are also plenty of different types of hotels scattered along the coastline and lots of apartments for hire. However you should always try and find somewhere with air conditioning as the summers can be very hot. It would probably be better to choose somewhere slightly  more breezy  near the coast as temperatures in the summer can reach over 100 degrees Fahrenheit (40C+).

La Villa (Godfrey Hall)

La Villa (Godfrey Hall)

Food and Drink

Sicily is famous throughout the world for its food and drink. They eat a great deal of fish and some really tasty cheeses as well as enjoying plenty of sweets that include almond paste. The honey collected on the slopes of Mount Etna is ideal for breakfast and the bread is usually made from semolina flour, and is really good eaten with local cheeses or jam.

Sicilian Food at a Putia (Godfrey Hall)

Sicilian Food at a Putia (Godfrey Hall)

A real Sicilian treat on a hot day is a cup of granita. This is flavoured ice and is very thirst quenching. In Sicily it is often eaten with brioche a type of bread which is dipped in the granita. If you are into ice cream then you will be spoilt for choice. Pistachio is very popular but I really liked the lemon varieties. There are ice cream stalls all around. Fish is eaten all over the island and many of the dishes include fish caught that day including swordfish, sardines, sea urchins and many more. Pasta in squid sauce is popular.  Restaurants will often also sell different types of pasta. Try if you can to use local establishments rather than going for the tourist menus which can include lots of pizzas and spaghetti. You just need to take a few steps from the main streets to find out where the locals eat. Sicilians like to share their food and it is quite common to see people sharing meals. Vegetarian dishes are also very popular with lots of zucchini and aubergine dishes. These can be combined with cheese and bread. You will find meat dishes on menus but the emphasis is very much on fish. A Putia in Giardini Naxos has plenty of fresh local dishes. If you are up in Randazzo then you must go to Pasticceria Arturo and try their almond pastries and ice creams.

Mount Etna Wine (Godfrey Hall)

Mount Etna Wine (Godfrey Hall)

There are many local beers and wines that are worth trying. You should be able to pick up a good quality bottle of wine in the supermarket for just a few Euros, and many are grown on the slopes of Mount Etna. If you want to try a tasty pizza then look for places frequented by the locals who usually know the best places to eat. Sicilians love talking and so you will find lots of people sitting in cafes. Here you can buy a really cheap espresso coffee or a reasonably priced delicious Cappuccino. One drink I enjoyed was a spritzer which included chunks of lemon and orange.

Nightlife

Like their fellow countrymen on the mainland you will be impressed with the stylishness of many of the inhabitants. Being seen is an important part of their culture and you will often see people carrying expensive handbags or wearing designer shoes. Although clubbing is important there is nothing better on a Sunday than walking along the main street in the evening dressed in your best clothes and of course the latest sun glasses.  They will often stop off for a drink in a café or enjoy a late evening meal. If you want to experience the club bar scene you should make for Re Di Bastoni or Morgana Lounge bar in Taormina. If you are down on the coast then you will find many places to hang out for a drink and a chance to meet up with the locals.

Giardini Naxos (Godfrey Hall)

Giardini Naxos (Godfrey Hall)

Transportation

The international airport for this region is in Catania. This connects with hubs such as Milan, Rome, Paris and London. Delta, United Airways, US Air and Alitalia all operate flights from the USA.

There is an excellent cheap train service which operates along the coast from Catania, a good  bus service and regular coach links from the airport to Taormina. There is also a linking motorway if you are brave enough to hire a car. Be prepared to pay tolls on some sections.

Further details can be found on www.italia.it and www.bestofsicily.com.

My thanks go to Avis, Holiday Extras and British Airways for all their help with this trip.

Fly.com Expert Tips


How To Get There: Catania–Fontanarossa Airport (CTA) is approximately three miles from downtown Catania, Sicily’s second largest city, and is serviced by over 30 domestic and international airline carriers such as Aer Lingus, Alitalia and Ryanair. Almost all of the airlines only offer seasonal service. AMT Alibus runs every 20 minutes between the airport and the city centre of Catania between 5 a.m. and midnight. Information regarding area transportation is available here.
Best Time To Visit: As noted by the author, April, early May, September or October has the best weather when it’s not as hot, and the average temperature is in the 70s, ideal for beach going and exploring. These are also Sicily’s peak season. The crowds are smaller in the summer time, as long as you can put up with daily temperatures that can reach 100 degrees.

Sample Fares: Calendars display lowest roundtrip fares over the next 90 days to Catania from:
* All fares are roundtrip including all taxes and are accurate at time of publication. For updated pricing, conduct a new search on Fly.com.

Fly.com Updates

Here are a few ways to stay connected with us:

Featured Image: The Amphitheatre at Taormina with Mount Etna in the Background (Godfrey Hall)

Posted by

Fly.com regularly posts guest contributions from travel experts around the world. These articles are written by journalists, bloggers, travel enthusiasts, and specialists from within various segments of the travel industry. Each has an undeniable passion for travel that enables them to share a unique and valuable point of view. We hope you enjoy their stories and advice!

Comments are closed.

Categories