Surviving Sicily: A Guide To Doing The Island Right

I remember when I first told people I was studying in Sicily for a semester. Reactions of “is that safe?” and “aren’t you worried about the Mafia” met my suitcase and me as I headed out the door for the center of the Mediterranean. Perceptions of the Italian island are about as far off as you can get from a true Sicilian experience. A land invaded by the Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Normans, Spanish and ultimately the Italians presents the perfect place to begin a trip through the Mediterranean.

Rather than just writing off the island as a Mafia infested place, Sicily has much to offer in terms of history, nature, price and presence mainland Italy is jealous of to some extent. Yes, you can survive Sicily and may be even never want to leave.

When to Go

Sicily in summer can be like taking a shower in sweat 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The island takes in the African air coming up from the south and swelters in the heat. If you want to avoid the mosquitoes and sweating after a cold shower due to the blanketing humidity, Sicily is best enjoyed when the heat subsides in fall and spring. The weather is still pleasant enough to head to the beach in late September. Winters can be hit or miss in Sicily, either bitterly cold on those coast clinging cities or mild and enjoyable. My favorite time of the year in Sicily has to be early fall, when the sun still shines, but the mosquitoes and humidity have left the island.

Where To Be Active

Some travelers may conclude Italy and Sicily to be a land of sightseeing and not natural attractions. However, Sicily is rich in natural appeals. Perhaps the best place on the island to be active comes on Mount Etna, one of Europe’s most active volcanoes. Here you can hike, view flowing lava and in winter, even ski down the sides of Etna. For the volcano fearful, in between Siracusa and Avola, Sicily’s own “Grand Canyon” presents an ideal hike. Cava Grande di Cassibile is a limestone canyon. You can hike down the canyon while admiring tiny prehistoric dwellings carved in the sides of rock. At the bottom, natural springs provide some cool for swimming.

What To See

Sicily is filled with differing architectural styles. From Arab arches in Palermo to intricate Norman mosaics in Cefalú, try to play “guess the architecture originator” in Sicily. For a taste of Greece, head to Agrigento, where some of the best preserved temples in the Mediterranean can be found. Pay a visit to Siracusa’s old town of Ortigia and marvel and the town’s Duomo. Along its side, you can still make out what the Baroque church used to be, a Greek temple to Athena.

How much?

Compared to the rest of Italy, prices in Sicily are generally lower. A tasty Sicilian pizza may only set you back a measly 3-euro. A cappuccino may be 4 euro in Rome, but in Sicily it will ring up 1,50 euro. From gelato to wine, Sicily is easier to afford than Rome or Venice. Accommodation prices can be high, but if you decide to travel in the low season, rates will be slashed in half.

Seeing Sicily proves the island isn’t just about leaving guns behind and taking cannoli. Civilizations fought over every inch of the island. If that isn’t telling about how remarkable Sicily is, its prices, sights, natural attractions and climate will convince you to visit the center of the Mediterranean. Remember, just as you aren’t in Kansas anymore, to a Sicilian, you aren’t in Italy anymore either.

Written by GYE contributor Suzy Guese

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