Guide to Sicily

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We have a passionate traveller today as a guest on my blog. Her name is Ana Asanovic, she lives in Belgrade, Serbia, but Europe is her playground. She blogged about Germany, France, Austria, Spain, Italy and Turkey. She has some great tips about what to do when airline losses your suitcase and how to travel for free using Couchsurfing. She blogs in Serbian, so you might not be able to understand her posts if you don’t speak the language, but you can aways enjoy beautiful photographs.

I asked her to be a guest today and share her experience in beautiful Sicily and I hope you find this post as interesting and useful as I most certainly did. Here we go, I give word to Ana now.

Sicily is one of the places I craved a long time. Even before I set my foot there, somehow I knew it was going to be one of those places, which instantly get under your skin and stay there forever.

In the beginning, I was attracted to images of the Etna volcano, narrow streets with balconies so close that neighbours can almost steal each other’s laundry drying in the Mediterranean sun, food so tempting and colourful, picturesque beaches and archaeological sites.

Little did I know that this was only a small part of what Sicily has to offer! In addition to all the above mentioned, its strength lies in the people, the atmosphere on the streets, true and warm hospitality and in the “piano” life-style.

Palermo should be your first stop. This is where you can feel the true vibe of the island. First, try to connect with the locals. Without them, you will have a holiday like many others. With the locals, you will love Sicily forever. Don’t worry – it doesn’t have to be many people, start with one person. Because if you go out with one Sicilian friend, by the time you know it, there will be 10 others joining you for a drink, sitting at your table, calling other friends to join. People spontaneously stop by for a drink, bringing their friends along. You will feel welcome. In a few days, it will almost feel like home.

Try the local food and be sure to visit the Ballaro market. First, forget any diets. You are in Sicily and enjoy yourself. For example, eating freshly baked mini-pizza at 3 AM is perfectly normal. Then, try the “arancina”- fried rice balls with various stuffing, like minced meat in tomato sauce (ragu), cheese and ham (prosciutto). Don’t forget the pasta – the famous one is Pasta alla Norma, a simple but a very tasty dish originating from Catania, made with tomatoes, fried eggplant, grated ricotta cheese, and basil. While walking through the narrow streets, try as much street food as possible – like the warm and delicious potato croquettes. The Parmiggiana (eggplant, cheese, tomato sauce, backed) and Carponata (cooked vegetable salad, eggplant and celery) are two of the most popular dishes. We will talk about sweets later. Nightlife in Palermo is relaxed, vibrant and of course, outdoors. Forget fancy clothes and high heels, put them aside for another town on the island. Be a part of the night scene in the Vucciria square, Via Chavettieri and club Moro (both restaurant and a club).

There are many spectacular beaches around Palermo, so try to rent a car or maybe a boat. In general, having a car is a very handy solution, since most of the heavenly beaches are remote. The beach easiest to reach from Palermo by bus in the Mondello beach, but taking a train for an hour will get you to a cute resort town of Cefalu.

This is a really picturesque town, perfect for a relaxed holiday and could be an ideal base for visiting all major towns of the island. It has a long sandy beach, many bars and clubs on the beach, ideal for keeping away from the sun during the day or a refreshing cocktail at night.

In the narrow streets reflecting all shades of warm yellow, you will be spoilt for choice when it comes to sweets. Not only in Cefalu, but everywhere on the island, sweets and ice-cream are first class. Find a nice „Gellateria“ (ice-cream shop) and eat like the locals – brioche cut in half, with loads of ice-cream inside. Try not to think how at home you wouldn’t eat ice-cream with so much pastry – just play along. Another must-try is the famous cannoli. Looking like a small brown tube, this small piece of heaven is made of fried crust and sweet, creamy filling made of ricotta cheese. Perfect with a nice cup of espresso.

If you are a fan of nature and volcanoes, devote special time for Etna. You will feel like being on another planet. The landscape is changing from green to black, winds can be strong even in summer, so bring a light jacket and some good walking shoes. Try to avoid flip-flops. Many agencies offer tours to Etna, and you can choose the level of intensity – from all day hiking adventure to bus/cable car directly to the craters. Just read the plan of your excursion carefully, as some include a lot of visits to the villages neighbouring Etna, so not enough time is spent on the volcano itself.

If you choose to stay in Taormina or Catania, you could wake up every day and see the volcano from the balcony. Remember how I mentioned earlier that you would need a new dress and fancy shoes at some point? Well, Taormina is the place to wear the best clothes you own. Nested high above the sea level, between hills, a bit expensive and classy, with cable cars which will take you to the beach, you will surely be amazed by the view from above and the freshness of air, but is this the real Sicily? It does have a specific charm, like a princess proud to be beautiful, a bit vain, but for a reason. It will take your breath away when you step into the ancient Greek theatre, looking at the Etna on one side, and the vast sea on the other. A nice concert there, with Etna erupting in the background would be enough to buy the ticket now and go. Try to visit the beaches in the area, since they are not overcrowded, like Letojanni and Isola Bella. In the evening, find a romantic cafe with a view and order one of the most popular drinks on the island – Aperol Spritz. During the day, visit the Bam Bam bar and just order – a granita.

After a few days here, say goodbye to the princess and head to Catania. A big port city, second largest after Palermo, is closest to Etna and while you walk, you can always feel the mountain overlooking the city. Due to the rivalry between Palermo and Catania, try not to compare them in front of the locals, and when asked which one you prefer, adjust your answer accordingly. Here, you will eat a granita (with brioche) for breakfast and horse meat for dinner. Granita is another Sicilian must-try. A smooth, semi-frozen dessert, refreshing, resembling ice-cream, but much lighter, made from various flavourings, like pistachio, chocolate or a fruit flavour. Is this your typical breakfast at home? No, mine neither, but when you are there, it is perfect and refreshing on a hot August day.

For local meals, try Trattoria di Mario, and if you would like to try horsemeat, go to a place like Trattoria da Achille e Davide. For a swim, choose either a long sandy beach in the wider city area, or visit the Aciterezza, rocky beach.

For more isolated and paradise-like beaches, head to the area of Syracuse. The town of Syracuse could look familiar to you, and soon you will realize that this is where they filmed the famous movie Malena, starring Monica Bellucci. Besides the main square with the stunning Duomo di Siracusa, the town has a lot to offer, the world famous archaeological sites are located within the city – the Temple of Apollo, Fountain of Diana and the cave – The Ear of Dionysius. Wander around the old town, Ortigia, and try local fresh fish, and then in the evening head to the Piacetta San Rocco for some live jazz and a glass of wine.

The marvellous beaches with exceptionally clean sea are Arenella and Fontane Bianche, and they are slightly isolated from the town, so it is advisable to have a car. We tried to catch local buses, and managed to find some, but it is much more convenient by car. I will never forget how we waited for a bus almost an hour in the heat, and when the bus finally arrived, I asked the driver when he is leaving. He just waved his hand and said calmly – Piano, piano… Probably thinking that we have all the time of this world, as there is no need to hurry anywhere.

If you manage to adopt this kind of thinking while on holiday, Sicily will be the most enjoyable place you have ever visited. We have been there twice, and still feel like we have only scratched the surface.