Savoring Sicily

Have you been to Sicily yet? Have you considered going? Sure, Rome, Venice, Florence, and Naples are great, but standard tourist sights. I’m not saying skip any of those, but I don’t know why Sicily hasn’t become a HOT destination. In fact, the only types of tourists I met were from Eastern European countries, students/Erasmus students, or Italians (from the it’s larger counterpart). In this post I’ll detail my favorite Sicilian destinations.

To be honest, before I committed to a Workaway program at a hostel in Catania, I never thought much about visiting Sicily.

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View of Mount Etna smoking from a terrace in Catania, Sicily (2013)

My first introduction to Sicily was when I was younger. After my dad recounted the story of my great grandfather leaving an obscure village in southern Italy called Bocchigliero, he pointed a finger to an island off of Italy’s foot on a map. He warmly referred to Sicily as Italy’s soccer ball (or should I say football? Sorry, I am American after all).

Sicily is nestled within the Mediterranean and offers beautiful beaches, mouth-watering cuisine, delicious wines (please try Nero, like now), and fascinating archaeological sites. Sicily is a blend of ancient cultures because the island was conquered only a few times (ie. the Spanish, French, Greeks, Germans, Italians, Romans, Byzantines, Normans, Phoenicians, Arabs, and British). These conquests are evident in their architecture and historical sites. If you’re interested in learning more about Sicily’s history, visit here – the material is broken down in a digestible manner.

Mount Etna
Smoke emitting from Mount Etna’s crater

Recommended Sites to visit in Sicily

  1. Catania
    • Located on the eastern part of the island, and is the second largest city in Sicily after Palermo. I’m biased about Catania because of my month-long Workaway at a hostel mere steps away from its most prominent square, Piazza del Duomo. In the this square is the Catania Cathedral are great cafes, the Fontana dell’Elefante, and the daily Fish Market. Nearby is a lengthy shopping strip, the University of Catania, and Bellini’s theatre. This place is an Art Historian’s fantasy because of the breath-taking baroque architecture. There’s also a variety of places that feature live music and nightlife and because of the students.
  2. Mount Etna
    • The largest, active volcano in Europe. Yes, I hiked all the way up and back down the volcano. Yes, it was arguably one of the most physically taxing things I have ever done, and yes I wanted to die. Was it worth it? Yes! I value this photo because it shares my accomplishment. If you hike it, wear good shoes that don’t ‘breathe’ – the volcanic rock and debris will sneak into your shoes and become incredibly uncomfortable after hours of trekking.  Also take it easy if you’re not used to that kind of altitude. It sits 10,991 feet above sea level.
  3. Agrigento Valley of the Temples (Valle dei Templi)
    • A UNESCO Heritage site dedicated to 7 Greek deities – Zeus, Juno, Heracles, Concordia, Asclepius, Pollux, and Vulcan.
  4. Taormina
    • This town is also on Sicily’s eastern coastline. Taormina is known for its incredible beach, Isola Bella, and its ancient Greek Theatre. It’s Old Town is quaint to explore, and provides picturesque sights to enjoy a glass or two of wine.
  5. Scala dei Turchi
    • A natural limestone rock formation on the coast of Realmonte. Since we took local transportation and walked to Scala dei Tuchi, it was a little difficult for us to find it. While the sunset was incredible, it’s best to go early in the day because we missed our last bus and hitchhiked back to the bus station.
  6. Alcantara Gorges
    • This gorge is very close to Mount Etna, and approximately an hour long drive from Catania. The gorge was crafted thousands of years ago by the volcano’s lava, and the river that winds through the gorge cut into the hardened rock to create it’s textural geometric appearance. Although I went during a humid autumn day, when the cold evening settled in, I saw the best starry sky. Also, please be careful of leeches!
    • You can find more detail about this site in a previous post.

If you’ve travelled to Sicily before, comment with some of your favorite spots! I’d love recommendations.

Scala dei Turchi
Scala dei Turchi

Rebels Camping: A Sicilian Night Under the Stars

Recently a friend asked me if I liked camping. After a lengthy, dead-panned stare I uttered ‘no,’ however I reflected on my answer because something seemed to be bothering me. I realized as a child I detested camping (what was that noise, a thought that would reverberate through my mind in the middle of the night), however my most recent camping experience (recent, as in 2 years ago) was on the eastern coast of Sicily. Of course, it was illegal.

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We headed north of Catania to the base of the active volcano, Mount Etna, to the Gorge Al’Cantara. The Gorge was created millions of years ago from the wearing of volcanic rock. The site is a popular tourist attraction in the summer months, but not as frequently visited in autumn and wintertime. I’m not confident in the traditional way of getting there – as we took a bus, got off at the wrong stop and walked a few miles to the Gorge – only after inquiring from a dinky petrol station.

1470055_10152728115828797_1607500338_n Posted on a short standing fence were regulations about how the site closed at sundown and prohibited to camp. A triangular teepee crossed trough with an ‘x’. Past the fence was a small winding staircase that deposited us in to the heart of the Gorge. If you’re considering swimming, be careful – the river that runs through the rocky walls has leeches.

Albeit it was October in the Mediterranean, the evening air was chilled and the water was icy. We had no tent, but our packs, 1 euro boxed wine (don’t be too envious), and blankets temporarily absconded from the hostel we were worked for. With flushed faces we huddled close wrapped in our draperies. We were exposed to the gulping night sky. I remember the most amazing moment was when I woke during the night to the encumbered sight of the bright moon and the needle tipped stars.1476208_10152728116918797_1059898601_n

In the morning, we were roused awake by not only the sun but tourists excitedly waving to us from a viewing spot at the top of the Gorge.