Sicily is renowned for many things: the drama of organised crime, massive and hugely flavoursome lemons, boat loads of sunshine, a convoluted and fascinating history and of course, Mt. Etna, a smouldering volcano and the largest scarily active one in Europe.
I have just rubbed shoulders with all of the above, so to speak – except the Sicilian mafia – as far as I can tell anyway!
My metaphoric journey to Sicily started many years agon when I vowed to visit Positano on the Amalfi Coast of mainland Italy. As Sicily was a simple hop across the water I dedcided to give it a go and so the actual journey was born: watched over by Mt Etna – as almost everything is in Sicily!
The trip started in Palermo Airport. Palermo, I was soon to discover, is ringed in filth. The ouskirts of the city spoke of a dirty city with tons of domestic rubbish piled into small hills on the street corners, much of the road-kill is of the rat variety and I wondered what the hell I was letting myself in for. Skirting the mountainous piles of rubbish and unable to avoid the stench I found relative cleanliness and beauty in the old historical centre. Breath a sigh of relief! Some municipal pride after all…and some beautiful old buildings!
In fact a fascinating place, if old and run down. The food is wonderful and the hospitality the same. Only a fleeting visit but if you want an edgy place then Palermo will do it.
For the open countryside, wide plains and rolling hills then the traverse across the spine of Sicily towards Catania is the route to choose. The motorway is quick and easy, but the country roads are slower, more windy, mostly damaged through roadslips – but a lot more flavoursome!
Being volcanic Sicily is geologically new: the soils and rock still adjusting their relative positions, hence the roadslips. The countryside is fertile and the views beautiful. Mt Etna, the stronghold of Vulcan, the God of Fire and the home of Cyclops, the one-eyed monster, soon appears over the horizon. Like a huge beacon with clouds swirling around the snowcapped peak and smoke drifting from the caldera she also hints at tremendous power and potential for destruction. Vineyards, farms and houses clamber up her slopes and so provide Mt Etna with the occasional moniker of “the most dangerous” volcano for her frequent eruptions and proximity to habitation.
The most picturesuqe village in Sicily, apparently, is Taormina. I haven’t seen them all so I can’t really say, but I can say Taormina is beautiful and idyllic! Well there are two parts to Taormina really: the high bit and the coastal bit. The coast road arrives along the steep cliff edges above the beach and Isola Bella, the beautiful little island in the bay, periodically connected to the mainland by a little causeway of sand and pebbles.
The low road is thronged with restaurants and cafes, but the finest chocolate croissants must come from Villa Bianca Bar! Do yourself and test my claim if you ate passing! In April Spring is springing and the wildflowers carpet the hillsides and the towns and villages are rich in blossom.
The high bit of Taormina is a wonderful 15 – 30 minute walk up 100’s of steps, or a short cable car ride away. This is the bigger bit with wide streets, hotels, villas and of course the ancient Greek Amphitheatre. (“Teatro antico di Taormina”). From here you can marvel at the stunning backdrop of Mediterranean coastline and snow-capped Mt Etna. What a setting and a fantastic place to see the whole panorama comprising old town, coast, volcano, beach, mountains and sunny blue skies!
April is the perfect time to go to Italy to see the spring colour in the hillsides, the blossom in the orchards and to avoid the crowds that swell and swell in the summer…