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SICILY: Italy at its finest!

Updated: Dec 3, 2019

As you plan a trip to Italy, I am sure you want to check those infamous “must see” places. Rome? Check. Florence? Check. Venice? Check. Is there a reason to even go back once you have seen the major Italian cities? YES…to see Sicily!!

Of course, if you ask a Sicilian if he is Italian, he will say adamantly, “No, I am not Italian. I AM SICILIAN!” Sicily feels like a different world than the Italian mainland, and it's well worth seeing.

PALERMO. We started our Sicilian adventure in Palermo. The first evening we wandered aimlessly, not understanding the lay out of the city. Through King & Whitson's personal contacts, we had arranged a fabulous tour guide who made the city come alive for us.

Enjoying an aperol spritz at sunset in Palermo.

Our highlight of the tour was the Ballaro market, the 5th largest food market in Europe. The combination of cultures is beautiful here. People from all around the world moving and communicating and enjoying each other. It was a great picture of peace and harmony on an island which is believed to have had more conquerors than anywhere in the world.

Fresh seafood at Ballaro.

When the Greeks conquered Sicily they brought with them their beautiful temples. The temples in Agrigento is more intact than the Acropolis in Athens which thousands flock to see each year. Visit Sicily and get a taste of Greek culture as if you were in Greece…but with a flavor of Sicilian food! Our private guide in Agrigento made the area come alive, and we could see the city from the view of the Greeks who once resided there.

One of MANY amazing temples in Sicily…but without the crowds!

We stayed at some incredible renovated masserias (old farmhouses) in Sicily. Gorgeous views and lovely people! I was touched with how kind all the people were and their desire to serve us well…at our hotels, on our tours, in restaurants, and more. They reminded me of that great culture of hospitality in the southern United States. They were so happy we had come to visit their beautiful island.

Sunset views from our room.

Cocktails on our room’s rooftop terrace.

One of the highlights of our trip was a tour King & Whitson Travel had set up for us in a small hill town towards the inland of Sicily. Instead of tours of temples and churches and museums, we enjoyed a tour of PEOPLE. We met 90+ year olds with huge smiles on their faces, waiting to shake our hands and welcome us. We met Maria Stella, a baker who taught us how to make sfincione, the Sicilian style pizza. We enjoyed eating our pizza creation with other Sicilians around a large table for lunch. When Maria Stella’s customers come in to get fresh baked bread, she hands them a loaf of bread, not asking the type they want because she knows her clients and knows what they desire. They walk away, not exchanging any money with her because they all have a tab she keeps open for them, and they will pay her later. It is a small town with happy people serving each other.

Precious Maria Stella baking bread in an old wood fire oven.

We met Olga and Enzo who make sheep’s cheese in the tradition of their ancestors. We taste their homemade ricotta…maybe the best cheese I have ever tasted…and they tell me it is not even the height of the ricotta season! Their son Angelo is 27 years old, lives high upon another hill alone with his wife and three children, all under the age of 5. They live in a two room concrete building with no electricity or running water. They take care of the sheep that provide the milk for the cheese shop. They are happy, welcoming, and living life with more passion than most of us! A beautiful reminder of life’s simplicity and priorities!

Enzo hard at work making ricotta and cutting open a fresh block of pecorino cheese

Maria Chiara lives with her husband and three children, high on a hill alone, tending sheep...and very happy!

We ended our trip in Taormina. The beach front hotels we can offer here are fabulous! Crystal clear waters with rocky shores…seaside food and wonderful cocktails…relaxation at its best! Just wear your water shoes on the rocks, and you can enjoy perfectly clear Mediterranean water with no sand to wash off. In the evenings, we would venture up the hill by cable car to the town of Taormina. There is a long pedestrian street with shops and cafes and people buzzing well past midnight. It was a wonderful town and a perfect ending to our trip!

View from our fabulous beach hotel

Sicily is an incredible experience. The hotels, tours, food, spectacular views…they are all magnificent! We experienced more than I can even put into words…Mount Etna wineries, a boat ride to a blue grotto, street food with fresh seafood, views from mountaintops and seaside villages...all spectacular! You may have your “check list” of must sees in Italy, but if you want to experience Italian culture in its most authentic way, you must see Sicily. I have been to Italy numerous times. Every visit is special, but Sicily has something different that will make it memorable for a lifetime!

A gorgeous winery with Mt. Etna in the background.

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