Sicily is the centre of the world. It’s where sun meets sky and Rome meets America. It has oil, fruit, sunshine, sea, history and an independent spirit. It’s self-sufficient and autonomous and, every so often, a greying gent with dark shades and a jacket too heavy for the warm sunshine walks past and it feels like you’re in The Godfather.
What We Liked
Family is at the heart of Sicily. Nowadays in Italy, divorce rates are high and birth rates low but family’s still the focal point. Being invited into a family home is the only real way to understand the region because Sicilians have their own rules, governed by temperament and passion. Hospitality, pride in their island and a focus on individuals, rather than systems, give it a real warmth. It’s unregulated, but the people make it work.
Sicilians have their own language: a melange of Italian, Spanish, French, Arabic and emphatic hand gestures. You can chuck words in from any language you know in whatever order you like, reinforce their meaning with determined body language and magnifico – everyone understands. Where there’s a will to communicate, there’s a way.
Taormina is perched on a hill, draped with flowers, walls and manicured gardens. An old amphitheatre crowns the peak and, at its feet, is a rugged coastal road that winds through villages. Sahara and I found a great cafe, by the beach. I ate bruschetta and sipped a glass of wine; she paddled and collected rocks. It was blissful.
This city is beautiful. Italy collides with Africa and transforms into white, marble buildings. The beaches are pebbly and slight but the buildings around them are so atmospheric, you really don’t care. Sahara helped a couple of local kids build a volcano from sand and pebbles.
Streets are narrow: if you’re not based there, it’s easier to park on the outskirts and walk in.
Sahara loved Mount Etna. She’d seen it on a children’s programme. We flew past it on the plane. Then drove up it. It looked better from the plane. Close up, it was black and pitted with dark craters – a fairly easy (but steep) drive. The memories of the volcano have stayed with her.
Food and Drink
Everything tastes amazing. The tomatoes are juiced with sun; the oil is succulent; fruit grows everywhere. It’s hard to find a bad place to eat, or a bad glass of wine.
Useful Things To Know
The driving is fast and chaotic, and car crime rates are high in the cities. Make sure you’re comprehensively insured and don’t leave valuables in your vehicle. Insurance is high in Sicily but it’s a price worth paying.
The east coast is touristy but not overly busy. Beaches can be pebbly but they’re appealing. The south coast has some sandy beaches but can feel a little industrial.
Where We Stayed
If you like drinking wine, chatting over great food, and would like to see a less touristy side of Sicily, there’s no better place to stay than with Antonio and Sami in Canicatti. As a doctor, Antonio understands Sicily’s heart, and also its mind. Sami is a dignified, inspiring traveller who is wonderful with children. These are kind, interesting men who will welcome your kids with open arms. Find them by searching Airbnb, Sicily, Canicatti.
Villa Veronica (search Villa Veronica, Taormina) about a 15 minute drive from Taormina, close to Gaggi. It has a pool, a lovely breakfast and friendly owners who love kids. If you have a car and don’t mind staying outside the town, it’s great value but a little tricky to find – drive slowly as Gaggi approaches and look for a small sign on the right hand side of the road.
Sicily’s bigger than it looks on the map. A week isn’t long enough. Next time, we’d aim to see the north coast and Aeolian Islands.