Italy: Eastern Sicily

One week tour between baroque art and nature: from Taormina to Ragusa, from Siracusa's beaches to the top of Mount Etna volcano, living a great adventure.

The South Eastern Sicily, overlooking the Ionian Sea, is dotted with masterpieces of baroque art immersed in a natural environment of extraordinary beauty. The tour starts from Catania, a lively city with a beautiful old town and a privileged view on Etna volcano, it goes on with a small detour to the charming Taormina, which deserves a few hours visit for those who have never seen it, and then it brings you southward , in the awesome town of Siracusa from which you can visit its beautiful beaches, the natural oasis of Vendicari, Noto, Marzamemi, Capo Passero, Modica and Scicli, and finally reach Ragusa. From Ragusa, go back to Catania and reach the Sapienza hut on Mount Etna, the highest active volcano in Europe (about 3,300 meters above sea level).

During the trip, you’ll have the chance to try the exquisite Sicilian cuisine based on fish and shellfish, homemade pasta, arancini, rice and cous cous, roasts and meatballs, cheeses such as ricotta and caciocavallo, all cooked with local land’s fruits such as olives, almonds, pistachios, tomatoes, eggplants, lemons, oranges, capers and all the aromatic herbs such as oregano, mint and rosemary that grow wild throughout the island. And what about pastry shops ? Don’t miss the delicious Sicilian cannolo or almond pastries, granita with cream and brioche and of course cassata too. It's impossible not to go home with a few extra pounds.

Ready ? ... Let's go!  

Location

Sicily is the largest italian island and the largest island of the entire Mediterranean basin. It is an autonomous region separated from the italian peninsula by the narrow Messina Strait (3 km) while the Sicily's canal separate it from the african continent. 

How to get there

The easiest way to get to Eastern Sicily is by flight. The Fontanarossa Catania airport  is the most important hub in the south of Italy and the most famous international airlines and low cost airlines connect Sicily with the main italian and european cities.

Transports

Rent a car is the best way to visit Sicily in total freedom and carefree. Of course there are buses that connect the most famous costal towns, but if you decide to choose that way you could not reach easily little villages and visit the most beautiful natural attractions of this amazing island. The road network is good and at the Catania airport you can find several car rental agencies. If you are going to travel in high season, from june to september, I suggest to book your car online. Prices are good, from 20 to 40 euros per day based on the model you choose. A medium size car is surely good enough.

Accomodations

In Sicily there are accomodations of every kind, from b&bs to charming and luxury hotels.  At the end of every day tour description or at every new destination  you can find some tips, but if you want to choose on your own the right accomodation  just check in the box below:

Booking.com

A week tour

day 1

Arrival in Catania - visit of Taormina

day 2

Travel to Siracusa and visit the city

day 3

Siracusa - Vendicari's Oasis - Marzamemi 

day 4

Siracusa - relax on a beach

day 5

Travel to Ragusa - Visit of Noto - Capo Passero - Modica 

day 6

Visit of Ragusa and travel to Mount Etna

day 7

hiking on top of Etna volcano - travel to Catania

day 8

Your flight home

Day 1

After your landing at Fontanarossa airport in Catania, withdraw some cash at an atm and go to the rental car agency where you booked your car. Some of them have their headquarter nearby the airport, so they might tell you to wait their shuttle to pick you up at a meeting point and drive you to their offices.

After some paperwork, check your car just to be sure it’s ok. Now you are ready to head to the city centre of Catania (7 km – 15 minutes) and reach your hotel or b&b you booked in advance ( I suggest near the cathedral).

If your hotel has not a parking don’t worry, there’s plenty of blue stripes parking lots (0,50 euro per hour).

After your check in you are ready to dive in the old town: Via Etnea, full of shops and bars, piazza dell'Università and piazza del Duomo, with the great   Sant'Agata's Cathedral and the fontana dell'elefante. Don't miss the fish market that take place every working day behind the square, where there are many restaurants and take aways that cook  a very good fish. Alternatively you could taste your first arancino with ragù.

In the afternoon get in your car, drive on the highway toword Messina and take the exit  Taormina (at about 50 km and less then 1 hour trip.  The access to the old town is allowed only to pedestrians, you can park your car in one of the several parking lots just outside the town door.

Taormina is settled on a hill with an amazing panorama on the sea. Have a stroll in the alleys with fashion stores, handycraft shops and restaurants. Don't miss the greek theatre. The ticket costs 10 euros , 5 euros for kids. It is open eery day with the following timetable:

 

From the 1st of january to the  15 th of february  9:00am - 16:00pm

From the 16th to the 28th of february  9:00am - 16:30pm

From the 1st to the 15 of march 9:00am - 17:00pm

From the 16 to the 31 march  9:00am - 17:30pm

From the 1st  to the 30 of april 9:00am - 18:30pm

From the 1st  of may to the 31th of august 9:00am - 19:00pm

From the 1st to the 15 september 9:00am - 18:30pm

From the 16 to the 30th of september 9:00am - 18:00pm

From the 1st to the 15th of october  9:00am - 17:30pm

From the 16th to the 31st of october 9:00am - 17:00pm

From the 1st of november to the 31st of december 9:00am - 16:00pm

 

The theatre has a perfect acoustics and concerts and theatre pieces take place during events like Taormina Arte and Taormina film fest.  Moreover, it's worth a visit because the view is stunning.

In the evening you can have diner in Taormina or go back to Catania. Whatever is your choice you won't be disappointed. Food and wine are very good everywhere, you are in Sicily now.

Day 2

After your first breakfast with granita and brioche (coffee, almonds, pistachio, strawberry, chocolate and many others tastes), get in your car and go southward: Siracusa is waiting for you. 

Sunshine, sea breeze, baroque art, greek and roman ruins and its lively soul make Siracusa a unique city and a good base to visit the area.

The old town is on a island, the island of Ortigia, linked to the mainland by two bridges, Umbertino bridge and St. Lucia bridge.

You need to know that Ortigia is protected by a limited traffic zone (ZTL) and that vehicle circulation is forbidden especially during week ends at fixed times that can change according to week days and seasons.

I suggest you to make arrangements with the owner or the manager of the accomodation you chose. They can tell you if the day of your arrival you are allowed to enter the island and at what time you can do that and give you instructions to reach them.

Some hotels have private parking lots for custumers, but if yours haven't them, no problem. You can leave your car in one of the parking lots at the edge of the island, for example  Marina Parking or Talete Parking. They cost at about 10 euros per day but usually hotels can apply a discount for tourists staying few days on Ortigia (for example 20 euros for three days).

 

Ortigia Island is a labirinth of characteristic alleys with shops and restaurants where taste all the special dishes al fresco.

Walking through the island you'll see The Maniace Castle, the Aretusa well and Diana's fountain, but what it's really breathtaking for its beauty is the majestic Dom Square and the Cathedral. Really awesome.

If you are into archeology, in Siracusa don't miss the Neapolis Archeological Park, an open air museum with greek and roman ruins. The most important attractions are  the Greek Theatre and the Dionisio's ear.

The ticket office is open every day, from monday to sunday from 8.30 am to 6.00 pm. The entrance costs 10 euros for adults and 5 euros for children.

Every year, at the Greek Theatre of Siracusa take place, from may to july, a Festival of classic pieces.

Here are the shows scheduled for 2018:

 

From the 10th of May 2018 to the 23rd of June 2018 - 'Eracle', Euripides - directed by Emma Dante

From the 11th of May 2018 to  the 24th of June 2018 - 'Oedipus to Colonus', Sophocles - directed by Yannis Kokkos

From the 29th of June 2018 to the 8th of July 2018 - 'I Cavalieri', Aristofane - directed by Giampiero Solari

 

If you want to buy tickets click here

 

During the evening enjoy a stroll on the promenade around the island, where  many bars start to offer good aperitifs and restaurants start to cook fish .

Day 3

If you are a nature lover get up early this morning and explore the  Vendicari Wildlife Oasis (43 km in 40 minutes).

To go there follow google map's instructions but pay attention when you are in the area. The reserve is huge and according to what you want to visit you have to choose the right countryside dirt road toward the sea. Watch out for signs on walls and along the road. 

This Oasis was established by the Sicily Region in 1984 and it is characterized by a warm and humid environment rich in multiple species of flora and fauna, a crystal clear sea and beautiful beaches.

Here you can simply enjoy the sun, the sea and the silence, take walks on well-marked paths in the reserve and have some bird watching.

The beaches where you can relax yourself, from north to south, are the following:

- Eloro beach

All day parking costs  2.5 € for cars, 1.5 € for motorcycles and  5 € for campers. There is a small bar and showers.

- Marianelli Beach

Very wild and quiet , it is at walking distance from Eloro beach

-Calamosche Beach

Surely the most famous, about 200 meters long is located in a small bay protected by two rocky headlands. It can be reached by taking a detour from the provincial road 19. The parking costs 3 euros per day. From here the beach is 15 minutes walk.

- Vendicari’s  beach

It can be reached from the reserve main entrance after a short walk. The beach is sandy with shallow water.

- Saint Lorenzo’s beach

It is located just outside the reserve but has its environmental characteristics. Sandy and rocky beach with bar and toilets.

 

 

 

If you like walking and the weather is good,  you can enjoy beautiful itineraries inside the oasis, that will allow you to go deep in this wonderful naturalistic environment:

- Blue itinerary

From Eloro Beach to Calamosche Beach (5.6 km)

- Orange route

From the reserve main entrance to the Calamosche beach, going through the Vendicari’s beach,  the old tonnara and the Sveva tower (4.3 km)

- Green itinerary

Through the citadel Maccari, a Byzantine village built in the 6th century AD adjacent to the San Lorenzo  beach up to the old tonnara, visiting along the way the Byzantine necropolis (5 km).

 

The paths are not difficult at all. The only real issue can be the hot weather in summer. Bring always with you a good supply of water, sunglasses, hat and sunscreen cream.

In the late afternoon you can visit the small fishing village of Marzamemi, which is a few kilometers far from the oasis of Vendicari. You must leave the car at the edge of the old village and walk there as it is a pedestrian area.

The fulcrum of the town is certainly the charming Piazza Regina Margherita and all around the old fishermen's houses now small craft shops and fancy places where you can enjoy an aperitif or a yummy fish-based dinner.

 

Pick up your table !

 

Day 4

Yesterday it was an intense and tiring day, so today why don't you take it easy and have some relax ? After all you are on vacation.

If the weather and the season allow it, near Siracusa there are many beaches to spend the classic day at the seaside. Here are the most famous, with or without services, with white sand and crystal clear and shallow sea, ideal for families with kids:

- Arenella beach (11 km from Siracusa)

- Fontane Bianche beach (16 km from Siracusa)

- Avola beach (26 km from Siracusa)

If you really love sea, nature and hiking, you can't miss the protected sea area Plemmirio, just outside Siracusa, a promontory you'd like to explore with wild cliffs and beautiful corners where to have some rest away from caos.

Day 5

Today is a transfer day from Siracusa to Ragusa, but it will be also a full day of baroque art that you'll enjoy during some intermediate stops along the road.

Obviously you choose where to go, here you can find what it's worth a visit.

Noto

It's 30 km far from Siracusa, and it's considered the capital of sicilian baroque art. Its old town is a UNESCO world heritage  from 2002 and it stands out for scenic squares and impressive stairways. In the town's heart don't miss the San Nicolò Cathedral, with  its three naves full of art peaces.

Modica

As well as Noto, Modica is a baroque art town too and UNESCO world heritage from 2002.

It is wonderful and particularly charming for its position on a hill and its old houses built very close to each other. Visiting Modica requires good shape, at least to get on the hill to admire the San Giorgio Cathedral , classic example of Sicilian baroque.

Modica is also famous throughout the world for its chocolate production with an  ancient Atzeca recipe, whose secrets are a special cocoa paste processing and low temperatures cooking, that's why it has grainy consistency. So do not forget to visit one of the many chocolate shops in town, where you can taste and buy Modica chocolate in the most varied flavors such as orange, lemon, chilli pepper, pistachio, cinnamon. vanilla, jasmine and, believe it or not, Trapani salt, my favorite.

Scicli

If you are not bored yet to visit baroque art towns, you can finish your tour with a brief stop in Scicli. It's a UNESCO world heritage as well and it's a little jewel who  gains its fame from being the set of the series  "Inspector Montalbano" written by Andrea Camilleri, a famous italian writer. The imaginary town Vigata's police department  is actually the Scicli city hall.

Porto Palo of Capo Passero

During your transfer from Siracusa to Ragusa, if you are not really into baroque art and architecture and you prefer spend a couple of hours to the seaside, I suggest you to go to Porto Palo on Passero Cape, the southest place in Sicily, with long sandy beaches and crystal clear waters.

 

Ragusa 

After a great day visiting beautiful towns, get yourself ready to be astonished. Driving along a panoramic curvy road throughout green hills, there it is,  Ragusa in all its amazing beauty. Pick up a restaurant in the old town and enjoy a tasty sicilian dinner and a special and magical atmosphere.

Day 6

Spend  the morning visiting the old town. It takes its name Ragusa Ibla after  Iblei mountains that surround it, and it is a real gem. A labirinth of alleys lead to San Giorgio square and in front of the homonymous Duomo, another great  representative of Sicilian Baroque architecture. Enjoy a nice walk through palaces, churches and typical products shops and let yourself be fascinated by the charm of this piece of paradise.

Left Ragusa, if you are like me a fan of Inspector Montalbano, you can't miss Punta Secca. There's a place you have to absolutely photograph: the Inspector Montalbano's house. While you are there why don't you enjoy a delicious dish of Marinara mussels at Enzo a mare restaurant ?

After some relax in the sun, it's time to leave for Etna Volcano and reach in a couple of hours the legendary Giovanni Sapienza hut via Nicolosi.   At 1910 meters above sea level you'll enjoy a beautiful sunset on Catania and the sea and have a very good dinner at the hut restaurant.

Accomodation on Mount Etna Volcano

Rifugio Sapienza

Day 7

Today is the day ! An amazing hike on top of the highest active volcano in Europe will let you live a stunning day .

Mount  Etna Volcano is actually  3300 m above sea level and it always has a smoke plume on the top as if to prove its constant activity. Quiet periods are often interrrupted by eruptions that can last several weeks, with dense smoke and flows of incandesent lava that keep on change its shape and height.

One of the main features of  Etna Volcano is that it has at least 4 summit craters that can be approached  with a hike organized by South Etna guides.

 

The tour, of about 6 hours, will be set like that:

-  meeting at about 10 am at the guides headquarter in front of the Sapienza Hut 

-  the ascent to 2500 m above sea level with the cableway

-  a beautiful and a easy hike to reach the summit craters to beyond 3000 meters above sea level

 

Unfortunately, the chance to get close to the craters depends on the conditions of the volcano itself and for safety reasons the guides must respect the limits imposed by the competent authorities. This does not prevent to let you live a great experience and enjoy  the volcano and its truly unique environment.

As the altitude you reach will be high you should not underestimate the wind and the cold, even in summer.

You should better wear high boots, which can be rented on the spot, long trousers and a windstopper. The garments can help protect you in case you fall down, because the solid lava on which you are going to walk is very sharp.

Instead, the guides will provide you with a helmet and rackets. Furthermore bring with you everything can be useful during any hike in the mountains, such as sunscreen, sunglasses, water and a packed lunch.

All day with a guide costs € 70, including the cableway ticket. For further information you can write to info@etnaguide.com.

If you are not really into hiking, of course that not means you have to give up with this great experience. You can just buy a combo ticket for the cableway and a ride on a off road vehicle.

You can also hike on your own on Mount Etna, but without a guide you won't be allowed to access the most interesting areas, and that would be a real pity.

 

 

At the end of  a great day I think you deserve a cold beer....then it's time to get back to Catania and finish your tour. This is your last night in Sicily, enjoy it.

Day 8

Today you have to travel to the Catania airport and go back home. You'll always bring with you the memories of this amazing and beautiful island. 

To the next adventure...

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