Italy without Sicily leaves no image in the spirit. It is in Sicily that the key to everything is found. The purity of the contours, the softness of everything, the yielding exchange of colors, the harmonious unity of the sky with the sea and the sea with the earth … those who have seen them only once, will possess them for life.
This is how the famous German writer described the island he visited in 1787 during his trip to Italy, a necessary stop on the Grand Tour, which was a requirement for scions of aristocratic families of the time to complete their university education. The places most frequented on the island by young aristocrats were mainly related to the beauties of architecture and classical art (Acireale, Siracusa, Segesta, Selinunte) and also those affected by volcanic phenomena. The ascent to the crater of Etna gave them the feeling of a grandiose and powerful nature with which man must confront himself. Someone dedicated to the exploration of unusual historical and natural sites would find satisfaction in Sicily’s beauty, complexity and richness of history such as found at the Villa dei Mostri in Bagheria, the Macalube Desert in Aragon or the Castello di Sperlinga. So much so that Hessemer wrote, in his Letters from Sicily, a few years after Goethe, that “the island is the dot on the i of Italy, […] the rest of Italy seems to me only a stem placed to support a similar flower.”
More Than Just Stunning Beaches
Located in the heart of the Mediterranean, in a strategic position that has favored the meeting of millenary civilizations, Sicily boasts ancient beauties created by man and a natural heritage that manifests itself in the contrasts between water and fire, earth and sky. From the crystal clear waters of Favignana to the pulsating fire of Etna, from the black obsidian of Pantelleria to the white Madonie Mountain snow, Sicily exhibits her majestic extremities.
The island offers hiking enthusiasts a wide choice of nature reserves, rich in terrestrial and marine animal species, such as the Zingaro Nature Reserve (the first nature reserve in Italy). Hidden beauty will strike the most curious and willing visitor to go to untouched places such as the Alcantara Gorges or the Cavagrande del Cassibile Lakes. Here there are historical and artistic artifacts that allow you to retrace the evolution of humanity ranging from prehistoric times (the Pantalica Necropolis) to the present day (Cretto by Alberto Burri)
Sicily experienced a flourishing prehistory, thanks to the populations coming from the East and the North, of which ancient relics remain in wall engravings and paintings, in the dolmens and in the Neolithic villages. The first presence of the autochthonous Elymian, Sicilian and Sican peoples is recorded around 7000 BC.
Phoenicians and Greeks
Around the ninth century BC, it experienced an intense moment of development, with the arrival of the Phoenicians, navigators and thriving tradesmen who were responsible for the creation of commercial emporiums in the western part (Mozia, Palermo, Solunto). In the east of the island we see the birth of the Greek colonies that will form Magna Graecia, making the island a part of the cultural ferment of the period. Evidence of this Hellenization can be found in the Greek Theater of Syracuse and in the Valley of the Temples in Agrigento, a UNESCO heritage site.
The Romans conquered the island in the third century B.C., leaving one of the most intact and sensational testimonies of the Roman Domus, the Villa del Casale in Piazza Armerina in the province of Enna.
At the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the island was the subject of conquests by the barbarian populations. Finally General Belisario, who landed there in 535 A.D. with the intention of gradually regaining the whole peninsula, placed it under Byzantine domination and from 663 to 668 A.D., Syracuse became the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire.
In the 8th century A.D. with the advent of Islam, it was incorporated into Arab domination. The cultural and linguistic mark left by these people is still strong and tangible. Many cities have maintained the intricate layout typical of Muslim cities, like the Kasbah of Mazara del Vallo or the tangled alleys of the historic center of Palermo.
The moment of greatest splendor begins in the second half of the year one thousand, with the advent of the Normans who leave the most splendid artifacts of ecclesiastical, civil and military architecture in Palermo, the capital city. Here the western element merges with the Byzantine and Islamic, creating an unprecedented koinè in the European Middle Ages. We find incomparable examples of this in the wonderful mosaics of Santa Maria dell’Ammiraglio, in the graceful forms of the splendid Palazzo della Zisa (called a miniature of Alhambra) and in the sumptuous layout of the Palazzo dei Normanni, home to the kings and the oldest parliament in the world.
Sicily also boasts of having laid the foundations of the Italian language under Frederick II of Swabia, whose death made the island lose the centrality and political autonomy acquired under the Normans.
A long period of foreign domination began with the succession of the Angevin, Aragonese, Spanish and finally French conquerors. To the Spaniards is due the flourish of the Baroque in Val di Noto, yet another site recognized by UNESCO.
An Incredible Mix of Different Gastronomic Traditions
A generous land of citrus fruits, almonds and prickly pears, cereals and seafood, Sicily is famous for the wealth of ingredients in each of its dishes and for a certain baroque taste to enhance the flavors.
An example of this is the Caponata which, to the traditional mix of octopus, celery and aubergines in tomato sauce, adds bottarga, capers, lobster tail, swordfish, artichokes and asparagus tips.
This variety and opulence of taste derives from the incredible mix of the different gastronomic traditions of the populations that have inhabited it and that have left their mark. Citrus fruits and rice were brought by the Arabs. Also pasta, which is now considered quintessentially Italian, but which was originally used by the Arab nomadic populations because it is easily transportable and non perishable.
Salted ricotta, honey and tanned olives come from Magna Grecia, bean curd and the way of cooking cuttlefish by the Romans, while the use of eggplant has Spanish origins.
The sumptuousness, chromatic richness and the structural complexity are also and above all found in the pastry known all over the world, Cannolo. Next to it, the less well known Cassata deserves a place of honor.
This seduction of flavor, even induced the nuns of the female monasteries to dedicate themselves to the creation of rich and imaginative sweets. Even today, in a cloistered monastery in the heart of Palermo, this ancient confectionery tradition survives. Going up the stairs and entering the old kitchen, you find yourself in front of a triumph of colors and smells and there, displayed in a corner, lays the magnificent cannolo.The crust is crisped according to tradition, the ricotta is sublime and closing your eyes you let yourself be dragged into the carousel of flavors.
Walking through the streets of the cities, an inviting perfume pushes us to get acquainted with Arancina, a small timbale of which there are a hundred variations, both in the ingredients and in shape. This delicious street food is enjoyed throughout the world.
The tradition of viticulture in Sicily dates from prehistoric times. The chemical analysis of jars found near Sciacca and Caltagirone, going back to the Copper Age, reveals that they contained wine.
The impulse to viticulture was the work of the Phoenicians and the Greeks then spread it throughout the region.
In the modern era, in 1773, thanks to the experience of an English merchant, Marsala was born, the first DOC wine in our history.
Sicily produces excellent white and red wines, some from autochthonous grapes such as: Catarratto, fragrant with white flowers; Grillo, with a tropical aroma with hints of jasmine and white flowers; Inzolia, one of the finest white wines with a fruity aroma and vanilla notes; Nero d’Avola, markedly alcoholic with hints of berry, cherry, plum and spicy notes; the rare Zibibbo, sweet wine with a fruity flavor with notes of almond and orange blossom; and red or white Malvasia, a fortified wine with an intense aroma.
Other famous dessert wines are the Passito di Pantelleria, with a hint of fruit, orange blossom, almond, and ginger, also Moscato di Noto and Siracusa, that hold an aromatic taste with unmistakable notes of citrus, honey and candied fruit.
Sicily, with its long and multifaceted history of people in movement, is a land that knows how to welcome everyone as like family. Here, you never feel out of place because of the warmth of its people, the beauty of nature, its art and its gastronomic delights.
Explore the authentic Sicily with these suggested tours
Journey between Etna and the Alcantara River in the Heart of Eastern Sicily
The Alcantara river is located on the eastern side of Sicily. Starting in the north in the Nebrodi Mountains, it heads impetuously towards the south and, enriched by one of its tributaries, makes an elbow turn towards the east, continuing its path between the volcanic massif of Etna, the southern part of the Nebrodi and the Peloritani Mountains, to finally flow into the Ionian Sea between Messina and Catania.
The basin, 48 kilometers long, has a hilly-mountainous morphology in the higher areas with often harsh and barren landscapes, typical of the Nebrodi and Peloritani. In recent decades, numerous reforestations have been carried out on the left side of the river in order to stabilize the slopes and improve the landscape.
Discovering the Land of the Cyclops
The legend of the Faraglioni dei Ciclopi (The Cyclops Stacks/Rocks) is narrated by Homer in the Odyssey where the mythological incident placed tradition in Aci Trezza. In the Homeric tale, Ulysses comes across Polyphemus during his journey, one of the ferocious cyclops (monstrous and gigantic shepherds with one eye), that dominate the valleys of Etna. The Greek hero manages to blind the giant with a pointed wooden pole and to escape with his companions thanks to various tricks. The cyclop, in a last jolt of anger, throws large boulders towards Ulysses’ ship without hitting him, thus giving rise to the Faraglioni of Acitrezza (Acitrezza Rocks of the Cyclops).
Between Baroque Cities and Seaside Villages
This journey provides the knowledge of the southern cusp of Sicily, where you can combine a visit to the cities of art with nature trails of great beauty. In 1693, a terrible earthquake destroyed the cities of the Val di Noto region, which were rebuilt in the dominant style of the time, the late baroque. During this time, the style was experiencing its climax, but also the beginning of its end. This dichotomy, like the mixture of opulent decoration with dramatic elements, seemed to well reflect the restlessness caused by such destructive events. An example can be the presence of sad-faced cherubs in facades full of luxurious architectural elements.
Between Land and Sea: History, Culture, Art of Western Sicily
The proposed tour below aims to lead the traveler through a visual and sensorial experience through the numerous dominations that have affected Sicily over time. It is a land that has always been coveted for its enviable location with landscapes that make the island unique.
The Writers’ Road of Western Sicily
This tour aims to lead the traveler to places where the writers who made the island famous throughout the world set their novels or lived. These are crucial sites creating a visual and sensory experience accompanied by the memory of the pages of literature that will give you a deeper knowledge of this part of Sicily, its culture and its history.