Discovering… the Sicilian way
Most articles, guidebooks and brochures all mention the fact that Sicily has been invaded and colonised by Arabs, Normans and Africans. When you look at a map, it is suddenly blindingly obvious. Sicily’s central location in the Mediterranean makes it a prime strategic spot. It is not surprising that it has been coveted by many civilisations, even as recently as the second world war.
With these basic facts in mind, we set off on our self-drive tour of the island, starting and finishing in Catania. Driving around the island was very easy and relaxing, although the towns were a little more challenging! The landscape was beautiful, ranging from lush coastline to an almost desert-like interior.
We were prepared for many temples and ruins and we were not disappointed! Even in busy cities such as Catania and Palermo there are ancient sites to be found. The foundations of Ortygia, the historical centre of Syracuse, are a treasure trove and coming across the ruins of what was the massive Temple of Apollo in the middle of town was truly amazing.
Ortigia’s main square
We booked local guides through Viator. Without exception, they were professional and informative. Their enthusiasm for their homeland came across in their conversations with us, from proudly describing blonde-haired, green-eyed relatives to encouraging us to taste carob pods (delicious, as it happens!) picked up while strolling through the Valley of the Temples in Agrigento.
As we walked the same paths as those who built and inhabited these great cities many centuries ago, the sense of connection with the past was tangible. Although time moves on, a lot remains unchanged: the same sites are used for worship and commerce, the same natural ingredients are still used for cooking and for producing wine all the while people from different countries and cultures are still perusing the shops and temples.
Temple of Concord, Agrigento
No trip to Sicily would be complete without a visit to Mount Etna. While relaxing in Taormina at the end of our tour, we visited Etna from the north side. The trip was booked locally with Etna People, who were excellent. Our trip did not visit the main active crater but the extinct lower craters and included lunch at the Don Saro winery on the volcanic slopes. That might not sound so exciting but this excursion had its advantages: it was quieter, we had more time to walk around the incredible landscape and lunch was delicious!
Although barren, the primitive landscape was teaming with lizards, insects and vegetation, a tribute to the robustness of nature. Here, there was more of a connection to nature at its most basic level. With the guide’s help we were able to see different stages of recovery in the landscape, depending on when the last eruption had been and how far the lava had travelled. After a while our eyes began to pick out basic elements in the grey ash: red, green and yellow patches of dust and rock corresponding to iron, copper and sulphur.
Mount Etna’s craters
There were many things we were looking forward to in Sicily and, although keen to visit Etna, it was more of a “box-ticking” exercise. However, it turned out to be one of the best days of our trip. It may have been the timing – a refreshing change towards the end of our holiday, out and about in nature – or it may have been the lunch and wine!
Sicily has been visited, invaded and colonised by many cultures throughout the centuries. This is still going on today. It has had its dark periods like any other country but, at least to the casual visitor, the Sicilians seem to make it work. They acknowledge and embrace their past while adapting to current challenges and enjoying life – it’s the Sicilian way.
Greek theatre, Taormina
If you are looking for an accessible country with a rich concentration of classical, baroque and natural history with great weather and fantastic food, look no further! I would highly recommend a visit to Sicily. With the help of Cox & Kings, it is possible to come up with an itinerary that suits you.
For more information see Cox & Kings’ group tours, or speak to one of the Europe specialists about a tailor-made trip.