Sicily – Uncut!

When I decided to go on my travels, things were pretty spontaneous.  I didn’t have any firm, long-term plans.

After my initial plans in Tuscany didn’t quite work out as I expected, I decided to just take to the road again and see where things took me.
I had always wanted to visit Sicily: the history, countryside and culture always intrigued me.  So the decision was made.  We would travel from Tuscany, down to the bottom of Italy to get the ferry over.

There are multiple ferry options to get over to the Island from the mainland.  We decided to go from Reggio Calabria to Messina.  It is the shortest crossing, only half an hour, great for Annie as most of the ferries only allow dogs in kennels or in the car.

We spent over two amazing weeks exploring various parts of the Island.  It wasn’t nearly long enough for us to visit all the areas we wanted to, but certainly gave us a feel for things.  Here is my, totally subjective, overview from the time we were there.

The busy but beautiful beach at Cefalu

The Good

The countryside – It is absolutely stunning and so varied.  The coastal areas have rugged, cliff-edged seas; beautiful sandy beaches and kill your feet pebble options too.  The inner parts of the Island are much less populated with lots of mountainous views.  It is pretty arid generally due to the extreme heat they get, so if you are looking for a lush, green oasis it is probably not the place for you.

The people – Okay, so I know the area is famous for the Mafiosa connections, but I found the people to be charming, friendly and welcoming.   I never felt unsafe or uncomfortable.  Sicilian men have a reputation for being sexist but, again, I never had any negative experiences.

The South of the Island and the History – Whilst still busy, the South is much less visited by the tourist throngs than the top half.  For me, it is also the more beautiful part of the Island and it is absolutely steeped in history too.   If you are a history buff, you won’t be disappointed. 

Some UNESCO World Heritage Site towns we visited that are teeming with beautiful baroque architecture and attractions to visit include: Ragusa, Syracuse and Noto.  They are all in the South of the Island making them easy to visit together. Nearby Modica is also meant to be beautiful and produces amazing chocolate, but we didn’t make it there.

Views of the inspiring old town, Ragusa Ibla
Views of the inspiring old town, Ragusa Ibla

Watch this space for individual articles about these towns (I can’t do them justice in one paragraph)!

The food and accommodation – I only had good culinary experiences and the places I stayed were, in the most, excellent.  I am no wine connoisseur, but I certainly enjoyed a good glass or two.  Their quality wines are attributed to the fertile soils around Volcanic Mount Etna.
In Ragusa I enjoyed some super yummy Arrancine (deep-fried rice balls) and in Cefalu (pronounced Chef-a-loo), I enjoyed a beautiful meal on a cliff-side terrace overlooking the sea.

Two of my favourite places I stayed on the Island, that I think deserve an extra mention, are:

Cuore Della Valle – This was a lovely, unassuming place.  I stayed in a self-contained, self-catering bungalow.  It had outside eating space and amazing open views of the mountains in the Madonie  National Park.  Close to Cefalu, but away from the hustle and bustle.  The perfect place to unwind, but a car is a must.  Sandro the owner was one of the most helpful people I met on my trip.  He took the time to talk me through, in detail, areas and places worth a visit.  He has even set up a little Facebook Group to share his recommendations with guests.

Views from my accommodation at Cuore Della Valle
Views from my accommodation at Cuore Della Valle

Torre Di Sebastiano – A hidden gem.  Tucked away in the back streets of the delightful little working village of Gaggi, you enter through an ordinary looking entrance into a wonderful green oasis.
It is more of a B & B set up, so the amazing garden space with a lovely little pool and the kitchen and living areas are shared.  The house is so thoughtfully decorated and it was super comfortable and great value for money.  They were very welcoming with Annie and she was allowed the run of the garden, as long as we were considerate to other guests of course.

The Bad

The Ferry – Safe to say, this was one of the scariest driving experiences of my life.  Up to this point, I hadn’t really subscribed to the old stereotype of Italians being crazy drivers ….

To be fair, it was peak summer season so it is likely less frantic in low season but it certainly is not for the faint-hearted.

There is no organised queuing system, you know how us Brits like an orderly queue!  So it is every person from themselves when trying to get in line.  You really do just have to roll with it and not get too worried if you get beeped at.  I even dared to push in myself on the return journey.

The Heat – I would love to visit Sicily again but, if I was to go back, I would choose to go at a different time of year. 

Some parts of the Island are so, so busy in August but, mainly, it was the oppressive heat I found difficult.  It was just too hot to get out and properly explore and that is what I like to do most. 

Annie found the heat incredibly difficult too so we were constrained to dawn and dusk walks in the main for her and even then, she still found it uncomfortable.  This was the main reason we choose to leave the Island when we did.  I wanted Annie to be able to enjoy some cooler weather.  If you are going somewhere hot, I can’t recommend a good quality Cool Coat enough.  We used a Prestige one and it worked brilliantly for keeping Annie cool in rooms that were not air-conditioned or on a hotter walk.  It is not a miracle solution though and Annie just didn’t go out for any length of time in the really hot temperatures.

Annie staying chilled with her cool coat

The heat also meant there were very few green spaces in the centre of the towns and this was sometimes a challenge for Annie too – peeing on the pavement was only something that she would do in an emergency situation 🙂

The rubbish – If you are looking for pristine streets and countryside throughout, you are unlikely to find that in Sicily.  There is a big fly tipping problem and you often see huge mounds of rotten rubbish at the sides of the road.  Watch out for dog poop on the streets too.  It is a shame as it does spoil the beautiful towns and scenery a bit.

The Ugly

The Mosquitoes – Make sure you come prepared with some hard-core repellents, stay covered as much as possible and avoid being out at their peak times (dawn and dusk).  In the summer months they are relentless.  My next post will be all about my most challenging experience on my trip so far and it all stemmed from those bitey little blighters.

Have you visited Sicily?  I would love to hear what you thought of the Island and if you have any recommendations should I go back.

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