Sicily | October 2017
With no debt to tourists there aren’t any fake fronts or mistaking what type of lifestyle the Sicilians live.
The streets are lined in graffiti with very few, if any, global chains or brands scattered throughout these small Italian towns. The people go about their own business, some unsure if you are lost and that’s how you’ve come to be in the area.
You experience the truth of an Italian town. Before over production for tourism, before internationals came for their piece of the pie, before they relied on peak travel seasons for survival.
Sicily, and more specifically Palermo, is a part of the small list of cities and countries around the world that are on a ‘must see before they change’ list. A must see before tourism changes their original heritage, history and way of life.
WHERE WE STAYED
The start of our Sicily trip was in Palermo, the capital city of the Italian Island. Here, we stayed at the Grand Hotel Piazza Borsa which is set in three historic buildings including a 16th-Century Cloister. Close to the main town square, Quattro Canti, and not too far from other historic sites and markets. The hotel itself, as a historic landmark, is the first place you will want to explore. An endless warren of rooms that really paint the picture of a time it was full of the makings of history.
We then drove across to the other side of the Island to Taormina. A hilltop town on the east coast of Sicily. Here was stayed in a more low-key hotel, Hotel Condor. We opted for this smaller hotel because of it’s location, being slightly out of town but still within an easy walking distance, and it’s beautiful room views of the ocean and Ancient Greek Amphitheatre. This tucked away gem really sets the scene for the Sicilian way of life. It also has a wonderful rooftop balcony for all guests to sit and watch the sunset from, if your don’t book a room with a balcony.
We booked Grand Hotel Piazza Borsa through Bookings.com and Hotel Condor through Qantas Hotels.
Both oozed Italian charm. The perfect blend of historic and modern Italy.
OUTSIDE THE HOTEL
We had pre-planned to hire a car and drive from one side of Sicily to the other. Being a small Island, it only takes a few hours to get from Palermo to Taormina.
We hired our car through Europe Car Rentals which allowed us to pickup the car in Palermo and then drop it off before flying out, at the airport, in Catania.
We did a bit of research before arriving in Sicily but made the final plan for our road trip across the island, the day before. While it doesn’t take long to get from one side to the other, there is a lot to Sicily, which can’t be seen in a day.
One of the reasons for hiring the car was to stop and explore cute coastal fishing villages along the way. The South of Sicily has so much to offer but unfortunately we didn’t have time to adventure that way during this trip. We would make a call on which ones to stop at, as we were arriving or driving past the turn-offs on the highway.
Each offered something different; a historic land piece which was once a separate island and now joined the mainland, beautiful fresh fruit and veg’ markets, or a simple pastry and coffee atop a cliff.
If you don’t want to hire a car, there is a bus which will take you from Palermo to Taormina. Although based on all accounts from friends who have done this, it cut’s right through the middle of the island so there isn’t much to see in the way of coastal towns or excitement in general. So we would definitely recommend the car hire option, even if you plan on being stationary in one town and driving out on daily trips.
Other well known spots in Sicily include Catania, Syracuse which has an island attached to the mainland named Island of Ortigia or if you have time there is an island, Favignana, off the Western Coast of Sicily which is a part of the Egadi Islands. There isn’t a destination on Sicily which doesn’t have a historical landmark, so no matter where you go, you’ll come across something.
The Joneses Rating
As an Italian Island that is still very raw and not over-developed for tourism like other major Italian cities, the prices remain very reasonable and often surprisingly cheap.
Palermo is far less visited than Taormina and reflected this in their prices of accommodation, food and experiences.
Even in the most expensive of places, we found, to eat and drink at, they were great prices.
WHAT WE WOULD RETURN FOR
There’s still so much of Sicily that we would love to explore. We would love to see what Palermo is like now, after a few years and increase in tourism. We’d also love to revisit our favourite bars and restaurants [just thinking about
the cocktails at Bocum is making us check the time to see if it’s happy-hour yet].
The islands off the coastlines, the entire South of Sicily. There is so much we couldn’t fit within our short five day visit that look incredible and places we hope to someday get back to and experience.
WHAT WE WOULD LEAVE BEHIND
The driving. Look. We’re not saying all Italians are crazy on the roads but. All Italians are crazy on the roads.
The single land width roads which they somehow fit a parked car and two driving lanes on makes us appreciate our ‘normal’ wide lanes and overall order. It was an experience and one we still laugh about to this day but also something we’re grateful to not have on the daily basis.
The Joneses Sicily
DO EXPLORE …
Food tours are one of our favourite things to do, in any city. Palermo’s tour was especially special. Run by Peppe, a born and bred local, you are taken to all the places he would buy food from [not the tourist places] and gives you information on the history and current state of the city at the same time.
DO EAT & DRINK …
One of our favourite meals in Sicily was at the gastronomic restaurant Gagini in Palermo. We’ll admit, we love food and wine but have never appreciated the two paired well together, before we were looked after by the head Sommelier at Gagini.
Pre-dinner drinks which were on the same level as dinner, were had across the road at the Mixology bar, Bocum. We both worked in the bar and hospitality scene in our youth and have never come across ingredients like Bocum uses, like local seaweed and sea water.
Do, Do …
One of the best experiences in Taormina was the Mt. Etna climb. We booked a private group tour as there were a few of us there at the same time and while it was a little more expensive than going with the other tourists, it was well worth the personal and privately guided tour. We also can’t recommend enough the full height-option. Going halfway up the volcano just isn’t worth doing it at all. Etna People were the company we used, whose guides actually work with the government on volcanic monitoring, so you learn a lot!