Finding honest opinions about a place can be trying at times. Guide books make any place sound good – they have to. Saying somewhere isn’t a fabulous place to visit is no way to sell guidebooks. Personal recommendations are often just as bad. Who is going to admit that they didn’t have a great vacation? Then there is the subjectiveness of it all. What makes a great trip for you? Are you a luxury resort person, a cultural traveler, a shopper or an outdoor adventure seeker? With all that in mind here is my attempt at some honest answers.
Is it worth going? For me, yes. Personally I lean towards being a cultural traveler with light outdoor adventure tendencies. On this particular trip I wanted to experience Sicilian markets and food, learn a little Italian, visit the Greek and Roman ruins, and tour the medieval towns. I’m not much of beach person or shopper. In general Sicily met my expectations and I would highly recommend it for those wanting a cultural experience and who don’t mind a few inconveniences. I would not recommend it for those seeking a luxury beach vacation. Beach vacation mixed with cultural adventure, OK.
I’ve traveled through various parts of Europe, Asia and South America and place Sicily somewhere between mainland Italy and Argentina in terms of infrastructure and ease of travel. Things work OK, but are not generally well marked or explained. You can think of this as a travel challenge or hassle depending on your level of tolerance. People are generally friendly and speak enough English in tourist areas to get what you need. It seemed that tourism drops off quite a bit in the fall with many restaurants in the less touristed areas closed at lunch time.
Here are my thoughts and recommendations after spending five weeks in Sicily – three weeks studying Italian in Taormina, one week driving around the island and one week in a rented house near Mt. Etna. If you have any specific questions, leave me a comment and I will be happy to answer.
Taormina is a great place to study Italian. For a full review of the school Babilonia click here.
When to go – The guide books recommend April, May, September and October as the best months to visit Sicily. While this may generally be true, October is the rainiest month of the year, at just under 4” average for the month, with clouds hanging on Mt. Etna for days at a time. I would therefore not suggest home base near Mt. Etna in October.
Renting a car and driving around the island is a great way to see Sicily. The principle highways – autostradas – are generally in good shape with the secondary roads often not so. In some cases they are literally sliding down the hillsides. Traffic, as you would expect, is quite heavy in the cities, drivers are aggressive and roads are generally not well marked. If you are not used to driving in southern Europe, Sicily is probably not the place to start. If you are, you shouldn’t have too much difficulty.
Restaurants – Be prepared to eat Italian and only Italian. Restaurants are mostly Sicilian with occasional dishes from other regions of Italy. Great if you want to experience the local cuisine. While the variety of dishes can seem lacking after a while, the quality of the food is consistently good. Most restaurants are casual trattorie serving classic dishes. There are however, a few more upscale places in the bigger cities, and of course the Michelin starred Duomo, in Ragusa.
Mafia – What Mafia? The only evidence we saw of Mafia was perhaps that the relatively new roads were sliding down the hillsides. Where did the money go for a proper road bed? Personally we had no crime related problems of any kind nor did we ever feel uncomfortable. Yes, there are a lot of crumbly neighborhoods, especially in the cities, but no reason not visit. Be aware, take normal travel precautions and have a great time!
What to see: