Traditional feasts, breath-taking views, and stunning historic architecture – Kerry, one of our Sales Consultants, shares her experience of Sicily.
When I was lucky enough to be invited to Sicily recently by the Belmond Hotel Group, I couldn’t have been more delighted. While I’d been on many familiarisation trips before to our other destinations, this would be my first visit to Sicily. We were to be a party of nine, a mix of journalists and travel industry professionals, staying for three nights in Taormina.
Having visited Corsica and Sardinia several times over the years I thought I knew roughly what to expect of Sicily – sunny weather, lovely beaches, welcoming locals, and hopefully great food and wine. I certainly experienced all that but also so much more. To say the island of Sicily exceeded my expectations is an understatement; I simply hadn’t accounted for all the history and beauty I would find. I don’t consider myself a very cultured person, but I was amazed and thrilled at both the views and the architecture. I often found myself just wandering around gazing at all the beautiful buildings.
But the main attraction is the location. Within seconds of leaving the peacefulness of the hotels gardens, we were right in the heart of lively, fun Taormina – watching street sellers, listening to musicians playing Dean Martin songs, indulging in local ice creams, and enjoying amazing views. The heart of the town is extremely elevated, so you have beautiful views down towards the coastline and the sea always appears to be sparkling. There’s a varied mix of top-end fashion shops and souvenir shops; you can buy anything from pottery to local food produce and wine.
above: Boris Stroujko | Shutterstock
As well as the beautiful views down to the coast, you can also enjoy the views looking up. With a promise of yet more wonderful views, we started making our way up 700 steps to a local church that overlooks the town. Around the 300-step mark, however, I was regretting my decision to join in. Once I had finally reached the top I was so enchanted by the vista before me (and also by the stories of the church and the local people) that I soon forgot how much my legs ached. And it was much easier climbing back down!
above: vvoe | Shutterstock
A 'must-do' is the fabulous Greek Theatre. It has hundreds of years of history and it was fascinating to hear how the Greeks, Spanish and Romans all shaped what it’s become today. In the months from April to November it’s open to tourists during the day, and is booked nearly every evening hosting operas, pop and rock concerts, and festivals – all manner of events!
above: mRGB | Shutterstock
The town itself is pedestrianised (apart from taxis), so it’s lovely not to have traffic noise and fumes all around, and there’s a cable car that connects the elevated town centre to the sea.
Val di Noto
Our second full day was visiting areas towards the south of the island – Ragusa, Modica and Noto. Ragusa is an amazing town, built onto two huge hillsides, causing the town to 'dip' in the middle. It’s so quiet compared to Taormina – just locals going about their daily business, and a few tourists wandering around the town, enjoying local life. I can see why there’s a keen American market here – Sicily has such a long and varied history and there’s so much culture – every building, every church, every street is more beautiful than the last.
above and below: Ragusa
Noto was a highlight for me (and not just for the delicious ice-cream shop, although that was a factor…) The streets were simply lined with beautiful theatres, mansions, libraries, and the most amazingly large cathedral. Designs and details on the buildings were incredible, and we were told a grinning lion face on the underside of a balcony was supposedly the inspiration for the Rolling Stones tongue logo…true or not – who knows? But I loved the story! We happened to visit at dusk when all the buildings were bathed in a golden sunlight making them seem even more magical.
That's me on the far right in the picture above, in Noto
I had eaten some excellent food on my trip. The hotel chefs use local produce wherever possible and it shows. My favourite meal, however, was a traditional Sicilian feast on our last night. Arancini (delicious seasoned rice and mozzarella balls deep fried in breadcrumbs), stewed eggplant, beef carpaccio, seafood salad, so many varieties of fresh fish, and lots of tasty pasta, to name but a few dishes. Luckily we were warned to save a bit of room for dessert, and it didn’t disappoint – cannoli (a tube of fried pastry filled with sweet ricotta cheese), cassata (booze soaked sponge cake layered with cream and chocolate chips and covered in marzipan and candied fruits), pistachio ice cream, chocolate eclairs and raspberry parfait. I should have been full enough to last me another week, but alas breakfast the following morning was also just too tempting!
Though sad to leave, I brought home some local wine, toys for my children, and even some fresh cannoli from the airport for my family (they package it up so well it stays chilled). I don’t know when I’ll be heading back to Sicily again – I just know that I will definitely be returning at some point. I’ll just be torn as to whether I should head back to Taormina, or if I should discover a different part of the island. Decisions, decisions.
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