Ortygia is really an island that is attached to the mainland by bridges. It is a labyrinth of small alleyways, but it is very hard to get lost as all roads eventually seem to lead to the Duomo in the main square. Leave your map in the hotel room and just enjoy wandering though all the narrow lanes. One way to get your bearings is to walk around the perimeter of the island which will take around an hour depending on how many times you stop to take photos!
I really recommend visiting here during the late afternoon as the setting sun illuminates the facades of the buildings giving them a golden glow. The main street is just beautiful, lined with baroque churches and palatial buildings. It is an easy town to navigate, simply follow the length of the main street, Corso Vittorio Emmanuele and explore some of the narrow streets leading off from either side. Sweeping steps will take you up into many of the churches and the cathedral.
Modica is situated in a deep rocky gorge and if you plan to visit, you will need a head for heights and enjoy climbing steps! The town is divided into two parts: a higher and a lower part which are connected by numerous flights of steps. It isn’t quite as easy to explore as Noto and Ortygia as the main sights are spread all over town rather than having a main street or square to see. A very good reason to visit Monica is for the chocolate! If you love chocolate then you will love Modica and I recommend that you visit one of the chocolate shops for some tasting and some buying. It isn’t chocolate as you know it, as they still use an old Aztec recipe which results in a grainy chocolate with a crunch.
There are two parts to Ragusa: Ragusa Superiore on the top of a hill and Ragusa Ibla further down the hill. Head for Ragusa Ibla. It is another town to explore with a maze of alleyways that you can wander to your hearts content. No maps required, as you can always find your way back to the dome of the cathedral and the main square. I enjoyed wandering up past the main square and finding views of the pastel coloured houses of Ragusa Superiore on the hill.
Oh my! What a lovely place. Erice is perched at the top of a very steep cliff, 450 metres above sea level. It took 30 minutes just to ascend the mountain by bus, travelling up a precarious twisting path. The views of the coast as you go up are stunning. I was so lucky to have a clear afternoon, as often this town can be cloaked in clouds! Erice is a mesmerising walled medieval town which again is perfect for wandering. Do spend some time eating cake as well from Maria Grammatico which is a world famous cake shop. My personal favourite was the Genovesi which is a soft, sweet, round pastry filled with a delicate lemon scented custard cream.
Most people staying in Sicily for any length of time will want to visit Palermo and of course that is definitely a must see. Do make sure that when you do visit Palermo that you also factor in enough time to see Monreale while you are there. Buses run regularly from Palermo. Monreale is the home of one of Sicily’s greatest treasures, the Cathedral of Monreale. Pictures simply do not do the inside of this building justice. Golden, shimmering mosaics of scenes from the Old Testament adorn every wall and they are just stunning!
Cefalù was a real favourite of mine. It is a beautiful little town which is a joy to explore. You have the best of both worlds here with sandy beaches and picture postcard perfect streets. The mountains form a backdrop to the Arab-Norman Cathedral in the main square and then you can wander downhill through the narrow streets to reach the crescent-shaped beach. Down on the beach, which was full of little fishing boats, there are lovely views of the town and the mountains. I thought it was a perfect spot to find a bench and sit with my picnic of a sheep’s cheese and prosciutto ciabatta.
Taormina is a popular summer destination and I think that visiting in April was ideal, as it was a lot quieter than it could have been. The picturesque town is perched on the side of a mountain high above the Ionian Sea. The town can be navigated easily by following the main street Corso Umberto I, but you will definitely want to explore the narrow streets branching off on either side. For me, one of the main draws of Taormina were the amazing views that you can get of Mount Etna, which were simply stunning. Walk to Piazza IX Aprile for beautiful vistas. Do visit the Greek Theatre as well. I nearly didn’t as it was the end of my trip and I had visited so many archaeological sights already that I wasn’t sure if I needed to go to any more. I am so glad that I changed my mind, as sitting in the theatre looking at the backdrop of Mount Etna was one of the highlights of my trip!
Which are your favourite towns in Sicily?