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Sicily has beckoned seafaring wanderers since the trials of Odysseus were first sung in Homer’s Odyssey—perhaps the world’s first travel guide. Strategically poised between Europe and Africa, this mystical land of three corners and a fiery volcano once hosted two of the most enlightened capitals of the West—one Greek, in Siracusa, and one Arab-Norman, in Palermo. The island has been a melting pot of every great civilization on the Mediterranean: Greek and Roman; then Arab and Norman; and finally French, Spanish, and Italian. Today, the ancient ports of call peacefully fuse the remains of sackings past: graceful Byzantine mosaics rubbing elbows with Greek temples, Roman amphitheaters, Romanesque cathedrals, and baroque flights of fancy.

The invaders through the ages weren’t just attracted by the strategic location; they recognized a paradise in Sicily’s deep blue skies and temperate climate, its lush vegetation and rich marine life—all of which prevail to this day. Factor in Sicily’s unique cuisine—another harmony of elements, mingling Arab and Greek spices, Spanish and French techniques, and some of the world’s finest seafood, all accompanied by big, fruity wines—and you can understand why visitors continue to be drawn here, and often find it hard to leave.

In modern times, the traditional graciousness and nobility of the Sicilian people have survived side by side with the destructive influences of the Mafia under Sicily’s semiautonomous government. Alongside some of the most exquisite architecture in the world lie the shabby, half-built results of some of the worst speculation imaginable. In recent years coastal Sicily, like much of the Mediterranean coast, has experienced a surge in condominium development and tourism. The island has emerged as something of an international travel hot spot, drawing increasing numbers of visitors. Astronomical prices in northern Italy have contributed to the boom in Sicily, where tourism doesn’t seem to be leveling off as it has elsewhere in the country. Brits and Germans flock in ever-growing numbers to Agrigento and Siracusa, and in high season, Japanese tour groups seem to outnumber the locals in Taormina. And yet, in Sicily’s windswept heartland, a region that tourists have barely begun to explore, vineyards, olive groves, and lovingly kept dirt roads leading to family farmhouses still tie Sicilians to the land and to tradition, forming a happy connectedness that can’t be defined by economic measures.

Sicily Reviews

Sicilian cuisine is one of the oldest in existence, with records of cooking competitions dating to 600 BC. Food in Sicily today reflects the island’s unique cultural mix, imaginatively combining fish, fruits, vegetables, and nuts with Italian pastas and Arab and North African elements.

It is hard to eat badly in Sicily. From the lowliest of trattorias to the most highfalutin’ ristorante, you’ll find the classic dishes that have been the staples of the family dinner table for years—basically pasta and seafood. A more sophisticated place may introduce a few adventurous items onto the menu, but the main difference between the cheapest and the most expensive restaurants will be the level of service and the accoutrements: in more formal places you’ll find greater attention to detail and a more respectful atmosphere, while less pretentious trattorias tend to be family-run affairs, often without even a menu to guide you. However, in this most gregarious of regions in the most convivial of countries, you can expect a lively dining experience wherever you choose to eat.

Sicily Reviews

The good-quality hotels tend to be limited to the major cities and resorts of Palermo, Taormina, Siracusa, and Agrigento, along with the odd beach resort, but there has also recently been an explosion in the development of agriturismo lodgings (rural bed-and-breakfasts), many of them quite basic, but others providing the same facilities found in hotels. These country houses also offer all-inclusive, inexpensive full-board plans that can make for some of Sicily’s most memorable meals.

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