So you’ve probably heard about Palermo and Taormina and the picture of Sicily’s sun-kissed roofs (which you might have seen in movies like “The Godfather” with Al Pacino) is more or less familiar. But there’s so much more to this Italian gem apart from its azure blue waters, tasty food and views of the mighty Mount Etna volcano. And if you’re among those who wish to discover off-the-beaten-track locations during tours of Sicily, here are some unique places to jot down on your travel agenda to make your Sicilian exploration one to remember.
Scala dei Turchi Cliffs
Nature enthusiasts should definitely save some time for visiting one of the most incredible and unusual cliffs in Italy – Scala dei Turchi. The ladder-like limestone steps, translated as “the stairs of the Turks”, were actually formed naturally, although it may first appear that they were carved by man. The seaside views from the cliffs are splendid, not to mention the top-notch photo opportunities! What is more, the white marl mud that can be found there is considered to have rejuvenating and healing properties, so why not spoil yourself with a little mask?
Valley of Temples near Agrigento
Not many people know this but Sicily is home to arguably better preserved ancient Greek ruins than Greece itself. A great example of such historic heritage is the archaeological site called the Valley of Temples which is located very close to the city of Agrigento. This UNESCO-listed site has more than 5 Doric temples dating back to about 430-510 BC. The most breathtaking one is the Temple of Concordia.
If ancient Greek architecture is your thing, you’ll certainly want to also include Segesta in your travel plans. This timeless city’s Temple of Segesta is among the best-preserved Doric temples both in Sicily and the world. Whereas Sicily’s most impressive Greek theater is undoubtedly the one located in Taormina.
Val di Noto
Caltagirone, Ragusa and Modica are perhaps among the most quintessential and remarkable places of Sicily’s eight Val di Noto towns. These late-Baroque UNESCO Heritage gems have much to offer travelers, so depending on how much time you have in Sicily, save at least a couple of days for discovering them. The Baroque presence in the Val di Noto region is closely connected with some trembling history – the earthquake in the late 17th century has destroyed the towns to a large extent, and thus most of the architecture that can be seen today has been rebuilt in late 1690’s.
The unique ceramics of Caltagirone are alone a great reason to go there. Ceramics have been produced in the town for centuries, for a millennium to be more specific, so it’s no surprise that ceramics are the symbol of the city. Many walls, bridges, plaques, flower pots, and evens stairs, like the famous Scale di Caltagirone, are adorned with these colorful ornament tiles.
Plus, when going to or returning from Caltagirone make a stop in the nearby location Villa Romana del Casale which is home to extensive ancient Roman mosaics.
Ragusa & Modica
As for Ragusa and Modica, many Sicily tours combine these cities in one comprehensive day trip. The town Ragusa is split into two parts, each standing on a hill. Ragusa’s old town called Ibla boasts several places not to miss, including the Ragusa Cathedral and the Chiesa di Santa Maria dell’Itria.
Modica is most famous for its centuries-old chocolate making tradition, so tickle your senses with some delicious treats and don’t forget to taste some local Cioccolato. In between tastings, check out one of the many gorgeous Baroque churches such as Duomo di San Giorgio. As a matter of fact, there are about 100 churches in this town!
For another engaging pastime in Sicily don’t miss out on Syracuse which is one of the oldest cities in the whole Mediterranean and has numerous sites from different time periods to fascinate travelers with. Its 7th-century Duomo of Santa Maria delle Colonne and exquisite Ortygia Island are of prime interest. Of course, the Neapolis Archaeological Park with the limestone arch cave called Ear of Dionysius is a must-do in Syracuse as well.
The town of Erice, with its medieval look and tasty local cuisine, has become really popular among tourists for its castles. The Norman Venus Castle, Castello di Venere, was built around the 12th century, surrounding an even older Roman temple in honor of Venus. This location is noted among visitors for its rewarding vistas from viewpoints. The other charming Erice castle is the fairy-tale Pepoli, set a little below Venus Castle. Also, when in Erice, try some mouth-watering local sweets and pastries such as marzipan or almond treats as well as mustaccioli cookies to name a few.
This hill-top beauty is surely among the less discovered places in Sicily that are worth seeing. The architectural marvel and absolute must visit in Monreale is its Norman Cathedral with adjacent cloisters. The tile work and mosaics decorating a total area of around 20 thousand sq.f. of the massive structure of the Duomo surely are very impressive! Interestingly, the whole complex was erected in the end of the 1160s and has made it to our days nearly intact.
Of course, there are many other ways to spice up tours of Sicily. For instance, rising all the way up to the craters of the still active volcano Mount Etna is one of such enthralling experiences. For a gastronomic delight consider going wine tasting and try some of the high-class local wine or even better, time provided, join a cooking class and learn to cook delicious traditional food with a Sicilian chef. And for a laid back relaxing experience, check out the island during a boat ride – the picturesque scenery certainly won’t disappoint.