In my previous post, I wrote about my top reasons to visit Sicily. But how could I just stop at five? Not when…
6) Sicily’s scenery is diverse and stunning.
Bless those bumpy Sicilian roads and their hairpin turns. They could be stressful to navigate, but they took us through some amazing landscapes.
Driving in the (flat-as-a-pancake) Netherlands is often boring; Sicily is anything but. Our road trips took us through salt flats, across rocky canyons, up mountains covered in velvety green, to the sparkling Mediterranean.
And there was Mount Etna, the stuff of legend. Along the coast near Taormina she loomed over us like an ever-present goddess, just as epic and just as changeable.
We drove past stretches of urban sprawl, and creepy industrial-scale farms (like they were growing babies instead of crops). But we always ended up somewhere gorgeous—and even better, interesting.
7) Sicilian Baroque architecture is a feast for the eyes.
In 1693, a massive earthquake rocked southern Sicily and destroyed 45 towns along the coast. The frenzy of rebuilding that followed gave birth to Sicilian Baroque, an offshoot of Baroque architecture that is unique to Sicily.
Today, the towns of Noto, Modica, Ragusa, Ispica and Scicli, which were the most damaged, are the gems of Sicilian Baroque. Each of these towns is worth a full day trip, but we never made it to the latter two.
From Sicily’s ornate balconies and facades hang grinning faces, grotesque monsters, chubby seraphim, all of them swimming in fancy curlicues and flourishes.
To describe Sicilian Baroque as being decorative and full of details is an understatement. “Grandiose” is another.
Walk slowly, look up, and try not to bump into anything or strain your neck!
8) For Greek mythology nerds, Sicily is the next best thing to Greece.
Don’t tell me this isn’t a good reason to visit Sicily. You know how some kids know everything about dinosaurs, space travel, Pokemon? I was like that about Greek mythology.
Sicily has many remnants of a colorful history involving a whole cast of characters—Greeks, Romans, Normans, Moors, Spanish, Germans and more. For me it was all about the Greek ruins.
The Thinking Traveller has a great roundup of mythological references to Sicily. To me it reads like porn, with legendary namedrops like Odysseus and the Cyclops, Scylla and Charybdis, Persephone and Dionysus.
The Valle dei Templi (Valley of the Temples) is a must-see even if you’re not as much of a nerd as I am.
I found it satisfying that the best preserved temple belongs to Hera, queen of the gods and wife of Zeus (patroness of wives, ahem!). Meanwhile, the temples of Zeus and Hercules at the bottom of the hill are basically large (but still impressive) piles of rubble. Girls rule.
Off the tourist trail, the town of Aci Trezza is where legend says the one-eyed Cyclops captured Odysseus and his men. They managed to break free, but the furious Cyclops threw rocks at them as they escaped. Today, you can still see those rocks—the Isole dei Ciclopi—rising out of the bay.
9) Sicilians are warm, hospitable people.
Living among the reserved Dutch, I really miss a warm, friendly welcome. Sicily made me feel like I was back home in the Philippines.
Meet the nonna from Modica. We were en route to the restaurant I had reserved for dinner, Tala riding on Marlon’s shoulders. As we were walking Marlon noticed a hunched old granny peeking down at us from her balcony and giving Tala a shy, tiny wave.
We stopped, pointed her out to Tala, and encouraged her to wave back. Tala did. I’ll never forget how the nonna’s face blossomed into a radiant, toothless smile. She literally looked overcome with joy.
She held up her hand, then folded both hands together, asking us to stop where we were. In a surprising burst of speed, she left her balcony, hurried down the stairs, out her front door, and across the street to us as fast as her bowed old legs could carry her.
She hugged and kissed each of us, held both hands in hers, and chattered away in excited Italian. All I could understand, aside from the usual bellissima, meravigliosa and bambolina was: “Gioia, gioia (joy, joy)!” She said it over and over as she covered Tala in kisses. Yes, we let her. How could we not?
That’s the kind of story that endears you to a place. Nonna is a standout, but Sicilian warmth surrounded us everywhere. Sicilians remind me so much of my own people and what I love about them. Just don’t put them behind a steering wheel. Kidding. Actually, I’m not.
10) Sicily is real. It’s not postcard perfect. It can be as stressful (the driving) as it is scenic (the views). But it is so very real.
It feels like the part of Italy that Italy forgot. Not the part that it’s constantly polishing and shining for tourists. In many places it’s crumbling and decaying. But there is beauty in that. I appreciate imperfection.
Sicily is a place where, history having been lived, real life goes on. I think of the bustle of the bayside restaurants at Aci Trezza, with families and friends enjoying food and drink on a regular Saturday night.
I think about all the weddings we saw at all the churches, with matronly aunties taking home the wedding flowers the way Filipina titas do.
I think of the young families on the beaches. I think of how the best times we had were being surrounded by people who call Sicily home, not overrun by tour groups as we would be, say, in Tuscany.
It may not be why I went in the first place—but it’s what earned Sicily a special place in my memories.
So, go and visit Sicily. Did I manage to convince you?