Ciao! Bella Sicilia
Hands up then. Who's ready for a holiday? This third lockdown seems to be dragging on longer than both of the others combined, and I'm not sure if it's the fact it's the third one and the novelty is well and truly left somewhere around the 23rd March 2020, or the fact that lockdown one had that glorious summer that seemed like it was never ending, whereas this one (well let's face it) is shoved right in the middle of British winter, but I am DESPERATE for a holiday. Tomorrow (Monday 18th) is what's known as 'blue Monday', officially the most depressing day of the year, or unofficially known as 'the day Jordan spends all her spare time scanning for flights out of here'. This year things are a little different, and whilst I'm the eternal optimist and have therefore booked and planned my holidays for this year (here's hoping), I know not everyone feels as ready to venture back out into the world yet - and that's perfectly ok! However I do know that to brighten up the most miserable day of the year, we need to look to the future, and to happier times, and what could be happier than thinking about where you might possibly want to visit next?!
Whilst I'm super lucky, and have travelled to all sorts of far flung treasures of destinations, I know that we have some equally incredible places much closer to home. Living in the UK we are so lucky to have such easy access to the continent, and with budget airlines making travel affordable to many, it's the perfect opportunity to plan a trip across the to the Mediterranean. I'm therefore going to be mixing it up a bit with my travel blogs, and whilst I aim to inspire the budding travellers out there to venture far and wide, I'm also going to show that you don't have to go too far to find some real diamonds.
I've always loved visiting Europe... It's like a second home to me and the ease of visiting the continent is something I've potentially taken for granted in life, and something after 2020 I will never take for granted again. I have thought nothing in the past of booking a cheap flight to the continent, finding an Airbnb, and merely 3 hours after leaving the UK finding myself sipping cava on the southern coast of Spain, or admiring an Aperol spritz down the alleys in Rome. In general I've always found the hospitality of Europeans so warm and welcoming and this was even more poignant during the summer of 2020.
The little rock of Sicily is a spectacularly beautiful, largely untouched and unspoilt corner of the Mediterranean. With glistening sapphire seas, sensational sunsets, and fabulous food, it really does have something for everybody. Whether you're looking for a bit of history and culture, somewhere good for the kids, or just sunshine to bask in, I can hand on heart say it's a top spot for a summer getaway.
Sicily is an intensely proud country. With a diverse history (remnants of which can still be seen in forms such as the bunkers dotted around the cost), a passionate population and a contrast of fiercely traditional, versus the new and liberal, it truly is a fascinating place. Tie this together with food that oozes soul, scenery to take your breath away, a life-loving attitude and it's easy to think that the Sicilians truly must know the secret to life.
The island of Sicily has two main airports which are Palermo and Catania; these are approximately 3 hours from London in the UK, and a little further if travelling from the North of the UK. Several carriers serve the island, which is busiest during the summer (and subject to seasonal variations in flight schedules), with the months of July and August proving the most expensive in regards to flights and accommodation due to high demand. The weather is largely great through the spring and summer and into Autumn, however the month of September when I travelled can see some dramatic storms. This largely will not ruin the holiday for sun seekers but do be prepared for the odd rainy spell. Italian is the commonly spoken language on the island (although you will hear the locals speaking Sicilian amongst themselves!) and the Euro is the accepted currency. No vaccinations are required to enter the country at the time of writing, and there is minimal time difference from the UK with Sicily being one hour ahead of GMT. It is a largely very safe place to visit, with plenty to do and see during your stay if you wish to explore.
I'm so lucky that I got to explore quite a chunk of Sicily whilst there, helped by renting a car meaning that accessing the island far and wide was fairly simple! So I thought I'd share my must-do, and must-see moments with you! Starting with...
Beaches, sunset swims and Fontaine Bianca
The 'Lidos' that can be found on the coasts of Sicily are what I'd call characteristic. Each one has something slightly different about it, which makes it different to its' neighbour. Just something to be aware of if you do visit, is that a lot of the Lidos are access by paid entry, but they will largely all have a 'free beach' section, where you are not required to pay and, as long as you're happy to take your own towel to lie on or chair, are still just as beautiful and as I found, had plenty of space. A favourite find of ours was Fontaine Bianca, appropriately named with the white sand and gloriously clear water, you could easily lose a day here. For some truly special moments, hit the coast at sunset... you won't be disappointed.
Want to find your Mamma Mia moment? Then look no further than the tiny fishing village of Marzamemi, guaranteed to make you want to run away and start your new life running a hotel here. It's picture perfect, with tiny bars and restaurants lining the coast, and a truly peaceful vibe. Everything there exists to serve a reminder of the roots of this little village, with fishing boats dotting the coastline, and fish on the menu at every eatery. It really is the perfect place to unwind for a few hours in the heat of the middle of the day.
Isola di Ortigia
Syracuse is often mentioned as being on the list of must-see places in Sicily. To be honest, if you were to go to Syracuse itself, apart from a cracking Lidl, you'd be a little confused as to why you were there. However the little pocket of 'Isola di Ortigia', the historical centre of Syracuse, is a true gem just desperate to be explored. As you cross the bridge to the centre of Ortigia, you'll soon see why. Littered with cobbled alleys, trattorias, and a magnificently grand cathedral, all beautifully lit and maintained, it's not hard to fall in love with the Sicilian culture here. You could probably eat out every single night here and still not make your way through all of the restaurants! I found it best visited by night, when the architecture is lit so beautifully and the town is buzzing with life.
When a food group is that good it deserves a paragraph all to itself... that's what you'll find with the gelato in Sicily. Each 'gelateria' is rich in flavour diversity, with mounds of each flavour piled into tubs. Favourite flavours of mine were hazlenut, coffee, and pistachio, but you could have fresher, fruity flavours like lemon, or strawberry that were just as mouth-watering. The perfect mid afternoon cooler, or after dinner dessert, look for the gelateria that's crammed with the locals, you're sure to have found the most authentic one.
Okay, okay I'll stop with the food in a minute. Although on leaving Sicily I vowed I would never eat another pizza again, I've spent the last two months craving one of these traditional staples. They're reasonably priced (off the beaten track you can expect to pay around 4 Euro for one with a good selection of toppings on), and authentically Sicilian. It's quite normal to ask to take some of the pizza home with you as well, so don't feel like you can't ask for a pizza box! What could be better than a tasty dinner out, than one that ends with eating the leftovers by the pool the next day?
The sight of the beauty that is Mt. Etna, spotted on the drive up to Taormina, is enough to tell you that you're about to have a spectacular day. Looming over the coast, her presence is clearly of grandeur, which pretty much sums up the vibe of this hilltop town. The drive towards Taormina is certainly not for the faint-hearted. There's plenty of hairpin bends in the road, and you wonder when the ascent is ever going to end, but rest-assured it does and when you reach the top, you won't hesitate to know that it's worth every second. Taormina has a medieval feeling to the town, with picturesque architecture, in a style that feels slightly different to the majority of the island. The town is probably most famous for it's Teatro Greco, (Greek Theatre), which overlooks Mt. Etna, and the Ionian coastline. It's the second largest teatro in Sicily (Syracuse is number 1!), and built in the 3rd century BC, so it's been around for while! The history makes the visit pretty special, but again it has something for everyone, with a real café culture vibe to the town, you can easily take a book, find a tucked away corner, and spend the afternoon sipping a well deserved Aperol. Just picture that. It's a balmy, warm September evening. The sun is setting over the coastline, and you're sat in a square listening to Dean Martin's Volare, with a cold glass of Aperol in hand.... need I say more?
Described as a 'Baroque Belle' by Lonely Planet, this town truly does boast the best of Sicilian architecture. The golden hue of the town, can be best seen in early morning, or late afternoon, and can be enjoyed from one of the many church rooftop viewing terraces. Although there are many churches that line main central road that runs through the town, the true highlight has to be the Basilica Cattedrale di San Nicolò. Although the whole town was essentially rebuilt post the 1693 earthquake, the Dome of the Cattedrale is even newer, having been rebuilt when a thunderstorm caused its' collapse in 1996.
This is just a small selection of highlights from what is a truly special place. I adored the island, the people, the culture and wouldn't hesitate to recommend a holiday here. So let me know your thoughts! Are you tempted by a visit to this idyllic island? Have you been and can recommend any more hotspots to be visited? Or are you busy planning a visit to somewhere else near or far on this wonderful planet of ours? I'd love to know, so please feel free to drop me a comment or a message. Happy travel planning to you all and remember, 'of all the books in the world, the best stories are found between the pages of a passport'.