Springtime in Sicily

I love a shoulder-season holiday. In the height of summer, I tend to find places too hot, too crowded and too expensive – give me a May bank holiday weekend away or an end of September bargain break any day. I’ll pick a southern European destination, where the weather will be perfect for lounging by the pool (but not so sweltering I’ll have suncream melting down my face if I head out sightseeing), and where there’ll be enough tourists to give the place a bit of a buzz (but not so many I’ll be fighting my way through selfie sticks at every corner).

This year, Mr ST and I opted for a springtime trip to Sicily, jetting off at the end of April and returning relaxed, slightly suntanned and about half a stone heavier (damn those cannoli pastries) a week later.

Our base for the week was Taormina, a lovely little town up on the clifftops in north-eastern Sicily. Our hotel (Grand Hotel Miramare) was trad-Italian in style and built into the side of the cliff, with steep stairways and terraces of orange trees snaking down to the sea-view pool.

grand-hotel-miramare-taormina-sicily grand-hotel-miramare-taormina-sicilyTwo minutes’ walk down the street was one of the best viewpoints in Taormina. In one direction, there’s Isola Bella and a necklace of sparkling bays and coves. In the other, you’ll see Mount Etna, its crater puffing smoke into the cornflower-blue skies.

isola-bella-taorminaTwo minutes’ walk up the street from the hotel was the bus station (very handy for day trips, which I’ll talk about later); a further five minutes and we were at the start of the Corso Umberto, Taormina’s main street. Fully embracing the Italian spirit, we enjoyed daily passeggiatas along here, peeking in the windows of traditional lace-makers and ceramics shops (I had to give the designer boutiques a wide berth, for my bank balance’s sake).

food-shop-taormina-sicily granita-sicilyEvery evening, the street was teeming with people, most of them locals (it was easy to spot the tourists – we were the only ones not wrapped up in puffa jackets). We would amble up and down the cobblestones, stopping at the stunning Piazza IX Aprile for another gawp at Mount Etna, then duck off the main street down one of the little alleyways in search of a wine bar for aperitivo.

Piazza IX Aprile, Taormina, Sicily Piazza IX Aprile, Taormina, SicilyOur favourite was Al Grappolo d’Uva. There’s not much of a pavement outside, but that hasn’t stopped them setting out tiny tables and stools, which we would perch on almost every night for a glass of Sicilian wine and little bowls of nuts, pretzels and crisps. If you haven’t tried Sicilian wine, do – I was really pleasantly surprised, especially with the volcanic wines that are grown on the slopes of Mount Etna.

Etna wine, Taormina, SicilyIl Vicoletto was another nice spot for a glass of wine and some arancini (baked rice balls filled with melted cheese – the perfect late afternoon snack). You’ll find it down a little lane on your left as you enter the Corso Umberto at the Porta Messina end.

We ate dinner at a different restaurant almost every night, and with the exception of one venue (which served me a plate of grey, half-baked fish fritters with not even so much as a salad garnish to go with it), they were all fantastic. Most were recommended by Luisa, our concierge (a 24/7 service we got by booking with Citalia), so we were very glad we took advantage of her local knowledge!

Ristorante L’Incontro was the restaurant we ended up eating at twice. It has a cliff-edge location, but as it was dark both times we went I couldn’t tell you how the view was! The staff there were so friendly and welcoming, and the food was honestly some of the best I’ve ever had (the seafood ravioli in particular – I still drool when I think about the sauce!). Pizzeria Sanicolo and Pizzeria Villa Zuccaro were our favourite pizza places. Sanicolo has a lovely location on Piazza Duomo (looking across to the cathedral), while Pizzeria Villa Zuccaro is hidden away down a backstreet off the Corso Umberto, with tables set up on a leafy terrace with glimpses of the Ionian Sea. I’d also recommend Trattoria Tutti Ccà, also just off the Corso Umberto by the Chiesa di Santa Caterina, for the delicious risottos and cosy atmosphere.

Possibly the biggest attraction in Taormina is its Greek theatre, which is set on the cliff-side (of course) with Etna views. Unfortunately, despite several attempts, we didn’t make it in – a lot of roads were being resurfaced in preparation for the G8 summit, so we either couldn’t get to the entrance, or spent so long following the detour that we missed the cut-off point for buying tickets!

Villa Comunale, Taormina, SicilyBut we did make it to the Villa Comunale gardens, which were one of the main places I’d wanted to go. It’s essentially a local park, but it’s absolutely beautiful – very green and lush, with gorgeous rose bushes and spectacular views over the bay.

Villa Comunale views, Taormina, SicilyAlthough we spent most of our time in Sicily reading by the pool, eating pasta and drinking wine, we did venture further afield on a couple of days.

The first was for a trip to Mount Etna, something that everyone we’d spoken to had made us promise to do. After a winding 90-minute coach journey through the volcano’s foothills, we arrived at the 1,900-metre mark. There are a couple of small craters to climb here, but we were headed even further up, so it was straight onto the cable car and up to 2,900 metres. From there, we piled into 4×4 minibuses for a bumpy ride along a lava road to the highest point you’re allowed to go to. The landscape up there was very otherworldly – black sand and fields of jagged lava rocks as far as you can see. A guide took us on a walk along a recent lava trail, which was still warm to the touch.

Mount Etna day trip, Taormina, SicilyIf it’s a clear day, the views are incredible.

Views, Mount Etna day trip, Taormina, Sicily Mount Etna day trip, Sicily Views from Mount EtnaAfter heading back to the cable car station, we bought ourselves a glass of Etna red wine and sat out on the terrace to enjoy it, all bundled up in our coats and scarves (not only is it cold up there, it’s very windy too!).

Our second day out was a trip south to Syracuse and Noto. We started off at the archaeological area just outside Syracuse, exploring the Greek theatre and ancient amphitheatre, before moving on to the city’s old quarter, Ortigia.

Ortigia, Syracuse, Sicily Ortigia, Syracuse, SicilyMr ST and I both fell completely in love with Ortigia and are already thinking about going back to spend a bit more time there. It’s set on an island, so every few minutes you’ll catch a glimpse of the turquoise waters at the end of an alleyway or cobbled street. Elegant townhouses line the streets, with cute cafes and trattorias pretty much everywhere.

Ortigia, Syracuse, Sicily Ortigia, Syracuse, SicilyIn the centre is Piazza Duomo, Syracuse’s main square. It’s one of the most beautiful Italian piazzas I’ve ever seen, edged by stunning baroque buildings crafted from creamy stone.

Piazza Duomo, Ortigia, Syracuse Cathedral, Syracuse, Sicily Piazza Duomo, Syracuse, SicilyI could have stayed in Ortigia for hours, but we were soon shepherded back onto the coach (one of the pitfalls of big group excursions!) to get to our final stop for the day, Noto.

Noto is one of the region’s UNESCO-listed baroque towns, completely rebuilt in late baroque style after being levelled by a massive earthquake centuries ago. Because we’d been stuck in huge traffic jams to get down to Syracuse at the start of the day, we had barely any time in Noto at all – 45 minutes after getting off the coach, we were all getting back on again.

I did manage to get a couple of snaps of the golden buildings, though…

Noto, Sicily Noto, Sicily

Noto, SicilyI’d definitely recommend visiting Sicily in the spring – it wasn’t tourist-free by any stretch, but I can’t imagine it was anywhere near as busy as it would be in July and August. The weather was sunny and in the early to mid-20s, and the only time we needed jumpers was at night. The gardens were all in full bloom, as were the wildflowers which line the roads and motorways.

I’m on the lookout for somewhere to visit this October – if you’ve got any recommendations for autumn destinations, please do let me know in the comments!


Competition

This summer, I’m partnering with GPSmyCity to give away a full year’s membership of their city walk app to one reader, worth more than $8,000. The app holds over 6,500 self-guided walking tours and travel guides from travel experts all over the world (there are even walks in Taormina, Syracuse and Noto!) and the winner will be able to access every single one for free. Perfect if, like me, you love to explore on foot. To enter, all you need to do is leave a comment on this post before 15 September, 2017 – nice and simple! Good luck 🙂 [Please note, this competition is now closed]

32 Comments

  • Reply Lara Dunning September 4, 2017 at 3:56 am

    I prefer traveling in the off-season too. It is so much more pleasant and usually better on travel budget. Sounds like you had a wonderful time. A hike on Mount Etna would be a must do for me!

    • Laura
      Reply Laura September 15, 2017 at 9:56 pm

      It’s fab Lara – it was so cool being able to walk on a still-warm lava trail!

  • Reply Travelling Dany September 4, 2017 at 10:59 am

    I love Sicily SO much! The food is delicious, the people are welcoming and the sea is just about perfect! The are around Messina and Milazzo is also very nice, as well as Palermo!

    • Laura
      Reply Laura September 15, 2017 at 9:57 pm

      Ooh, I must check them out 🙂

  • Reply Teesh September 4, 2017 at 12:54 pm

    This sounds like such a dream vacation! The weather seemed perfect and everywhere you ate would probably have me gaining weight too!

    • Laura
      Reply Laura September 15, 2017 at 9:58 pm

      Haha, it’s totally worth the weight gain though 😉

  • Reply Angela @ Dang Travelers September 4, 2017 at 5:26 pm

    What a lovely area! I haven’t spent any time yet in Sicily but an on-the-shoulder season type trip sounds perfect. Thanks for sharing, I’m saving this one for future reference!

    • Laura
      Reply Laura September 15, 2017 at 9:58 pm

      Thanks Angela 🙂

  • Reply Brianna September 4, 2017 at 7:02 pm

    Sicily looks gorgeous! I especially love how not crowded it looks in springtime. Sounds like a great time to visit.

    • Laura
      Reply Laura September 15, 2017 at 9:59 pm

      Spring was a fab time to visit (although maybe I’ll have to go back in summer, autumn and winter, just to check how they are…!)

  • Reply Edith September 5, 2017 at 6:45 am

    The views are amazing everywhere! Every place you pictured is so perfect! I definitely want to visit Sicily one day for the views, the food, the streets, and simply all its beauty. 🙂

    • Laura
      Reply Laura September 15, 2017 at 9:59 pm

      The views from Taormina especially were fantastic – looking over to Mount Etna smoking away was very surreal!

  • Reply Skye September 6, 2017 at 2:32 am

    Oh we just loved Taormina too. Great that you stayed at Miramare it has such an amazing view. Shoulder season is certainly the best time to visit too. We were there in high summer and it was very, very busy. So jealous you went to Syracuse. You’ve made me want to head back there and explore there too.

    • Laura
      Reply Laura September 15, 2017 at 10:01 pm

      I can imagine how busy it gets in the summer! Syracuse is so high on my list now, it was so beautiful – definitely needed more than one day there.

  • Reply Punita Malhotra September 6, 2017 at 4:32 am

    We always travel in shoulder season too! Crowds are less and weather-wise, September-October is so perfect too. Sicily looks so dreamy. We’ve been to tons of places in Italy, but it seems I can never get enough of this stunning country.

    • Laura
      Reply Laura September 15, 2017 at 10:03 pm

      I’m like that with Italy too – for every place I visit there are about 10 more I add to my list!

  • Reply Tracy September 7, 2017 at 3:46 am

    Florence is a beautiful place as I see. It always reminded me of something classic which I like it. Hope to get a chance to visit there one day. 🙂

  • Reply Kerri September 7, 2017 at 5:55 am

    Most of my travel has been to Europe in the off seasons but we’ve started to change that a little more recently. Loved Sicily and could easily spend more time there. My highlight had to be climbing Mt Etna.

    • Laura
      Reply Laura September 15, 2017 at 10:04 pm

      Mount Etna was a highlight for me too 🙂

  • Reply Natasha September 8, 2017 at 6:34 am

    Wow, the views just keep getting better and better. I love each stop you visited and the arancini sounds absolutely delicious! What a wonderful trip.

    • Laura
      Reply Laura September 15, 2017 at 10:05 pm

      Thanks Natasha!

  • Reply Jean Taylor September 12, 2017 at 5:02 pm

    Sicilly has been on my wishlist for nearly 50 years. Now having watched the Inspector Montalbano programmes I can’t wait to go.

    • Laura
      Reply Laura September 15, 2017 at 10:05 pm

      Ragusa is also on my wish list now after Montalbano, Jean!

  • Reply Anna Birch September 12, 2017 at 8:32 pm

    I have not managed to venture this far south of Italy and is on my list of many places to visit in Italy, Sicily looks stunning but Puglia is my next stop so perhaps Oct 2018 will be Bella Sicilia!

    • Laura
      Reply Laura September 15, 2017 at 10:06 pm

      I visited Puglia back in June – it’s beautiful! I’m going to try and do a post about it soon 🙂

  • Reply Alison Jones September 13, 2017 at 4:49 am

    I love this blog such stunning pictures which make you feel you are really there.
    Have you tried Iceland ! That would make a great blog

    • Laura
      Reply Laura September 15, 2017 at 10:07 pm

      I do have a couple of blogs on Iceland – they’re from a few years back though. I loved it there and definitely want to go back one day, perhaps in the summer as I visited in the depths of winter last time!

  • Reply asiya ali September 13, 2017 at 9:12 am

    What a splendid prize, so much better than joining (and paying!) for a group walking tour. Have never been to Italy but it’s next on my list.

    • Laura
      Reply Laura September 15, 2017 at 10:08 pm

      Hope you make it soon, it’s my favourite country 🙂

  • Reply Jane Sanderson September 13, 2017 at 10:02 pm

    Definitely want to visit Sicily now, love exploring on foot you never know what you will find.
    I’d recommend exploring Barcelona on foot

    Amazing prize too

    • Laura
      Reply Laura September 15, 2017 at 10:09 pm

      Thanks Jane 🙂 I visited Barcelona about four years ago now – think I’m definitely due a trip back!

  • Reply eilazabeth harman September 17, 2017 at 9:40 am

    I would walk 500 miles and more to PROCLAIM my love for SICILY

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