Howdy! Today I am taking you to the island Sicily for a bit of amore – or Italian love! And we are getting this fabulous overview of this incredible destination thanks to my friend Sebastiano Peluso, the founder of Discover Italy, which is a company that is actually based in the US and represents different local tour operators in Sicily – which just so happens to be Sebastiano’s hometown.
I have zero doubt that you are going to feel the passion and amore that he has for this island as he shares all there is to see and do in the oh so colorful and picturesque Sicily. So, let’s take a look – and a listen – at exactly what is in store for you on the largest Island of Italy – and the Mediterranean Sea!
Where Is Sicily And How Do I Get There?
Sicily is an island in Southern Italy in the center of the Mediterranean. Even though it is an island it is very well connected with the rest of Europe because there are four airports making it easy to arrive. There is one in Palermo and in Catania – which are the larger two of the four and one in Trapani as well as one in Comiso. Now, the original plan back in May of 2020 was that you could fly non-stop from the United States via a United Airlines flight from New York to Palermo. But alas – due to the pandemic – that never happened. But there are rumors that it is in the works so stay tuned! However – you can fly to Sicily from the US with just one stop in either Rome or London or Amsterdam or Paris. And of course, you can very easily see Sicily via cruise as they have seven cruise ship ports. There is also a ferry that runs from the mainland of Italy to Sicily as a third option. And once you do arrive you are guaranteed an authentic experience thanks to my eyes and ears on the ground via Sebastiano! You will be connected to the local people and local families via local guides. And your expert tour guides will be more than happy to help you discover the three main draws to the island – which are the food and wine, the art and culture and the outdoors – as there are experiences for you in all three!
Food And Wine
As you all well know by now, gastronomy is one of my most favorite things and it’s one of four pillars I use to build your itinerary. In Sicily you will find cuisine that is very rich and very diverse. As Sebastiano so eloquently put it – it is a history book and a recipe book. And that is due to the fact that Sicily – being in the center of the Mediterranean – has seen a lot of different cultures come and go throughout history. It started with the Greeks who arrived in 7th century BC, then throughout the centuries came the Venetians, the Romans, the Normans, the Ottomans and the Spanish. Needless to say, thanks to all those many different cultures Sicily became enriched with their recipes and pretty much every plate – every recipe – has a story to tell. Bonus – everything is surrounded by beautiful lakes and rivers and waterfalls, so it gives you the peace of mind and tranquility that you need to fully enjoy the food and the wine this land is able to offer!
For instance – you will find fish couscous here which you can actually learn how to make in a couscous class – which is a clear influence from the Arab and North African domination. As Sebastiano said it is a North African recipe with a Sicilian touch. You will also find amazing chocolate or Cioccolato di Modica courtesy of the Aztec population. In 1500 the Spanish brought the recipe to Sicily – it is a recipe to warm chocolate at a certain temperature, so the sugar doesn’t melt and becomes separated from the cocoa. The result is a taste that is very granular. Oh – and they add chili peppers as seasoning! How about a chocolate tasting or chocolate cooking class where you can make your own chocolate bar – who’s in because I sure am!
One great way you can experience the plethora of food choices is through a street food tour – where they will escort you to the market to try food from all the different street vendors – and you guys know that is right up my alley so I will be sure to add that on your itinerary so that you can eat your heart out while you are there. But they really do let you discover the food from all different angles. Besides the street food tours there are cooking classes where you discover the food by making the food. There are options to let you discover the food while dining with locals, as Sebastiano works with families so that you visit a Sicilian family and cook with the grandma. Afterwards you will sit down and eat delicious homemade food by a local, authentic Sicilian family. If this isn’t the total local cultural immersion, you’re all asking me for continuously – I don’t know what is – you can’t get more local than this And Sebastiano shared that before you meet the family in their home you go to the bakery to buy them cannoli because you never go to a family with empty hands. Then once you arrive, you learn the recipe right from the grandma and then they will most likely show you the photo book of the wedding and you basically become family. Then before you know it, you’re writing pen pal letters across the world – it’s really a beautiful thing.
There is also the option for a farm to table experience where you will spend the day with a farmer and then make cheese from the milk, do an olive oil tasting and make fresh bread or pizza. Or you can go on a truffle hunt where you will go into the forest with the dogs and the truffle hunter, and you’ll find that whatever the forest offers – i.e. – truffle mushrooms and asparagus – and then you’ll proceed to a villa and have a cooking class with a chef. Now how amazing is that? It’s truly from the earth to your plate!
Not to be outdone the wine is also very special in Sicily. They have white wine on the west side of the island and then they have dessert wines like Marsala named after the city of Marsala and red wines as well. They are also home a volcano – Mount Etna – where they grow grapes for wine in the black volcanic soil. And that wine is incredible because it’s growing in lava soil which is really rich in the minerals. Plus, everything that grows in lava soil has an extra sweetness to it and you can only find that in certain regions of the world. So, if you try the Etna wine – especially the white one, the Etna Bianco – you will taste the minerals from the soil. And of course, you can do wine tastings is Sicily as well and try as many different wines as you want to.
Art And Culture
I love history and I love history even more when it pertains to travel as a living classroom! The amazing number of different cultures alone is a great reason to visit Sicily. Granted it’s a small destination – 250 miles from east to west – but in those 250 miles they have 2500 years of history making it a paradise for people interested in architecture, art and of course history. And with each historical site there is an English speaking guide that helps you travel back in time and revisit the Greek times, the Roman times and all the other eras that abound here.
One thing that Sebastiano said that I absolutely love – and totally agree with – is that when you travel to Sicily you can travel the world. How so? Well… being in Palermo is like being in Marrakesh, being in Siracusa is like being in a mix of Jerusalem and a Baroque town, being in Taormina is similar to the French Riviera – very elegant like Monte Carlo, being in Agrigento is like being in Greece – and he joked if you go to Athens you see less than what you can see here, being in Piazza Armerina, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is like travelling back in time to Roman times, visiting the Barocco Valley – Noto, Modica and Ragusa – you will feel like you’re Malaga, Cordova or Sevilla, Spain. So, you see, it truly is a chance to feel like you have seen the world – all on one small island – thanks to all these different flavors.
One fun thing to do art and culture wise is frequenting the local festivals with your tour guide. They include the flower festival which happens at the end of May in Noto where the artists design art on the street using the pedals of the flowers and the Greek Festival in
Siracusa that usually starts around June 1st.
They also have what they call a Time Machine Experience to see how people used to live and work back in the 1800s. It features perfectly preserved houses and shops of the farmers and the blacksmiths that once resided there. And Sebastiano noted that they can also add in discovering your family roots or doing some genealogy research while there. They can help you to find and visit the village where your ancestors came from and if you can give them the city and last name, they can go to the synagogue or the church to see where the family used to live before moving into the USA!
Another cool thing to do is to tour the Jewish neighborhood in Siracusa and while you are there you can visit an ancient bath that is the oldest in Europe and was discovered 70 years ago after 600 years underground!
And of course, art and culture tours can be mixed and matched with the food and wine tours. For example, you can do a cooking class in the morning and then you can visit the Greek theatre in the afternoon, or you can do a walk in the Jewish neighborhood in morning then truffle hunt in the afternoon – everything is combinable.
Plenty of outdoor activities to do in Sicily! There are jeep tours, hiking on top of the volcano – all different levels of difficulty available, helicopter tours to see the city from the sky, golf courses and more! And if you are a golfer you don’t need to bring your golf clubs – we can get you clubs once you are there so that you don’t have to lug them all around during your vacation. And Sebastiano pointed out that there is a golf course close to the winery so you can play golf in the morning and then go to Etna for a wine testing in the afternoon and then a little spa treatment right afterwards at your hotel – you can’t get a much better day than that!
You can also visit some of the fishing villages that can be found in Sicily. One of the walking tours you can participate in takes you a very cute village – Marzamemi – filled with beautiful little streets, restaurants and shops. Here you can also actually meet the fisherman and you can opt to actually go fishing with them and afterwards take any fish you have caught to a local restaurant and the chef will cook it up for you. Now that is what I call sea to table!
There are also two small groups of islands off Sicily – the Aeolian Islands and the Aegadian Islands – both of which offer fabulous day trips. The Aeolian Islands are on the northeast, and they are volcanic islands much like Hawaii. On the west part are the Aegadian Islands where the ocean here is similar to the Maldives. So, if you go to Sicily, you can also “go to” Hawaii and Maldives and have Sicilian food!
There are a lot of boat tours available too. We can get you small yacht or sailboat and you can go to different areas. The coast and little islets are amazing here and you may want to opt to do a full day where you can jump in the water for a swim and then watch the sunset while drinking Sicilian wine! And every tour can be done on a modern yacht or a vintage old fishing boat as well. Plus – if you guys ever want to do a proposal or something special along those lines, we absolutely can do that and highly recommend doing it here – including weddings.
Of course, there are beaches all around the island as well and both Sebastiano and I agree that you should plan for two or three days on the beach just to relax enjoy it – in fact, I think your vacation should end relaxing on the beach!
Again – all the outdoor activities can be combined with the food and wine and art and culture tours.
As Sebastiano noted – you can stay a month in Sicily and do something different every day. This is no quick weekend getaway – we recommend at least seven to ten days so that you can have a good vacation without exhausting yourself, taking it all in and come back rejuvenated.
You can see places that remind you of destinations all around the world, there is food and wine that you can try in different ways and so much more. So, you need the right speed – you don’t want to jump from place to place – you want to take it all in at a leisurely pace and absorb it. Below are just a few examples of what an itinerary may look like courtesy of Sebastiano and myself:
Western Sicily: A typical day tour would start in the morning with the outdoor activity perhaps to watch sea salt production. Afterwards you would head to lunch and a wine tasting at a winery for your food and wine activity and since it is such a large lunch Sebastiano added cheekily that for better digestion to avoid the food coma, they would then take you for the arts and culture portion – a walk in a Greek temple in Segesta. And of course, you can always invert them or mix them around. Sebastiano joked that there is no problem starting with the wine drinking and then the day is guaranteed to be awesome!
Southeast Sicily: A typical day tour here would perhaps start with the Time Machine Experience where afterward you will enjoy an authentic lunch with the locals – and in the interest of better digestion and avoiding that food coma – end the day with some truffle hunting! And again, you can flip flop these at any point in time any way you would like.
Mount Etna: A typical day tour here would possibly start with a tour of Mount Etna – via the sky! Come on guys I mean having a helicopter ride above Mount Etna – what an amazing experience! And I definitely highly recommend it because you will get the aerial view then when you land you can do a jeep tour and take it in from the ground. And of course, you must do a wine tour to taste all those amazing wines Etna produces!
Sebastiano likened it to Lego bricks – they have lots of different Lego bricks that they can build into different adventures each day consisting of food and wine, art and culture and the great outdoors. And they take you where it is Instagramable – including places that you cannot find on Google – those off the beaten path areas I am so very fond of. And speaking of Instagram – you can opt to a add a photographer to any tour. Imagine not having to take your own pictures and having your own personal photographer just like a celebrity!
Updated COVID-19 Information: As of this writing these are the measures valid for travelers arriving from the United States: Fill in the Passenger Locator Form before entering Italy. Present COVID-19 green pass or certificate on arrival issued by the health authority of their country certifying complete vaccination against COVID-19, performed at least 14 days beforehand, using a vaccine recognized by the European Medicines Agency (EMA). Travellers from the United States of America may alternatively present a COVID-19 green pass of successful recovery or certification of successful recovery issued by competent health authorities. Present a document certifying that they have performed a molecular swab test with negative result in the 72 hours prior to arrival in Italy, or an antigenic swab test with negative result in the 24 hours prior to arrival in Italy.
Wow! Are you as excited about Sicily as I am? Again – lots of history and really you feel like you are you’re going from one culture to another because you truly are – between the Roman and the Greek and everything in between, I think of it as living like a nomad around the world but all in Sicily. And Sebastiano and I are ready to help you create incredible memories so let’s keep this conversation going!
For more details on things to see and do in Sicily, where to stay, it’s price points and more – contact your Travel Guru! Oh, and if you need a payment plan to fund your travel adventure – we got those too!