Blissful beaches, volcanic peaks, Baroque towns and bags of history… Sicily ticks every box on the holiday wish list. And we’ve just extended our collection of hip Sicilian hideaways, uncovering more boutique hotel beauties and self-catering gems across this sun-drenched Mediterranean isle.
Sicily sizzles in more ways than one. Yes, it’s wonderfully hot (it lies less than 150km from Africa, after all), but it’s also packed with dramatic landscapes, captivating coastline and vibrant culture. A turbulent past has left the island with an intriguing legacy, embracing Greek, Roman, Moorish, Norman and Spanish influences, and there’s plenty to see, from the edgy capital Palermo to the sleepy hill towns and secluded coves of the south east. It’s easily accessible, too, with frequent flights to Palermo and Catania – plus some fantastic places to stay once you get there.
There’s enough in Sicily to keep you occupied for weeks, but here’s a taster of some of the island’s best bits.
First up is Palermo. Once an Arab emirate then the seat of Norman kings, it’s an evocative blend of crumbling palazzi, ornate churches, chic restaurants and colourful, chaotic streets. It’s well worth exploring, particularly for its raucous markets, yacht-lined seafront and bejewelled Palatine chapel, though you’ll need a calming sanctuary to return to at the end of the day – thankfully, stylish BB22 and Maxim B&B fit the bill perfectly.
Moving down to Sicily’s south coast, you’ll come across the Valley of the Temples at Agrigento – one of the finest Greek sites in the world. Perched above the sea are 3 well-preserved temples from the 5th century BC, plus the jumbled remains of a fourth, which was once the largest in the ancient world. Just half an hour from Agrigento is Mandranova, a working olive farm with beautiful guest rooms and a spring-fed pool.
The south is also a treasure trove of Baroque towns, and the jewels in its crown are Unesco-listed Modica, Ragusa, Scicli and Noto. Their opulent churches and close-packed houses were rebuilt in local honey-coloured limestone after an earthquake devastated the region in 1693, and there are fantastic delis, ice cream parlours and restaurants (including Michelin stars in Modica and Ragusa) to break up your sightseeing. You can stay amid the splendour at Casa Talia or Monoresort in Modica, Locanda Don Serafino in Ragusa or Hotel Novecento in Scicli, or base yourself in the hills nearby at Cambiocavallo, Relais Parco Cavalonga or Masseria degli Ulivi.
There’s plenty more to see on the east coast, including Siracusa – once one of the most important Greek cities in the Mediterranean. Its charming historical centre is set on a sea-washed headland (actually an island) called Ortigia, with atmospheric lanes, magnificent piazzas and crumbling lungomare (sea walls) leading to a 13th-century castle. Back across the bridge in ‘mainland’ Siracusa are ancient amphitheatres and quarries. You can stay on the waterfront at Hotel Gutkowski or L’Approdo delle Sirene, or among peaceful meadows just outside town at Caol Ishka.
Siracusa also makes a good base for visiting the Vendicari Nature Reserve, which hides some of Sicily’s best beaches. Our favourites are Calamosche and Balsamo; they’re only accessible on foot, but signed paths guide the way and you’ll spot orchids, turtles and flamingos as you walk.
Last but not least is Taormina, a refined resort town perched between azure sea and pine-clad peaks, with the snow-capped cone of Mt Etna smouldering on the horizon. It has long attracted expat artists and writers, including D.H. Lawrence, who lived here for 3 years. Nowadays its Greek theatre is the setting for an excellent summer festival of music and dance, and boutiques and bars line its winding streets. There are some luxurious hotels to choose from, too, including Villa Carlotta and The Ashbee.
Sicily is at its balmy best in spring (April-early June) and early autumn (September and October); summer (July and August) can be scorching. Don’t rule out late autumn or winter visits – the beaches are wonderfully quiet, and the sea is often warm enough for swimming until November.
Our top tip
Stop for lunch in the pretty fishing village of Marzamemi, just south of the Vendicari Nature Reserve. Restaurants cooking up the morning’s catch line the main square – we loved Taverna La Cialoma for its lemon-infused ricotta, tuna cannelloni and flower-filled terrace.
See our destination guide for more inspiration on things to do and places to stay in Sicily.