Travel Tuesday: Sicily with Sally

Having planned a celebratory holiday for when Sally finished her PhD, in November 2014 we set off for an adventure to Sicily. Sally is not one for lounging on a beach in the sun all day not doing anything, so in the week that we were there we packed in as much exploring as we could. There were road trips in our little Fiat 500, driving through the craziest traffic I’ve ever seen, mountain climbs, long sandy beaches, sea swimming, incredible food and some really amazing culture. I could only include a short summary for each place, otherwise this post would end up at least 10,000 words long (it’s a mammoth post as it is)!

We had decided upon Sicily as we wanted somewhere that would still be warm in early November and that had lots going on, despite being out of tourist season. I would highly recommend travelling in October/November to the Mediterranean as you are treated much more favorably by locals, everything is about half the price of peak summer and the weather can still be really quite warm (much more pleasant than in August when all you want to do is wonder around places with air conditioning). We booked our flights with Easyjet, found our car hire online, stayed in a private rented apartment we found on Trip Advisor and still ate out in restaurants at least once a day – and the entire weeks trip (including the drive from Devon to Gatwick) cost us approx £400 each.









We stayed in the capital of Sicily as a) the flights were cheap b) there looked like there was a lot to do and c) it was close to a lot of different places we’d planned to visit. I think if I went again, I’d not stay the entire trip in one apartment but spend half of it in the North and the other half in the South, as we didn’t get to see the country as a whole in the short time we were there.

Palermo is a bustling city with unpredictable and chaotic traffic, a beautiful mismatch of architectural style and a new breath taking site around every corner. The city meets in the centre at the aptly named “four corners” and darts off in all four directions from there. There are also many landmarks to get your bearings, such as the Theatre Massimo and some amazing gardens and cathedrals. We spent quite a lot of time wondering the old streets and taking detours, getting ourselves lost down picturesque alleys and stopping occasionally for local delicacies (often which were free as the locals took a fancy to two very British looking women!)







We explored the markets packed with clothes, jewellery, vegetables, meat, fish and all sorts of other necessaries (although we did feel slightly unnerved at the amount of staring and people shouting, or sometimes whispering very close to you, “Bellisimo Bella”). There were cathedrals, piazzas and gardens to wonder through, keeping our curiosity continuously entertained. We also wandered around a bit at night, staying in the touristy main streets felt perfectly safe as there were always a lot of people about. Eating a whole range of differed flavoured gelato and eating out once a day at restaurants, the luxury of our apartment meant that we could also cook once a day and keep our costs down. Our favourites were really close to where we were staying, in Piazza Sant’Onofrio, Frida Pizzeria had queues every night with waiting lists up to an hour long, and Margo nearby did some amazing seafood and pasta dishes.






One day, we decided to go and visit the Cappuchin Catacombs on the outskirts of Palermo. It was almost impossible to find, despite our map, as it wasn’t signed at all. A lot of Sicily we found wasn’t at all geared towards tourists like the UK is – they don’t ever have signs to tourist attractions and all information boards or guides are always in Italian only. The catacombs are basically an underground tomb of mummies from the 1800s. Eerily close up and without any regard for health and safety like we would have in the UK, they’re all still wearing clothes and some even still have skin and hair attached. Pretty creepy, but also really fascinating and well worth a visit. (Although I’d recommend researching the history behind them before you go as we wondered around without any English guides and had no idea why there were all there until we went back and googled it afterwards!)










Around the corner from Palermo is Mondello beach, which we visited a few times as it was really close, had free parking and was perfect for swimming and relaxing as the sun went down. The restaurants in Mondello weren’t up to scratch but we happily joined all the locals buying their daily bread and cheese in tiny shops and made ourselves picnics.







Mount Etna

As we’d hired a car, we decided one day that we’d get up early and drive the three hours or so to Mount Etna. As geographers we were both really keen to climb the volcano and see the bubbling lava, not realising that you’re restricted to only going up a certain height without paying for an expensive landrover tour. Still, climbing the crators and lava plumes was satisfyingly exhausting and the view from the top was incredible. It is well worth a drive from anywhere on the island as you don’t get many chances in life to climb an active volcano!






We spent a glorious day in Cefalu. The temperature, despite being early November was 26 degrees and we got to lay on the beach, swim in the sea and explore the stunning sandstone town. Many of the restaurants were closed for the season, but we found quite a posh looking one and decided to treat ourselves. We sat on the balcony overlooking the turquoise sea, eating some of the best seafood pasta I’ve ever had and chatted to a fellow English man who was an ex-Oxford University professor and had come to Sicily to enjoy the sun with a friend. Cefalu was probably one of my favourite places we stopped at as there was a beautiful calm peaceful air to the place after the hustle and bustle of Palermo.






Termini Imerese

As we’d passed it a few times on our drive out of Palermo and the sign had a picture of a fountain, we thought we’d stop off on our way back one night. However, we found that the town, although pretty, didn’t have much going for it and there wasn’t even a fountain! We did however try cannoli for the first time (crispy wafer rolls filled with gelato) which made the trip a bit sweeter.




Monte Pellegrino

One trip we’d been advised to do was drive up the steep winding roads to Monte Pellegrino where you get an incredible view over Palermo. We did get to the top where there is a car park, but decided that some of the views a little lower were more spectacular and it was fantastic being able to look out over the whole city from one viewpoint.

Overall the trip was an incredible insight into life in Sicily, with some amazing scenery, sunshine and sea views. I would say that we went at the perfect time and managed to fill our days with as much exploring as we could muster. I would definitely go again, as there are a lot of places we’d have liked to visit in the south of the island, but I’m sure there will be many more chances in the future…











  • Learn some Italian – although locals English is better than most English locals Italian, it isn’t as good as you might expect – some basic Italian would have been useful when we were lost or wanted to buy things
  • Hire a car – I’m not sure how great the public transport is, but hiring a car is really cheap and means you have the freedom to go anywhere whenever you want to. To cross the whole island only takes about 4 hours.
  • Rent an apartment rather than staying in a hotel – we found a great deal on Trip Advisor and having an apartment as a base meant we saved money because we could cook 2 meals a day and we had the space to relax and somewhere to play the Bolivian dice game or cards
  • Plan your itinery – but not too much. We made a list of all the places we wanted to visit, then worked out from a big map we picked up which ones we’d fit into which days. We didn’t plan how long we’d be at each one or what we’d do whilst we were there, because you never know when you’re going to wonder upon something incredible that you wouldn’t have found if you’d planned your every move.
  • Don’t be put off by locals – we were two British women with ginger hair (well, one ginger, one kind of pretend ginger) and weren’t harrassed by the locals as such, but they were fascinated by us. We kept our belongings as safe as we could and stuck together, but I didn’t feel in any danger, and often the places you explore that aren’t in the guide are the ones you’ll remember.
  • Share Food – if you’re with one other person and you have similar tastes, one of the best ways to try as many local dishes as possible is to each choose one dish, cut them in half and have a bit of both. We did this in every restaurant we went to and it worked perfectly – you feel like you’ve had twice the food!