Sicily is known for many natural and archaeological treasures, but it’s the well-preserved towns and old villages that will truly amaze you the most. Here are five medieval and baroque gems worth visiting, all close to the coastline and situated in different corners of the island.
Caltabellotta is an old mountain village in the province of Agrigento. That’s a pretty impressive rock dominating the landscape! The narrow and very, very steep streets make this the toughest place I have ever had to maneuver a car through! But it’s worth the stress: the view from a distance is mesmerizing and it’s quite fun to walk back into the heart of the town, have a drink on one of the few terraces and mingle with the local seniors.
I have a soft spot for cities with a waterfront. The island of Ortigia is the historical heart of Siracuse and is connected to the mainland by bridges. Make sure to spend at least one evening there, when the island is closed to most cars. It makes it an even bigger joy to walk around. Have dinner near the waterside, admire the intriguing piazza and palazzi and the western shore with the boats and the seascapes and wander around in the narrow medieval lanes.
Noto in south-eastern Sicily probably was the biggest surprise of all. It wasn’t on our initial route but along the way we had heard that it was beautiful. Especially the medieval old town is gorgeous and bustling by day as well as by night. The centre is very small – just a couple of streets really – but we spent hours walking around without ever losing interest. There’s the huge St. Nicholas Cathedral and the Basilica San Salvatore, the grand porta reale that you can see in the back of the picture and so many other things to explore, like cute little shops, bars and marketeers selling local treats. Noto was destroyed by an earthquake in 1693 and rebuilt after that so it’s more of a baroque town now, but there are still medieval ruins left.
Another beauty by water’s edge. Cefalù is an old fishing port and current tourist hot spot, though somehow you don’t really notice the crowds unless you’re spending the entire day sunbathing on the beach. The medieval district with the duomo claiming all the attention is charming, but I preferred just strolling around the delightful side streets. You never know what surprises lurk around the corner. Historic gates leading out to the ocean, authentic mansions and other impressive architectural exteriors, ancient roman baths… Accommodations inside the old district are pricy but you can spend the night for half the price within walking distance.
And then there’s Erice, a fortified town built on a 751 meter peak of Mount Erice. Needless to say the views out here are stunning! You can see the city of Trapani from up here and on a clear day you can even spot the three Aegadian Islands. But there’s more to get excited about: there’s the remains of the ancient town walls, two castles (the gigantic Venus Castle and the smaller Toretta Pepoli), narrow cobble streets, secret passageways and a great amount of stairs, which make it a wonderful labyrinth to explore. It’s the kind of place you’d imagine fairy-tale princes and princesses playing hide and seek… I suggest you spend the night in one of the very few hotels in town, this way you can enjoy the panoramas and cosy squares after (and before) all the day tourists have left.
A big thank you to Diane who writes about her experiences in Sicily on her ‘My Sicilian Home’ blog and gave me heaps of tips before embarking on our own adventure!