I’ve been wanting to share some of our favorite day trips, restaurants, and beaches in Sicily because these places hold our best memories from the three years we’ve spent in this beautiful place. I hope new generations of visitors and Sigonella military families to enjoy them after we depart!
If you have questions or if my directions are wrong, please let me know in the comments, and I’ll be sure to get them updated. And if you have suggestions of your own, add them there too!
I love Taormina so much that I could go there every week, and Elliott thinks that I pretty much do. It is the prettiest town in Sicily, and it’s what you dream of when you hear the word “Italy.”
When you visit Taormina, you can park in two different places: at the bottom of town and ride the cable car up into the old town, or in the public garage right outside of the old town.
The cable car parking lot costs about 5 euro a day, and cable car tickets are 3 euro each way per person. (Small children ride for free.) The cable car drops you off right outside the city walls of Taormina.
If you prefer not to ride the cable car, follow the road signs from the toll booth to “Taormina” or “Porta Catania” (the name of the huge public garage). Once you park in the garage, you can walk up the hill and enter the city. I usually do this, and I pay about 8 euro to park for 5 hours.
Now you’re in Taormina! I always eat lunch at Da Cristina, which was written up in the New York Times and sells the best Sicilian street food I’ve ever eaten. We stop for mini cannoli at one of the little pastry shops along the way. We generally walk through the town until we reach the beautiful Villa Comunale gardens, which has stunning views, quiet benches, stone picnic tables (yes!), a fish pond, Amazon parrots that say “ciao!”, and a dilapidated playground that my kids love.
On our way back up the hill from the park, we always, always stop at Bam Bar for the best granita (Italian ice) in Taormina. Actually, it’s the best granita in the world. Get the lemon and raspberry (limone e lampone) or maybe the coffee granita with thick whipped cream on top. Order a brioche (sweet bun) and a cappuccino, and take a bite of everything for me!
Beach tip: The cable car parking lot is also a great place to park if you want to visit the beach in Taormina. You just have to walk out of the parking lot, turn right, climb the hill, and cross the street (follow the signs) to take a long flight of stairs down to the rocky beach. In April, this staircase is full of brilliant purple wisteria! On the rocky beach, you can also wade across to the beautiful little island of Isola Bella, where a Scottish heiress built herself a house when she escaped her unhappy marriage.
To inspire your visit, here are all our many Taormina adventures!
Cassibile Nature Reserve Beach
We love a lot of beaches in Sicily, but Cassibile is our favorite. It’s also called Fonda Pineta del Gelsomineto. It’s an hour drive from Sigonella, past Siracusa, so generally we make a day of it. The pin in this map indicates the beach. Admission costs 10-12 euro during the week and 12-15 euro on the weekend during the summer, and you pay the parking attendant when you turn at the new yellow building by the side of the road.
Bring food, a portable grill, a beach umbrella, a beach tent, your dog, whatever you like. There are virtually no rules. There is a tiny cafe, and sometimes a guy walks down the beach with a cooler full of fresh coconut, but otherwise no food for sale. There are public bathrooms, but nowhere else to change, so I come and go in my swimsuit.
My husband loves to take visitors and friends on a short walk/hike (shoes or flip flops are recommended) up the cliffs to a safe place to jump off into the water below. I’m always stuck on the beach with a baby, but he says it’s great! We’ve also explored the pillbox on the northern end of the beach; it was used by the Germans during WWII to watch for invaders by sea.
Siracusa & Ortigia
I love to take visitors to beautiful Ortigia, the little island connected by a short bridge to the city of Siracusa. I usually park at this large parking lot and then wander through the city towards the main piazza.
My absolute favorite place to eat is right there in the piazza at the delicious pizzeria called La Volpe e l’Uva (The Fox and the Grape). Their menu is trendy and their food is delicious, and I will dream about their four cheese pizza forever.
After lunch and a gelato cone, we wander down to the waterfront, where papyrus grows in a little freshwater pond. Sometimes we go swimming at the tiny little beach in the port. One summer my sister-in-law and I were so hot, and the teenagers in their mismatched bikinis looked so happy jumping off the pier into the sparkling water, that finally we just took off our shorts and jumped into the water with them!
While in Siracusa, I have also visited the Archeological Park several times. It’s about a 10-minute drive from Ortigia, and it’s possible to do both in the same day. Admission is 10 euro per person (buy your ticket across the street from the entrance), and there are three large archeological sites to see inside the gates: an amphitheater, a theater that is still in use during the summer, and a cave with a notorious echo.
Here are photos from three trips to Siracusa
I visit Catania at least once a month, mostly because I absolutely love the huge market. It’s open every day except Sunday from 8am-1pm, and the prices and produce are incomparable.
I park here underneath the arched bridge. My friend taught me to do this and I’ve been parking here for three years with no issues. The attendant (a friendly guy with gray hair) guides me to a parking spot and will watch my car until about 1:30pm for whatever I want to pay him. I usually give him two euro. Clearly it’s not “legal,” but it isn’t illegal either, a paradox that only makes sense in certain parts of the world.
Once I park, I walk through the main city gate into Elephant Square (Piazza Duomo/Fontane dell’Elefante). I then might:
- Ride the tourist train around the city (here are pictures and information from a trip we took)
- Walk into the huge and magnificent Cattedral Sant’Agata
- Stroll down the main street of Catania (Via Etnea) to get the best arancini in the city at Pasticceria Savia. I then walk across the street to eat them in the Giardino Bellini, the beautiful public gardens.
- Wander around the market for fresh produce and fish. When you’re in Elephant Square, look for the white marble fountain. The fish market is behind it (a must-see!), and the fresh fruits and vegetables start there. I buy fresh live mussels (three euro a kilo) for dinner almost every time I come here.
On our way out, the kids love to visit the playground right next to where we park. The playground is in pretty good condition and has a lot of equipment, which is unusual for Sicilian playgrounds.
It is possible to hike most of the way up Mt Etna, and we did it once as a family right after we moved to Sicily. It was an experience I don’t want to repeat — lava is not interesting scenery! — but I’m glad we did it. Mt Etna erupted while we were as high as we were allowed to climb, and that is definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience. You can read about that whole adventure (and get some advice) here.
These days when we hike on Mt Etna, we drive to Etna Sud (the South Station) and hike on a trail nearby. You can find the trail head by driving through the South Station, passing the Silvestri crater on your right, going down the hill, and parking at the T intersection at the bottom of that hill. There’s a little volcanic ash parking lot to your left at that intersection (here’s the location on Google Maps). A wonderful trail starts at that parking lot; just walk around the metal boom and start up the rocky path. The hike takes about 45 minutes for active adults and leads you around the side of Mt Etna to look down into the huge, black lava field. You can continue up the path from there to climb more of Etna if you’d like. Here are pictures from one of our hikes.
You can ski on Mt Etna, too! Here’s everything you need to know.
While you’re near Mt Etna, there is a lot to see and enjoy in Nicolosi. This beautiful mountain town is full of delicious restaurants, shops, cafes, parks, and B&Bs. Elliott and I have gone there twice for overnight getaways, staying in this lovely little B&B both times.
We’ve enjoyed delicious spreads at three restaurants and I recommend all of them: Antichi Proverbi, Antico Orto Dei Limone, and 1877 . We also love cappuccinos and gelato at La Dolce Vita and pre-dinner drinks at Santo Doca in the main piazza.
Here are links to our first getaway without the kids and our romantic skiing weekend (oxymoron?).
We also love to hike in Monti Rossi, which is a beautiful park on two small hills just outside the town of Nicolosi. There is a ropes course there that’s a lot of fun for kids’ birthday parties (Monti Rossi Adventure Park), and past that is a picnic and grill area. Elliott and I have hiked all over the two hills with and without our kids, and we always feel like we’re in another world when we step into the quiet pine forest.
Borgo Antico Agriturismo
There’s nothing like Sunday lunch at a Sicilian agriturismo! Our favorite farm-to-table restaurant is Borgo Antico Agriturismo, which is about 30 minutes from Sigonella. As of Summer 2014, the meal costs 30 euro per adult and it is worth every penny. There are four courses:
- Appetizers, which consists of about 15 different dishes, all more delicious than the last!
- Pasta, usually two different kinds with homemade pasta
- Meat, usually three different platters accompanied by a simple salad
- Dessert and seasonal fruit
The meal also includes as much wine and olive oil as you want to consume, and both are made from grapes and olives on Borgo’s land. The setting is lovely, and between courses the kids can run outside in the citrus groves. I’ve been there at least five times and each meal is better than the last.
We also enjoyed an incredible agriturismo meal in Randazzo on Mt Etna at Etna Quota Mille. where the meats were grilled instead of breaded and fried like at Borgo. A vineyard called Nanfro (also about an hour from Sigonella) serves an incredible agriturismo meal accompanied by their own delicious wines, and the tour of the vineyard is also fascinating.
Casa delle Farfalle (The Butterfly House)
We love to go here as a family on Sunday afternoons, which is when the butterfly garden is open to the public. We park for two euro for the day, and admission to the butterfly house costs 5 euro per adult. The employees will want to give you a tour in English if they can, and we’ve enjoyed that every time, although it is tedious with small children. Afterwards you’re left alone to enjoy the beautiful butterfly garden.
We picnic in the grass behind the butterfly garden, usually surrounded by other picnicking families. We’ve always been the only Americans there, so it’s a wonderful chance to mix quietly with Italian families enjoying the sunshine and outdoors on a Sunday afternoon.
The butterfly garden is also open on Saturdays and weekdays, but you will have to call and make a reservation. Only Sundays are public. It’s open from April to October during the year.
I wrote about the butterfly garden twice before: visiting with other moms and kids and a Sunday afternoon family trip.
The Sigonella Inn Pool
There is a pool on base at Sigonella, but you have to pay to use it (usually $4 for adults and $3 for kids) and it is only open for recreational swimming from 12:30-6pm from roughly Memorial Day to Labor Day. By 12:30, the baby pool is in the shade, and it gets cold for kids and moms.
So, because of sunshine, nap schedules, and general thriftiness, I head to the Sigonella Inn pool across the street from NAS 1 instead. This pool is free if you don’t rent a deck chair (which is 5 euro), and the shallow kids’ pool is beautiful and lit with sunshine. We usually leave by 2pm because apparently the pool party really heats up later in the day. On the weekends, it’s bustling with Italians and Americans together, and I love being a part of the melting pot.
Also, their restaurant makes pizza at the poolside for about six euro a pizza, and you can eat it in a take-out box right by the pool. This summer my friend Sarah have gotten into the habit of swimming with our kids and enjoying pizzas at least once a week!
Random mom tip: if you’re looking for a cool place to go on a hot day, IKEA is not a bad choice. During the week it’s not crowded, and there is a delicious restaurant to break up your browsing for everything you don’t need but are going home with anyway. The restaurant is also right by the kids’ section, which has a great play area. My kids play, eat the food I brought (hello thrifty), get a 50-cent ice cream cone from the super fabulous machine, and then play some more before we leave. I love the place so much that I’ve blogged about it here as a playdate and here with a brand new baby!
Home of Sicily’s traditional yellow-and-blue ceramics, Caltagirone is a lovely spot to browse take visitors, shop for souvenirs, and eat a delicious meal at a tucked-away restaurant. In addition to shopping for ceramics, I have visited during the Christmas season to see the many presepe (nativity) scenes set up in garages and little shops throughout the town. More details in these blog posts: pottery shopping and the presepe.
We have loved our three years in Sicily, but I know it isn’t everyone’s cup of cappuccino. If you’re about to move here, it will probably be a lot different from what you’re expecting. And those who have lived here for any length of time know that it’s easy to focus on the negatives, like the driving, or the trash, or everything that comes with living in a rural area.
What we have found is that it’s best to focus on what Sicily does best: deliciously fresh produce and seafood, rich red wine that’s cheap as water, the tallest active volcano in Europe, farm-to-table meals that last all afternoon, sparkling turquoise water by yellow sand beaches, warm and filling street food, and — of course! — sweet gelato cones on hot summer afternoons.
Combine this with Sicily’s warm, generous, welcoming, wonderful people, and you have a whole new world at your fingertips. I wish you a wonderful time in Sicily!
Now THIS is invaluable!!! What a treasure trove you’ve written… I’m smiling from ear to ear reading your descriptions. :) :)
So fun to experience Cassibile with you… multiple times!
Oh, to dream! I am eating up every colorful photo you’ve posted here. This post makes me triple cross my fingers and toes in the hopes of getting stationed here. It looks so dreamy! I can imagine why you’d want to take every visitor to these places, they sound like a great big picture of what Siciliy has to offer. Yes, every place has negatives, but if you focus on the positives it really balances out. I’ll pin this blog post for use later (hopefully!).
I hope you can come, Carly! It’s been a dream come true for me. I’ve always wanted to just visit Italy, and a chance to live in small town Italy for three years was an unbelievable gift.
Exquisite post. Love the details and the fab pics. Makes my mouth water for the pizza and the granita. And the cappuccinos, aye yi yi. Perfecto.
We loved having you here! Elliott says there’s a gelato place in Coronado…
Becca I just want to say thank you! For describing my country with such love! You caught the heart of our island…grazie e arrivederci.
Your words mean so much. Thank you, Agata!
Thank you for this, Becca! I hope for a trip in my future to enjoy all of these things you describe! Can you recommend a city in Italy to fly into that is the most affordable coming from the States?
Yes! If you want to be near all these things, fly into Catania (CTA). It’s a very busy airport and there are heaps of flights from Rome and surrounding countries every day. A lot of people also fly into Palermo or Trapani on the other side of the island (a 3-hour drive from the east coast where I am).
You’ve made my “homesick.” Lew and I are always commenting to each other that we just didn’t eat enough at Borgo Antico or that I should have gotten a granita every opportunity that presented itself. Wonderful Becca! You’ve captured our love and fondness of Sicily in this blog post. I can’t wait to go back one day and experience all the wonderful food and beauty one day…..
Thank you, friend. I hope for one last granita in Motta before I go… hope to squeeze it in tomorrow!
What a beautiful way to say good-bye and a tribute to Sicily. Surely Sicily has loved you as you have loved it! If islands had feelings, then I think Sicily would be proud (reading this post) and not a little sad that you are leaving.
wow, wow, wow, Becca! this is amazing. I can’t imagine the time it took you to put this together. I’m sure it will be a HUGE help to some incoming families. and I’m so glad I got to do some of these things with you!
I left a little piece of my heart in Sicily. So glad we got to share so many wonderful adventures together there! Feeling sad all over again now that you’re saying goodbye, too.
Such an informative, wonderful post! I am keeping my fingers crossed that we will make it out there some day, and pinning this in the meantime…
So many beautiful photos, and so many memories for you and your family! Good luck with your relocation! We just moved a few months ago, and I have my nostalgic moments for things I left behind. But the fun of a new place is new things to do and explore, and make new memories! You have many more adventures waiting.
Becca what wonderful information you have recorded.my son and his family may be taking a 3 year tour at Sigonella. Thant you!
What a helpful blog, Becca:
Do you have any input for B& B’s and eating on the Aeolian Islands?
Thank you for all the suggestions. My daughter and I plan on going to Sigonella to see my husband during his deployment and I’m trying to do some pre planning before we go. A lot of the places you mentioned look very fun and kid friendly. It’s hard researching things to do with a 2 year old lol. If you have any other ideas I’d love your input.
Thank you so much for this post! A lot of this we have done, but some we haven’t experience yet and we have a little under a year left to do it all.
I have a question. We have yet to figure out how to get up to jump off the cliffs. When we climbed up the more obvious trail there were lots of private property and no trespassing signs. Do you think you could give me directions?
Thank you so much! :)
Hi Mary! My husband said he just followed the cliffs the whole way, or else ignored the signs. :) I hope that helps! I never got to do it myself; I was always on the beach with a small baby or child who couldn’t make the climb. Have fun and be safe!
My name is Jennifer, and we just got to Sig last week, but I have been reading your blog for a few weeks now, trying to learn all I can. Thank you SO much for ALL the amazing information! I LOVE it! I am dying to get out and check out the area!!
I think you might know a friend, Kelly Halloran? We know each other from a previous assignment, and I had chatted with her about living here as well!
In any case, thank you again!
It really is such a wonderful place! thanks for the sharing the informative post about Favorites place in Sicily.
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Moving to Sicily and wondering if you have any ideas on the best/prettiest places to live if you are working on the base?
Becca, Tracey, or anyone else who is stationed at Sig:
We just got word we will be moving to Sig in February with our 2 year old daughter. We would love to hear about which villages you ended up settling in. I am not big on the crazy Italian driving, so was leaning towards Catania or another town accessible by public transportation, but wasn’t sure if there are many other Americans actually in Catania or if public transportation is that great. Would really appreciate any insights anyone could offer!
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