Palermo and Messina might offer plenty of entertainment and amenities, yet some of the most enchanting places in Sicily are to be found in the island’s quaint villages and scenic little towns. A rich variety of experiences awaits you in the Sicilian countryside where local producers tempt you with delightful artisanal foods and wines, secluded beaches offer you respite from civilization, while ancient temples and castles take you on an exciting journey back in time.
As most towns and villages lie only a short drive from each other, it is fairly easy to explore the island on your own and you can easily stay independent as accommodation in local villas and holiday homes costs less than a hotel in the city or one of the resorts. If you are not sure where to start, consider visiting some of these exciting small towns in Sicily.
Taormina – ancient theatres & secluded beaches
Perched on a hillside above the sea, Taormina boasts a stunning location and fantastic views of the surrounding countryside. The town is served by its own cable car that takes people down to the seafront. It even has its own charming little beach nestled in a secluded cove.
Taormina has been a tourist destination since the days when Roman patricians came here on holidays and the ruinous amphitheatre, the Odeon, bears testament to this.
Its Greek sister, the Teatro Greco, is still in use, a few thousand years after its construction. You can see theatre plays, fashion shows and even concerts but the best thing about it are the dramatic views it provides of nearby Mount Etna.
Marzamemi – outdoor cinema & fish delicacies
Quaint and colourful Marzamemi has a history of fishing and fish processing that dates back to the 10th century. Although today the tuna plant has shut, the village still relies on fishing. From the two tiny harbours boats head out into the sea to fetch fresh catch which is turned into a range of canned, marinated and dried artisanal products. Local seaside restaurants, too, serve a variety of fish and seafood dishes.
Marzamemi is a real picture postcard destination and if you feel like escaping from it all, this is the place to come. In summer visitors flock to the sun-drenched, sandy beach, the cosy, traditional cottages are let as holiday rentals and in the evening’s musicians play live music in the village piazza. A film fest is also held in the piazza in mid-summer and films are directly projected on the facades of houses.
Monreale – splendid medieval architecture
Situated just outside Palermo, Monreale is famous for its medieval cathedral and the adjacent cloisters. Commissioned by one of the Norman rulers of Sicily, the cathedral was built by local, Norman, Greek and Arab craftsmen. The result is a masterpiece of medieval architecture and craftsmanship, a splendid mix of different artistic traditions and influences. The exquisite mosaics, beautiful sculptures and carved decorations can easily rival some of the lavish basilicas in Rome.
Piazza Armerina – journeying back in time
Situated in the mountainous part of Sicily, Piazza Armerina is surrounded by lush hills and is steeped in history. Charming Renaissance palazzi, an ancient castle and ornate Baroque cathedral create an atmosphere of old-time splendour, while the Palio dei Normanni medieval joust in mid-August can make you feel as if you have travelled back in time.
The main attraction of Armerina, however, lies just outside of town. The ruins of Villa Romana del Casale, a hunting lodge built for a Roman emperor, contain some of the best preserved ancient Roman mosaics in the world today. More than 3000 sq meters of floor and wall mosaics depict scenes of mythology and daily life in ancient Rome and send visitors on yet another journey through history.
Cefalu – a little labyrinth of a town
The seaside town of Cefalu is always a lively and vibrant place to visit. The medieval palace, the cathedral and the ancient Arabic wash house are the main sightseeing attractions but beyond these sites, in Cefalu, it is a pleasure to just wander around. The entire town is a wonderful maze of narrow, winding cobblestone alleys lined with medieval houses. Shops and restaurants are abundant, making it really fun to navigate the labyrinthine streets. When you get weary of sightseeing and exploring the town you can head down to one of the airy sandy beaches for a lazy afternoon in the sun.
Some other notable small-town Sicilian attractions worth checking out are the famed wines of Marsala, the February Carnival in Acireale and the medieval castle of Erice. It might be just a small part of Italy but Sicily is a whole world in its own right and one that deserves to be explored extensively so don’t be surprised if you feel tempted to extend your stay!