Difference between revisions of "Sicily"
Revision as of 08:47, 8 June 2014
Sicily  (Sicilia) is a rugged and attractive island on the southern tip of Italy, and is one of the country's 20 regions. It is separated from the mainland region of Calabria by the 5 km Straits of Messina. It can get very hot during the summer, so it is better to visit during spring and autumn, while it is still quite pleasant during winter.
Sicily has a long history of foreign domination, from the Greeks to the Romans, Arabs, Normans, Aragonese. The result is a mixed culture where every single domination left something to see, to taste, to hear.
Sicily is a huge island where every little city seem to have its own culture. You will find great variety of local specialities in all cities over the island.
What else? They are proud people and most of them are a little bit conservative, but open-minded to visitors.
Natives of Sicily speak Sicilian, an ancient Romance language that is a separate language from Italian. About 30% of that Sicilian vocabulary originates from the Arabic language.
Most Sicilians are proficient in Italian, and modern schools teach English to students. Be advised that when traveling to small villages, some of the older residents may not speak Italian (they will usually understand though).
Even though Italian is the national language, Sicilian is still very alive in Sicily. They may say "Comu ti senti?" ("How are you feeling?") The normal question is "Come stai?" ("How are you?")
By plane / airports
From Naples, it usually takes 8 hours, 10 from Rome, the train stops at Villa San Giovanni train station for about 10-15 minutes. Then it's rolled down to the Villa S.G. ferry dock, where you wait about 20 minutes before the train rolls onto one of the ferries. On the ferry, you should get on the deck and watch the sea. It's a wonderful view, but don't forget the number of your train. In the summer the trains can be very hot and crowded with minimal A/C on the trains, be prepared or a long, unpleasant journey.
The 2010 timetable offers these direct trains:
But you don't have to take a direct train. You can also take a train from Rome to Villa San Giovanni, and walk onboard the rail ferries (or another BLUVIA ferry), and take a local train from Messina centrale to Palermo and Catania
Detailed information is available at:
Car-train There are running car-trains from Venezia and Rome to Catania and Palermo. This is great offer for those who don't want to ride a car all day. you park your car onto a train. And some hours later, you can get your car at the Catania train station or Palermo, depends on what city you bought a ticket to. The car trains also run along with the night trains, so this is a great option.
Be aware: some trains on the island are very slow, for example it takes more than 7 hours between Siracusa and Trapani and it's about 450 km. But the IC (InterCity) trains that travel between Sicily and other Italian cities, run at much greater speed.
Large, cruise-ferries link Palermo with Civitavecchia, Naples, Genoa, Livorno, Sardinia and other Mediterranean destinations (Be sure to order place for your car, or yourself, if your a pedestrian.) Because only the Messina-straight ferries are open without reservation. The are also car ferries between Milazzo, the Aeolian Islands and Naples, and between Trapani and Tunis. From Catania you can reach Naples and Malta. From Messina you can reach Salerno. See all current ferry connections at TraghettiWeb.it  or Ferrylines.com .
Across the Straits of Messina, there are at least hourly ferries between Messina on Sicily and Villa San Giovanni on the mainland. There are at least twenty of them, so don't worry about timetables or waiting too long. If you only drive a car, you can also drive on-board the BLUVIA rail/train ferries. There are also several hydrofoils each day between Messina and Reggio di Calabria.
If you do worry about timetables, which is not necessary: This one takes you right into Messina city and connects you to the Palermo - Catania highway: . And this one takes you to Messina Sud (Tremestieri) And does also connect you to the highway. This route is more for the people driving towards Catania: 
Be careful, although public transport is very good during the week, there are not many services on Sundays - check the timetable carefully and ask the locals.
Women's restrooms in restaurants and cafes seem perennially understocked with toilet paper (and they don't usually have bidets). Plan to bring some with you as the table napkins in cafes make a rough substitute.
The main roads are good, with four motorways (Catania-Palermo, Palermo-Mazara and Catania-Noto which are toll-free and Messina-Palermo where you have to pay). Little roads, mainly in mountain zones, are slower but offer great views.
A18 Messina - Catania (toll)
A18 Catania - Siracusa
A18 Siracusa - Ragusa - Gela (under construction - open from Siracusa to Noto)
A19 Palermo - Catania (free)
A20 Messina - Palermo (toll)
A29 Palermo - Mazzara (free)
A29dir Alcamo - Trapani (free)
Trains on some routes can be infrequent and slow so it's worth checking times in advance and having a plan B. Sometimes a service listed on a station timetable is actually a bus service leaving from outside the station.
As in the rest of Italy, tickets must be validated in the yellow machines found at stations - conductors may be lenient to tourists who didn't know this, but not necessarily.
The bus network in Sicily is quite extensive and cheap. The main hubs are Palermo and Catania, but routes link most of the main towns frequently and most small towns at least once a day. From virtually any town you will be able to get a bus direct to Palermo. For the AST company, go to the website  and click on 'Autolinee'. There is also Interbus .
There are regular ferries and hydrofoils from Sicily to its Islands, although services are somewhat reduced during Spring and Autumn and even more so during Winter. Individual companies: SIREMAR , Ustica Lines  and NGI . The main routes are:
Trekking in Sicily is going to expand.The Parks and the Nature Reserve are not very well organized but for this reason you'll have the opportunity to enjoy and discover the Sicilian Mountains and Nature. There are some wonderful trekkings that you can do to enjoy the beauty of the main Sicilian sites like Nebrodi mountains, Madonie mountains, Etna volcano, etc.
Visit the Salt Flats in Trapani where you will still see salt being made in the traditional way, by sweeping up the salt after the tide has gone out & then being ground down in ancient windmills.
Visit the popular seaside town of San Vito Lo Capo on the West Coast, famous for its sandy beach and where the low two story white Moorish architecture can be seen.
Visit Erice on the West Coast, the highest town in Sicily, with it's ancient stone walled city.
Visit Mazara Del Vallo on the South Coast for it's Tunisian Quarter.
Visit the Zingaro Reserve on the West Coast of Sicily for some of the best nature walks, natural beaches and examples of the dwarf palm that the area is famous for.
Visit the town of Noto on the South Coast, a Unesco World Heritage site due to the best examples of Baroque Architecture left in Europe today.
Making the most of its island coasts, Sicily has one of the world's best cuisines to offer. Much of the island's food is made with creatures of the sea. Unlike in the northern parts of Italy, cream and butter are hardly used for typical dishes in Sicily. Instead, the natives usually substitute tomatoes, lard (rarely) or olive oil. The cuisine is very exotic and has many spices and unique flavors to offer. Sicilians cultivate a uniquely Sicilian type of olive tree, which they affectionately call the "saracena". The food is typically Mediterranean but there are strong hints of Arabic and Spanish flavor (Sicily was conquered by many peoples during its long history). Sicilians like spices and have particular affinity for almond, jasmine, rosemary, mint and basil.
Sicilians notoriously have a sweet tooth and are among the best dessert-makers in Italy. Try 'cannoli' (tubular pastries filled with sweet ricotta cheese), 'granita' (ices mixed with real crushed fruit and juices), and their most famous export, 'cassata' (Arabic-inspired cake). Make sure not to pass up the pine-nut and almond biscuits, as they are always a crowd pleaser.
'Arancini' (sometimes Arancine), fried rice balls with fillings, is a Sicilian fast food that is relatively cheap. They can be hard to find outside Sicily, so try them while you're there.
Sicilians are not big alcohol drinkers (Sicily has the lowest rate of alcoholism in all of Italy) despite the fact that the island is home to more vineyards than any other Italian region and has one of Italy's most progressive wine industries. Noted mainly in the past for strong bulk wines and often sweet Moscato and Marsala, the island has switched its emphasis toward lighter, fruitier white and red wines.
Sicily is divided into three main producing wine districts:
Best known Sicilian wines: Nero d'Avola, Bianco d'Alcamo, Malvasia, Passito di Pantelleria, Cerasuolo di Vittoria, Etna Rosso, Etna Bianco.
Some Sicilian wine producers: Planeta; Cusumano; Tasca d’Almerita; Tenuta di Donnafugata; Feudo Principi di Butera (Zonin); Morgante; Duca di Salaparuta; Benanti; Palari; Firriato; Marco De Batoli; Salvatore Murana; Icone ( ).
Sicilians enjoy a fruity lemon liqueur called Limoncello during the long, hot and dry summers.
As in most of Italy, you should be aware of pickpockets. The well-known mafia almost never attacks tourists. There is not too much violence, but some neighborhoods can be hazardous, especially some suburbs in big cities like Catania, Messina or Palermo.
In the train, especially during the night, keep your wits about you, and try to stay with other travellers.
The bigger cities have hotels, while on the country side the you can best stay at a 'Agriturismo' which most of the time is a Bed & Breakfast at a farm. Agriturismo's only have a small amount of rooms (3-10). They don't have a 24 hours reception, so make sure your checkin is before it gets dark.