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 5km Straits of Messina. It can get very hot during the Summer, so it is better to visit during Spring and Autumn, whilst it is still quite pleasant during Winter.
Nature and main archaeological sites
Sicily have a long history of foreign domination, from the Greeks to the Romans, Arabs, Normans, Spanish. Even Napoleon went here for a while. The result is a mixed culture where every single domination left something to see, to taste, to ear.
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. It's simple: because the economic situation is bad, they must count on tourism.
Natives of Sicily speak Sicilian, an ancient Romance language that is comprised of many different languages (Spanish, Latin, French, Arabic, among others) and is considered an entirely separate language from Italian.
Most Sicilians are proficient in Italian and modern day schools are teaching English to students. You can not count on being understood in English. You may have better luck with French. Be advised that when traveling to small villages, the people (especially the older residents) may not speak Italian.
They will really appreciate if you try to speak a little bit of Italian. Some will try to anwser you in English, let them try if you dont want to offend them !
Catania is the larger airport, with domestic flights to most parts of Italy, some international routes and many charter flights.
Palermo is smaller, although growing, with a range of domestic flights and a few international budget flights.
From Naples, it usually takes 10 hours, 12 from Rome, depending how long you wait for the ferry at Messina. On the ferry, you should get on the deck and watch the see, its a wonderfull view but dont forget the number of your train.
Be aware: trains on the island are very slow, for exemple it takes more than 7 hours between Siracusa and Trapani and its about 450 km.
Large, slow car ferries link Palermo with Naples, Genoa, Livorno, Sardinia and other Mediterranean destinations. 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. See Central Med Ferries
Across the Straits of Messina, there are at least hourly ferries between Messina on Sicily and Villa San Giovanni on the mainland. There are also several hydrofoils each day between Messina and Reggio di Calabria.
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.
The main roads are good, with three hightways (Catania-Palermo, Palermo-Mazarra, with are free and Messina-Palermo where you have to pay). Little roads, mainly in mountain zones, are slower but offer great views. Be carefull, Sicilians are a little bit agressive on the road.
The railway network in Sicily is quite good and cheap. Regular, quite fast trains run on the main lines between Messina and Palermo and Catania, with fewer trains on the other routes. See www.trenitalia.com
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.
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. For timetables see a summary at: Booking Italia or the individual companies: SIREMAR, Ustica Lines and NGI. The main routes are:
Making the most of its island coasts, Sicily has some of the world's best cuisine to offer. Much of the island's food is made with creatures of the sea. Unlike 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 people during its long history). Sicilians like spices and have particular affinity for almond, jasmine, rosemary, mint and basil.
Sicilians have notorious sweet tooths and are among the best dessert makers in Italy. Try the cannoli (tubular pastries filled with sweet ricotta cheese), granita (ices mixed with real crushed fruit and their juices), and their most famous export, cassata (Arabic inspired cake). Make sure not to pass up the pine nut and almond cookies, 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 of Sicily, so try them while your there.
Sicilians are not big alcohol drinkers (Sicily has the lowest rate of alcoholism in all of Italy). Sicily counts more vineyards than any other Italian region and boasts 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. For a detailed list of wines and grape varieties, please visit Sicily Guide.
Sicily is divided into three main producing wine districts:
Most well-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.srl ( http://www.ic1.it ).
Like in most of italy, you should be aware of pickpockets. There is not to much violence, but some neighborhoods can be hazardous, especially some suburbs in great cities like Catania, Messina or Palermo.
In the train, especially during the night, try to stay among others.