Italy

Highlights

Cafalu


Palazzo dei Normanni & Cappella Palatina, Palermo

Palermo’s 12th-century Norman Palace, built by Roger II, contains one of the most dazzling yet intimate chapels to be found anywhere. Every surface is covered with shimmering mosaics, with bible stories and curious fables exquisitely rendered in miniature, and the ceiling and columns are masterfully worked in gilt and marble.

Cattedrale di Monreale

A glorious, golden cathedral crowns the serene hill town of Monreale, high above Palermo. Almost a thousand years ago, the finest Greek mosaicists, aided by their Sicilian pupils, transformed the interior into a breathtaking, gilded masterpiece, filling it with Byzantine mosaics of such beauty and grandeur that they rank among the finest in Europe.

Cefalù

A picture-postcard seaside village curled around the base of a dramatic headland, Cefalù has managed to retain oodles of old-fashioned charm despite the crowds that descend every summer. Chic Italians come for the fabulous beaches, but the ancient town has plenty more to offer – not least a splendid Norman cathedral containing superb Byzantine mosaics.

Madonie & Nebrodi mountains

Two magnificent, protected natural parks are found side by side in the northeast corner of the island. Few visitors penetrate the Madonie and Nebrodi mountains, where wild horses and semi-wild pigs roam the forest and eagles wheel over the remote mountain tops, but those who do are rewarded with traditional stone villages and extraordinary views.

Tindari

Of all Sicilian pilgrimage sites, none is as magical as lofty Tindari. The modern church is unappealing, but this dramatic headland is also home to the spellbinding ruins of ancient Tyndaris, where views stretch over olive trees and prickly pears to the endless blue sea. Below, the quietest and best beaches in Sicily await in the lovely Riserva Naturale di Laghetti di Marinello.

Aeolian Islands

The mythical home of the wind god and the god of fire, the Aeolian Islands are one of the last unspoilt island havens in the Mediterranean. From steamy Vulcano and remote Alicudi, to verdant Salina and fire-spitting Stromboli, celebrity-favourite Panarea to bubbly Lipari, each island in the archipelago has a very different character. 

Taormina

Writers, aristocrats and celebrities have flocked to fashionable Taormina since Goethe first put the town on the map in the 18th century. The town’s palaces, churches and a spectacular Greek theatre have an unforgettable clifftop setting by the sea, with Mount Etna looming in the background.

Catania

Catania’s gorgeous ensemble of flamboyant Baroque palaces and churches are built of striking black and white lava stone from nearby Etna. Most are in desperate need of restoration, and the poverty is palpable in places, but the city remains one of the most vibrant and forward-looking in southern Italy.

Mount Etna

Mount Etna is the highest, most active and possibly the most famous volcano in Europe. Reaching the summit is an adventure, whether you take the easy route and go by cable car and jeep, or make the stiff but enjoyable hike yourself. The fertile slopes are covered with orchards and vines, the source of increasingly fashionable Etna wines.

Syracuse (Siracusa)/Ortigia

Ancient Syracuse was one of the mightiest cities of Magna Graecia, and its magnficent ancient ruins attest to its extraordinary wealth and influence. A superb Greek theatre is the finest of its ancient sites, while the tiny island of Ortigia, with its peeling palazzi and narrow streets, is sheer enchantment.

Noto

The finest of a string of Baroque cities erected in the early 18th century after a devastating earthquake rocked eastern Sicily, Noto is a captivating time capsule of honey-coloured stone. The twirling palaces, churches and graceful squares are dominated by an enormous cathedral.

Riserva Naturale Oasi Faunistica di Vendicari

This nature reserve is one of the quietest and most beautiful corners of Sicily, with pristine beaches backed by undulating dunes and barely a soul in sight. The marshy wetlands and lakes attract thousands of migratory birds, including huge clouds of pink flamingoes.

Villa Romana del Casale, Piazza Armerina

This palatial villa contains the finest mosaics in situ anywhere in the Roman world. There are scenes from ancient myths, exquisite designs in glowing colours, and hunting scenes of such extraordinary vivacity that you can almost hear the snap of the hounds’ jaws.

Valle dei Templi, Agrigento

The great Greek temples of ancient Akragas, magnificently silhouetted high on a ridge near the modern town of Agrigento, are the finest Doric temples to be found anywhere outside mainland Greece. They date back to the sixth and fifth centuries BC, when Akragas was at the height of its powers.

Riserva Naturale dello Zingaro

Much of the long, craggy finger of the Capo di San Vito is now a stunning nature reserve, offering one of the last unspoilt stretches of Mediterranean coastline. Scramble down to rocky coves of heart-stopping beauty and splash about in the impossibly blue sea.
 
Mazara del Vallo

The lively, ochre-coloured fishing port of Mazara del Vallo has a distinctly Arabic flavour, thanks in part to its sizable North African population, which occupies the suggestive Casbah in the heart of the old town. The colourful harbour, the elegant lungomare (seafront)., and the wealth of inexpensive fish restaurants, make this one of Sicily’s most piquant towns.

Selinunte

Perched magically on a remote, silent headland, Selinunte is among the most poignant ancient sites in Sicily. The soaring columns of its roofless temples and the overgrown tumble of stones are all that survive of what was once one of the most powerful Greek colonies on the island.

Pantelleria

When celebs want to get away from it all in style, they come to the secretive little island of Pantelleria, which is geographically closer to Africa than Italy. The traditional dammusi (domed stone dwellings) that dot the hilly landscape now contain some of the most chic boutique accommodation to be found in the Mediterranean.

Segesta

Travellers have long gasped at their first glimpse of Segesta, emerging like a mirage from a serene and verdant valley. The great temple has stood here for more than two and a half millennia. Above it, on a wind-whipped crag, are the remains of a Greek theatre with views across the hills.

Erice

An ethereal, medieval town of cobbled streets and noble palaces, little Erice is perched so high on its hilltop that it often sits above the clouds. When they part, the views across the coastline far, far below are truly magnificent.


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