Over the past several days I’ve been crafting this article and it has taken quite a bit of time to pull out photos, write descriptions and relate personal stories. At first, I thought that my top 12 day-trips to take when visiting Sicily in the winter, would be quick and easy but it’s turned into quite a long piece.
I’ve broken the article down into two separate posts so the following information contains the first five day-trips
And before I begin, I must admit that it would be impossible for me to list the following day trips on some sort of scale. Every day trip is special in its own right so realize that each destination is special and deserves equal consideration.
Right…let’s begin – Visiting Sicily in the winter
If you’ve never been to Sicily before you might assume that it’s a small island. The most common comment we hear from friends visiting is, ‘Wow – I didn’t realize Sicily was so big!’
So…if you think you can see Sicily in a day, a week or even a month, you’re wrong
Being the largest island in the Mediterranean, the island stretches 160 miles east to west and 110 miles north to south
There are a few motorways however the bulk of the road system is country roads – filled with some of the 5 million crazy Italian drivers!
During our around-the-world sailing tour, been fortunate to stay in anchorages and moorings along the southeast and east coast of Sicily, with a six-month winter stay in Marina di Ragusa. Read Marina di Ragusa Sicily Marina Review – Winter Season
During our amazing time in Sicily, we’ve enjoyed the following top day-trips. Once again, please note that there is no order to this list.
1. Ragusa – Ibla, Sicily, Italy
For months I drove within close proximity to Ragusa Ibla visiting the ‘new town’ of Ragusa missing out on Ibla or the ‘old town.’ The new town has Lidl (discount grocery store), Decathalon (sports shop), Brico (Hardware store), some shopping malls and a small shopping area, or high street.
Along the high street there’s a tiny Asian supermarket. I mention this tid-bit as it’s impossible to get curry paste, noodles or Asian spices in the regular grocery stores in Italy. If you’re in need of a curry fix, the high street in Ragusa is the place to stop! The store is the size of a postage stamp but it provides many of the Patak curry pastes, noodles, coconut milk and dry herbs.
Moving on…from a distance, the old town stands out on a hilltop peninsula offering the common sight of Baroque styled buildings found in the region. Week after week, I’d say to hubby, ‘we really need to visit Ibla as it’s only 20km away!’
Finally, the day came for a family outing to Ragusa. My husband, Simon, my 4-year old daughter, Sienna, and I caught a bus from Marina di Ragusa and headed into Ragusa. To our delight, an Australian man, who lived in the area since the 70’s, gave us the in’s and out’s about the land, crops, history and interesting facts during our half-hour journey.
We had our own bus tour guide!
Upon arrival to Ragusa, we had to do our errands and get some passport photo’s taken. Afterwards, we could explore.
Walking from Ragusa to Ibla seemed impossible
Not feeling confident, neither Simon nor I would ask anyone how to get to the ‘old town.’ We walked around aimlessly looking for the ‘old town,’ but couldn’t figure it out. And we couldn’t find a bus to get there either!
After a mini-shouting match, and a meltdown from my daughter (yelling, ‘my feet are tired’) we finally went to a fruit stand and asked for directions. In sincere Sicilian fashion, the fruit stand owner closed up his shop, told us (with hand motions) to get in his car, and drove us to Ibla – the old town.
Through windy roads and massive inclines we arrived at a breathtakingly beautiful piazza
Later I was told that there’s a walk-way/stair-way from the new to the old down. Perhaps before you visit you can get a map?!
And as usual for us, we entered the town center during siesta time – everything was shut. That being noted, it was brilliant to explore the town alone. Aside from a few people walking with purpose we had a wonderfully quiet and peaceful bumble around.
There were no tourists, no open shops and no noise
My family and I breathed in the sights, smelled amazing aromas wafting from restaurant back doors and absorbed the damp, ancient, unsettled feeling from the narrow cobblestone streets. After the famous earthquake of 1693, half the population chose to rebuild on the ridge above (Ragusa) and the other half chose to renovate the old village (Ibla).
While walking around we noticed terracotta roof-tiled buildings, the Duomo at the heart of the town and a few Baroque facades. There’s also the portal to a pre-quake cathedral that still remains.
Eventually we ducked into the one open café and enjoyed some Italian delights – pizza and cannoli’s. We wanted to trial Ibla’s famous wine ice cream from a nearby parlor however our stomachs were too full. Perhaps next time?
Click on a photo and you can see an enlarged view. You can also hit the arrow on the right, once enlarged, to scroll through all the photos.
2. Punta Secca, Sicily, Italy
Just a bicycle ride down from Marina di Ragusa, you’ll find Punta Secca. If you’re an Inspector Monteblano fan (popular Sicilian TV drama), this is a definite costal spot to visit. Apparently, you’ll find the Inspectors home in addition to his coffee shop in Punta Secca.
When we first arrived to Marina di Ragusa I purchased the Inspector Monteblano DVD box set (ordered it in the UK and had it sent down to Italy) but I’m sad to say that our social life at the marina has kept us from watching any of the series.
Perhaps when we’re sailing in the Pacific I’ll have more free time?
Anyway, the bicycle ride along the coast is spectacular! There’s rugged rocks, wonderful sea views and interesting bushes, shrubs and flowers. Upon arrival to the small town, we found a lighthouse, coffee shop and several small little cafes and restaurants. The town also offers views of a tiny fishing marina.
Ironically, we ran into the our French neighbor
After four months of being next-door (or shall I say ‘next-boat’) neighbors, we sat down and enjoyed a cup of coffee together. Never before had we spent time actually getting to know each other. Up until then we’d always say ‘hi’ and ‘goodbye’ but due to language differences we never had much of a conversation.
It’s funny how things happen like that – isn’t it? We all enjoyed our drinks, had light conversation and then we went back to our explorations. During the winter the coast road was quiet, the town was calm and the views (on a sunny day) are spectacular.
3. Scicli, Sicily, Italy
Similar to Ragusa, Ibla we drove past Scicli (pronounced, Shickley) several times. When driving to the town you can see it from the roadside and the view is spectacular. There are churches dotted around and a massive cemetery with mausoleum after mausoleum (the Sicilian’s don’t bury their dead in the ground).
My husband, a dear friend, and I took the morning off and did a bit of walking around Scicli one day. While my daughter was in school we played hooky! After a coffee, Italian pastries and a pleasant chat, the three of us walked around the back streets, climbed a hilltop trail and enjoyed the views.
While walking around, my friend, Angelina, said, “I must show you the storm drain – it’s the largest drain I’ve ever seen.”
We walked some more and when we came upon the drain I was in awe. I did take a picture, but I’ll let you find it for yourself. After seeing the drain I assumed that some serious water must filter through the town during storms.
During a second visit, we managed to get caught in a rainstorm!
The streets filled with water and there was no way you could walk or even drive through the flash flood. I wasn’t near the drain to see how high the water rose but I’m sure it looked like a raging river!
Check out some of the snaps I took in Scicli – obviously, there’s much more to see than the storm drain! It’s well worth a visit – there are some nice restaurants, bars, coffee and sweet’s shops! On my Facebook page, you can watch a video of Scicli (new window will pop up) too!
4. Catania, Sicily, Italy
Of the cities I’ve been fortunate to explore, my favorites include San Francisco, London and Catania – yes, Catania is on my list of most loved cities! When we first arrived in Sicily, a year ago, we spent a couple weeks getting repairs done in Catania.
And since our long stay we’ve been back to Catania (by car) more than ten times!
Fortunate for us, we made friends with some lovely Italians/Sicilians that live in Catania so we were able to enjoy non-touristy eateries, local ‘tours.’
For example, I know about the man-hole cover that can be removed and fished from – apparently, a fresh water river runs under the city and locals know how to catch fish from it! My family and I have had the opportunity to try horsemeat – marinated in a traditional sauce and grilled over an open flame (It was amazing). We’ve also enjoyed ducking into old buildings and have been given a personal guided tour on the architecture, uses and current standing of a variety of places!
But regardless as to whether or not you get a local tour of Catania, the city is amazingly beautiful
The churches are ornate, the university buildings are seeped in history and the main road leading up to Mount Etna is special.
When I first walked around the city I saw quite a bit of graffiti, grim and dirt but after several days my first observations changed. The graffiti and dirt seemed to fade away and I saw the city with new eyes. Catania is like nothing I’ve seen before – it has a special feel to it…a feel I enjoyed feeling over and over!
Here are some of my photo’s from Catania:
5. Mount Etna
You can see Catania and Mount Etna in the same day however it’s a LONG day. I would suggest a couple day trips to Catania or a weekend stay. We’ve been up the volcano a few times now and each time has been a different experience.
The first time we ventured to the lookout point was in April and there was no snow. It was numbing cold and extremely windy but no sign of the white stuff. At the lookout point you can opt to take a gondola to a higher lookout point or walk around and spend time in a massive crater.
The gondola ride was around 80 euros each so we decided the view we had was good enough. There’s no way to get to the actual summit so the need to be higher with a lighter wallet didn’t appeal to us.
The key to seeing Etna is getting a day when the sun is out and there are limited clouds. More times than not, Catania is covered in clouds, so if you take the curvy road up, you’ll get out and view clouds rather than the city, sea and awesome valley.
One time during February, we went up and couldn’t get to the lookout point – the road was covered in snow. We couldn’t see anything either. That being noted, we had a great snowball fight and enjo