This article may be of interest to anyone planning a visit to Sicily – either by land, by sea or by both.
A bit of background on how we ended up in Sicily for a month
Setting off from Gibraltar at the end of March on our around the world sailing adventure, we next touched land in Algiers, Algeria due to storm. From there, we had to enter Tunisian waters to fix a jammed main and eventually we arrived in Malta after 7 days and over 850 miles. Read Our First Sailing Adventure
Originally, our plan was to sail to Crete from Malta – a 3-day non-stop sail. After experiencing terrible weather, engine problems and a serious leak we didn’t want to attempt another long sail. Furthermore, we had some substantial repairs needing attention.
Where can we get our generator repaired?
As fate would have it, a friend of a friend stopped by to see us in Malta and was able to recommend a contact, George Rizzo, in Sicily that could help us with our repair requirements. What we needed couldn’t be done in Malta nor would I suggest anyone with a boat gets repairs completed in Malta. Everything we did get done unfortunately needed to be re-done in Italy. (That aside, Malta is a brilliant place to visit! Read Our Expectations On Malta Were Minimal – Boy Were We In For A Surprise)
After a quick family meeting we all felt excited with the idea of seeing Sicily – Greece would have to wait! Personally, I wanted to save Italy for later in our trip as I feared I’d never want to leave…
With the good winds that we had, the trip only took a ½ day to Sicily
Leaving the capital city of Valetta behind us, we sailed North East to the town of Marzamemi. We couldn’t go to our repair destination of Catania as we were in the middle of the Easter holidays – everything was closed. Marzamemi was a nice place to lay-up before moving onto Catania.
The marina of Marzamemi was recommended to us by our new contact, George. He sent us a lovely email telling us where to go and what to do once we got there. I felt as if we were being guided rather than doing things blind – it was nice to feel as if someone was looking after us.
As per George’s suggestion, once we moored up in Marzamemi, we hired a car and drove to the beautiful city of Noto. We timed our visit perfectly. Just as we hit the city’s main church we witnessed an Easter procession that was fascinating. A statue of the Mother Mary came from one church and another statue of Jesus came from another and eventually the two statues met. There were thousands of people dressed in their Sunday best to watch the procession. We found ourselves amongst the locals walking down the main street just as you would for a parade.
I couldn’t help but ask myself, ‘is this really happening?’
My family and I were parading down a main street with all the others. The energy in the crowd was amazing. As usual, I had a perma-grin and just went with the flow.
Amazingly, however, after the procession ended, everyone disappeared and we had the city all to ourselves. We enjoyed our first pizza in Sicily – we had to get that out of the way! And then my husband, cousin and 3-year-old daughter and I walked around in awe looking at the amazing architecture.
Let me take a step back
Upon our drive into Noto, you could see and feel that the city was special. Easily missed, the whole city melted into the surrounding area. If you look across the countryside the city doesn’t jump out at you – it almost looks as if it’s part of the land. Using locally quarried stone, the buildings are a beautiful tan earthy color.
From what I learned about Noto and most of the Eastern side of Sicily, an earthquake destroyed most of the buildings in 1693. Therefore, you’ll find most buildings done in a Baroque style – full of curves, ovoid shapes, intricate designs, beautiful columns and perfect symmetry.
Noto is a great place to stop, enjoy a pizza and admire some excellent Baroque style buildings
With the sun getting high in the sky, we all decided to get out of the city, however, and find a beach!
We hopped back in the car and drove East towards the Golf of Noto. It didn’t take long to find a small beautiful beach to enjoy. I put our daughter in a bathing suit and enjoyed watching her dip her toes into the sea.
The great thing about Sicily is that the beach is never far away!
Thereafter, and on our way back to the marina, we stopped off at a Roman Ruin. We parked up, walked to the ruin and upon entering were told that they don’t take credit cards. Bummer! My husband and I turned around and broke the news to my cousin and daughter. My cousin, Loryn, said ‘well… I have some American dollars – maybe they’ll take them!’
With a positive attitude, she walked into the entrance while hubby and I started to make our way to the car. And then we heard Loryn shout, ‘come on in guys!’ Apparently, the woman at the entrance told her that we could all go in free of charge. She didn’t take the dollars! Loryn does a very good puppy dog face – the woman must have felt sorry for her. Yippie!
Actually, we’ve discovered that Italians are the kindest, most generous, loving people that we’ve ever met so it’s not really a surprise that we were let in.
Anyway, the ruin is an old Roman villa and it wasn’t a tiny one at that! The Romans lived far better than a huge percentage of the current population. We enjoyed some excellent mosaics and walked through the villa wondering who actually lived in it. Unfortunately, none of the information at the ruin was in English so we had to do our best to figure out what was presented before us. In fact, most of the ruins we’ve visited thus far haven’t had any explanation other than in Italian.
By the time we finished, we all felt exhausted so we headed back to our base. Just before getting in the car, Loryn hopped a fence and grabbed a few lemons. They looked so juicy that we had to grab a couple. The smell in the car was amazing and we were more thankful than usual! Hubby decided to pet a goat and boy did that stink! Thankfully the lemon smell covered the goat smell.
During our drive we saw thousands of lemons, oranges and rows of greenhouses holding tomatoes. Such lovely sights.
The next day, we drove to Syracuse. Having a car was good as the ruins and various sites to see were quite spread out. Later during our adventures we moored up by boat in Syracuse and I was pleased to simply hang out on Ortygia, the little island attached to Syracuse, rather than figure out how to get to the archeological sites.
Furthermore, our boating stay in Syracuse was not long by choice – the facilities at the marina are appalling. While we were there, the woman’s bathroom didn’t have any toilet seats or hand soap. None of us attempted to use the disgusting looking showers. Furthermore it was very expensive to moor at the marina. So – a word of advice, visit Syracuse by car and not by boat!
That being said, Syracuse is well worth visiting if you’re into ruins!
Wow – there’s some amazing things to find. We sat in a Roman amphitheater, looked over a Greek amphitheater (pictured above), saw a massive sacrifice alter, walked through an ancient quarry and enjoyed looking at catacombs and a variety of ruins dotted all over the place. There are also some amazing ruins and a great castle on Ortygia.
If you visit the city, just make sure you buy a ticket to get into the ruins before you get to them. We made the mistake of walking quite a distance only to be told to head back up to the main street to get our tickets. Not fun with a 3 year old in tow.
Another potentially helpful tip about Syracuse is that they have a whole street of grocery stores. If you have a car and want to stock up on water and other provisions, it’s a good place to do so. Furthermore, on the island of Ortygia there is an absolutely amazing market selling fresh fish, beautiful vegetables and amazingly tasty cheeses and meats. The market is well worth a visit.
On our way out of town my husband also stopped off at the WWII war graves to pay his respects. The cemetery was extremely well kept and seemed to attract several visitors. In the very full visitor book my husband was the 3rd that day.
After a long day of sightseeing, we drove back to Marzamemi
As soon as we hit the town, we found ourselves surrounded by thousands of people and massive traffic jams due to Easter Monday. It took us quite a while to get past the town and into the marina but we were all enlightened to the busyness of Marzamemi!
When we first arrived we walked along a road and thought the area was abandoned. We wondered why George told us to moor up at this particular marina. Everything was closed up but little did we know, we didn’t walk far enough to hit the actual town!
The town of Marzamemi is small but beautiful. It’s a great place to stop off and enjoy and excellent lunch or dinner. Most of the restaurants are quite pricey but the ancient buildings and exquisite food are worth the price. I enjoyed the best stuffed squid and pistachio pasta I’ve ever had. I imagine that it would be a great place to go for a romantic dinner – you’ll have the sea, the historical buildings, candlelight and the most amazing food ever.
Great food wasn’t the highlight of our stay in Marzamemi…
While in Marzamemi we were fortunate enough to meet a boatload of 6 Italians. If you want to make friends easily while sailing, bring a 3 year old with you! We now call Sienna our little ambassador. She freely goes up to anyone and says ‘hi’ and that then allows us adults to join in.
Sienna made friends with a lovely gentleman on the boat next to us (pictured to the left above). His name is Stefano. Luckily, Stefano spoke excellent English and helped us rent a car, find a supermarket and gave us great tips about the local area. He told us what to see, what to avoid and gave us the heads up on a variety of things.
Furthermore, ever time we return to our boat, he left us little surprises. One day we got tomatoes and another day it was beans and a bottle of wine. We felt so honored!
Little did we know that our meeting with Stefano and the other friends would lead to friendships that I’m sure will now last forever
Throughout our entire time in Sicily no more than 2 days went without seeing our new friends.
The night before we left Marzamemi, we enjoyed a special spaghetti meal prepared by Stefano called ‘Midnight Spaghetti.’ The dish was very simple but ever so perfect. Stefano was the only one of his group to speak Italian so we spoke mostly to him or asked if he could translate to the others. The meal was excellent and it was so wonderful to have a bunch of people enjoying great food in our saloon. My cousin and I would smile at the others, wave ‘hi’ and say ‘Salute’ when it was time to cheers to a drink.
It also came to our attention that Stefano was an Admiral in the Italian Navy. He spent most of his time flying helicopters. Furthermore, he worked in London for several years on an Italian-British collaboration to create the Merlin helicopter. And since retiring from the Navy, Stefano transitioned right into sailing. He’s currently a sailing teacher and examiner.
Our next stop was Catania
Needing to get our leak repaired before heading to Greece, we were told by our great contact, George, that Franco Catania is the best in the region. As per Georges instructions we headed North up the coast to the commercial port of Catania.
Just upon arrival, our main sail jammed and we had to send my husband up the mast to release the sail. Thankfully, our new friends we met in Marzamemi lived in Catania and they took a rib out to help us. Read Sailing To Catania in Sicily – Dolphins and Disasters Included
Stefano got on board once the sail was released and helped us into the port. I was thankful he was there as we moored up along a cement wall in a commercial area. If he wasn’t with us I’m not sure anyone would have been around to tell us where to go as it was a Sunday evening.
Catania port is not one that I would recommend as it’s busy with massive ships loading and unloading. Furthermore, the cruise liners stop in Catania so loads of tourists are unleashed on the city for a few hours.
I do, however, recommend seeing Catania and it’s surrounding areas
The city is full of churches, Italy’s second oldest University, fountains, markets and an amazing castle. In Catania, the food is excellent, the buildings are impressive and the people are pleasant. We had the best cannoli’s, rice volcanoes thingies (arrenchino’s), pizza and believe it or not, we all ate horse.
In Catania, there’s a very traditional recipe for horse cooked on a grill. Our new friends invited us over so that we could try the horse. I was a bit skeptical but as they say ‘When in Rome, do as the Romans,’ so I took a bite and then I kept eating it. The whole family, including my daughter, enjoyed it. I don’t think it’s something you’ll find on a menu in Italy so I felt quite privileged.
While based in Catania for a week, our friend Stefano stopped by every morning bringing us a different sweet each time. We got cannoli’s, cakes, croissants and on and on. It wasn’t just sweet stuff – he had us try all of Sicily’s delights (see picture of an Arinchino above) And then he’d offer to either help us with something on the boat, to run errands or to take us for a sightseeing trip! In the course of the week, we enjoyed a private tour of Catania, went up Mt Etna, and then to Randazzo, Taormina, Girdina Naxo and a few villages in-between.
My family and I were blown away by Stefano’s kindness
After our stay in Catania, we invited Stefano to sail with us to Riposto and then he and his girlfriend’s daughter joined us again from Taormina and took us to Reggio di Calabria to see the famous Bronze Statues. After that, Stefano helped us navigate through to the Aeolian Islands where we saw Stromboli erupt with lava, enjoyed an aperitif on Salina Island and a wonderful dinner on Lipari Island.
How many people are fortunate enough to not only see Sicily but to see it by land and sea being led by an ex-Admiral and a current sailing teacher/instructor? We all felt as if all our Christmas’s had come at once.
So let me get back to describing the places we went to…
Mount Etna was a trip worth taking (pictured above). From Catania it took about 1 ½ hrs by car to get as far up as allowed. We could have taken a gondola a bit higher but it cost something like 60 euros each and in the end you just got higher rather than to the top. We spent time walking around a crater and taking loads of pictures. In Catania we were in shorts and t-shirts. At the top of Mt Etna, we were all in our heavy sailing coats with hats and gloves. What’s impressive is the drive up to Mt Etna – the lava flow from the last eruption is very apparent. You can see how it went next to or over houses.
The town of Randazzo wasn’t highlighted on my book of top 10 things to see in Sicily so I wasn’t sure what we’d find
I was delighted when we arrived. Everything was built from lava stone so there was a black street, black sidewalks and the churches and buildings had the lava stone (pictured above). On one side of the village you’d see Mt Etna and the other side was beautiful green countryside. The roads were so narrow that only one car could drive down them in-between the houses at a time. We enjoyed walking around the streets, looking at the churches and having a stop off at café for more sweets and a beer. If you’re in the area, check out Randazzo – it’s not touristy which is wonderful.
Speaking of touristy, that’s what Toarmina is
It’s has a beautiful long street filled with loads of tourist crap. Most things on offer were made in China and I often wonder who buys that stuff.
That aside, Toarmina is a must-see destination
The town is on top of a mountain offering amazing views of the sea. The buildings and architecture are beautiful and there’s an amazing Greek/Roman amphitheater (pictured above). By far, the amphitheater is the best one, with the best view, that I’ve ever seen (and I’ve seen quite a few)!
So Toarmina is definitely worth a visit but don’t go there for the food or the tourist stuff. Check out the beauty of the town and definitely visit the amphitheater. Also – walk through the town weaving along the side streets – you’ll avoid the crowds and see some spectacular views.
Above Toarmina is a tiny village housing a castle – Castle in the Sky!
From this village you look down on Toarmina and experience even more spectacular views. We enjoyed a cannoli at the main restaurant on the square. Unfortunately, however, the castle was closed so we couldn’t climb up to it.
In Girdina Naxo we enjoyed a drink and a play on the clean and beautiful beach. By far, the beaches were the cleanest I saw in Sicily. And there were ample places to get a bit to eat. Sitting out on the beach and looking at the coast made everything in my body smile. The views are breathtaking. Little did we know that a few days after our visit, we’d be anchoring in the bay with our boat.
While anchored we had all our Italian friends motor out to the boat where we enjoyed an excellent meal. Stefano and his girlfriends daughter, Silvia, then joined us for one of the most memorable trips of my life.
Time to stop off and see the Riace Bronze Statues?
We sailed from Girdina Naxo up to Reggio de Calbria and stopped off in a commercial port just so that we could hop off the boat, take a taxi to the museum and see the most amazing bronze statues ever discovered. The Riace Bronze Statues are definitely worth viewing. When we walked in to see them I had goose bumps. I just stood in front of the 2300 year old figures in awe.
We then hopped back on the boat and made our way towards Stromboli Island (pictured above) while passing some beautiful villages on mainland Italy. Around 3am we made it to the Stromboli volcano and boy, did we get a show! We saw several lava explosions and heard the most incredible rumbling sound. I just couldn’t believe how fortunate we were to see a real volcano erupting. Apparently, it erupts every 20 minutes or so. We anchored at the volcano and the next day headed towards Salina Island. Read Sailing Around Stromboli Needs To Be On Every Sailors Bucket List
We only stayed on Salina Island for a 6 hours so I can’t comment too much. What we did see, however, was amazingly beautiful. Read my review on the Marina here: Marina Review: Salina Island, Aeolian Islands, Italy
And then we went to Lipari Island
If you’re taking your own boat, you simply need to sail into the harbor and approach each jetty asking ‘how much?’ You can then bargain the price down. When we arrived the attendant wanted to charge us 80 euros but in the end we paid 60 euros. There were no facilities on the pontoons or on land but it looked like they were running electric on one of them.
On Lipari Island there’s a fantastic ruin, castle and museum. The museum houses all the finds from ships that became wrecked upon the Aeolian Islands. The food was good, the views outstanding and everyone was very kind. The only issue with Lipari, aside from no facilities, was that all the ferry boats came in and out of the harbor making it a bit bump and loud.
Overall, the Aeolian Islands are well worth a visit – especially Stromboli by night. Things are expensive and it’s everything is catered to tourists but the views are worth it.
Back to Riposto
After our trip to the islands, we went back to Riposto for some more repairs. Read my review on Riposto Marina. Our generator kept cutting out. Luckily we simply made a call to George and he arranged for some excellent engineers to help get it sorted. George also helped us with many other things. He drove my husband to Vodafone to get a wireless router, introduced him to a local place for inexpensive, but excellent wine and helped teach us about cleaning the boat, lifting the outboard and much more.
If you’re on a boat in or near the East side of Sicily, it makes sense to get in touch with George! We’re so thankful for all of his help.
So what do I think about Sicily as a whole?
We’ve only seen the East and North East side so I can’t comment on the whole of Sicily but we did spend a full month on the Island. We will, however, return towards the end of the season and visit the other areas.
What made Sicily special for me was the people we met and the kindness offered. If we simply saw the various sights of Sicily I would have been extremely happy, but we managed to make new friends along that way and that made things magical. We’re all so honoured to have met Stefano (pictured above) and read about some of our other friends in this post: Are You Looking For A Deeper Connection With Others: This Is What My Italian Friends Have Taught Me
My advice – visit Sicily and don’t be afraid to meet others and mix in with the local people. Even if you can’t speak Italian you’ll find that you can still make some amazing connections. The people that we’ve met have changed my definition of kindness forever. I thought I was a kind person but our new friends have taken it to another level. I’m positive that they’ve influenced me to extend more of my kindness – pay it forward!
Also – try to learn a few Italian phrases and use them! The delight Italians show when you try to speak their language is infectious. I went around saying bonjurno and ciao to everyone I made eye contact with and the smiles I got back are priceless. My two favourite phrases where:
“Yo sona felichie” (I am happy)…and “Yo sona sachia” (I am full!) – hopefully when you visit Sicily you’ll want to use them too! Arrivederci