Five of the best lesser known Sicilian towns
Even if you’ve never been to Sicily, there’s a good chance you’ll have heard of Taormina, the impossibly picturesque seafront town on the island’s east coast. Recently thrust even further into the public’s consciousness by way of the TV series White Lotus, the town is unashamedly a treasure trove of jaw dropping views and film set snapshots.
The downside, of course, is you won’t be the only tourist in town! Between April and October, the streets of Taormina are filled with holidaymakers keen to get their fill of the iconic vistas, fabulous food and quaint streets. So where should you aim for if you want to delve deeper into Sicily? Here are five Sicilian towns which have managed to stay off the tourist radar, but are great for a day trip from your villa in Sicily.
Caltagirone, the city of ceramics
Situated in central Sicily, but easily accessible for anyone staying in the south east of the island, Caltagirone was one of the 8 Val di Noto towns destroyed by the 1693 earthquake and subsequently rebuilt, complete with the frills and flounces that characterise the Baroque style.
Aside from the Baroque embellishments, what really stands out are the ceramics. This is ceramics city. Workshops loiter behind every street corner and shop windows are piled high with brightly coloured pottery. And for a further splash of colour, the 142-step Scala di Santa Maria del Monte has each one of its steps adorned in the distinctive majolica tiling. Visiting Sicily in May? Be sure to visit Caltagirone when the staircase is carpeted in a magnificent floral display.
Villa tip: Stay at Rocca di Pietra, a 6-bedroom refurbished villa with pool, set in the Sicilian countryside.
History and culture in Palazzolo Acreide
Another of the Val di Noto cluster, Palazzolo Acreide is located within the province of Syracuse and often overlooked by holidaymakers who tend to head instead for the towns of Ragusa, Modica and Noto. However, the town is easy to get to if you’re staying in or around the city of Syracuse. An important town historically and culturally, it is home to numerous baroque and art nouveau palazzi, baroque churches and a Greek theatre which is still used today for classical performances. Town highlights include the Basilica di San Sebastiano which features a 35m high, three-tiered baroque façade, and the Casa Museo di Antonino Uccello which offers a riveting insight into a former rural way of life.
Villa tip: Stay at Casa del Carrubo, a 2-bedroom villa with pool and hot tub, situated close to Lido di Noto beach.
Sciacca, the carnival town
Significantly less touristy than Taormina and Cefalù, Sciacca is best known for two things – its thermal spas and its colourful carnival. Sciacca’s Mardi Gras parade is a spectacular affair, filling the streets of the town with elaborate float processions and much music and dancing. During the rest of the year, the town is essentially a fishing port, set on several levels that culminate in a historic centre and the town’s castle. You’ll find seafood restaurants down by the sea and the town’s main square, the Piazza Scandaliato, on the next level up.
Villa tip: Dedalo, on the outskirts of Sciacca, is a 4-bedroom seafront villa with direct access to the water.
Randazzo, Nebrodi mountains
While everyone else heads to the gorgeous beaches around Acquedolci, or up the heady heights of Mount Etna, consider a day trip to the medieval town of Randazzo. The town is situated at the intersection of the northwest slopes of Mount Etna, the Nebrodi mountains and the Alcantara Valley.
Wander down the cobblestoned Via Degli Archi into the historic centre where you’ll find stunning palazzi, small churches, remains of medieval city walls and the Santa Maria Assunta cathedral. Sunday morning is market time – a great place to stock up on cheese, cold meats, olives and fruit. Like several other Sicilian towns, Randazzo also has a fabulous flower festival, the ‘Infiorata’, when locals compete for the best dressed balcony, in the first week of June.
Villa tip: Stay at Il Piccolo Casale, a 4-bedroom villa with a pool and sea views.
Culture and art at Mazara del Vallo
The fishing industry also looms large in Mazara del Vallo – in fact the town has the largest fishing fleet in Italy – and foodies may be familiar with the fabulous Mazara del Vallo red shrimp which hails from these waters. Other highlights include the astonishing Dancing Satyr, a 7 foot bronze statue that was pulled from the sea in 1998, thought to date back to between the 4th and 1st centuries BC.
A visit to Mazara del Vallo is also fascinating for anyone wanting to get some insight into the island’s broad range of cultural influences. The town’s Arabic roots are still very much in evidence in the heart of the town centre where a maze-like North African Kasbah is the best place to tuck into a classic fish couscous.
Villa tip: Stay at Case Fil, a villa with superb 18m pool, suitable for between 3-12 guests.