Often overlooked in favour of the baroque splendours of south east Sicily, the mountainous Madonie and Nebrodi national parks and neighbouring coast is the place to be if you’re looking for a truly authentic experience of Sicily. From awe-inspiring views to extraordinary contemporary sculpture, this fascinating area is guaranteed to give you a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the island. Read on for suggestions of some of the best things to see and do.
Visit Italy’s most beautiful villages
Choose from a collection of stunning hilltop towns and villages including Gangi, winner of the ‘Most Beautiful Village in Italy’ accolade in 2014 and still very much a living breathing town. Mums and kids congregate in early evening at the playground close to the magnificent Ventimiglia Tower while the elders of the village gather to watch the world go by. Don’t miss the Church of San Nicolò (connected to the Tower), the magnificent frescoes in the Bongiorno Palace and the Chiesa di San Paolo, but leave time also to just wander leisurely through the narrow winding streets. For the most memorable views over the terracotta tiled rooftops and the Madonie Park, head for the piazza near the Ventimiglia Tower or dine al fresco on the lovely terrace at the Trattoria Sant’Anna in the historic centre.
Ceramics in Santo Stefano di Camastra
Continue eastwards along the coast into Santo Stefano di Camastra where many of the shops showcase the local hand-crafted pottery and ceramics. Many of the ceramics display a vivid orange-red base, overlaid with white and blue patterns. Not surprisingly, communal areas in the town are decorated with brightly-coloured tiles and there is also an interesting ceramics museum. Stay at Casa Franchina, a 4-bedroom villa with pool, table tennis and play area situated a short drive from Santo Stefano di Camastra and within walking distance of the shops in Acquedolci.
Contemporary sculpture at the Fiumara d’Arte
Of all the attractions of this region, few are as dramatic as the Fiumara d’Arte, Europe’s largest outdoor sculpture museum. The collection of sculptures by different artists, scattered over a broad coastal and rural landscape, was initiated by Antonio Presti in 1986. Start your journey at the striking ‘La Finestra sul Mare’ close to Santo Stefano di Camastra, before heading into the hills, past ‘La Materia Poteva non Esserci’ and up to the ‘Piramide al 38° Parallelo’. The pretty medieval town of Castel di Lucio is conveniently located close to three more sculptures, the most famous being ‘Il Labirinto di Arianna’. Stay at Villa Olmo, a 6-bedroom villa with pool in Castel di Lucio.
Admittedly, finding great ice-cream in Sicily isn’t one of life’s big challenges, but even in a world where ice-cream reigns supreme, a really outstanding experience can pop up just when you’re least expecting it. At Castel di Lucio’s Max Bar, slurp your way through a memorable pistachio ice cream courtesy of Guido whose delicious flavours won him an award at the 2017 internationally-acclaimed Sherbeth Festival.
Blue flag beaches
Avoid the crowds that flock to Cefalù and head instead for the smaller beaches favoured by locals. With skyward views of the Fiumara d’Arte’s Pyramid sculpture, the tranquil Blue Flag Le Lampare beach sits in the shadow of the ancient castle at Castel di Tusa overlooked by a beachfront restaurant. Choose from a selection of villas, including Casa Turchina, a 3-bedroom villa with pool near Finale di Pollina.