From puppetry to 4x4 treks across Mount Etna, and exploring castles to days out at water parks, welcoming children is second nature to Sicilians. But it is not all about thrills and spills. For most children, a day on a beach or by a pool can provide as much fun as they want and even the more high brow activities involving Greek ruins, art and architecture can be vastly improved in the eyes of a child by a game of hide and seek or an ice-cream.
Most importantly, it is hard to beat villa accommodation for an easy family holiday. Have breakfast by the pool in your pyjamas, eat what and when you want and enjoy browsing the markets and shops in order to experience the local culture.
Equality rules in Sicilian restaurants where children are at least as important as their parents, if not more so! In most cases, it is perfectly acceptable to veer off the menu and order something simple such as spaghetti al pomodoro if that is all they want.
One of the real advantages of a villa stay is the option of packing a picnic, as many Sicilians do, and heading for one of the nature reserves or lakes where there are often well-equipped picnic areas.
Sicilian beachesWith numerous sandy beaches and clear seas that are warm enough for swimming six months of the year, beach life features high in Sicily. The age of your children, and how long you plan to spend on the beach will dictate what sort of beach you want. If you need shade and prefer to have a café and facilities nearby, opt for a lido where you can pay for sun beds and an umbrella and use the general facilities. Families with older children may prefer to head out for one of the more remote beaches that fringe the nature reserves for pine-fringed sandy coves and crystalline waters.
Adventure and water parks in SicilyThere are several water parks in and around Palermo and Trapani and on the outskirts of Syracuse. The best adventure parks are the Parco Avventura Madonie, an adventure playground in the woods with rope climbs, assault courses and mountain biking; and Etnaland, a water, theme and dinosaur park in one.
No holiday in eastern Sicily would be complete without a visit to Mount Etna. For younger children, a cable car ride tends to be enough of an adventure whilst for older kids, there are torch-lit visits to lava caves, hikes and 4x4 jeep safari adventures.
Not far from Mount Etna, the Alcantara Gorge, where you can wade through the river and swim in natural pools and whirlpools, is a big hit with everyone, particularly during the heat of the summer!
Getting aroundWe strongly recommend hiring a car but it is possible to explore south east Sicily the easy way – on a train. The Syracuse-Ragusa rail route (2 hours one way) is a rickety service that winds its way past ramshackle houses and through olive groves, citrus plantations and carob trees, over breathtaking viaducts and dipping down towards the sparkling sea.
Caves and castles
Combine the two with a visit to Il Castello di Sperlinga on the southern slopes of the Madonie and Nebrodi mountain ranges. Dating back to the Normans, the castle is partly built into the rock and extends over several levels that include stables, prisons and forges where weapons were made. Astonishingly, the troglodyte caves below the castle were inhabited until the mid-1960’s.
Amongst the more impressive castles are Il Castello di Castelbuono in the Madonie and Il Castello di Venere at Erice, the latter with crenelated perimeter walls and the added child-friendly bonus of a cable car ride from nearby Trapani.
Puppetry in Palermo
A mainstay of Sicilian culture, the tradition of puppetry is still live and kicking in most towns where most performances re-enact the stories of Charlemagne and the exploits of Orlando and Rinaldo. It is in Palermothat the tradition is strongest and here there are five theatres, including the Figli d’Arte Cuticchio, probably the most famous. The Museo Internazionale delle Marionette is also well worth a visit. For more information, see Sicilian puppet theatres.