Stretching from Palermo to Messina, the north coast of Sicily is surprisingly varied, with four distinct landscapes. The first of these is the coastal stretch, with its focus in and around the resort of Cefalù. Inland, the hills and plains of Sicily’s northern interior are quite dramatic although less so than the third landscape, the Nebrodi and Madonie mountain ranges. The fourth landscape is that of the offshore volcanic Aeolian Islands.
The north coast has several superb beaches, with those around Cefalù, Mondello and Capo d’Orlando amongst the best. Cefalù has the added advantage of an attractive town and, after Monreale, is Sicily’s loveliest Norman cathedral. As you travel along the north coast, the ancient sites of Tindari and Solunto and the Norman castle at Caccamo are also pleasant diversions.
Away from the coastline, there are vast swathes of agricultural land and vineyards that produce some of Sicily’s finest wines.
While the coastal route offers occasional glimpses of beaches, the slower option of travelling on the mountain roads through the Madonie and Nebrodi provides a wonderful glimpse of rural life and is certainly more dramatic. Of the two ranges, the Madonie are perhaps the more impressive, with more variety in terms of villages, and also better accessibility from Cefalù.
A day trip to the Aeolian islands is an option but they are also worthy of a holiday in their own right. Best known for their smouldering volcanoes, black sand beaches and steaming fumaroles, these seven islands are in fact extremely diverse. Stromboli and Vulcano are the most volcanic of the archipelago while Salina, renowned for its role in the 1994 film Il Postino, is the greenest. Milazzo in north east Sicily is the main departure point for the ferries and hydrofoils to the islands although in summer, there is also a service from Messina and Palermo.