A true Mediterranean beauty, the island of Sicily boasts a lush rugged coastline dotted with stunning beaches and dramatic clifftop towns, making it the perfect destination for a road trip. A melting pot of cultures thanks to its history of colonisation, expect Norman, Byzantine and Arab architecture, as well as Greek and Roman ruins that you can visit. Then there’s the food, which is amongst the best in Italy – indulge in traditional Sicilian arancini, caponata and cannoli. Planning a visit when the borders open? Don’t miss our top tips, from the hotel to stay at in the dramatic hillside down of Taormina to the best beach club in Scopello.
Home to some of the most dramatic scenery in Sicily, Taormina is perched on top of the hills by Mount Etna, Europe’s most famous volcano. One of the stops on the European Grand Tour of the 18th century, it became a popular holiday destination with the well-heeled jet-set at the turn of the century, with writer DH Lawrence amongst its fans. Now, glamorous holiday-makers flock here to visit its famed Greco-Roman amphitheater and the nature reserve at Isola Bella, or simply to soak up la dolce vita on its white sand beaches.
Belmond Grand Hotel Timeo is the holiday stay dreams are made of; it is Italian luxury and glamour at its best. If you can, you must! As the town’s first ever hotel it secured a prime position in the heart of Taormina with breathtaking views across to Mount Etna and down to the Ionian Sea. While away the days pool-side or access its sister hotel’s famous beach club for sun lounging in style (Belmond Villa Sant’ Andrea).
The iconic strip of Taormina’s bay nestled between Capo Sant’ Andrea and Capo Taormina is the best sunbathing spot. Looking out onto Isola Bella, an islet and nature reserved known as ‘the Pearl of the Ionian Sea’, there’s no finer backdrop for a day of people-watching. Dust off the volcanic sand and complete your day in style at the nearby Belmond Villa Saint Andrea, where you can dine at Restaurante Oliviero or take early evening Aperols and pizza at the beach bar.
There are numerous pasticceria in Taormina but the Minotauro Pastry Shop is arguably the best, with owner Rosy winning rave reviews for her pistachio cannoli in particular.
Start the evening by taking your favourite person (or yourself!) for sunset cocktails on Grand Hotel Timeo’s Liberty Terrace; the romance of the view will stay with you forever. Next, stroll into the old town and squeeze single file up Taormina’s narrowest street – Vicolo Stretto – to dine outdoors at the restaurant of the same name, Vicolo Streeto. Bellissimo.
History buffs should head to the ancient Greco-Roman amphitheatre. Check to see if there’s a concert on while you’re in town, too - Elton John, Bob Dylan, Sting and Santana have all previously headlined this stage.
Leave space in your suitcase for unique ceramics and colourful hand-painted tiles from Don Corleone Objects.
Holiday like the locals on the tiny island of Ortigia, the ancient capital of Syracuse; home of Archimedes and Artemis, and playground to Plato. Once declared by Cicero as ‘the greatest Greek city and the most beautiful of them all’, the UNESCO protected landmark boasts extravagant churches, smart piazzas and of course, ample swimming spots.
To experience true rustic Sicilian charm it is hard to go past Hotel Gutkowski. It's simple, charming and unique, with exquisite views from the rooftop terrace across the Ionian Sea.
Nestle between the locals at Solarium Forte Viglieng (pictured above) for rustic rock or platform sunbathing and dips in the Ionian Sea. Lunch across the road at Il Blu, a small local haunt away from the traditional tourists' route, offering simple fresh seafood and Sicilian wines - its raw simplicity is its beauty.
No less than three scoops of Syracuse’s best gelati at Gusto Gelateria. It’s so good that the head sorbettiere is in hot demand with boutique ice creameries around the globe (but he’s here to stay!)
Dine al fresco at Monzu in the romantic evening light of Ortigia’s Baroque square. Finish the evening with a stroll through the cobbled streets of La Giudecca.
Founded by the Corinthians, the ancient city of Syracuse was one of the most powerful city states of its time: think a 5th century New York City. Be sure to visit Ortigia’s Baroque square and Jewish Quarter (or ’La Giudecca’ in Italian).
Named after the island, be sure to visit the Ortigia store to stock up on its famous Sicilian soaps, fragrances and homeware – the packaging is just as exquisite as the scents. It’s the best spot to secure your mother’s holiday gift and return the favourite child.
With a resident population of just 80, Scopello is an idyllic, white-washed hamlet, where a handful of restaurants and simple cafes frame the town’s cobbled courtyard centre. Despite its increasing popularity, Scopello maintains a discreet and relaxed atmosphere.
La Tonnara di Scopello (pictured) is a former fishing village that has been transformed into an apartment complex with private beach, framed at either side by two medieval towers. Hire a car if you can for trips up to Scopello’s centre which is perched high above sea level.
If you’re not staying there, secure a canvas sunchair or pull out a towel at La Tonnara di Scopello’s public sunbathing area - a popular spot with locals and the young Palermo day-tripping set. Enjoy the clear turquoise water and views across to the dramatic faraglioni. Lunch at the ever-so rustic beach café perched above La Tonnara – salami paninis and salads are standard fare.
Morning espresso and decadent Italian patisseries from Bar Pasticceria Scopello. Sit outside and watch the comings and goings of the quaint square.
Spend your evening on the terrace of Bar Nettuno taking in views across Castellammare del Golfo. Indulge in Sicilian specialities such as arancini, cassatelle and crisp chardonnay (yes, chardonnay!).
The Zingaro Nature Reserve stretches for over ten kilometres along the coast between Scopello and San Vito lo Capo. Hike through to a Contrada Uzzo – a stunning emerald beach with fine white sand, which is close to the prehistoric cave of Grotta dell'Uzzo.
Don’t. The beauty is there are no retail shops, save for a small souvenir shop. Indulge in a shopping detox and simply enjoy the natural beauty of this unique seaside village.
If you’ve got time, squeeze in a day trip to one of the oldest cities in Sicily, Agrigento. Its two most famous sites are the well-preserved Greek ruins at the Valley of the Temples and the magical Scala dei Turchi (Turkish steps), a staircase carved into the white cliff which local sunbathers frequent.
Treat yourself to some quite luxury by staying slightly out of town at Masseria Agnello in Realmonte, a beautifully restored 19th century settlement once inhabited by Sicilian nobility.
Scala dei Turchi (Turkish steps) – Instagram-famous and popular with tourists and locals alike, this stunning geological phenomenon is well worth a visit. Located between Realmonte and Porto Empedocle on the west coast, the soft limestone rock has been eroded and manipulated over time to create this dazzling effect. Not a beach club per se, but people gather here to sunbathe and swim, and with dining facilities nearby so you can make a day of it.
The Valley of Temples – This UNESCO heritage site comprises eight of the world’s best preserved Greek temples and ruins, dating back 2,500 years, and was recently used as the backdrop for Dolce & Gabbana’s Alta Moda fashion show in 2019. Described by the Greek poet Pindar as ‘one of the most beautiful cities of those inhabited by mortals’ it’s widely considered to be the most important Sicilian tourist attraction.