When my wife and I decided to spend a month in Sicily recently I imagined a dry barren island with rampant Mafia corruption and ordinary Italian food. I was wrong on all three counts. The food for a start was superb. It was always fresh and exciting and invariably was accompanied by delicious local wines. The Mafia does indeed have a long history in Sicily but the local ‘addiopizzo’ anti-Mafia movement has been effective and we certainly felt safe. Sicily can get hot and dry in mid summer, but in May when we visited, spring wildflowers and farm crops carpeted the hillsides in a riot of colour. This was not the Sicily that we had expected - which to me is what makes a truly memorable travel experience.
Sicily’s history is arguably the most interesting of any place on earth. Being located along a trade route in the middle of the Mediterranean, it has has been run by everyone from the ancient Greeks, Romans, Egyptians and Arabs to the Normans, Spanish, Austrians and French. All of whom left their monuments, architecture, food and cultural influences. There are four wonderfully preserved ancient Greek and Roman cities to explore and towns like Ragusa, Noto and Syracuse abound in fabulously preserved Baroque architecture. Food markets offer fresh Mediterranean seafood and local produce - including over a dozen different varieties of fresh tomatoes alone.
Looming above all of this though was Mount Etna, a perfect cone volcano that you can drive and walk right up to its crater rim.
I always advocate doing research before travelling to a new destination and Sicily is one place where reading will really enhance your enjoyment of the area. My recommended books are:
1. Historical Perspective on Sicily: Sicily by John Julius Norwich
2. Classic Sicilian Fiction: The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa
3. Classic Sicilian Film: The Leopard by director Luchino Visconti (1963)
4. Sicilian Crime Fiction: The Day of The Owl by Leonardo Sciascia
5. Modern Sicilian Non-Fiction: Midnight in Sicily by Peter Robb
6. General guidebook: The Rough Guide to Sicily