Find out about our highly acclaimed expert-led food tour of Sicily that explores the island’s rich history and cuisine.
Characterised for much of the 20th century as the football at the toe of Italy’s boot, Sicily has been known for much longer (and more justly) as the triangular island, the three-caped island, or the Trinacria. Separated from Italy by a strait just 3.1km wide (1.9 miles) at its narrowest point, and only 140km (87 miles) from the African shore, the bulk of Sicily dominates the sea-lanes from east to west and north to south.
At 25,708 km2 (9,925.9 miles2) including dependent islands, Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean, and one of the most diverse in terms of geography, flora and fauna. It is easiest to describe when divided into discrete regions:
The Northern Coast
The citrus groves of the Northern coast were so productive in the late 19th century that, for a while, the area around Palermo (the then heartland of production) became one of the most expensive pieces of real-estate in the world. The vast majority of the northern coast still retains at least some of these groves, as well as some wonderful medieval towns and castles on the hills and mountains that line the shore. The old groves around Palermo have long since given way to a concrete jungle though, which, in spite of being less easy on the eye, is still a fascinating place to explore.
Geographically and culturally different from all the other regions of Sicily, the Western coast is a calm and tranquil region: wide-open landscapes unencumbered by the mountain ranges that run through the other parts of the island; stunning sandy beaches leading to a beautifully verdant countryside; flat-roofed towns that seem more suited to North Africa than Europe. The grapes of this region are used in some of the most famous Sicilian wines (Marsala in particular), and are a great accompaniment to the wonderfully varied seafood dishes that are prepared here.
The Southern Coast
The southern coast consists of a long, nearly entirely unbroken, stretch of coastal plain framed by the mountains and foothills that lie at its back. Although natural harbours are extremely limited on this coast, some of the richest and most important cities of the ancient world were located here – such as Selinunte, Agrigento, Gela and, on the south-eastern corner, Syracuse itself. None of these are large centres of population today, but the agricultural riches are still there and this region is noted for the quality of its wines, olives, fruits and (in the south-east) the flavoursome tomatoes of Pachino.
Central Sicily is, in summer, one long undulating mass of sun-scorched fields arrayed around the craggy mountains that crowd Sicily’s heart. In Antiquity this was one of the major grain-producing areas that fed the city of Rome, but cereal production has dropped off markedly as depopulation, cheap competition from abroad, and a lack of enthusiasm from the newest generations to engage in such back-breaking work has taken its toll. Abandoned houses and farmsteads litter the landscape, and isolated mountain-top towns glower down on the modern roads that have passed them by.
Etna and the Plain of Catania
Volcanic activity means that the height of Etna is ever-changing, rendering precise altitude figures meaningless, but it is safe to say that (at 3,300m+) it is an imposing spectacle when it hasn’t wrapped itself in mist and clouds. The incredible richness of the soil here (an eventual by-product of the eruptions) has made this area one of the most agriculturally productive on the island; an abundance that is matched by the richness of the fishing beds that are worked by the fleets of the many coastal towns. Catania is the main town of this region, and the most lively in terms of culture and nightlife on the entire island – it richly deserves its old nickname of “the Milan of the South”.
As well as our food tour of Sicily you can also join us on our Exploring Sicily tour which provides an unforgettable encounter with the island’s long history and culture.