Beat the crowds: Sicily
Getting off the beaten track can be one of the most satisfying elements of travelling. It's wonderful to explore authentic culture and food that you only find hints of at home. The downside, of course, is that you may miss out on everyday creature comforts. So wouldn't it be great if there was somewhere that combined all the joys of a lesser-explored destination with the comfort of the tourist trail?
That’s where Sicily comes in. With its balmy climate, gorgeous scenery, endlessly explorable cities, fascinating history and incredible food, the Mediterranean's largest island appears tailor-made for tourism - yet visitor numbers pale in comparison to Italy's biggest attractions. The city of Venice is 60 times smaller than Sicily and has just a fifth of the population, but receives four times more tourists each year than the whole island combined.
Like the sound of Sicily? Read the Citybond team's guide on why you should go, and what to do when you get there.
Planning your trip
Sicily is blessed with mild winters and hot summers. Along the island's coast, average high temperatures range from 10-15C in January to 30C or higher in August. In the mountainous interior, expect temperatures to be a few degrees cooler. The island is less than 100m from the North African coast so to avoid the sweltering heat of high summer, most people visit from April to early June or late September to October. Expect to pay around £40 per night for a mid-range hotel room in the capital, Palermo, during these periods. You'll be using euros in Sicily and currently, you won't need a visa to enter. Low-cost carriers EasyJet and Ryanair fly to Palermo direct from Gatwick, Heathrow and Stansted, as well as from Liverpool and Manchester.
What to do
Thanks to its location at the heart of the Mediterranean, Sicily showcases the best elements of European, Middle Eastern and North African culture. Down the years it's been owned by too many different nations and empires to mention, with each leaving their unique stamp on the island. Base yourself near Palermo's picturesque Old Town, then explore the bustling streets on foot - or take a tour in one of the many horse-drawn carriages instead. Don't miss the city's vibrant street markets like Ballaro, which looks more like a North African bazaar than anything you'd expect in Europe. And if there’s time, catch a train down the coast to Santa Flavia to explore the Roman ruins of Solunto, or soak up the sun at Mondello beach.
What to see
With its atmospheric cities, tiny fishing villages and numerous beaches, Sicily isn't short on things to see. Perhaps the island's most famous attraction is Mount Etna - but remember that it's an active volcano, so make sure you hire a qualified guide if you fancy walking its slopes. Alternatively, a cable car runs from the town of Nicolosi to near the summit. History lovers will be spoilt for choice in Palermo, with the city's cathedral and the Norman Palace, Europe's oldest royal residence, among the many ancient highlights. Or head to the south coast to explore the Valle dei Templi, a vast archaeological site containing the spectacular remnants of seven ancient Greek temples, the oldest dating back to the 5th century BC.
Where to stay
Whether you're after a cosmopolitan city break, a rural retreat or a slice of beach life, you'll be spoilt for choice in Sicily. For an upscale urban bolthole, seek out the Mercure Palermo Excelsior City. It may be part of an international chain, but this late-19th century joint has an aesthetic that's all its own - plus it's only a ten-minute stroll from the bustling Old Town. Fancy something a little more laid back? Head for off-the-beaten-track Scicli (pronounced "Sheekly") and book into the Hotel Novecento, a limestone palazzo in the heart of the tiny UNESCO-listed town. Or kick back at the luxurious Belmond Villa Sant'Andrea, with its own private beach on the blissful Bay of Mazzarò.
What to eat
The whole of Italy is a foodie's delight, but Sicily can arguably lay claim to the nation's best street food. Must-tries include arancini - breaded, deep-fried rice balls stuffed with a variety of fillings. The most popular variety contains ragù, mozzarella and caciocavallo cheese, and it's as deliciously unhealthy as it sounds. Aubergine is a staple ingredient of Sicilian cuisine, so be sure to get your hands on a triplo sandwich, which has slices of the vegetable alongside potato croquettes and chickpea fritters known as panelle. Feeling adventurous? Try pani câ meusa - a sandwich made with sesame seed bread, lamb's spleen and pieces of boiled lung fried in lard. Then treat yourself to the sweet roll of cannoli afterwards, you deserve it.
Wherever you plan on heading to this year it’s good to know that Citybond Suretravel is committed to providing you with the highest level of protection to ensure you are safe and secure 24 hours a day when away.
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