It’s the largest island in the Mediterranean, and although part of Italy it is completely autonomous. The terrain is hilly with a very large, very active volcano or two among them. Mount Etna is the tallest active volcano in Europe and rises 3,350 m above the sea on the eastern coast of the island. The interesting geography, balmy climate and fascinating history combine to make Sicily an incredible place to visit, but it can be hard on the wallet. If you’re visiting the region and need to add in a couple of inexpensive days, try some of these very affordable attractions and activities.
San Vito Io Capo
It’s said to be the most beautiful beach in the country and with good reason. Rising above the warm sands of the beach, the limestone cliffs that make up Mount Cofano create a stunning backdrop. Although it’s a perfect spot for a picnic lunch, there are a dozen or so little eateries a short ways inland that serve affordable bites and tasty sandwiches. You can easily spend many free afternoons here enjoying the sun and sand.
Just outside the city of Palermo is an amazing example of 12th century Arabo-Norman architecture. The mosaics on the ceiling and walls are hand-made and incredibly detailed, as is much of the design of the cathedral. The bronze doors at the entrance are covered in scenes from the bible and were designed by architect Bonanno Pisano who also may have had a hand in the construction of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. There’s a small fee to ascend to the terraces but the view of the countryside is easily worth it.
Getting to the island can be tricky but it is doable. Once you arrive at the base of the 391 m volcano you’ll find a trail that leads up towards the steaming summit. The volcano hasn’t erupted in over 120 years so you’re either safe – or it’s ready to blow again – depending on your perspective. Chances are that you’ll be fine for the three or four hours it will take you to climb to the top and wander around the crater before heading back down. In addition to the thrill of being on an active volcano, the summit provides amazing views of the small islands of the coast of Sicily.
It requires a bit more effort than Vulcano but it is possible to hike to the top of Mount Etna without taking the pricy cable car. Park as high as you can and plan on about four hours o determined climbing to get to the top. If the ascension sounds like too much trouble, explore the rest of the Parco dell’Etna and view the mountain from the base.
Valle dei Templi
Valle dei Templi
Archeology buffs might want to spend a day at the Valley of the Temples despite the ten Euro entrance fee. Once inside the World Heritage Site it’s best to plan on quite a bit of hiking as the temples are not close together and your path leads uphill. You could spend another €10 for a taxi to take you up the hill but the walk is fine and you have all day. The seven temples dedicated to the Greek deities have a small but unsatisfying amount of information on nearby plaques so bring a guidebook or snag some free information from the web before you go.
A once great Greek city on the southern coast of Sicily is now an amazing place to explore. Five temples are centered on an acropolis, one of which has been re-erected. History fans could easily spend a day here but even those with a mild interest will appreciate the views from the top and the beaches down below. Don’t forget to visit the quarries to get an idea of how the temples were built and the stone transported to the sites.
Views of the Sciara del Fuoco that runs down the third active volcano in the region are best seen from one of the designated points. You can hike to the scar from Piscita, a bit west of the port and follow the trail that goes to the observation point. If you arrive or stay until dark you may be treated with brilliant eruptions that spew burning rocks down the slope into the sea. According to those who knew him, Stromboli was the inspiration for Mount Doom in the novels by J.R.R. Tolkien and it also features in the Jules Verne novel from 1864. The volcano that’s been erupting for 2,000 years rarely disappoints visitors and watching the beauty and power of the earth is one of the best ways to end a stay in Sicily.