Sicily – Agrigento, Palermo, Syracuse

The best way to describe Sicily is to start throwing out adjectives – beautiful, turbulent, mysterious, fascinating, rugged, lush, diverse to name but a very few.  The Sicilian natives carry the blood of 13 occupying powers in their veins which sets the stage for the variety of food, architecture, culture, and history you will experience.

The reality of visiting Sicily far and away surpassed my imagination and many preconceived stereotypes.  I have been back several times and I hope I will have the good fortune to go back again – this time for a much longer visit.

Valley of the Temples, Agrigento, Sicily, 2010
Valley of the Temples, Agrigento, Sicily, 2010

Sicily is fairly easy to traverse via car and you can see a lot in a few days depending on where you are located.   Both the Palermo and the Catania Airports are easily reached (1.5 hour flight time) by daily flights from Rome’s Fiumicino Airport.  I highly recommend visiting Palermo for a few days and visiting nearby towns – Cefalu, Misilmere, Monreale OR spending a week along the southeastern coast – Noto, Ragusa, Syracuse.  Agrigento and Taormina are also high on the list but are more out of the way and require some logistical planning if you do not have access to a car – well worth the effort!

Palermo Cathedral, Sicily, 2010
Palermo Cathedral, Sicily, 2010

For fans of bestselling Inspector Montalbano novels and short stories now a long running cult Italian TV Series a trip to Sicily will allow you to visit many of recognizable locations which have been used as a backdrop over the years.

View of Syracuse from Aranella, Sicily, 2012
View of Syracuse from Aranella, Sicily, 2012

One of Sicily’s best natural features is the beautiful Mediterranean Sea which offers great swimming, seafood, and scenery.  Definitely try to spend some time walking along the water or relaxing in the water at one of the many beaches.

I have included several links which will give you further insight into this magical diverse universe situated on the largest island in the Mediterranean and hope you are inspired.  Buon Viaggio!

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The Vatican Gardens, An Urban Oasis – Rome

Vatican Gardens, Rome, 2013 Upper Terrace, Vatican Gardens, Rome, 2013

Balancing the desire to visit “must see sights” and to relax can be hard at times.  Especially if you have a limited number of days in Rome.  Visiting the Giordini Vaticani will allow you to do both in spectacular style!  The views from the “backyard” of St. Peters along the upper terraces of the garden are nothing short of breathtaking.  Open daily except Wednesdays and Sundays, from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm.  The guided tour, in small groups of 20 to 25, which lasts approximately two hours winds leisurely through the lush gardens, fountains, statuary, and architectural gems of Vatican City.  The tour guides are friendly and knowledgable and provide you with a historical overview of this special place.

Vatican Gardens, Rome, 2013 Stone Pines Along the Northern Walls, Vatican Gardens, Rome, 2013

The Vatican Gardens have been a place of quiet and meditation for the popes since 1279 when Nicholas III (Giovanni Gaetano Orsini, 1277-1280) moved his residence back to the Vatican from the Lateran Palace.

Within the walls of Vatican City these urban gardens and parks cover more than half of the 109 total acres of Vatican territory to the South and Northeast. The papal heliport, Radio Vatican, and the Vatican Train Station (no longer used) are just a few of the interesting buildings you will see.

Italianate Garden, Vatican Garden, Rome 2013Italianate Garden, Vatican Gardens, Rome, 2013

After your tour you may visit the Vatican Museums or you may want to avoid the crowds in the “front of the house” and continue to relax along the streets of rione Prati.    One of my favorite places to have a panino is DUECENTOGRADI “200 Degrees”.  Located a short five minute walk from the entrance to the Vatican Museums at Piazza Risorgimento, 3.

Off The Beaten Path – Rome, Chiesa Sant’Agnese fuori le Mura

Mausoleo di Santa Costanza, Rome, 2012Mausoleo di Santa Costanza, Rome, 2012Catacombs near Sant'Agnese fuori le MuraMausoleo di Santa Constanza near Sant’Agnese Fuori le Mura, Rome, 2012

I enjoy escaping the hustle and bustle of the historic center of Rome from time to time.  It is always an adventure and an opportunity to explore new neighborhoods.   One of my favorite off the beaten path excursions is to a “complex” in the Trieste district – Chiesa Sant’Agnese fuori le Mura. Literally translated “Saint Agnes outside the walls”.

The complex includes an ancient church dedicated to the martyr Saint Agnes, located at Via Nomentana, 349, a funeary monument to Constantina – daughter of  Emperor Constantine, catacombs, and the ancient remains of a monastery.

The history that accompanies these structures is high drama in the best tradition.  Roman nobility converting to christianity, martyrdom, miracles, poetry, and layers upon layers of art and architecture.

Easily accessible by Metro (S. Agnese Annibaliano Station).  Take the MEB1 from downtown Rome towards Conca D’Oro.  When you exit the station look eastward and you will see a hill with trees and an ancient wall.  Head in this direction.