Already visited Italian hot spots like Florence, Rome and Capri? Sicily, which played a starring role on the hit TV show The White Lotus, will show you yet another side of this ever-popular destination.
Set in the Mediterranean off the southwestern coast of Italy, Sicily welcomes travelers with its dramatic landscapes, unique character, UNESCO World Heritage Sites, baroque cathedrals, ancient Greek amphitheaters, sprawling vineyards and delicious local delicacies.
If you have a few weeks to explore, journey around the island for the ultimate Sicilian adventure. But for those short on time, an east coast escape promises a rewarding introduction to the island’s multicultural history, scenic villages and natural wonders. We’ve shortlisted a few of the most enchanting destinations up and down the coast, plus where to stay to experience the best of Sicilian hospitality.
Channel Al Pacino in Savoca
One of the filming locations for “The Godfather” trilogy, Savoca attracts many movie buffs yet still feels far from the tourist trail. Built by the Normans in the 12th century, the medieval hill town holds many historical gems, including the well-preserved sandstone City Gate, the chilling catacombs at the Convento dei Cappuccini and the gorgeous Church of Santa Maria in Cielo Assunta. Don’t leave without stopping by Bar Vitelli in the center of town, where several “Godfather” scenes were shot, for a refreshing spritz, fluffy lemon granita and local zuccarata biscuits.
Savor the charms of Taormina
Built on a dramatic cliff high above the Ionian Sea, the medieval hill town of Taormina charms visitors of all ages with its narrow cobbled lanes, alfresco cafés and unmatched views of Mount Etna. Most of the action revolves around Corso Umberto — a pedestrian-only shopping and dining street — where a casual stroll will take you past art galleries and restaurants, fashion boutiques, bakeries and ancient architecture galore.
Marvel at the 15th-century Palazzo Corvaja (an early Norman fortress once home to the Sicilian Parliament), the Piazza IX Aprile (a photogenic plaza with a baroque church, library and observation deck) and the grand Duomo di Taormina. At the northern end of Corso Umberto, Via Teatro leads to the town’s most famous site: the Ancient Theater, a Greco-Roman theater built in the 3rd century BC that could seat over 5,000 spectators for musicals, concerts, performances and, later, gladiator battles. After thousands of years, the theater still hosts artistic and cultural events, including classical and contemporary concerns, film festivals, book festivals and international award ceremonies.
After soaking up the main attractions, head down one of the romantic stone staircases, like nearby Via Timoleone, then wander around Villa Comunale — an impeccably landscaped public garden overlooking Mount Etna and the Bay of Naxos. Just across the street, grab a table at Ristorante Rosmarino to indulge in an authentic Sicilian dinner and local wines.
Explore Mount Etna
As the tallest volcano in Europe — and one of the world’s most active — Mount Etna possesses a powerful presence. It is beautiful, mythical and the source of many livelihoods thanks to fertile soil that enables olives, grapes, citrus fruits and nuts to thrive.
The easiest, most flexible way to explore this UNESCO World Heritage Site is to embark on a Jeep excursion or hike (or a combination of both) with a knowledgeable tour guide, who may lead you through oak, beech and birch forests; down into old steam vents; and up to lunar-like craters where dramatic landscapes stretch in every direction.
After taking in Mount Etna, stop for a wine and olive oil tasting at a charming vineyard like Cantina Malopasso or Cottanera Azienda Vinicola to try famous grapes like nerello mascalese (comparable to pinot noir) and fresh, bright whites like carricante.
Travel back through time in Syracuse
Having fallen under Greek, Roman, Byzantine, North African and Norman rule throughout history, this UNESCO-listed city reflects Sicily’s multicultural past with its Arab-Norman influence. At the Neapolis Archaeological Park, visit the massive 5th century BC Greek Theatre (which continues to stage classic performances and famous Greek tragedies in the spring and summer), then explore the well-preserved Roman Amphitheater, where gladiators once fought.
Don’t leave the city without exploring Ortigia, considered one of the most beautiful islands in Italy. In this ancient Greek settlement, dating to 734 B.C., make your way to the ruins of the Temple of Apollo, then on to the marble Piazza Duomo where the dominating Cathedral of Siracusa stands tall next to several palazzi and the Church of Santa Lucia alla Badia (with a Caravaggio painting inside). Get lost in the labyrinth of charming pedestrian-only streets, then snap up local cakes, seafood, sauces and ingredients at the lively outdoor market.
Fall in love with Noto
After a devastating earthquake struck southeastern Sicily in the late 1600s, acclaimed Sicilian architects rebuilt the eight towns. They took the opportunity to enhance each area with innovative urban planning strategies, artistic flourishes and late-baroque architectural styles. And today, the group of cities is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Among them is the magnificent Noto, which has become the poster child for Sicilian baroque architecture. In this photogenic town, you’ll discover countless landmarks, like the Royal Gate (a triumphal arch marking the beginning of the town’s main street), piazza XVI Maggio, the church of San Domenico and the impressive Noto Cathedral along the way. If you visit in May, you’ll see the city come alive with mosaic-like floral carpets that blanket the streets during the Infiorata festival.
Head south to Marzamemi
Anchoring the southeastern corner of Sicily is Marzamemi, a quiet seaside village with Arab roots. Once home to an important tuna fishery, the town has long been known for its fishing industry and seafood products, such as red tuna bottarga (dried tuna roe), often enjoyed with spaghetti. This little hamlet bursts with character with vibrant blue doors, rustic sandstone fisherman’s cottages, open-air cafés and beaches.
Where to stay
Many scenic properties dot the eastern coastline, but the Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star San Domenico Palace, Taormina, a Four Seasons Hotel stands out. The set of season two of The White Lotus, this 14th-century building was once a Dominican convent and has since been transformed into a palatial cliffside hotel complete with manicured gardens, top-notch restaurants and panoramic views across the Ionian Sea.
If you’d prefer to stay by the shore, Four-Star Villa Sant’Andrea, A Belmond Hotel, Taormina Mare, provides luxury and romance steps from the sea. Set on an exclusive, pebbly stretch of Taormina Bay, the hotel formerly served as the private villa of an English aristocrat and now welcomes well-heeled travelers to appreciate the classic décor, sun-soaked balconies, delicious cuisine and desirable location.