Sicily: Righteous Ruins and Dicey Drivers

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May 24th 2022
Published: May 30th 2022
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She's brewing... stewing...She's brewing... stewing...She's brewing... stewing...

When will she blow?
It is fair to say that we enjoyed our time in Sicily and saw many amazing things as it is an arceiological paradise that we will tell you about, but in our opinion, Sicily needs a coat of love and care, a bit of paint and have the garbage picked up sooner. Now, before you simply move on to another blog or just take a peak at our pictures, we implore you to read the entire blog because overall, we experienced a roller coaster relationship with this province of Italy and we’d like to tell you why. Sicily is a hard one for us to describe as we didn’t fall in love with it the way we have other parts of Italy. Sicily has a tough veneer and is a bit dingy in places. But not to worry dear readers, as we left on a positive note.

One common thread connecting all these Mediterranean islands are the small winding streets. If one takes the time to remember that these towns on the mountainside were built ages ago to protect and allow easy viewing of invaders. And don’t forget that during these times the streets were pedestrian or used by horses and carts. Modern vehicles attempting to navigate these narrow passageways is something you just don’t experience just anywhere, and the general result is that chaos ensues. Throw in the fact that Sicilians can be aggressive while driving and do not follow any rules on the roads and you can only guess just how bizarre and somewhat dangerous this really is. In most of Europe, you see only a few vehicles with scratches and dents. It appears that here in Sicily for some this is a badge of honor somehow as many cars are damaged. We drove a car in Sicily and consider ourselves fortunate to turn it back in unscathed from all the motoring madness. In our opinion, Sicilian drivers have an intensity and aggression that is different from other parts of Italy. We really didn’t embrace their attitude, their honking or hand gestures. LOL.

But let’s back up now and start from the beginning……we landed in Sicily via a short ferry ride from Malta. It was a lovely passage. We had arranged for someone to pick us up at the dock to drive us to the small town of Ragusa where we would spend one night and pick
Evening in RagusaEvening in RagusaEvening in Ragusa

Church of San Guiseppe
up our rental car nearby for use over the next couple of weeks.

Sicily has a similar history to the other islands we’ve been telling you about in that they were continually defending themselves against Greeks, Barbarians, Byzantines, Arabs and the Normans, and the Spanish….this is such a common theme here in the Mediterranean. Traveling to these islands certainly provides a dive into history.

Ragusa & Modica

Our driver-tour guide started us off with a tour of a small Baroque town called Modica which is famous for its chocolate. Obviously, when we heard that we had to go to a store for samples and learn a bit more. The Spanish Conquistadors brought the very old recipe and cold processing to Sicily. Cold processing makes the chocolate grainy and crumbly. They like to flavor the chocolate with a bit of vanilla, chilis, carob, coffee or citrus fruits. After sampling a few flavors, we took the vanilla home with us. A quick trip to the Baroque church and a stop for coffee before heading off to Ragusa.

We decided to visit Ragusa because during our research for this trip we learned that Ragusa and seven other neighboring towns
Fish and LemonsFish and LemonsFish and Lemons

Catania Market
of the Val di Noto are on the UNESCO World Heritage list for its unique Sicilian Baroque style. We felt we should spend the night in at least one of these towns. Ragusa is perched high on a hillside and on the drive into town the skies began to look a bit ominous. We made it to the main square and were learning the history of the churches, a bit about baroque architecture and details of the 1693 earthquake which ravaged southern Sicily and caused them to rebuild….and then the skies opened and it was pouring rain. The streets quickly flooding and cold water nearly ankle deep rushing over our sandals. We moved to stand under an awning for about ten minutes, then moved into a café for about ten minutes. From there we suggested we go eat lunch as the storm was not going to abate anytime soon. A quick run in the rain got us to a nice restaurant. After lunch we ended the tour with our guide. We didn’t want to stand in the pouring rain, so we gave him his time back. We were a bit surprised he didn’t offer to decrease the payment by a few dollars because he got to leave early…. but that’s life.

That evening after the storm ended, we wandered the city enjoying the beauty of the evening lights, taking in the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist and the Cathedral of San Giorgio with its neoclassical dome. From the rooftop of our hotel, we could appreciate the beauty and architecture of this hilltop village. The foggy mist radiating from the recent storm hung beautifully over the rooftops making it look rather enchanting.


When you are doing research for a visit to Sicily, the town of Noto is mentioned on all the list of quaint towns to visit and is one of the seven baroque towns identified by UNESCO. We detoured to visit this town for a few hours on the way to our next stop. Well worth the stop if you have the time. Small quaint and very picturesque, a nice place to spend a few hours. We would have liked to stay there.


The guide we had in February in Saudi Arabia (we loved) recommended a guide for us in Siracusa. Rosa was an excellent guide. We hired her for three days
St. BlaiseSt. BlaiseSt. Blaise

... ask Dave about St. Blaise
and although we wish we had only hired her for two days. We were happy with her and would highly recommend her. Her knowledge is quite deep on everything from the history of the area to art to cuisine. The reason we should have hired her for two days instead is a traveler’s flaw in us. At times, we get sensory overload with historical information and our eyes glaze over, especially on a private tour where you receive volumes of information. She was an extraordinary storyteller and made the information interesting but for us listening for 3 days in a row is a bit much for us. As we said, the problem was with us not her. The only odd thing was Rosa asked us to drive on our tours. We booked weeks ago, and she didn’t mention this… she actually asked again on the second day a bit more forcefully which was annoying. This should have been negotiated when we booked instead of the day we arrived. We decline the opportunity to drive.

With that said, the day we spent with Rosa at the archeological park which includes the Greek theatre in Siracusa, the town square was amazing as well as Ortygia Island. Rosa explained the historical transformation of the Duomo in Siracusa. This stunning unique church demonstrates the crossroads of cultures that have dominated this area. As each culture added or built around the existing church or mosque rather than tearing it down. The result is the ability to sit on a pew quietly and look around at the magnificent architecture that encompasses all of those who have come and gone. We never seen anything like this before in our travels.

Looking back, we would have hated to miss all the information she was imparting in these two locations. We left feeling as if we really understood the life and times of the people. The town square in Siracusa is stunning and one of the nicest we'd seen.

Paesini Hyblean mountains -Palazzolo Acreide

Our second day of touring included a trip up into the hills and a visit to our guide’s hometown and a tour of the ruins. The ruins included a partially restored open amphitheater where each year select high school students perform a Greek tragedy. The preservation process is a slow one, given that it requires non-government funding and the area has been plundered by thieves over the decades. We’ve learned that if you pay close enough attention, all ruins are not alike and often tell a unique story.

Palazzolo Acreide is smallish town with a lengthy history. Their annual festival of Saints Paul and Sebastian are affairs that bring out the whole town. Although they are technically religious in nature, we are told that St. Paul and St. Sebastian parade goers best not slip into the part of town that are not affiliated with or they will be pelted with tomatoes and perhaps lemons. Call it rivalry if you like, but throwing fruit at someone is not terribly Christian.


As it turned out we really didn’t need a guide for Catania but again enjoyed Rosa’s company and knowledge. If we were able to rearrange our itinerary, we would have spent a night in this town as it is lovely. The markets are colorful with vibrant umbrellas and streamers hanging from wires above the streets. The town square is inviting, and we would have enjoyed lingering longer.

As we tour Sicily we find the towns looking a bit drab and dingy. We mentioned our impressions to
Amazing MosiacsAmazing MosiacsAmazing Mosiacs

Villa Romana del Casale
Rosa about wanting to throw a coat of paint on some of the buildings. She looked appalled and said they would never paint over the intricate woods and marble. Rosa misunderstood us. We would never suggest such a thing, but these buildings are old and need to be cared for to last. We suspect there is a restoration process by which the hundreds of years of grease and grime could be gently sandblasted off the buildings without damage and a paint applied to the exterior. At the same time, they could restore the lovely wood, etchings and moldings. We were talking about restoration, not damage to the history. We suspect it all comes down to the money.


Narrowed streets and sculptured balconies abound in Sicily and make Taormina one of those picturesque towns you see in all the photos full of colorful flowers. Probably one of the most beautiful spots in Sicily, most of the town is far up on the hill overlooking the Ionean Sea. Although we drove to Taormina, we didn’t venture on the streets with the car often, especially when the hotel owner offered to take us via tuk tuk to get to most
Well preservedWell preservedWell preserved

Valley of the Temples
destinations. We took in some opera music while there and partook in some fine dining as well. If you’re going to Sicily, we recommend this town as a place not to miss.

At the foot of Taormina is a hotel lined beach. We later saw a tram that brought the people who stayed on the beach up to the town. We suspect those hotels were out of our price range but might have enjoyed staying down there and just visiting. Taormina is crowded with cruise ship tourists. We are happy people are traveling again but the streets of this town have difficulty absorbing the crowds.

One of the main features of this town is the 3rd century Greek theatre. Later it was enhanced by the Romans and has had restoration work since that time. It is lovely with great views of Mt. Etna. One thing we’ve seen in Sicily is that all of the ancient theatres are used these days for performances. They often cover the stones and ruins with plywood during the theatre season.

The volcano Mt. Etna offers lovely views from Taormina and makes an easy day trip for anyone staying there.

Mt. Etna

Located about an hour south and west of Taormina is Mt. Etna. Not being vulcanologists, we were not aware that this volcano was classified as “effusive.” We were like many who believe a volcano is either active or dormant. The effusive classification indicates that the volcano, while active only has an outpouring of basaltic magma with is low in viscosity and gas content. The rough translation of this is that there is an ability for the volcano to relieve its pressure constantly, rather than storing up all that magma for a rather big explosion.

This active and effusive volcano was one of our highlights of our stay in Sicily. It was a lovely sunny day. We took the tram to the top and hiked around a bit. They had a guide who wandered with us and told us a bit of basic information. Most of us wandered and didn’t listen much. You could see the smoke and hear the mountain softly groan making it very ominious. We were fortunate in that we went early enough on a clear day to enjoy the mountain.


It was now time to traverse the island and head to a western city in search of more history. We stopped in Villa Romana del Casale en route as they had some ruins from a 4th century “villa” of a rather wealthy individual. What made this extremely interesting were the mosaics throughout the edifice. Unesco has identified these as the finest mosaics in the Roman World. Not only well done and nice preserved, but the sheer number of them was stunning. Despite a colossal number of school children, the tour was quite nice.

We’ve been told that schools let children out in the month of May to go on fieldtrips around the country. Its great learning about your homeland but May seems an odd month to do this. We are told that travel agents have requested it be changed to a month when the tourists have gone home but …. so far no changes have been made. All the ruins and temples we visited were filled with children, ages 6 to 16, and many demonstrated limited interest. We would not recommend traveling to Sicily in May!

We pressed on as just outside of Agrigento are some wonderfully preserved ruins named Valley of the Temples and the Turkish Steps. We were
Historic StatuesHistoric StatuesHistoric Statues

Villa Romana del Casale
grateful for these two places as Agrigento was quite dreary and dirty, to be honest. On our way back from the Temples, a ten-minute drive became over one hour due to some street construction near our AirBnb. Even a policeman could not provide reasonable directions. Our accommodations were quite nice as we got to cook two nights in a row, and catch up on the laundry but the rest of the city left a lot to be desired.

Our recommendation is to check out Villa Romana on your way… find a hotel near the Valley of Temples and only spend one night. Valley of the Temples is absolutely worth a visit. The Turkish Steps were a pleasant surprise and could be done on your drive out of town.


North a few hours of Agrigento, we had arranged to stay at an “agri-tourism” hotel. What this meant for us is that we were not staying in a town center for a change and could enjoy some peace and quiet, along with a massage and some good cuisine for a couple of days. A day trip to Trapani revealed yet another small Sicilian city that was somewhat non-descript, needed some paint and for the garbage to be picked up. This seems to be a trend…..

We are not sure what we read about this town or this area that prompted us to stay but we found little of interest after arrival.

On the bright side, we discovered some salt flats just south of town and were able to see flamingos, one of our favorite birds. They were gathered in the shallow salt water feeding and perhaps trying to find mates as some were engaged in what can only be described as a mating dance. This was a highlight, indeed.


Our last stop was Palermo so we turned in our rental car unscathed and took the train into the city. Our hotel was less than a kilometer from the train station. We inquired about taking a taxi, but the driver wanted 15 euro. We were not about to pay that price, so the bag drag began. Much to our delight, the neighborhood was alive and people were out in force, promenading and dining alfresco. We found our hotel easily and immediately set out to enjoy our new neighborhood. Over the course of the next

Turkish steps
three days, we wandered about Palermo and were pleasantly surprised that this Sicilian city picked up most of its garbage and kept the area relatively clean.

Palermo was just the injection of excitement we needed for this trip. We’ve spent a lot of time studying history and ruins which we enjoyed but it was time for a bit of city life and it felt good.

We walked the streets, rode the hop on hop off bus, peaked in a couple of churches, enjoyed the city parks and squares, listened to street performers and enjoyed some gelato. Palermo has a pleasantly gritty vibe to it and we really liked it!

In summary

The food was good but didn't wow us the way it has in other parts of Italy.

We were taken aback when we arrived in Sicily and saw a flurry of tour buses. People are back out there doing their thing and if you haven’t booked a trip, you should. As we arrived at a couple of the archeological sites and found the parking lots filled with 15 or more buses. Fortunately, these places are big and could handle the crowds. We didn’t feel like we were crowded. I guess that will happen when they get back up to 40 tour buses. Additionally, we would not choose to travel in Sicily in May because of all the small children out of school and touring. We found them in many places and while generally they were well-behaved, eight year-olds visiting ruins is probably not the wisest idea.

We’ve observed a lack of infrastructure in Sicily in that the garbage bags sit on the streets longer than in many countries. The negative result is animals, probably dogs, tear into the bags and garbage is spread across the streets. Another thing we are not used to is all the smoking and in Sicily everyone throws their butts in the streets. Sometimes it feels as if you are walking in an ash tray. You must pay close attention when you arrive at a restaurant and want to dine outside as many people still smoke. A quick survey of the tables and their diners can reveal who will be lighting up close to you.

Sicily is such a contrast as we observed them spending time decorating porches, balconies and planting beautiful flowers and seem to be content to live with the garbage.

As previously mentioned, we had somewhat of a love-hate relationship with this province. On one hand, the countryside was beautiful, the ruins are preserved well, there was Mt. Etna, the stunning vistas from Taormina and the wonderfully nice people. On the other hand, drivers were in a hurry to go nowhere, speed limits are merely suggestions, garbage is strewn about in many places and the wonderful architecture is not preserved well at all overall.

Where we stayed:

Ragusa – Intervello Boutique Hotel

Siracusa – Diamora Archimedea – located right next to the archeological park

Taormina- Nationale Gallery B&B

Agrigento – Airbnb.

Tripani – Farm stay Agriturismo Vultaggio

Palermao – Delle Vittoria Luxury Suites

Additional photos below
Photos: 61, Displayed: 35


30th May 2022

I liked Sicily too
We stayed in Taormina which was lovely. Agrigento blew me away, though we did get menaced by a pack of wild dogs there, which was unpleasant. I wish I'd gone to Palermo (next time). Syracusa was fine, I remember a superb amphitheatre. I found Trapani quite charming, though I can't remember why, we stayed one night there before we flew back from its little airport. What did strike me was the number of ruined farmhouses we saw driving across the country. Sicily has always been the poorest part of the Italy.
30th May 2022

I liked Sicily too
The number of ancient ruins in Sicily is astounding. Many are well preserved and well restored. Sorry to hear about the pack of wild dogs.
31st May 2022

Great Recommendations!
Thank you for this complete account with great specific recommendations! I hope to visit one day! It is interesting your guide wanted you to drive. When researching another part of Italy for next spring I saw where a tour would give you a discount if you drove your own car and met them at the stops?! This is so strange to me. My number one reason for having a tour or day trip is not to drive. If I take myself to all the places and incur the expense and hassle of a car I will just use a guide on site if needed.
1st June 2022

Great Recommendations!
We thought it was odd the guide asked us to drive but if she were going to do that it would have made more sense to us to do it weeks ago when we were talking with her on the phone. Strange. I do believe the untick in the price of gasoline may have had something to do with it but Dave can't enjoy looking around if he is driving. We never got used to the drivers in Sicily... or the extremely narrow streets. We've driven in others parts of Italy and not had these experiences. Sicily was a one and done for us. This island offers many, many amazing ruins and tons of interesting history so we are glad we went.
4th June 2022
Stormy Ragusa

the crossroads of cultures
Sicily as the largest island in the Mediterranean positioned as if about to be kicked by the boot of Italy and the crossroads of many cultures, looks and sounds like a fascinating destination. A pity about the garbage which appeared to have blighted your appreciation. The rising numbers of tour buses also signals you were wise to visit when you did. Stunning photos for stunning memories no doubt. I have not visited TB for a while so this blog makes me pleased I did. No doubt a skype is in order to hear more firsthand.
4th June 2022
Stormy Ragusa

The crossroads of cultures
We've had a great trip and we'd love to Skype with you. Sicily has so much history to offer and the ruins are well cared for... we are glad to have gone in the off season.
4th June 2022

Bucket list
This is high on my places to visit in the near future! Thanks for the excellent suggestions. Sounds like there less pleasant things to experience, but I rather know going into it!
4th June 2022

Bucket list
Well worth the visit. Not every country can wow you completely. For some Sicily is one of their favorites... for us... we loved the history and are glad we went. The things we didn't care for ... well that's all part of traveling and we are ok with that.
5th June 2022

Wow, Sicily looks a real adventure. I can understand your love-hate relationship with the place. It seems you were really able to dig beneath the surface there. The guide in Siracusa sounded a bit unusual when she insisted you did the driving, normally guided tours do the driving themselves... Well done Dave in getting the car back intact, a very skilful driver indeed! I have made a mental note not to visit Sicily in May - thanks for the heads up, lol! I enjoyed reading this blog very much ?
5th June 2022

It was odd for the guide to ask us to guide but we politely said no. Dave is a good driver. Sicily has some great ruins but not in May. LOL.
5th June 2022

In England too, when streams of school children visit museums, it is impossible to move and do a good viewing. They also make so much noise. Thanks for heads up on May. Other bits on general culture etc very useful.
5th June 2022

Thank you for commenting. It is always good to have a heads up on these things before planning trips.
6th June 2022
Posing for wedding pictures

These guys are spoiling your view! Only kidding :) We love seeing weddings in other countries, especially when traditional attire is involved. I totally get what you meant about Rosa and listening intently to a guide for a long period. It tires me out more than the physical walking around a site... but most of the time I appreciate their in-depth knowledge. When we visited Naples many years ago, they'd had months and months of trouble with garbage collection too - in that case it was a mafia standoff with the authorities. I wonder if it was a similar scenario here too? Sicily sounds like a mixed bag destination, and I really appreciate the honesty in your writing.
6th June 2022
Posing for wedding pictures

We love seeing weddings in other countries. They were lovely. We learned so much from Rosa and are glad we had her but we were worn out from listening. She really was excellent. The garbage issue was not mafia related. I'm not sure if they put it out too early or if they have too few workers. The cigarette butts being thrown everywhere was annoying. It felt like walking in an ashtray. The ruins were simply amazing so worth going to Sicily... just be ready to live with the dirt.
16th June 2022
Temple de la Concordia

If I ever go to Sicily...
If I ever go to Sicily I just have to visit the town/village Corleone just because I want to stand in the town square and say "I am going to give him an offer he can't refuse." Oh yes, I am silly. But I have a lot of fun in my sillyness. /Ake
17th June 2022
Temple de la Concordia

Going to Sicily
Yes, I guess we should have gone to Corleone. Let me know how it is when you get there. I assumed that scene may have been filmed in some other part but who knows. I'll have to research that.
20th June 2022
Temple de la Concordia

The scene has nothing to do with Corleone, Sicily
If there in the film are any references to the town Corleone at all they are probably very few. And the scene I am refering to has nothing at all to do with any location in Italy. It might even be a total coincidence that there is a town in Sicily that has the same name as the crime family in the Godfather. I am only looking for a reason to goof around a bit. /Ake
20th June 2022
Temple de la Concordia

You can tell it has been a long time since I've seen the movie. I'll bet they looked for a town in Sicily with a cool name... or edgy history.
3rd August 2022

Your photos certainly portray the positives of Sicily, it looks absolutely beautiful. I almost did a day trip to Sicily for Mt. Etna from Malta, but glad I didn't as feel it would have been too much in one day.
7th August 2022

Mt. Edna was one of our favorite locations on Sicily. You wont want to rush it.
23rd August 2022

I’ve just read this again after our recent second trip to Sicily. It is indeed an island of contrasts and contradictions. We absolutely loved Siracusa (we were lucky to get an apartment right off the main square in Ortigia): Cefalu (not sure you went there, stunning, probably our favourite), Taormina and Ragusa. Valley of the Temples and white cliffs on sea nearby also excellent. But when we drove there last time couldn’t agree more with your comments on the aggression of the drivers and their apparent complete disregard of the road rules. And the rubbish - everywhere on the sides of the road from Palermo to Agrigento, almost as if the collectors had gone on strike. On balance however it gets a tick from us!
24th August 2022

We are glad we went to Sicily as the ruins and history are amazing.We will encourage others to go. I think we would have enjoyed Cefalu from reading your blogs but we didn't make it there. The attitude of the Sicilian people could soften a bit... and the trash is sad. Keep on traveling.

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