Hailed as one of Italy’s most beautiful villages, the tiny hamlet of Sávoca has a spectacular mountain setting just four kilometers inland from Sicily’s eastern coast. Among the legions of people it’s charmed is Francis Ford Coppola, who filmed the Sicilian scenes of The Godfather here.
Our planned ascent to the craters of Mt. Etna had been foiled due to high winds. So finding ourselves with a beautiful, sunny day and nothing else to do, we hopped back in the car and took a long drive around the volcano.
The eastern coast of Sicily is defined by the looming presence of Mount Etna, the largest and most active volcano in Europe. Though it had just erupted spectacularly a few days prior, we couldn’t resist checking it out during our final road trip on the island.
Set in the mountains just ten miles east of Palermo, the town of Carini enjoys a privileged view towards the sea. With a population of only 35,000 and a world-famous castle as its main attraction, it sounded like a nice, easy escape from city life, and we chose a Wednesday morning to explore it.
In 1968, the hillside town of Gibellina was devastated by a 6.1-scale earthquake. Somewhat like the residents of Noto, who befell a similar fate, the town decided to abandon the ruins and start from scratch in a location which was close by, and hopefully more stable. Between 1985 and 1989, an Italian artist named Alberto Burri used the old city’s ruins as the canvas for his most audacious work of modern sculpture. The resulting concrete cemetery is a bold piece of art, a comment on death, and a moving tribute to the devastated city.
Segesta was founded high upon Mount Barbaro by the Elymian people, one of three Bronze Age cultures that flourished in Sicily before the arrival of overseas powers. Eventually, though, the foreigners came knocking and, after a doomed alliance with Carthage, Segesta attached its fortunes to Athens. The Romans and Arabs also took possession of Segesta, but the city was abandoned completely at some point during the Middle Ages. This desertion allowed Segesta’s ruins to survive relatively untouched, shielded from the destructive march of history.
Cefalù numbers just 13,000, but its population balloons in the summer. The town is one of Sicily’s finest beach resorts and attracts sunbathers from all over Italy and Europe. From what we’ve heard, it’s unbearable when crowded. And although we found the streets empty in December, the emphasis on tourism was abundantly clear. €3 cappuccinos and stores hawking magnets and postcards to phantoms.
Hidden coves. Crystal clear water. Prehistoric caves. Utter solitude. If all that sounds good after the noise and muck of Palermo, hop in a car and head out to Sicily’s first national park: the Riserve Naturale dello Zingaro.
The city of Syracuse is packed with beautiful baroque churches and stunning Greek monuments, still standing in defiance of the centuries. But the building which dominates the city’s skyline was built just seventeen years ago. Say hello to the Santuario della Madonna delle Lácrime. Sigh. They just don’t build them like they used to.
On our second day in Syracuse, we made our way to the Parco Archeologico della Neapolis, where some of Sicily’s greatest ruins are bunched together, almost as though our ancient forebears wanted to facilitate future tourist groups.