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.
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.
Before we moved to Sicily for 91 days, I didn't know that there was actually a town called Corleone. I had assumed that the name was invented by Mario Puzo, who wrote The Godfather. So I felt a thrill upon discovering that the town actually does exist, just an hour from Palermo, and that it indeed has a past strongly identified with the Mafia. It was just a matter of time before we visited. My name is Michael, after all.
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.
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.
Trapped between Monte Pelligrino and Monte Gallo, Mondello was a fishing village for most of its existence, until its white beach and turquoise water were discovered by the leisure classes of Palermo. Nowadays, it's almost purely a resort town, and highly congested during summer. When we visited on the last day of September, though, there weren't too many other people and the water was still warm enough for swimming.
Rather than have Chucky, our ten-year-old French Bulldog, endure another plane flight alone in the cargo hold, we drove from Rome to Palermo in a rental car. It was a long haul, but allowed us to see the mountains of Calabria and the northern coast of Sicily, and also provided an initial lesson in coping with Italian drivers.