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.
On the last day of our final road-trip through Sicily, we drove a few kilometers up the coast from Catania to Taormina, the island’s most popular beach resort. Word of its charm had reached our ears from just about everyone we’d come in contact with: friends, strangers in bars, neighbors, Twitter acquaintances. Even my grandmother called to say that we should really visit Taormina. She’s never even been to Sicily and she’s been dead for ten years! Phone calls from beyond the grave are pretty persuasive: we had to go.
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.
Still a healthy city of about 40,000 people, Caltagirone has been home to human activity since prehistoric days. The name comes from the Arabic “qal’at-al-ghiran”, or “Hill of Vases”, which serves as an indication of how tightly connected to pottery the town has always been. Caltagirone was completely destroyed in the 1693 earthquake that leveled much of eastern Sicily. But like Noto, it was rebuilt in grand style, with a heavy emphasis on Baroque architecture.
The world’s most comprehensive and exquisite set of Roman mosaics is found in the middle of Sicily, at the archaeological site known as Villa Romana del Casale. The specifics of the villa’s history are largely lost to history, but experts have dated its origin to around the 4th century AD. It’s believed to have been the hunting lodge for Roman aristocrats, possibly owned by Emperor Maximianus Herculius. But there aren’t enough clues to say for certain.
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.
The art of puppetry has a long history in Sicily. Since the Middle Ages, puppet shows have been one of the island’s most popular forms of entertainment. Thanks to the advent of television and radio, the shows are less important than they once were, but Palermo still boasts a few places to catch a performance. We visited the Teatro Ippogrifo, near the Quattro Canti, and had a blast with a story that was loud, funny and surprisingly violent.
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.