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.
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.
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.
If you're an adult human living in the 21st century, you have at some point in your life suffered a catastrophic computer crash. You've been faced with the choice of whether to try and recover your system, or just start fresh with a clean install. And you've probably learned that, almost always, the best option is to start clean and reinstall from scratch. Restorations rarely work and, even if you're able to cobble your computer back to a semi-functional state, there are usually problems. No, it's best to bite the bullet, lose some work, and start over. For metaphorical proof from history, just look at the Sicilian city of Noto.
Set atop a mountain overlooking Trapani, in Sicily's northwestern corner, the town of Erice has a history rooted in mythology. We spent a few hours getting lost on the uneven stone roads and tiny alleys which curve senselessly about the town, and felt as though we'd stepped back in time. If only the weather had played along.
After a couple hours spent wandering the alleyways of Bagheria, we had worked up quite an appetite, and sought out a restaurant recommended by a couple readers: the Antica Osteria Zza' Maria. The word "Zza" alone was enticement enough to visit; it looks like a typo, or the sound a flamboyant snake might make, but is actually Sicilian for "Aunt".