The Mediterranean Sea laps seductively against the shore, and the searing Sicilian heat kisses you all over. The sky is a perfect blue and the aroma of freshly baked cannoli mingles with the salty sea breeze. You lazily lift your head from the sand. Removing your sunglasses, your eyes slowly become accustomed to the light, taking in everything, and you realise that this is heaven on earth.
Nestled just off the “toe” of Italy’s boot, Sicily has long had an intoxicating allure. As your plane touches down on the island, you’re greeted by a sun-soaked landscape that stretches from rolling vineyards and citrus groves to dramatic cliffs that plunge into the azure waters below. It’s a setting that feels like a Mediterranean dreamscape, a paradise where time seems to slow down, allowing you to savour every moment.
Sicily wears its rich history proudly. From the ancient Greeks and Romans to the Arabs, Normans, and Spanish, each culture has left its indelible mark, creating a mesmerising fusion of architectural styles, traditions, and flavours. No matter where you are in Sicily, every step you take immerses you in a captivating blend of history, culture, and culinary delights.
“I’m a photographer and filmmaker, and most of all probably the biggest lover of Sicily.” Chiara Magi, the founder of the incredibly successful ‘Sicily Insider‘ tells us. “This project first started back in 2015 as a long-distance walking trip (1000+ km) around Sicily, and the name of the project then was ‘Sicilian Vibes.’ It was just me and my camera and I was filming everything and walking around 20 km every day.
“My goal was to get to know the island better and to show it to the whole world, as even today I feel that little is still known about Sicily. Now this project has become an all-in-one guide, including everything you will need to know for your perfect trip to Sicily. It is a place where I share the best travel information, tips and advice about my beloved island.”
Chiara takes you into the heart of everything that makes Sicily great. Recommending the best places to eat and drink, and where you should be sampling the island’s cuisine. Whether you want to feast on arancini, or deep-fried rice balls filled with ragu or cheese. Or savour the fresh catch of the day in a Sicilian seafood stew, or experience the iconic cannoli, crisp pastry tubes filled with sweet ricotta cream. She has something for everything and takes you on a journey of incredible photography, filmmaking, art and culture and landscapes.
I became more certain that Sicily is the most beautiful place in the world
Originally from Estonia, Chiara’s fascination with Sicily started when she met a group of Scillians whilst travelling and they began to describe everything that made Sicily so beautiful. “After travelling almost everywhere in the world, I became more certain that Sicily is the most beautiful place there is. You can hardly find any other places offering such a cool mix of all these things together: seaside, weather, history, monuments, food, people, events, nature and much more. It inspires me at every sight.”
She’s not wrong. Sicily is a place that has always captured the heart and imagination. It is over 200 years since poet Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe arrived in Siclly and proclaimed: “To have seen Italy without having seen Sicily is not to have seen Italy at all, for Sicily is the clue to everything.” To this day it is a place that continues to fascinate people. It is a melting pot of history, food and drink, art and culture, landscapes, festivals, traditions and so much more.
Its popularity has grown recently thanks to Season Two of the drama White Lotus, which has introduced the island to a new generation. Much of the second series was filmed on the seaside resort of Taormina, a village on the island’s eastern side, not far from Mount Etna. That’s where you’ll find The San Domenico Palace which plays host to much of the series, and where tourists and social media influencers alike are flocking to.
Throughout the show, the idyllic nature of the island is highlighted and the landscapes which arrested Goethe all those years ago play a key role in its story. It is a place that Cinema and popular culture has long had a love for The Godfather Trilogy, Cinema Paradiso, and Il Postino are just a few of the many movies that are made with Sicilian influences. It was as if the island was born for the camera.
24 hours in Sicily
As the largest Mediterranean island, there are many places to see; Palermo, Taormina, Catania, Syracuse and Messina, to name just a few. You can discover the idyllic beaches of San Vito Lo Capo, where crystalline waters lap against powdery white sands. Dive into the vibrant underwater world of the Aeolian Islands, a UNESCO World Heritage site boasting volcanic beauty and captivating marine life, or unwind in the picturesque coastal town of Cefalù, with its charming beaches, medieval streets, and magnificent Norman cathedral. Mount Etna, of course, isn’t too bad either
You can explore the rugged beauty of the Nebrodi and Madonie mountain ranges, wander through the idyllic vineyards of the Marsala region, or immerse yourself in the tranquillity that is the Zingaro Nature Reserve. Essentially, what I’m trying to say is that Sicily offers an absolute abundance of adventures, all of which are waiting to be had.
With all that in mind, we ask Chiara, if she only had 24 hours to spend in Sicily what would she do? “That is so difficult to answer,” she says with a smile. “Okay, so I would try to make the most of my time by focusing on a few key highlights. I would start by visiting the historic centre of Palermo, exploring its vibrant markets, such as Ballarò or Vucciria, and admiring the stunning architecture of Palermo. Then, I would head to Cefalù and after seeing the historic town, I would watch the sunset while making the last swim of my stay.”
Stunning beaches, clear waters, and unique landscapes
Sicily Insider is awash with incredible suggestions about the best places to stay, eat, drink, and experience whilst in Sicily. It takes you by the hand and lets you see what makes the island so mesmerising. If you have never visited Sicily before, it is an incredible source of information. So, for anybody who has never been, where is the best place to start? “I would say, Palermo. A wonderful historic city, and one of the most beautiful ones in the whole of Italy with culture and architecture.”
As the capital of Sicily, Palermo is one of the largest cities in the Mediterranean and is now among the top tourist destinations in both Italy and Europe. It is also the main seat of the UNESCO World Heritage Site Arab-Norman Palermo and the Cathedral Churches of Cefalù and Monreale. The capital boasts an architectural tapestry that showcases this diverse heritage, with Byzantine mosaics, Arab domes, and Norman palaces coexisting in harmonious juxtaposition.
It is also the home of the magnificent Teatro Massimo, Italy’s largest Opera House, which opened its doors to the public in 1897. The Opera House famously played host to the scene in The Godfather III, where during an assassination attempt on Michael Corleone his daughter Mary is shot and dies in his arms on the steps of the Opera House. Beyond The Godfather, there is also the Ballarò market, where you can taste some of the best street food on the island, the catacombs of the Capuchin Monastery and of course, there is the opportunity to experience boat trips along its incredible coast.
There is much more to Sicly than just Palermo, as Chiara explains. “I would also definitely recommend Syracuse, which is known for its well-preserved Greek ruins and the picturesque island of Ortygia. There is also the Aeolian Islands, which is an archipelago of seven volcanic islands and a paradise for nature lovers, with stunning beaches, clear waters, and unique landscapes.
“There are places like Cefalù, which is a beautiful coastal town featuring a stunning Norman cathedral, charming medieval streets, and a sandy beach, making it a popular destination. I would then look to visit Ragusa and Modica. These Baroque towns showcase magnificent architecture, historical sites, and delicious chocolate, as Modica is famous for its traditional chocolate-making. Then there is Taormina, which is a charming hilltop town offering breathtaking views of the coast and the ancient Greek Theatre, which is still used for performances today.”
PLEASURES CHARMS AND BEAUTY
With its growing popularity amongst tourists, who are being drawn to the more mainstream destinations on the island such as Palermo, Mount Etna, and more recently Taormina, where does Chiara believe the hidden treasure of the island lay?
“I would have to say that most of the nature reserves on the island are paradises, such as the Pantalica Nature Reserve. This is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and features ancient necropolises, rock-cut tombs, and beautiful hiking trails in a peaceful and scenic setting. There is also the Vendicari Nature Reserve, which is a coastal reserve with stunning beaches, marshes, and lagoons, it is also a heaven for birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts alike.”
It really is a place like no other, with its many pleasures, charms and beauty. So what is it for Chiara that makes Sicily so unique? “There is so much that makes Sicily unique. It stems from its long and varied history, cultural influences, and diverse landscapes. The island has been shaped by ancient civilisations, such as the Greeks, Romans, Arabs, and Normans, which has resulted in its eclectic blend of architecture, art, and cuisine. You also have something as unique as Mount Etna as its centrepiece, which adds to its distinct character. Let’s also not forget the warmth and friendliness of its people and the vibrant street life which all contribute to the island’s unique charm.”
Our thanks to Chiara Magi.
For more information on Sicily Insider, please visit here.