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Rome, Sicily and Malta

Just found out that our September European cruise was cancelled for a second time so I'm starting over trying to figure out where we can go, where we can stay and what we want to see. I am feeling a little panicked because I usually spend several months researching and planning out where we go, what we see, lodging and transportation....I'm a little panicked. We have about a month for this trip.

Our round trip airfare is to/from Fiumicino and we've been to Italy a few times....this time we want to do something a little different. We're thinking of staying near Vatican City and doing the Vatican and it's grounds a couple of days and then keeping an extra day open for whatever tickles our fancy in that area. I've looked through AirBnB until my eyeballs are ready to fall out of my head and the more I look at places the more confused I am. Can someone please recommend a nice AirBnB place very near Vatican City that wouldn't be more than about $110 a night?

Please don't tell me to research this stuff because we won't be home all of June and then we will be having company staying with us during the summer. This leaves me with very little time to research and prepare for this new trip.

We are thinking of taking the train from Rome to Messina and onto Sicily. The places we're looking at are Palermo, Syracuse, Taormino, Cefalu, Trapani, Agrigento and perhaps Catania. Ideally, I'd like to stay in one place as long as possible and do day trips from that base, so combining some of these places to one base would be wonderful. We plan to use public transportation this time. Can you make any suggestions?

From Sicily we would like to go onto Malta. Again, I've started researching this island but not sure which places we'd like to see. We would probably stay in Malta 7-10 days, but nothing is written in stone. Any suggestions you may have would be GREATLY appreciated. I've been on my laptop looking at this stuff since 6am and it's time for a cocktail.

Posted by
4681 posts

We are thinking of taking the train from Rome to Messina and onto Sicily.

I’d suggest you consider flying to Palermo or Catania, in order to avoid a very long day on the train.

How many nights do you plan to stay in Sicily?

I visited Sicily a few years ago, and this was my itinerary: Palermo (day trip to Cefalù) >> Trapani (day trip to Segesta, and Erice) >> Agrigento >> Piazza Armerina >> Syracuse ( stayed in Ortigia) (day trip to Noto) >> Lipari >> Acireale (day trip to Taormina)

Here’s my trip report: My trip to Sicily… which you may find helpful.

Happy planning!

Posted by
243 posts

Several years ago we flew from Rome to Catania, took a bus to Pozzallo, and then a ferry to Valletta. Malta is definitely scenic and interesting, but pretty small. Personally I wouldn’t spend a lot of time there unless I just wanted to hang out. You might find it more exciting to spend most of your time in Sicily.

Posted by
21041 posts

I'm sure folks will try to help you with lodgings in Rome, but $110 (currently 103 euros) per night may be a tight budget for a double room in Rome. September is a really busy month and it's almost June. A lot of the best-value places (the sort that posters here would like to recommend to you) in your price range will probably be booked at this point. If you've found some places that are available for your dates that you think sound OK, why not list them here and see whether folks have comments?

A non-hectic trip to Sicily really requires at least two weeks, and that's if you have a car. If you want to depend on trains and buses, you'd be smart to allow more time or be careful not to have too aggressive an itinerary. What you've sketched out in your opening post is fairly similar to what I covered (I did a couple of day trips to the center of the island from Catania and sent to the Baroque towns in the southeast but skipped Agrigento), and I had 17 or 18 days. My day trips all felt rushed; I should have allotted more time to Sicily. Rail service, where it exists, is rather slow there.

There's lots to see in Palermo; you can day-trip to Cefalu by train so you don't need to change hotels.

Taormina ($$$ and mobbed by cruisers as well as beautiful) and Catania (much less expensive and more workaday) are close enough for day tripping back and forth. I've heard good things about the less-known town of Acireale between Taormina and Catania.

Siracusa is lovely (stay in Ortygia) and has some very attractive, Baroque towns in its orbit that can be visited by train and/or bus if you won't have a car. Those include Ragusa, Noto, Modica and Scicli.

Taormina is a good base for seeing Erice (there's a lift, or I think you can take a bus). There are some other points of interest in that part of the island, but I haven't been to them and don't know about public transportation.

At the time of my 2015 trip, ferries between Sicily and Malta were surprisingly (to me) expensive, so I haven't been to Malta. I don't know what the situation is now, but you might price out flights as well. The ferry departs from an obscure point on the south coast of Sicily, not a place a tourist would otherwise visit, so that adds to the travel time required if you travel that way.

For your trip down to Sicily, do not be tempted by the night train. It was a very, very rough ride. You might find a good airfare (especially if you don't need to check luggage), or there's the day train (I'd be looking to stop somewhere attractive along the way since it's a long trip). I believe there are also ferries.

If you don't already have your airline tickets, I'd recommend checking on flights into Catania (the larger Sicilian airport), Palermo or Valetta and home from Rome. It might be cost-prohibitive, but it doesn't hurt to look.

If you're not going to have time to do a lot of heavy-duty planning this summer, to me that argues for allowing extra time at the major stops.

Posted by
5567 posts

Not to hijack the conversation (I hope), but since you mentioned Malta and "how much time there"...

I'm looking at a trip in October which would include 9 days in Malta and Gozo (flying there from Istanbul). Any opinions on whether 9 days there is too much time, or just enough to see it all at a comfortable pace?

Posted by
2461 posts

We recently returned from a 2 week trip to Sicily. It is very inexpensive so that might off Set any higher prices for rooms in Vatican city. Food, drinks, entrance fees, souviners (if you shop), were dare I say cheap. We visited Palermo (day trip to Monreale and cefalu), Salina (family research), taoramina (loved, fabulous cooking class), Augusta (family research) and Siracusa (but we walked over the bridge everyday to Ortigia, next trip I would stay there). We were there for 2 weeks. We were 6 adults and had private transfers between each city, economical with more people.

Posted by
724 posts

Don’t panic about the planning. You can do this. I found Malta and Sicily to be easier destinations to plan. In Malta, you need 2 places to stay — near or in Valletta and on Gozo ( if you decide to go there, which I highly recommend). For Sicily, the RS guidebook is very useful. (I also consulted a 40 year Michelin guidebook and it’s recommendations were essentially the same as RS!)

Your wish list is a little longer than what I would attempt in a month but I think you can do it. Good luck!

Posted by
1286 posts

David: We spent 10 nights in Valetta. There's a lot more to Malta than Valetta. We made six day trips from Valetta to other towns and ancient sights. We didn't even have time to get to Gozo. So nine days is not too long.

Posted by
21041 posts

Rick's guidebook to Sicily is a great thought. It didn't exist at the time of my trip. I'm sure it would have helped me a lot. I remember cursing the Lonely Planet guidebook for information that was vague or missing.

Posted by
22 posts

Thank you all SOOOO much. Ok, am making a rough draft of our trip and this is what I've got so far....remember...it's a first rough draft.

Arriving early evening Rome 9/8

9/9-9/13: Rome: 4 days (Vatican & Castel Gandolfo tour), another day to do Vatican gardens and stroll around the grounds, Castel San Angelo and that area, a day trip to Orvieto.

9/13-9/16 Fly to Catania from Rome and go directly to Taormina for a couple of days: Piazza San Domenico, Porta Catania, Quattro Fontane, Odeon, Meseo Naturalistico Regionale, Palazzo Ciampoli.

9/16-9/21 Siracusa and stay in Ortigia. Stay about 5-6 nights to see: Temple Apollo, Piazza Archimede, Chiesa del Collegio dei Gesuiti, Piazza Duomo, Duomo di Siracusa, Chiesa di Santa Lucia, Fonte Aretusa, Archeological Park, Baroque Noto

9/21 Take train to Pollozzo for the ferry to Valletta

9/21-9/27: 2-3 days exploring Valletta proper, day trip to Mdina, another day to Rabat and another day to Dingli. I'm also interested in seeing the Blue Grotto and Cospicua.

9/27 Take ferry to Pozzollo and then a train and bus to Agrigento

9/27-9/29: 2 days in Agrigento exploring tombs, temples and ruins

9/30-10/4: 2 days exploring Palermo and optional day trips: Cefalu, Trapani & Monreale

10/5 Fly Palermo to Rome and spend the night near FCO

10/6 Fly home

How does this look?

Posted by
21041 posts

You've made a lot of progress there. What looks problematic to me is the time in Palermo, which seems a bit tight given your day trip plans. There is a lot to see in Palermo (including two interesting food markets, what I assume is the island's best archaeological museum, the Norman palace and a slew of churches and chapels). I liked the archaeological museum in Siracusa (and the archaeological park was very appealing), but if you have time for only one museum of that type, I'd opt for the one in Palermo.

Are you planning to rent a car for the day to Monreale and Trapani? I assume that would work. I don't think that would be a very manageable combo via public transportation. The train takes a convoluted route to Trapani and cannot be recommended. I suspect trying to see Monreale and Trapani by public bus would be quite the challenge, and including Erice (essential if you're going to Trapani) would probably bring the whole day crashing down.

I'd try to get to Ragusa while in Siracusa.

I'm not a fan of archaeological sites and haven't been to Agrigento, but I recall that someone recently commented that you probably don't need two nights there. I gather the archaeological stuff doesn't take that long. I have no idea what else there is to do in the city; perhaps it will be easy to fill your time there. As for uninformed me, I'd rather have another day for the Baroque towns.

I think you have a good grasp of your timing, based on the way you've described your plans, but it always makes me nervous when folks list one day in two different cities when they are changing hotels. It's easy for responders who just scan the itinerary to assume that's a full day available in each town, when in actuality it's only a few hours altogether.

Posted by
22 posts

Ok, I've readjusted a little:

Add one day to Siracusa/Ortigia (9/16-9/22) and omitting Agrigento (I'm optomistic that we'll get on that cruise next year and will see plenty of temples). Adding the day to Siracusa moves Valletta back a day and then we can take the trains from Pozzollo to Palermo on 9/28 which will eat up a day and would add a day to Palermo.

Posted by
416 posts

We just got back last night from a week in Malta, and I liked it so much that I wanted to share a few thoughts. First of all, we wished that I had booked 10 days instead of a week. I underestimated the number of things to do, the time necessary to walk the hills of Valletta (think Lisbon and Porto -- a lot of them and steep), and the leisurely meals that restauranteurs insist upon. We found that the concept of a "quick bite" was not one that was widely acknowledged, and it did mess up our timing a bit.

Valletta was really interesting. The food was great. Definitely try the pasta carbonara at Zero Sei Trattoria Romana, and the same family owns a pizzeria to-die-for, Sotto. Book ahead or eat very early. Other worthy stops on the dining circuit were Caffe Cordina, Nenu the Artisan Baker for rabbit (fenek) and ftira, the traditional pizza-like creation with olives, capers, cheeses, and meats. We skipped the horsemeat. Another good Italian trattoria was Adesso. I had a risotto and my husband a rabbit dish; both were excellent. Piadina, filled with cheese, mushy peas or more esoteric choices with proscuitto, rocket and cheese are delicious hand pies that are your only choice for a quick meal, as well as being delicious. If you stay in an apartment and want to do a little cooking, you may find small neighborhood groceries inadequate (fresh fruit and veg are a mystery to them), but there is an underground "gourmet" grocery with a good selection of groceries, veg and meat in the city center. Can't remember what it was called, but ask about a building with a 'food hall' and a restaurant on top of the grocery and almost anyone should be able to point you in the right direction.

As for what to see, don't leave town without seeing the Lascaris War Rooms and the Malta at War Musuem in Birgu. Malta took the most intense bombing of WWII and the Rooms and Museum offer an excellent overview of life during that time, Malta's role in the invasion of Sicily and related topics. We needed 2+ hours for the Museum and 1.5+ for the rooms. There's a lot to digest. Other must sees are definitely St. Johns Co-Cathedral and Museum to see the Carvaggio, Barrakka Gardens, National Museum of Archeology, strolling Birgu, the Collachio and Floriana, and taking the ferry across the harbor to Birgu. If you like opera, check the Manoel Theatre. Sadly, the Grand Master's Palace is closed for renovation. Other sites outside of town are the Hal Safieni Hypogeum and Tarxien Temples (book the Hypogeum today if you want to go. Limited admissions and high popularlity means it books weeks, if not months in advance). We also enjoyed Mdina (go late afternoon/early evening to miss a lot of the day trippers and enjoy the silence of the city after they leave) and Marsaxlokk (great seafood).

While the bus network is excellent and cheap, it is also crowded and unreliable. E-cabs and Cool are Uber-like services that are cheap and very efficient. When not on our own in Valletta, a Tours-by-locals guide helped us cover the more far-flung sites of the island. Not cheap, but efficient and worth the time and money just for the expertise of the guide and his insights into the society's politics, education, women's issues, healthcare and other topics.

We spent only a day on Gozo, which was enough for us also with the help of a Tours-by-Locals guide. It's definitely a slower pace and a good resort destination if you need down time. There are a few historic sites, including the cart tracks and Victoria. The fast ferry is the best way to get there, but if the water is choppy, Dramamine will be your friend.

There are two guides that I'd recommend. Malta and Gozo, a Bradt guide, 4th edition on Amazon was excellent, and the Lonely Planet guide helped with the more practical walking tours, etc. Both helped us tailor our 2 days with the TBL guides. Trip reports on Trip Advisor were also very useful. Also check www.visitmalta.com.