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Sicily Trip Report, April 2019: 2 sisters 2 weeks, 2 amazing!

These 12 days from one end of Sicily to the other depended on public transportation with a couple of private transfer/tours. Our focus was on art, architecture, history, and scenery (and food!). Every day was a revelation of beauty and the resilience of people through the centuries. We traveled in early April, and saw gorgeous wild flowers throughout our trip in the hills and towns; we also had lovely weather most of the time... there were only two days when it showered briefly, and one half day of serious rain. We did and saw much more than is in this trip report; these are the highlights. I booked all of our hotels and b&bs on booking.com, looking at location and reviews, and all worked out well. Our nights were:

3 nights Trapani
3 nights Palermo
2 nights Agrigento
4 nights Siracusa (Ortigia)
2 nights Rome (sister had not been to Rome before, so...)

Trapani & Erice: We flew into Rome from the US with AA and then took a direct, separately booked one-hour Alitalia flight from FCO to Trapani four hours later. Trapani was our base for a couple of amazing day trips. The first was a lovely day in Erice. We took a taxi (arranged by hotel) to the foot of the "cable car" (actually a gondola which runs continuously), then up and over amazing scenery to Erice. Yes, we could have taken a bus from our hotel to the gondola, but for approx 10 euros for the taxi we saved about an hour in transportation each way and it was worth it. Erice is beautiful! I especially loved wandering around the ancient castle/temple ruins at the top of town. How stunning to walk in a place where a goddess was worshipped some 2500 years ago; it was a place of worship for Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantine Christians, Muslims, then more Christians... and now it is a peaceful, yet still powerful place from which to look out over the walls and down to the sea coast. I also meandered through various ceramic shops and bought two beautiful pieces. We had a delicious lunch at Osteria de Pentolaccia (homemade pasta with basil, fish, zucchini, and pistachio). I can't overstate how glorious the views were from Erice down to the sea coast. Do try to go there on a sunny day. When we took the gondola back down from Erice to Trapani, we found several taxis waiting, including the great guy who had driven us earlier.

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Part two, Segesta & Trapani:

Segesta: Our second half-day trip was to Segesta. We took the public bus from just south of the Trapani train station, within walking distance of our hotel. I'm surprised that the new RS "Sicily" book does not tell how easy it is to take public transportation from Trapani to Segesta. TAKE NOTE: There is a "tabbaco" store in the bus station area (just south of the train station) on Via Virgiliao, between Piazza Ciaccio and V. Aceste, that has the latest schedule posted, and the kind people there will show you just where, nearby, to get the Tarantola (that's the bus company) bus to Segesta. Buy your tickets on the bus. We took the 10:20 bus that arrived Segesta at 11:10, and took the 13:50 bus back to Trapani. Segesta was easy to get around; there is a shuttle bus (separate ticket) from the Segesta ticket office to the top of the ruins where the Roman theater is; from the ticket office it's also an easy uphill walk (the other direction) to the magnificent Greek temple.

In Trapani, we really liked our stay at Hotel San Michele. Location was great, in the middle of the older part of town, and within walking distance of sites in Trapani. The room was large, comfy, quiet, with good breakfast. I also loved strolling along the beach in the late afternoon. We went out to the beach through Porta Assuna (a gate from Corso Vittorio Emanuele), took some lovely beach photos and picked up lots of beach glass for mosaic/craft works. (I also picked up a lot of lovely beach glass in Ortigia, at the bottom of the staircase to the water.) Our very best meal in Trapani was at Osteria La Bettolaccia: super fresh seafood, salads, veggies, lovely setting and attentive service (and they were open on a Monday).

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Part 3, Selinunte & Palermo:

Selinunte: We arranged for a private day transfer/tour (leaving Trapani and arriving Palermo) through Viator with licensed tour guide Manuela Randazzo (phone: +39 388 052 8932). She was wonderful! Manuela is a younger woman, with deep passion for Sicily and its history. Through several emails, I arranged a day with her, and she was very flexible and wise as we worked out what to do with our day together. Our first stop was the Salt Museum and salt pans just south of Trapani, for a fascinating tour through the museum and nearby salt works. Then, after about an hour's drive, we stopped for a quick lunch at a local buffet/cafe just outside Selinunte. The highlight of the day was the immense, stunning ruins of Selinunte, where Manuela absolutely shown! We strolled through the temple areas of both the east side, then the west side of Selinunte, as she described life, the people, and events of history in that ancient Greek city. Manuela also had arranged a very safe, careful driver with a nice car for the day; we were in good hands for an experience that was a highlight of the trip.

Palermo: Finally, Manuela and her driver took us to our B&B in Palermo, Casasicilia Carlo V. This is a newer B&B, in a perfect location, just a block off Via Roma, and about 3 short blocks to the Quattro Canti intersection. The young people who run this B&B are helpful, accessible, kind and provide a really welcoming home away from home. The value for money here was amazing. Our room was comfy and the breakfast was great. (tip: there are 4 rooms; the one room with twin beds (ours) has an air shaft window; the other 3 rooms, with queen beds, have better windows). We loved Palermo! The vibe, the energy, and the people, were open, welcoming, friendly, and fun! Our first morning was very enjoyable with a Street Food Tour with Giorgio (see "Palermo Street Food Tour" online.) Giorgio gave the 5 of us on the tour lots of fun and useful info about Palermo - its culture, history, peoples and especially foods. We tasted our way through the Capo Market for several hours.

In Palermo, we also were amazed at the Palentine Chapel. Stunning mosaics! We enjoyed a fun 5:30 pm show of the Puppet Theater on Via Novelli (just across the street from the Cathedral on on Vittorio Emanuele). I liked the earlier performance time, and location of this puppet theater, rather than the one in the RS book. I also was astounded by the Regional Archeological Museum (close to Teatro Massimo). It is a newer museum, in an older building. The collection is beautifully curated, with English descriptions. Much of the best material from Selinunte is here, and we were in awe of the quality and beauty of the individual pieces on display. Our favorite place to eat was I Cucci, in Piazza Bologni, on Via Vittoria Emanuele, one long block from Quattro Canti. The restaurant has both indoor and covered outdoor seating; at first glance we thought "tourist trap." Not so! The food was fresh, delicious, creative, presented by attentive and personable servers. I had a homemade ricotta cannoli with baby octopus in a red sauce. Wow!

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Part 4, Monreale & Palermo:

Monreale: We did a day trip from Palermo to Monreale, via public bus. The RS Sicily book says you can take the AMAT bus from Piazza Independenza, BUT you can also take the AST bus from right in front of Termini station (much more convenient for us). We took the 10:00 am AST bus (buy ticket on bus) and then walked about 6 blocks from the bus stop to the Monreale cathedral. Stunning!!! The ancient Byzantine mosaics continue to radiate gold, blue, crimson, in glorious works. There are AST buses leaving Monreale to return to Palermo Termini at 13:15, 14:30, 16:00 and 17:30.

Agrigento: Don't miss it! Thankfully, there is a direct train from Palermo to Agrigento. Our B&B Portatenea was probably my favorite place that we stayed the entire trip (thank you, Priscilla, on this forum!) The staff were incredibly helpful and kind; the room was huge and well laid out, with small balcony (with clothes-drying rack!). The rooftop lounge (breakfast served there) looked out over the Valley of the Temples. The staff were also extremely helpful in describing how to see the Temple area most strategically, and printed out the local bus schedules for the Temple area. We took the bus Line 2/ (that's "Line Two Slash" - the slash is important) from in front of the train station, 3 blocks from our B&B. The bus dropped us at the entrance near the Temple of Juno, then we walked down (note: DOWN) the mile or more of walkway past other ruins and temples, until we exited at "Gate V" near the Temple of Jupiter. From there, we took a public bus (whichever number comes first) near that gate, up to the Archeology Museum, and then finally another bus (whichever comes first) from the Archeology Museum back to the train station in Agrigento town. Wisely, we had picked up some great panini type foods and fruits at the bakery and grocery near our B&B and had a lovely picnic lunch in the Temple area, looking out over the sea. Wow! The Archeology museum was full of room after room of stunning statues, terracotta pieces, bronze artifacts, coins, and much more. More than I knew existed....(one of us was overheard to mutter: "death by amphora...!")

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Part 5: Villa Romana, Piazza Armerina, & Caltagirone, then Siracusa/Ortigia:

We arranged our 2nd private tour/transfer between Agrigento and Siracusa/Ortigia with a magnificent guy, Roberto Sapone. (Looks like he's also mentioned in the new RS Sicily book. Note: Roberto functions more as a driver than as a licensed tour guide, but he knows the area well and gives great info as we go). www.robertosapone.wixsite.com/centralsicily. Roberto picked us up bright and early in Agrigento and we set out on a fabulous day that I had arranged with him via email. First stop was the stunning site of Villa Romana. He dropped us off, and we explored the many rooms of beautiful Roman mosaics at the Villa at our leisure. Next, Roberto took us to Piazza Armerina town, for a quick look at a beautiful church (blue and white interior!) a small town museum (fascinating portraits) and a good lunch at a local cafe. Next, we stopped at the astounding Aidone Archeological Museum. This is a small museum that was a highlight of our two weeks. After years of negotiations, multiple major international museums, including the Getty Museum and the Met in NYC have returned mind-blowing pieces (mostly originally stolen from the nearby Morgantina archeological area) that now live in this small, out-of-the-way museum. Please go see this museum! You will thank me! I was deeply moved especially by the Demeter and Persephone faces and hands (approx 550 BCE) and the large "Goddess of Morgantina" with sweeping robes (also approx 500 BCE). Finally, we stopped for awhile, at my request, in Caltagirone, the mother-ship of Sicilian ceramics. However, that afternoon was the occasion of the first really hard rain of our trip. It was also Palm Sunday afternoon and many of the ceramic shops were closed but I still found a couple of beautiful pieces. Roberto kept moving his van around to stay close to us as we shopped (much appreciated!) Finally, Roberto drove us into Siracusa/Ortigia to our hotel there.

Siracusa/Ortigia: We had a lovely stay at the very well appointed Domus Mariae Albergo, via Veneto #76. (I am still confused; We had our breakfast at a sister hotel across the street, that I think is also Domus Mariae; ours did not have an elevator; the hotel across the street did have an elevator, and the RS tour group that we encountered was staying there.) Anyway: although we had to walk up a couple of flights of stairs, our room was large, with a great little balcony, room fridge, wonderful bathroom, and friendly and supremely helpful staff. Our first day here was just walking and enjoying Ortigia. The Duomo is astounding with exterior columns from its time as a Greek temple, some surviving Arabic/Muslim mosaics, and now mostly Christian interior. Also in Ortigia I liked the small yet curious Papyrus museum, with its several full-sized boats of papyrus and videos and displays about the use of papyrus throughout the ages. (The ancient Jewish mikvah was near our hotel, but was closed both days because of a power outage that had flooded the mikvah!)

Our favorite places to eat in Ortigia were; Locanda Del Collegio (I had wonderful mussels, followed by homemade ravioli with seafood and pistachio sauce! So good we went back the next day). Also: Restroscena Restaurant (via della Maestrana 106/108). Seafood, super-fresh veggies and salads; and bc it was my birthday (yes!) they brought out a lovely dessert with a candle and sang something in Italian to me. It was sweet and they were kind.

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Part 6: Siracusa, Mt. Etna, & Rome:

From Ortigia, we spent a few hours at the Siracusa Archeological Park. We took the #2 (or #3) electric bus from just over the big bridge from Ortigia, up to the site, then the same bus back to Ortigia. Be aware: when the bus drops you in a large parking lot at the Archeological Park you need to cross a Busy Main Street to get to the actual site. This whole area was (for us) rather poorly marked. We wandered around and had to ask several people, before we found the actual entrance to the site. However, the Ear of Dionysus cave was really cool! The sounds echoing off the high deep walls were just... whew!

On our last day in Ortigia we did a day trip to Mt. Etna with Etna Tribe. We took an early train to Catania (about one hour), and Etna Tribe picked us up at the train station. There were just 3 of us in our group. Our guide, Danilo, was fantastic. His background is geology, and he enthusiastically and carefully explained the geology of Sicily and Mr. Etna as we drove. First, we stopped at a lower level on the mountain and went into a lava cave, where Danilo described the various layers of lava and sediment; next, we drove up Mt. Etna up to the Refugio; the 3 of us opted to walk around a couple of lower craters and not take the cable car to the higher altitudes. Although it was early April, at 6,500 feet the temp was below freezing and the wind was blowing hard! We made our way up and down paths of lava stones; the landscape was bleak and ancient... And it was my 65th birthday! Yowee! We had opted for the "Mt. Etna and Organic Farm Tour" with Etna Tribe. HOWEVER the "farm" was actually just two showrooms of products to sample and buy. Yes, some of the products were great, but this was no farm! In retrospect, I wish we had taken the Mt. Etna and Taormina Tour with Etna Tribe, instead. Nevertheless, it was a good day because of Danilo and his deep understanding of the geology and history of the area.

The next morning, we took a shuttle to the Catania airport and flew to Rome (one hour flight; Alitalia; sit on the right side of the plane for amazing views of the Amalfi coast) for 1.5 days. Our base was the great Hotel Smeraldo. Although our room was somewhat small, it was beautifully supplied, with comfy beds, a wonderful bathroom (rain shower!) and the most amazing, stupendous breakfast! (and ever-available and joyful front desk staff who were very helpful!). Our first half-day was spent strolling Campo de Fiore, then the Jewish ghetto neighborhood, with dinner there, ending with a stroll to the Piazza Campidoglio (next to the monument to Vittorio Emanuele II) with its wonderful view over the Forum. On our full day, we used the "Heart of Rome" audio tour on the RS Audio Europe app, walking from Campo de Fiore through Piazza Navona, past the Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, and Spanish Steps. I took time later for the Palazzo Doria Pamphilj, with beautiful rooms and great art (including a couple of Caravaggios).

I am greatly indebted to Priscilla, on this forum, for her advice and wisdom, and to acraven, for sharing their experiences, and to Zoe, of blessed memory. If I can answer any questions for any one else anticipating a possible Sicily tour, please let me know! I can't wait to go back, and have already convinced a Dear Friend to travel there with me in a few months! (and this time, I'll have a copy of the brand-new RS Sicily guide firmly in hand!) Stay tuned!

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11355 posts

Thanks for this wonderful, detailed report! And also thanks for combining all the parts as it was confusing when first posted.
We were in Sicily in October and visited all the same sites as you except visiting Mt Etna. We saw it from Taormina though.
We spent a week on Ortigia and ate at Locanda del Collegio three times! What a great local restaurant which was very close to our lodging.
Their swordfish, pizzas, all of it, was so delicious. Glad you found it too.
We also want to return to Sicily but would skip Taormina as you did.

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8821 posts

Fabulous trip report! Thank you so much for sharing. Sicily has been on my wish list for years! Reading your report reminded me “better get a move on!!!”

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7401 posts

Wow, what a wonderful trip report! I will save this one for future planning - really appreciate the details.

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980 posts

Great report! Thanks! I've spent some time in Sicily but saving these details for the next trip. April is a great time there.

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9784 posts

Thank you so much for this absolutely wonderful trip report!!! So many tips here to take advantage of — I am bookmarking this for sure!!

I am glad that you and your sister had such a great trip — and a fantastic birthday for you!!

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7050 posts

How did you decide which parts of the trip to do as guided trips and/or with drivers? I was just curious if there were access issues with some places based on public transport schedules and the like. I want to recreate some of your itinerary next time I visit Sicily so it would be helpful to know what's doable or not without a day tour. I'm particularly interested whether the bus schedules are quite loose for spending as much time at the archeological sites (Segesta and Selinunte) as one would like, or whether they imposed real constraints on how much time to spend there. That would be a deciding factor for me as to whether or not to rent a car, so any insights you have would be great.

Also, what did you think of RS new Sicily book in general? Did you use any other guidebooks? How did they compare for your overall trip planning?

Thanks for your thorough report!

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3961 posts

Oh Jane! What an incredible trip report!!! Perfectly detailed. It reminded me of some of the places we experienced. Fond memories of Locanda del Collegio. It was 5 mins. from our B & B. We ate there twice and returned a third time but it was closed! Good reason to return.

Sorry to hear about the flood at the mikvah. We toured it in 2014. We were the only ones on the tour. It was a memorable experience. Amazing that this is the oldest mikvah known to survive in Europe. Apparently it was hidden for years until it was uncovered a half century later! During the conversion of a palazzo into Hotel Residence Alla Giudecca, architects discovered the covered mikvah. It even survived Sicily's strongest earthquake in 1693! Amazing. Hope you can revisit at another time.

I am bookmarking your report in hopes of following a similar route. What a great birthday memory with your sisters!

Grazie

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5258 posts

Hi Jane!

Wow! It sounds like you and your sister had such a lovely trip!

Thanks for sharing such a wonderfully written report!

Happy belated birthday! 🌼🌷🌸

Ciao!

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681 posts

Thank you so much for this detailed trip report. I am currently planning a trip to Sicily and find your details to be extremely helpful. I will also take a look at the B&Bs you stayed in.

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1209 posts

Thank you, everyone, for your very kind comments on my trip report! I am so glad that my recollections might be of some help to others. I was only able to plan such a successful trip thanks to the earlier postings by other people on this forum. One especially useful link was this which includes Priscilla's careful list of Zoe's Sicily trip reports:

https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/italy/planning-a-trip-to-sicily

Agnes, it wasn't easy to figure out which parts of the trip to do with public transportation and which with drivers. I first read a lot, both on this forum, and in the Lonely Planet Sicily and Rough Guide to Sicily (RG especially good), and looked at photos on tripadvisor. Then, I spent weeks with a map trying to figure out how to get to destinations with public transportation, using Rome2Rio.com as my resource for names of bus companies. (There are many bus companies in Sicily, local, regional and national, and they all have separate websites, mostly in Italian.) Then, with my pages of notes, and my determination not to have "one night stands" and to also not totally wear us out with full days of various connections, I narrowed down the list of destinations. (Taormina and Ragusa/Noto did not make the final cut.) It became clear that in order to see the Aidone Museum/Villa Romana/Caltagirone group of destinations, we would need 2 or 3 more days if we used buses, or we could hire a driver. I looked on this forum (put "Roberto Sapone" in the search bar and see what comes up!), and elsewhere, finally, scheduling one long day with Roberto that would also get us from Agrigento to Ortigia. Check. Finally, I really wanted to see Selinunte - the opportunity to actually walk within the walls of an ancient (albeit reconstructed) Greek temple was just too delicious to pass up. However, I found no good way to use public transportation to get to Selinunte (from Trapani or Palermo) unless we were willing to do train-bus-taxi, or bus-bus-taxi, for several hours each way. Nope. Not with our schedule or energy levels. There is also no easy public transportation between Agrigento and Selinunte, either (that I could find) so I looked for a guide who could make it happen. I read reviews of licensed guides on Viator, sent out about 5 inquiries, and "discussed" itineraries and prices with those guides who responded, and Manuela was by far the best of the possibilities.

Agnes, you mentioned car rental: If I were to rent a car for part of the west-to-east trip, I would probably rent at Palermo or Trapani airport, drive to Selinunte and see it for much of the day, then drive on to Agrigento and stay there for 2 nights, then drive to Villa Romana/Aidone/Caltagirone (or wherever you want to stop in the middle), finally returning the car (at Catania airport?) before entering Siracusa, Catania or Taormina. That way, I wouldn't have to deal with the really crazy city traffic, and could make the stops in the smaller towns and sites.

Re. Segesta: there are several buses to and from Trapani to Segesta, and returning, every day (except Sunday). I took a photo of the Tarantola bus company schedule, posted in the tabacco shop (mentioned above), so knew what our possibilities were for the return trip. I believe there are also public buses to Segesta from Palermo...?

One more note: I (almost) always made restaurant reservations, if at all possible, even just a few hours ahead of the planned meal. I found phone numbers on-line and called, saying: "Buon giorno [or buona sera]. [I'm sorry I don't speak Italian. Do you speak English?] (I'm not writing it in Italian here, as I'll surely get something wrong, but you get the idea!). The person on the other end always spoke English, and was glad to take my reservation. I do believe that many of these restaurants booked up, even in April, and we likely also got better tables sometimes because of our reservations.

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7050 posts

Thank you so much for the comprehensive response. I've actually been to the southeast part of the island (Siracusa, Ragusa, Noto, and also Taormina) using solely public transport (trains and buses) and mainly the Lonely Planet book (just those relevant chapters for the region, which worked out very well). The cities/sites you saw in the northwest and southwest (Palermo, Trapani, Agrigento, and Selinunte) would be new for me on a future trip. I appreciate all the insights!

Posted by
681 posts

You did an amazing trip report. Thanks for the details. I will have to bookmark as this is still on my bucket list.

Posted by
585 posts

Sicily has been on my must see list forever. Thank you for all the details. Great report!