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Sicily without a car

Let me start by saying Sicily would be a lot easier WITH a car. You can see more places (especially the smaller towns) and could move around more quickly, without all the waiting and inconvenient connections of a bus. Driving on the highways looked easy.

However, we knew that driving in the cities would require stronger nerves than we possess at this point in our lives. And many of our b&b's and hotels mentioned parking concerns.

So we opted for public transportation. We ended up using a combination of buses and private transfers, the first transfer being from the Catania airport to our hotel in Taormina, when we arrived on April 23. You can take a bus, but after a long day we were glad to be delivered from the airport right to the door of Hotel Taodomus on Corso Umberto. This is the main street in Taormina. At first glance it looks like a pedestrian-only street ... narrow, with people walking right down the middle ... but no, there are brave drivers who attempt it.

We had 4 nights in Taormina, which was just about right. Every day was lovely and sunny except, of course, the day we had scheduled a driver to take us to Mt. Etna. Cloudy, foggy -- we could not even see Etna from Taormina! But we had a great time anyway. Our first stop was for coffee at Patisserie Russo, in business since 1880 in the little town of Venerina. The owner, a sweet little lady, invited us back to see the bakery's kitchen! What fun. Our driver said he had never even seen it, so that was quite an honor. She gave us a little package of pastries to bring along, and I bought some amazing marzipan. Then we drove to Mt. Etna and eventually found ourselves above the clouds and fog, so we were able to see the mountain and walk on it, and see all the little craters. We stopped at a winery and an orchard on the way home. The benefit of a private driver, instead of a bus tour, was having all these extra little stops along the way.

We were not sure what to expect on Liberation Day (April 25). It seemed like a normal day at first, so we went to the amphitheater (a little disappointed by all the concrete and plastic seats) and hiked up to a little church above the town. As the day went on, Taormina got more and more crowded. We learned that residents of the little nearby towns use this occasion to come to the city to visit with each other! They stroll very slowly up and down Corso Umberto, stopping in big groups to talk, often creating gridlock!

That night we saw a performance of Italian Opera in a building just off the main square. A soprano, a tenor and a pianist played and sang arias from 10 operas. There was an intermission, with prosecco on the lovely rooftop terrace, and at the end we all sang along to "Funiculi Funicula." If there is a performance when you're there (look for the signs around town), I would highly recommend it.

While in Taormina we also took the funicular down to Mazzaro Beach and Isola Bella (both rocky but picturesque) and visited the beautiful Public Gardens. Our favorite restaurant in Taormina was L'Incontro, near the funicular; we ate there several times.

(to be continued ...)

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Our next stop was Ortigia, so we took a bus to Catania, and then to Siracusa. Here we barely averted disaster. We intended to take a taxi from the Siracusa bus station to our hotel in Ortigia, but we saw a shuttle bus and a local man said it would take us a block away. So we got on. On travel days, I had our passports, credit cards, etc. zipped into an inside jacket pocket. But I got warm on the shuttle and took off my jacket. Just then the bus unexpectedly stopped. I got up to question the driver, she said "15 minutes" and said we must all get off. And as soon as I hit the sidewalk I realized that I had left my jacket on the bus! We were horrified but stayed calm, and eventually we went to a police station and got everything back ... jacket, passports, credit cards. Lesson learned: use the money belts!

We had five nights in Ortigia, at a great b&b called Aretusa Vacanze. We walked all over Ortigia, visiting the castle, the market, wandering the streets, seeing the Caravaggio. We went into Siracusa twice: one day we walked to the Archeological Park, and again were disappointed ... we have seen a lot of Greek ruins so we may be a bit jaded. We spent another morning in Siracusa trying to donate money to a church, in gratitude to the honest person who turned in my lost jacket. That was a real adventure; we had gone unprepared and the priest spoke no English but eventually we think he understood, and accepted our money.

We had great food in Ortigia. Our b&b had wonderful breakfasts on the rooftop, including freshly squeezed orange juice. At Taverna Svena, I had the best Pasta Norma of our trip (although we can't recommend the fish here, which supposedly it's noted for). And for great pizza, go to Pizzaria Mario.

May 1 was Labor Day and it was a non-event in Ortigia. We didn't notice large crowds or really anything out of the ordinary. That night we walked just across the bridge to Siracusa and had a great dinner at Osteria del Vecchia Ponte. Wonderful friendly people. Ortigia was one of our favorite stops.

On May 2 we headed for Agrigento. This required a bus from Siracusa to the Catania airport and then another bus to Agrigento. This was a very long travel day. My husband Tom had come down with a cold, so he was miserable on the bus. As soon as he reached our b&b, Terraze de Montelusa, he went right to bed, and spent the next day recovering on the b&b's lovely rooftop. This was a great place to stay. We loved the little touches like fruit, nuts and water available all day in the dining room.

The Valley of the Temples was on our schedule for May 4. Trying to conserve Tom's strength, we asked our b&b owner to arrange a taxi to the bus stop. He recommended a taxi all the way to the temples! Brilliant. For 20 euros, the driver picked us up at the hotel, dropped us at the entrance to the Valley, came back 2 1/2 hours later and brought us back to the hotel. Wonderful. We really enjoyed our leisurely stroll through the ruins.

Funny coincidence: at breakfast the first morning, we saw a German couple who had been at our b&b in Ortigia. And the next morning, we met a couple who had just come from our hotel in Taormina. Evidently we had all been looking for lovely Sicilian b&b's with rooftop breakfasts.

We really liked Agrigento. We had 3 nights here, which was perfect. Here we had some of our best meals in Sicily (dinners at Opera and Naif, and a lunch at a great little Bar Rosticceria Palumbo just down the street from the hotel ... it was like a deli). When we checked out, we asked the b&b owner about a taxi to the bus station the next morning. We were heading for the port in Trapani, to catch a ferry. He called a friend (a retired taxi driver) who agreed to drive us for 80 euros. Sounded good to us!

(to be continued ....)

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Our next stop was Favignana, a little island just off the coast of Trapani. We had a quick, comfortable ride to Trapani. The driver dropped us at the port, we bought our tickets and were soon on the ferry and were met on Favignana by our next host, Tony, from Residence Scirocco e Tramontana. It was a short ride to our apartment, on the top floor with a huge terrace with a gorgeous sea view.

I woke up the next day with the terrible cough, so we nixed our plans to visit the other Egadi islands and I just rested. We had planned 3 nights here, but I rearranged reservations so we could stay an extra night. On our final day, I felt better so we took a bus around the island and got off at a lovely beach, Cala Azurra. After a couple of hours we walked back to town (about 5k). We wished we had rented bikes .... the roads are flat and traffic was practically nonexistent. It was very quiet here at this time of year, but not TOO quiet. We loved this little island.

On May 9 we took the ferry back to Trapani, and walked to Appartamenti Rosa dei Venti. We chose it because they offered a free transfer to the Palermo or Trapani airport, plus a great location. The apartment was huge, spacious, clean and comfortable and just a block off the main street.

We had only 2 nights in Trapani but really enjoyed it. It seemed like a very friendly and interesting town. On our first night we found a wine bar on the main street, with wine in casks with spigots to dispense your glassful. Fun! We went to mass on Sunday at a lovely old cathedral, followed by our best pizza of the trip at a little pizzeria along the harbor, outside the big archway. We found a great bookstore with a good selection of picture books in Italian, to take home to our granddaughters. We had planned to take the funicular up to Erice, but it was a cloudy day so we skipped it.

Possibly our greatest discovery of the trip came in Trapani: gelato stuffed into a brioche, at a gelato shop called "Chocolate", on Corso Vittorio Emanuele. We kept seeing people eating these, and on our last day, just before our transfer to the Palermo airport, we each had one for lunch. Amazing. So delicious. I would come back to Trapani just for another "gelato burger."

We loved Sicily: gorgeous scenery, fabulous food, wonderful people. We found the temperatures in late April/early May to be perfect for sightseeing. We are looking forward to returning someday to see the places we missed.

Posted by
7391 posts

Thanks so much for sharing your Sicily travels! I'll print a copy & keep for future reference. : )

Posted by
15644 posts

I encountered those gelato burgers (that's what I called them too) early in my trip. I prefer my gelato "straight up" in a cup - no drips, no extraneous calories. I saw them all over Sicily but nowhere else. I did see some packaged brioches available in a couple of gelaterias in Florence.

Posted by
567 posts

Thanks for the report... Glad you had a good trip. After having to postpone this May,We hope to got his year or next. We have decided to do a mix of transport:: rental car, private transfers, and public transportation. I bookmarked this to make use of some of your suggestions. Thanks for the details.

Posted by
2252 posts

What an wonderful trip report; thanks for posting. I will be in Sicily (including a couple nights stay in Trapani) in March next year so can't wait to try the "gelato burger...".

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2144 posts

I hope this report helps all of you have a great trip. Sicily is really a special place. We're already talking about our next trip.

And Andi, sometime before next March, I hope you can make it to one of our monthly RS meetings and we can chat about Sicily! It's always the 3rd Saturday.

Posted by
233 posts

Thank you so much for this report! I have wanted to visit Sicily for a long time but worried about getting around without renting a car. Your trip sounds wonderful!

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2144 posts

Kyla -- No worries! It can be done. There is another trip report on visiting Sicily with public transportation that I'll link here. Zoe took a different route around the island, which is worth considering, and saw some different places. Sicily is so big that you really can't see everything in one trip. So do your research and find your own "must sees." If you love it, you can return and see the places you missed. We have a whole list (Palermo, Cefalu, Scopelo, the Aeolian islands, Piazza Armerina, Erice).

I would suggest doing an "open jaw" trip (flying into either Palermo or Catania and flying out of the other). And visit in the spring, if you can. The weather was gorgeous (mid-70s). Sicily would be very hot in the summer.

The key is that the people of Sicily are so warm and welcoming, and so proud of their island, that they will go out of their way to help you.