Whether it’s Roman or Greek; Byzantine or Baroque; soothingly Mediterranean or powerfully volcanic, Italy’s southern islands bear a true myriad of influences. Mt. Etna also grabs the headlines while golden sands, coastal walks and flower-filled mountain meadows showcase the island’s more relaxed side. Meanwhile, to the north, the Aeolian Islands offer plenty of off-the-beaten-track experiences, with everything from volcano hikes and coastal kayaking to lazy days spent unwinding on secluded black-sand beaches.
Sicily’s ancient wonders
Shrugging off centuries of successive occupation, Sicily’s people are fiercely proud of their heritage with the island’s historic towns, archaeological sites and regional cuisine all carefully preserved.
To trace the island’s rich and varied past, perhaps start with the remnants of Sicily’s ancient Greek civilisation, best exemplified by Agrigento’s acropolis city and Taormina’s famed mountaintop auditorium. Then, after marvelling at the castles both imposingly Norman and delicately Arabian, end with the giant fresco paintings and extravagant ornamental flourishes that characterise the region’s impressive Baroque piazzas, cathedrals and palaces.
Sicilian food & wine
It’s all washed down, of course, with a glass of the local red, enjoyed with the island’s rich cuisine. A fitting metaphor for the Sicilian outlook, ingredients such as the famous ricotta and the just-caught seafood are invariably sourced locally yet the dishes exhibit a full range of international influences – the couscous originates from Arabia and the citrus flavours from Greece. In all, Sicily is more than just a step out of Italy; it’s a step away from Europe.
Food stalls in Taormina, Sicily
Given the explosive volcanicity of the Aeolians, the region’s natural world demands attention too. This septuplet of UNESCO-listed islands entertain with crater rim hikes and dives to underwater fumaroles while relaxation comes in the form of black sand beaches, a foil to the honey-coloured malvasia wines.
The most iconic of the seven is Stromboli, whose perfectly conical silhouette rises, still smouldering, from the Tyrrhenian Sea. It’s the true Platonic archetype of volcanoes and the influence of its fireworks is best seen on ranging hikes, black sand beaches and in the remains of prehistoric lava stone settlements.
Stromboli, Aeolian Islands
And, the geological drama continues on the nearby and aptly named Vulcano, where the power of nature is harnessed in the form of therapeutic hot springs and bubbling mud baths. And, there’s more relaxation to be found on the coast, where gorgeous black-sand bays pave the way for gentle coastal cruises and kayak trips.