A Guide to Sicilia Orientale
Arts & Culture
This itinerary spotlights Eastern Sicily, a region brimming with diversity. Starting in Catania, you'll proceed to Siracusa's Ortigia and Greek theater. Venture south to explore baroque Noto, Modica and Ragusa, then return north for Taormina, the island's gem, offering relaxation as your journey concludes.
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Where to stay
Villa Sant'Andrea, A Belmond Hotel, Taormina Mare
Luxe property from 1830 with upscale rooms and suites.
$100 food / beverage credit.
Upgrade & extended check-in/out whenever possible.
This traditionally styled hotel tucked into the bustling main street of Taormina boasts a rooftop restaurant overlooking the ocean.
Castello San Marco Hotel & Spa
This boutique castle hotel on the Jonian Sea just minutes from Taormina offers 28 elegant garden suites situated throughout the castle grounds plus a relaxing pool.
Unlock perks by contacting Silvia to book your trip.
Day 1: Benvenuti in Sicilia
Upon your arrival at Fontanarossa Airport, head straight to… the bar at arrivals and savor an arancino (plural arancini, with an ‘i’ at the end - vegetarian options available!) along with a Cassatella di Agira (which is originally from the town of Agira, but at this ‘bar’ they offer exceptional ones, so you might as well enjoy this mouthwatering gastronomic delight with a coffee.
Let’s start this Sicilian journey! Rent a car and make your way directly to Siracusa (a 50-minute drive).
Stay in the captivating beauty of Ortigia Island. Marvel at its exceptional architecture.
Utilize the remainder of the day for relaxation, independent exploration, or even partake in a guided walking tour of the area.
Explore the Teatro dei Pupi and the Museo Archeologico Siracusa – a dive into Magna Grecia's history.
Dine at La Taberna Sveva, located at Piazza Federico di Svevia 1, Siracusa - Ortigia, 96100, Syracuse, Sicily, Italy.
For accommodation, I recommend The Livingston, The Royal Maniace Hotel or La Giudecca. These options promise an exceptional stay.
Day 2: Siracusa
Explore the well-preserved Greek Theater, renowned for hosting the annual Greek Theater Festival – a remarkable journey back in time!
Should you be in Siracusa during the festival, consider yourself fortunate. I recommend attending a performance (it's advisable to read a synopsis beforehand as the play will be in Italian, unless you're already familiar with the storyline).
Day 3: Noto - Baroque a gogo
A common oversight by many travelers, Noto demands more than just an afternoon. To truly capture its essence, immerse yourself fully in the UNESCO World Heritage baroque town and enthusiastically embrace the 'slow travel' philosophy that reverberates throughout this captivating region.
"Flâner" is not reserved solely for Paris. Embrace it here. Revel in it. Immerse yourself in history. And then, calmly, visit the historic Palazzo Castelluccio and Palazzo Ducezio. As you explore the Mirror Room, seize the moment and climb to the terrace, which offers a panoramic view of the cathedral and Noto's iconic ochre-hued buildings. To truly elevate your experience, time your visit during sunset for an even more awe-inspiring impact.
When in Sicily, eat like a Sicilian – that means enjoying dishes centered around eggplant, pistachio, lemon and almond flavors, to name a few.
Day 4: Modica & Ragusa Ibla
Continue your baroque splendor by exploring the towns of Modica and Ragusa. A mere one-hour drive from Noto and you will arrive in Ragusa Ibla. Park your car and wander through beauty. Experience la vera grande bellezza – the timeless one that stems from art
While in Ragusa Ibla, make sure to take advantage of the trenino barroco – a small fee will allow you to explore with architectural monuments explained, enhancing your experience.
In the afternoon, head to Modica, renowned for its delectable chocolate offerings. This destination boasts a prominent culinary reputation. Don't miss the chance to indulge in the finest pasticceria experience at Antica Dolceria Bonaiuto on Corso Umberto I. Modica’s Duomo stands as a captivating architectural marvel worth exploring.
For a memorable experience, be sure to book well in advance for a dinner at Radici, a prestigious Michelin-starred restaurant in Modica. Secure your reservation at Radici.
Day 5: Riserva di Vendicari e Marzamemi
This natural park (Riserva) is great for the sea, and you should visit. There are several short 3 km hikes, each offering different points of view and you should check them out. Additionally, immerse yourself in snorkeling adventures and birdwatching opportunities.
Marzamemi is an unmissable destination that I absolutely adore. Take a leisurely stroll through this charming fisherman's village, savoring its ambiance. Indulge in an aperitivo and then wrap up your day with a delightful dinner. Book a restaurant in advance to avoid any regrets.
Day 6-10: Taormina
Goethe defined Taormina as the greatest masterpiece of art and nature and French traveler Guy de Maupassant said, If a man had only one day to spend in Sicily and asked what to see, I would answer without hesitation: Taormina. Beauty is often subjective, but not in the case of Taormina. This precious jewel rests atop a hill, graced with a resplendent sea at its feet and the distant view of Mount Etna. The combination is truly unparalleled.
And there's more to add to the allure: the exquisite food, wine, music and the unmistakable Italian flair that has graced countless magazine covers with the enticing caption, Ah, Italy!'. In this case, it's a resounding 'Ah, Taormina!
In Taormina, the question isn't about "What to see?" Every corner echoes its rich history, from the early Greek foundation to the Byzantine dominion, creating an enchanting tapestry of the past that envelopes the present. However, considering the likelihood of limited time, here is a concise list of the unmissable highlights for you, my fellow traveler!
The Greek Theater is, of course, a must-visit. If your travel plans allow flexibility, consider aligning your trip with the Greek Theater Festival (yes, yet another one!). There's something truly enchanting about sitting in a remarkably preserved theater, much like those who came before us, to enjoy performances just as you are doing. The cavea, hewn from the rock, boasts an impressive 109-meter diameter. Comprising tiers of seating, the lower part was reserved for women, while the terraces accommodated the plebs. These terraces, however, lacked communication with the theater's interior. A spacious canopy offered shelter from sun and rain alike. The cavea featured five concentric corridors and was vertically intersected by eight staircases, each consisting of thirty steps. Originating from the cavea, these staircases ascended to the top's end wall, where eight small doors granted entry into the covered corridor. The end wall, housing discernible niches, once displayed statues. Centrally positioned, the orchestra delineated the scene from the cavea, measuring 35 meters in diameter.
The Naumachie, a not-to-be-missed attraction, is just steps away from the main Corso. Curious about the Naumachie? While traditionally signifying water battles, Taormina's Naumachie were potentially more connected to a gymnasium. The extended wall, spanning 122 meters, showcases a juxtaposition of substantial niches interspersed with smaller ones that presumably accommodated statues.
Other superb places
Il Borgo dei Normanni
Piazza IX Aprile
I casali dell'epoca spagnola
Board the funicolare, embracing the local way of doing things by taking your time and sharing the space. If luck is on your side, you might not encounter a dog playfully shaking off water onto you like it happened to me, but remember, it's all part of the experience. So, with a smile, you simply say, non c'è problema.
For a beautiful view of the Etna and away from the crowds, visit Hotel Villa Sonia. Located in the neighboring town of Letojanni, a hidden gem awaits—a family-owned hotel known for its exceptional service. Situated just steps away from the sea (a mere street-crossing away), this establishment boasts its own complimentary Lido for hotel guests. Adding to the convenience, they offer a Navetta service to Taormina or a minor additional fee well worth it considering you would have to pay parking anyways.
They offer incredible cuisine, complemented by wine tastings guided by a local sommelier. It's a remarkable combination that sets them apart. I recommend this option, especially if you're seeking a more authentic, less touristy and refreshingly local experience, or if you plan on doing more of a beach vacation. Still you can contemplate a night out in bustling Taormina, and find comfort in knowing that you won't have to grapple with driving or hailing a cab. The hotel's shuttle service operates until late hours, ensuring your convenience and peace of mind.
The best cannoli and ice cream place is Bar Pasticceria A Chemi in Corso Umberto I.
I recommend the following restaurants: L'Arco dei cappuccini and Da Lorenzo.
Need to Know
Looking for more travel inspiration? Check out my guide, A Guide to Naples’ Restaurants.
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This guide is part of our ongoing series on travel to Sicily.