This month we are exploring Sicily in southern Italy, the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. The island is separated from the mainland by the Strait of Messina. Our journey starts at Villa San Giovanni, a bustling port with bars and restaurants and the main connection between Italy and Sicily.
The ferry between Villa San Giovanni and Messina takes approximately 40 minutes and it is one of Europe’s last train ferries where the train is conveyed on the ship. For ferry details see Table 2695 Stretto di Messina, or Table 640 to see the Roma – Sicily through services.
As we arrive in the historical city of Messina, the third largest city on the island you can’t miss the octagonal column with a statue of the beautiful Madonna della Lettera guarding the entrance to the city and port.Close to the port, head to the Piazza del Duomo. In this beautiful square you will find the impressive Messina Cathedral with its mosaic flooring, statues either side of the nave and painted wooden ceiling. Next to the cathedral stands the Bell Tower, with the largest astronomical clock in the world, full of animated mechanical statues that put on a magical show at noon. Also in the square you will find the stunning Fountain of Orion, an ornate water fountain with detailed sculptures, shops, restaurants and cafes.
Messina Regional Museum provides a fascinating look at the history of the area from the twelfth to the eighteenth century. The museum has an archaeological section, a sculpture collection and also a painting gallery.
For incredible views of Messina, the Strait of Messina, and mainland Italy head to the Temple Christ the King located on the Viale Principe Umberto.
This week we head south to Siracusa with our 182 kilometre journey from Messina Centrale taking approximately 2 hours 30 minutes. Trains on this route are operated by Trenitalia. Sit on the left-hand side (facing the direction of travel) for the best sea views whilst Mount Etna is best viewed from the right hand side.
Our journey takes us past Catania, Sicily’s second largest city, situated on the Ionian Sea at the foot of Mount Etna (Europe’s highest volcano). This picturesque city offers lively culture, centuries of history, fine architecture and bustling markets. Attractions include the Cathedral of Saint Agatha, Piazza del Duomo, Castello Ursino, Elephant Fountain and the Catania Museo Civico.
We finally reach Siracusa, a beautiful coastal city known for its remarkable historical heritage and its charming old town situated on Ortigia Island. The Umbertino bridge connects Ortigia Island to the city (which is mostly pedestrianised). At the entrance of Ortigia Island you will find the magnificent Temple of Apollo and to the left is the traditional Ortigia Market, held every morning. Continue through the maze of streets and you reach the beautiful baroque Piazza del Duomo, the island’s main square with the stunning Cathedral of Siracusa, Archbishop’s Palace, Santa Lucia Church as well as shops and restaurants. Other highlights include the Piazza Archimede where the Diana Fountain is located, Castello Maniace with fantastic views and the striking San Giovanni Catacombs.
This week we are travelling west from Messina, along the scenic coastline taking in Milazzo with its impressive hilltop castle, the church of Sant’Antonio di Padua and the medieval old town. Milazzo is also the main port for the Aeolian Islands.
Our next stop is the charming historical small town of Cefalù, with its beautiful sandy beaches that stretch alongside the town, a fine 12th-century twin tower Norman Cathedral and some superb restaurants.
Continuing on our journey we pass the small village of Termini Imerese before reaching Palermo, Sicily’s capital. Palermo offers a traditional Italian atmosphere, many historic buildings listed as Unesco World Heritage Sites and bustling street markets.
Highlights include the 12th-century Palermo Cathedral, spectacular both inside and out and home to impressive royal tombs. Head to the roof to get fantastic panoramic views of Palermo. Teatro Massimo is Italy’s biggest Opera House and the third largest in Europe and the beautiful Palazzo dei Normanni, Europe’s oldest Royal Palace home to the Palatine Chapel.
Don’t forget to visit the famous street markets including the Vucciria, Ballaro, and Borgo Vecchio markets for food and an array of goods.
To get away from it all head to Mondello beach with beautiful golden sand and turquoise waters set in a spectacular landscape.