Sicily contains all of Italy's prime attractions: great food, fine wine and superb art. What sets it apart is its unique multicultural heritage, having been ruled by Europeans, Africans and Asians. It's not unusual to see Greek, Arab, Norman and Baroque influences in the same site. This largest Mediterranean Island houses a treasure trove of architectural splendors such as ancient Greek and Roman ruins, remarkable mosaics, medieval towns, villages, castles and Baroque cathedrals. With its slow, traditional way of life, lemon and orange tree dotted countryside, varied landscape with mountains, volcanoes, beaches and sea, Sicily enchants one and all.
The regional capital Palermo, with its elegant squares and ornamented fountains housed the wealthiest court in medieval Europe. Today this bustling city contains Sicily's exemplary collection of medieval and Renaissance art. A striking example is Cathedral La Martorana with its Baroque facade, Romanesque bell tower, Byzantine dome and mosaic interior. The stunning gold mosaics in the Palazzo dei Normanni's Cappella Palatina are the finest examples of Palermo's Arab-Norman art.
For a taste of authentic Sicilian life, stroll the narrow streets of the old center then head to colorful Vucciria market where locals shop for caponata, sardines, pinenuts, ricotta and sweet cassata. Don't miss a visit to the nearby town of Monreale whose famed cathedral houses Sicily's treasured mosaic masterpieces.
I overnighted in a small room at the 4-star Hotel Piazza Borsa (www.piazzaborsa.it). A more luxurious option is the Grand Hotel Wagner (www.grandhotelwagner.it) with its lovely frescoes, marble floors and elegant interior.
Other-worldly and mystical, the medieval hilltop village of Erice was formerly an ancient citadel. Don't miss Pepoli Tower with its stupendous views and the enchanting Castle of Venus, temple to the Goddess. Meander the cobbled alleyways peppered with art and crafts shops; indulge in a sublime sweet at legendary pasticceria Maria Grammatico as you take in the magic. Elite Travel, a tour operator in Western Sicily offers a collection of 3 and 4-star hotels and excursions.
CITIES, TOWNS & VILLAGES
Nearby, Trapani charms with its fishing harbor, old town, Baroque churches and lively cafes. High-end clothing, jewelry and ceramics are found on posh Corso Vittorio Emanuele where marble arabesques embellish stately houses.
For a unique landscape visit the Stagnone Nature Reserve, a lagoon famed since ancient times for its prized salt. Travel along the Saline di Trapani flatlands dotted with windmills, glistening inlets, white mounds of salt and colorful ponds. Stop for a salt tasting at one of the old windmills and see what the gastronomes are
Continue on to Marsala, Sicily's celebrated wine country, and visit the regions finest wineries. Both Donnafugata and Cantine Florio welcome guests to their cellars for tastings of superb reds and whites paired with Sicilian dishes.
The 5-star Donnafugata Golf Resort & Spa, part of the Preferred Hotel Collection, features 2 18-hole golf courses, stylish rooms with terraces, a spa, swimming pools, three restaurants and wine bar. www.donnafugatagolfresort.com
The spectacular temples at Agrigento are reason enough to visit Sicily. This archaeological wonder boasts several ancient Greek temples, including the remarkably preserved Temple of Concord, dating back to the 5th century BC. Explore the ruins of the colossal Temple of Zeus with 38 giants, once the size of a soccer stadium where 100 oxen were sacrificed. Then head to ancient Roman Villa Imperiale del Casale to see the world's finest Roman mosaics.
The stunning 5-star Villa Athena, a noble residence from the 18th century with posh suites is amazingly situated within the Archeological Park of the Valley of the Temples. Sip a Prosecco on the hotel's Terrace of the Gods and take in the grandeur of the Temple of Concord, just 200 meters away.
No trip to Sicily is complete without a stop at Mount Etna. Europe's highest volcano is considered a sacred mountain. Ascend by jeep to a lava flow, then trek on extinct craters and lunar like slopes while taking in the awe inspiring panoramas. Request exceptional guide, Guiseppe.
The fashionable mountaintop town of Taormina is Sicily's most famous resort with picturesque piazzas and medieval streets lined with cafes, boutiques and gelaterias. The ancient Greco-Roman theater, still used for performances, offers rapturous views of Mount Etna and the sea.
The Grand Hotel Timeo, an 1873 villa spectacularly set next to the famed amphitheater features suites done in Baroque décor with terraces offering spellbinding vistas, lush gardens and a large pool.
Elegant Syracuse was the richest, most powerful among the Hellenic cities in the classic age. It is home to the Temple of Apollo, Fountain of Arethusa and the largest ancient Greek amphitheater in Sicily, still in use today.
Lively Catania boasts a Baroque center with beautiful piazzas, vibrant fish market, Villa Bellini with tropical gardens, a Cathedral and the famous Elephant Fountain at Piazza Duomo. Not to mention the friendly people and fantastic food still cooked from grandma's own recipes.
The luxurious Hotel Villa del Bosco, a 19th century charmer offers elegant rooms decorated with antique furniture and art. www.hotelvdbnext.it