The largest island in the Mediterranean can be surprisingly easy to overlook when considering solo holiday destinations. We really don’t know why – commanding a strategically important spot at the heart of the Med between Europe, North Africa and the Middle East, it is a heady mixture of cultural influences and boasts one of the most dramatic backdrops in the world – Mount Etna. Read on to see what’s so special about this alluring destination…
1. Rich culture
While Sicily is part of Italy, historically it’s been an object of desire and conquest for many civilisations. Both the Greek and Roman Empires ruled here – Archimedes made his home (and many of his famous discoveries) in the city of Syracuse, and the influence of ancient Greece is writ large there to this day.
2. Gorgeous food
If you want a snapshot of the cuisine of Sicily you need look no further than the ingredients in the local speciality of pasta con le sarde. The salty sardines reflect the island's abundant seafood while the pasta has obvious cultural roots. There’s also fragrant saffron, sultanas, pine nuts and fennel, which reflect Moorish rule. This mouth-watering blending of regional flavours is everywhere in Sicilian cookery – take the sweet and sour dishes, such as caponata, that hark back to rule by Ancient Greece, and you must try cannoli, sweet tubes of fried pastry filled with creamy ricotta.
3. Fabulous Festivals
Festivals (or sagre) are a big thing in Sicily and whenever you visit you'll find there's no shortage of sociable Sicilians celebrating a notable date, local crop or religious figure. There are festivals for just about everything, from ricotta and blood oranges to patron saints and even medieval jousting.
4. Dramatic Landscapes
At some 3,300 metres tall, active volcano Mount Etna is an imposing wonder of nature. It is every bit as magnificent to behold as you'd imagine, with smoke rising from vents and lava still occasionally flowing. But head west from Etna's coastal location and you'll find bewitchingly varied landscapes, from the perfumed citrus groves of the north coast and the tranquil, expansive terrain of the west to the craggy mountains at the island’s centre and the fertile vines and olive groves of the south.
5. Genuine people
Sicilians are passionate people. They are passionate about being Sicilian and about every other topic under the Mediterranean sun! You'll often see what looks like blazing rows unfolding only to learn that those involved are just expressing their opinion forcefully before smiles break out and life goes on as normal. Remember to try out your Italian – just a few hesitant words will reward you with a genuine warmth you’ll never forget.