Sicily – one of those ideal destinations for a short AUTUMN VACATION, if you live somewhere in Europe, that is. Lu was just about to turn 2 and we thought we could use the last free plane ticket he was entitled to. So, we found flights from LEIPZIG (which is not that far from us) to TRAPANI and back, for a very good price. We had one week time and decided to rent a car and explore the west part of the island. Sicily is quite big and there is much to see, although it might not seem so on the first look. We went pretty lucky with the weather and were even swimming in the sea in the middle of October. The highlights of the week were definitely the friendly people who love children, excellent food and an amazing mix of architectural styles.
Visited: Trapani, Erice, San Vito lo Capo, Monreale, Segesta, Palermo, Agrigento, San Leone, Scala dei Turchi, Eraclea Minoa, Marsala
How: with a rented car
Stayed in: private rooms
WE VISITED SICILY WHEN LU WAS 1 YEAR OLD. THERE IS A SECTION ABOUT SICILY WITH KIDS AT THE END OF THIS POST.
USEFUL INFORMATION BOUT TRAVELLING TO SICILY
DRIVING & TRANSPORT ON THE ISLAND
Let´s just say DRIVING is not one of the easiest things you can do on Sicily. Though I still believe it is the best way to see the island, because it gives you freedom to stop anywhere you like. You have to be prepared for narrow streets and specific UNWRITTEN RULES – using the horn most of the time, not respecting traffic lights, forming 5 parallel lines in a roundabout although there are actually only 3, overtaking in the curves and so on. Take care of motorbikes, strangely parked cars, dogs and people on the streets. If you pay attention to how other cars look, you will realise almost all of them have scratches and bumps – there is a reason why. PALERMO was the worse (and we stayed right in the centre) other than that it was OK, to put it like that.
ACCOMMODATION ON SICILY
We booked rooms in TRAPANI, PALERMO, SAN LEONE and MARSALA before we left so that we did not have to lose time with searching for them. Although I must say that would not have been such a problem, it looked like there were still many free. We opt to stay in PRIVATE HOMES and this was a great idea. In San Leone we had a nice spacious room in a private house with our own terrace and a beautiful breakfast, we could watch how they cook, pick their olives and talk about everyday life with the owners.
The other accommodation was in OLD TOWN HOUSES with little CUTE BALCONIES overlooking busy pedestrian streets. The good thing about that was, we had kitchens and there were bakeries and small shops just a few steps away. The down side of it – it was sometimes hard to find and we had to leave the car far away at a PUBLIC PARKING. If you book in advance print out detailed maps on how to get there exactly, that might save you some time.
TYPICAL FOOD & DRINKS AND WHAT TO EAT ON SICILY
Mmmmm, yummy! Food is relatively cheap and absolutely DELICIOUS. I think we all gained a bit of weight there. Fresh SEAFOOD, PASTA and ANTIPASTI were our choice most of the time. With a cold Peroni or Moretti BEER, or a glass of PROSECCO. Oh, and ice cream. We bought our breakfasts and ESPRESSO in a local bakery – where they often gave us stuff for free, accompanied with a smile and those magical words “per il bambino!” (for the child). Try the BRIOCHE WITH ICE CREAM if you want to taste something new.
The only problem was that the restaurants were closed during the “SIESTA TIME”. If we were travelling alone that would not matter so much, but Lu was used to eat his lunch somewhere around 2PM. In the evening when all the restaurants were opened again, he was usually already so tired and wanted to sleep. So we had to do some rearrangements about that, but at the end everybody survived. We used our room KITCHENS in the evening for a quick pasta meal – all the kitchens already had salt, oil and other basic stuff, so you don´t have to buy much to prepare a tasty meal. You can eat it on your balcony with a glass of wine while you observe the lively action on the street below.
SHOPPING AND SICILIAN SOUVENIRS
The most known are probably the CERAMIC PRODUCTS with its specific yellow-blue colours and patterns. You can get plates, bowls, vases, small pots and cups, candle holders – you name it! You can buy nice olive oil or a bottle of wine, or even better a bottle of LIMONCELLO. Packed OLIVES, SALT, MARZIPAN FRUITS or PISTACHIOS.
If you are going around the east part you will most probably find stuff made of lava everywhere. We found it interesting, how many baby & children CLOTHES shops there were – any I mean, the really expensive ones. This once again shows, that Italians are crazy for fashion.
WHAT TO SEE & DO IN WESTERN SICILY
TRAPANI | laid back city with a a great pedestrian zone, forts and a beach
OUR FIRST DAY ON SICILY – we came in very early in the morning, after a two hour flight and almost two hours of driving to the airport before the flight, so we were pretty tired. This is where the famous “siesta time” comes in, we took advantage of that with great pleasure. We took a walk to the FORT – nice views on the town and the mountains surrounding it. In the afternoon we walked on the BEACH, checked the sea temperature and observed the local FISHERMEN. The old town´s PEDESTRIAN ZONE is perfect for an evening walk, we had a great fish dinner menu for just 12€ (pasta for the appetizer and swordfish for the main). After that a delicious ice cream and before going to bed a glass of Prosecco on the balcony. TRAPANI has a very relaxed feel to it and we enjoyed slow walks after it got dark also.
ERICE | cute village uphill from Trapani known for its wine cellars
The next day we decided to explore the LITTLE TOWN UP THE HILL, Erice. You can drive up there with a car, but we chose to use the FUNICULAR (9€), which left from a station in the upper part of Trapani. The views were great and it was a nice way to go up. There are many little OLD STONE HOUSES and narrow streets, with numerous craft, souvenir shops and WINE CELLARS. The views on the other side are spectacular, you can walk around an OLD CASTLE and its LUSH GARDENS. Worth a visit.
SAN VITO LO CAPO | one of the most beautiful beaches in Europe
We read that this was ONE OF THE BEST BEACHES ON SICILY. And, the book was probably right. A long white sandy beach with stunning mountains at the back and amazingly clear sea water looked very inviting, so we jumped. Although it was already quite cold in October, so we were out quickly. I can imagine it gets very cramped in the summer, but in Autumn it was a very nice place to spend a day or an afternoon.
SEGESTA | the remains of one of the first settlements in Sicily
ON THE WAY TO PALERMO we made TWO STOPS, the first one being in Segesta. This ancient city was ONE OF THE FIRST SETTLEMENTS on Sicily and is most famous because of its unusually well preserved DORIC TEMPLE. It is believed to have been built in the 420´s BC by an architect from Athens. On the same ARCHAEOLOGICAL SITE you can also find a GREEK THEATRE. Even if you are not so much interested in history, you won´t be disappointed when visiting Segesta, the landscape and the views are amazing. Lu was more than happy to play with the little stones and climb the steps of the theatre.
MONREALE | impressive monastery with Arabic architectural influences
Our second stop was the MONASTERY and the CHURCH IN MONREALE. The church is a national monument of Italy and one of the most important attractions of Sicily. The monastery itself is very interesting, because of the ARABIC ARCHITECTURAL DETAILS. There are MOSAICS everywhere and it´s a great mix of different influences. This was a really busy place though, many tourists on bus tours stopping by so don´t be surprised if you have to stand in line for some time to buy the tickets.
PALERMO | Sicily´s capital & largest city
Ok, I´m not going to talk about the mad traffic, lets just say its pretty chaotic and leave it at that. We stayed in the centre, just a short walk from the main PALERMO CATHEDRAL. From there we walked down the V. Emanuele street towards MASSIMO THEATRE and the square PIAZZA VIGLIENA with the 4 FOUNTAINS. On the way we stopped at many art galleries, because we were on a hunt for a bigger painting to hang in our living room – and we actually found one! Very good price and shipping to Germany was no problem. We continued our way to the sea and had a great fish lunch.
After hiding behind the air root curtains of the big trees in GARIBALDI PARK we strolled around the BOTANICAL GARDENS (5€), which were a great escape into the shadows on a hot sunny day. There were many STRAY DOGS in the gardens, some of them following us the whole way, waiting for food to fall on the floor. Our first day without a car drive was coming to an end, one more beer on the balcony and off to bed.
There were many more things in Palermo we could have seen, but we did not have that much time, so we just concentrated on things that interested us the most and things that were suitable for a 2-year-old toddler. Meaning, we skipped the CAPUCHIN CATACOMBS for instance.
SAN LEONE | lovely beach area in the south of Sicily
The day was pretty relaxed and it was also nice, after a full day of walking in Palermo. It took us an hour and a half to reach San Leone on the SOUTH COAST. We went straight to the beach and took a SWIM even though it was colder here than the days before. The sky was getting dangerously black so we decided it was time to eat – again, amazing antipasti and seafood, we just had to wait for the restaurants to open. The BEACH in San Leone is quite long and there are many bays. You leave the car along the road and walk to one of those bays, sometimes there are nice beach bars by the road, offering ice cream, snacks and drinks.
AGRIGENTO | the Valley of the Temples archaeological site
The main attraction here is the VALLEY OF THE TEMPLES, which truly is worth a visit. The parking spaces are very well marked and we were obviously amongst the first visitors that day. For some reason, we did not pay any entry fee – and we still don´t know if it was for free because of the “low season”, or were we just there before the office was opened. Anyway, we walked all the way around the site and Lu had so much fun with the stones again that he was all happy.
This ARCHAEOLOGICAL SITE is a bit out of Agrigento TOWN. The town itself is also worth a look, there are many art shops and galleries, it´s nice to go there for dinner. If you are staying in San Leone like we did, it is just a short drive up there.
SCALA DEI TURCHI | amazing white rocks and cliffs close to San Leone
We had a lot ahead of us this day so we started early and drove just a few kilometres to the FAMOUS WHITE ROCKS, Scala dei Turchi. There is a sign on the road where you need to turn down to the parking. You will have to walk a bit on the beach before you reach the rock and if you want to climb on it, you might need to cross shallow sea in some parts, but it is really worth it.
ERACLEA MINOA | smaller archaeological site
Next stop was this ARCHAEOLOGICAL SITE, which was set in a nice surroundings with ways to walk around, nice views on the beaches and the sea below, but less spectacular than Segesta or other sites that we have seen.
MARSALA | famous wine cellars and saltpans
We had LUNCH at one of the beaches on the way to Marsala and it was, as always great. There are many signs for restaurants, so just choose one and drive to the BEACH. Marsala is famous for its MARSALA WINE – unfortunatelly for us, we were there on a Sunday, when all the WINE CELLARS cellars were closed. So, we just had some ice cream which was also OK. The town is nice and there is much to see.
A bit out of the town there are also SALT PANS which you can visit and if you can, go there in the evening for the sunset. A drink in the bar next to the salt pans watching the sun goes down and our day was over.
This was also our last full day on Sicily, since our flight was leaving the next day in the morning. It was a nice week, Sicily is also GREAT FOR TRAVELLING WITH KIDS. But we have to come again sometime to explore the eastern part also.
SICILY WITH KIDS | tips and thoughts on travelling Sicily as a family
Sicily is perfect for travelling with your little ones. Why? First, if you (like us) live in Europe, the flights are not going to be too long and you can get them for a good price. And even if you come from far away you should definitely consider visiting Sicily if you are doing an Europe trip or just visiting Italy. Second, THE CLIMATE is mild in the winter months, making it a great place to visit all year around.
There are BEACHES, mountains, historical places and lots of GOOD FOOD, so there is something for everybody. Third, The locals are extremely CHILDREN FRIENDLY and there is just so much to see and explore that nobody will feel bored. I wrote a separate post about SICILY WITH KIDS, you can read it here:
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