Early March 2017 my friend Welmoed and I spent 11 days in lovely Sicily.
We rented a car for only €135 for 11 days, booked through Cardelmar.nl who connected us to rental agency Interrent. It included all insurances you can think of, zero risk, and second driver included. Perfect!
We had a crazy early flight, forcing us to get up at 3am and make it to the airport. But this way we arrived in Catania, Sicily at about 10am. We didn’t stay in Catania but made our way to Cefalù, stopping at Enna castle along the way. Enna castle gives great views over the surrounding landscapes and hills.
By the time we were ready to leave, a guide came running up all sweaty and offered to tell us some things about the history. So we listened to him and tipped him.
We had found a very favorable B&B called Dolce Vita. Very centrally located, a shared roof terrace overlooking the rocky shore and the sea, good room and bathroom, friendly hosts.
Cefalù is a historical town with narrow streets, many of which are off-limits for driving as a non-local. This made it kind of hard to find legitimate parking, but we managed.
I think Cefalù probably gets very crowded during the high and mid season months, gladly we were here during low season.
The little beach was lovely in the evenings. One evening we bought some Sicilian sausage, cheese, cold beers and enjoyed those on the beach.
One day we climbed La Rocca, which gives stunning views over the town, the sea and beautiful trees and plants. Recommended!
The town itself was also very pleasant and offered good, typically Sicilian food. I found the people to be very friendly, still Welmoed and I enjoyed making jokes about spotting mafia guys all around.
My Italian is very rusty… I keep wanting to say Italian words, but Spanish ones come out! 😀 Still it’s helpful that 24 years ago I studied Italian, because hardly any Sicilian speaks English. My mix of Spanish and Italian goes a long way, and sometimes a Sicilian does speak French and so do I.
How to make local friends
When we wanted to leave after two nights and got to the car in the port, a big Italian guy came walking up to us gesturing with his hands and arms. I thought he wanted money for ‘guarding’ our car.
But no… the lights had been on a whole night! Oooops. Before we knew it, 6 guys were helping us! First with a big boat battery, then by pushing our car, then they connected another car’s battery to ours and it fired up. Hurrah! We thanked them profusely.
We had such a laugh after this, and had to admit that of course Sicily is not mafia only. We said to each other that really, we should leave the lights on every night, and make Sicilian friends everywhere we go.
Rough yet friendly and safe Palermo ♥
We had timed it right to be in Palermo during the weekend. I had found some info online about the new ‘ZTL’ limited traffic zone in central Palermo which forbids cars to ride there most of the time. And some info about where to park for free. The hotel receptionist later told us that Via Lincoln is the safest and best place to park it for free, so we moved it there.
The hotel Alessandra was in a very convenient location, and has nice and kitch decorations and more than 100 mirrors in the hallway. The breakfast was disappointing though.
We both loved Palermo instantly! Great food, great markets, beautiful buildings although many of them are dilapidated, friendly people, not
too many tourists, really good vibe.
Especially on Saturday evening, the main streets called Via Maqueda and Piazza Verdi are teeming with life. People of all ages wander around, have ice creams, go shopping, chat… the Piazza Verdi is full of adolescents, but all very well-behaved which is such a pleasant difference from some horrible squares in Amsterdam!
We visited the botanical gardens, the harbor, lovely Ballarò market, had great food at La Vecchia Locanda restaurant surrounded by loud Italian families, tried to go to a gay bar but found it empty, had beers at a bustling bar nextdoor instead. We also tried to go to the famous castle with all the mozaics but got there 10 minutes after it closed. What self-respecting palace closes its doors to the public at 12.30pm and doesn’t open again until the next day?!
Anyway, Palermo is fantastic! I’d love to go again as just a city trip.
Sicily is bigger than I thought before I started reading up, and the hills make for some long rides, sometimes with a lot of hairpins. We drove to a rural B&B called Il Tanaceto agriturismo on the northern slope of the Etna volcano. It took over 4 hours.
Even though we had two days of rain and wind, it was fantastic to be there! We were the only guests and the owner pampered us. He cooked food asking us what we preferred. It was such a nice room, great breakfast and dinner, good vibe.
We did visit Castiglione di Sicilia and Randazzo from here, nice villages but I didn’t like the rain and hail.
We spent a day in touristy and beautiful Syracuse on the east coast. Very pretty, and with interesting old buildings, for example a church built on top of a temple, the pillars still visible. The boulevard was lovely. We had pistache icecream yet again.
We also visited the modern part of town which still has some archeological site with amphitheaters.
We stayed in another rural B&B outside Noto called A Lumia, but didn’t like it. It was much less pretty and luxurious than the previous one, the wifi didn’t work at all, the shower was ice cold, the room was cramped, and it was more expensive.
Even though we had booked for 3 nights, we canceled after 1 night and accepted the fine (they were reasonable about it and didn’t charge the full 3 nights), and moved to San Pietro B&B in Noto which was fantastic. The location was a bit of a hike from the center, but the breakfast was plentiful, the owners super friendly and helpful, the room perfect, and it had free parking on site.
Noto is a beautiful town with lots of beautiful churches and other buildings. We had really good lunch at Manna restaurant.
We also visited a park called Noto Antica: the former site of the city before it was destroyed by an earthquake. It was a pleasant place to walk and see the ruins and some old cave dwellings. It was on the top of a hill and had good views into valleys below.
From Noto we did a daytrip to Marzamemi, a fishermen’s town. Some parts were very pretty, some were dilapidated. All in all we had a good time eating sea fruits and salads by the sea.
On our last day we spent some more hours in Syracuse. It was so much more crowded this time! Loads and loads of Italians visiting and filling all the streets and boulevard and ice cream shops.
And then it was time to drop the car off at the airport and fly home… The petrol station near the airport is a real rip-off, the shop is closed in the evening, and you can only use banknotes to pay for petrol, no cards! I only had a €20 bill but the tank was full after €8. The machine did not give back the change. Imagine if you only have a €50 bill!
Our car was from Interrent, but no Interrent parking spaces were left at the airport! Searching for a spot I accidentally left the parking lot again, and almost drove onto the highway out of the airport, but managed to correct it just in time. After a long search some other Interrent car just happened to be leaving. After all this hassle we also had to wait in line at Interrent for 20 minutes, and barely made our flight. Note to self: next time use more time margin.
The flight home was fine and we were able to catch the last train home instead of needing a taxi so that was a good end to a lovely holiday. I hope to make it to Sicily again one day!