Visiting Sicily: Tips from a Local Guide

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Sicily is one of the Mediterranean's greatest pleasures. Lying off the coast of southwestern Italy, this captivating island offers stunning sea views, quaint medieval hill towns, rustic cuisine and fine wine. What's more, Sicilians take pride in sharing their unique culture and heritage with inquisitive guests. Joining us today is one such local guide: please welcome Simon from Catania, Sicily.

Why did you become a guide, Simon?

As a teenager, I loved the outdoors. My 10 years of experience in the tourism industry as receptionist and concierge developed my skills in understanding people and their interests and tastes. This has allowed me to share my love for the landscapes and culture of Sicily, with small groups of clients coming from different countries.

What top 3 things do you think first-time visitors should see or do when visiting your part of Italy?

The top 3 things I think first-time visitors should do when visiting Sicily are:

1) Strolling through the fish market is a special experience that you should not miss when visiting the region of Catania. Hustle and bustle and shouting dealers who advertise their products provide a deep insight into the lives of the Sicilians. The fish market in Catania is one of the most colorful in all of Sicily.

2) Driving up Mount Etna until 2000m and visit some old lava flows on the way. Once there, reach the top of the volcano Etna via cable car and 4wd buses.

3) Syracuse is one of the main historic cities of Sicily. Located in the southeast corner of the island, the ancient Siracusa is also listed by Unesco Heritage. It includes Ortigia, the ruins of the Temple of Athena, a Greek theatre and a Roman amphitheatre all deserve to be visited.

What’s your favourite “local” experience you encourage travellers to try?

The Godfather locations: Savoca, where Al Pacino and Cast shot the Godfather Film. While in town "a must" is the stop for a Lemon Granita at the famous bar "VITELLI" on the corner of the town, one of Coppola's favorite spots, and seen many times throughout the film. Then make your way to the church of St. Lucy where the scene of the wedding between Apollonia and Michael was shot!
Forza d'Agrò which is without a doubt one of the best examples of a typical village of the Province of Messina which still conserves its medieval street layout and on all sides of the town you have the most incredible views.

What’s one food you think everyone should eat when they visit Sicily?

Sicily is renowned for its delicious cuisine. Some dishes to try:
• Pasta alla Norma: pasta with tomatoes, eggplants, basil and ricotta salata cheese
• Arancini: Rice balls stuffed with anything from meat sauce to cheese and vegetables.
• Cannoli di ricotta and cassata siciliana (the most typical Sicilian dessert).
• Granita: Try as many flavors as you can, but I especially recommend mandorla, or almond with cream on top and brioche.

Do you have a favourite restaurant or cafe you like to recommend?
One of the highlights of visiting Sicily is eating out. Sicilian cuisine is arguably the most varied and fascinating of any Italian region and there is always an abundance of choice when you decide to go out for a meal. The list of restaurants and café I could recommend ranges from Michelin-starred gourmet establishments to simple “trattoria” serving up delicious traditional meals. My favourite restaurant among my list is “Il Gelsonero” in Savoca.

Where is the best place for travellers to take a great photo to share with friends back home?

Without a doubt, the best place for travellers to take a great photo to share with friends back home is Taormina and the surrounding area. You will find the best spot in Madonna of the Rocks, located in the medieval hill town above Taormina.

Thanks for sharing these great tips, Simon, and for making us all ready to board a boat bound for Sicily! Any travellers headed to this fantastic part of Italy in 2016 can get in touch with Simon here to start planning their perfect day.
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