We’ve come to the the last leg of a short, but intense, trip through Southern Italy: a three-day escape to the north western coast of Sicily. From the markets and church domes of Palermo, to the natural and rustic Isole Egadi, there was a lot of ground (and sea) to cover in only a few days. I discovered hidden coves frequented only by locals and Italian vacationers, and cycled over dusty coastal paths in Favignana. I swam in cleansing, crystal blue water that was so clear you could spot jellyfish before they stung you. I walked through streets of white cubed houses with bright blue shutters that inspired the decor of a non-existent, future home. And now, I’m going to share with you just how to make the most of 36 hours in Sicily.
9:30 am: Morning markets in Palermo.
Palermo deserves a whole three days in itself. But if you’re pressed for time, concentrate it in the city centre for a taste of all there is to come back for. Start by sinking your teeth into a cannolo – a local Sicilian delicacy of a pastry that can be found at Rosciglione bakery (Via Gian Luca Barbieri, 5). Then explore the nearby Ballarò market, as vendors set up their stalls, for the sights and smells of the oldest of Palermo’s Arabic markets. Next, venture on to the gardens of Villa Bonanno and the Palazzo die Normani, which currently houses the parliament of Sicily. Walk down Via Vittorio Emanuelle to the cathedral and then further on towards Quattro Canti (four fountains) – a small square that does justice to its name with four ornate fountains decorating each corner. From here, venture left on Via Maqueda towards the grand monuments of Teatro Massimo and Politeama Garibaldi in Piazza Castelnuovo. Then don’t forget to weave through the side streets off of Via Cavour, for a less monumental (but no less grand) side of the city.
2:00 pm: Ride through the country to Trapani.
Take one of the hourly buses from Palermo’s central station to Trapani. Ride through vineyards and sculpted hills, with the always-present sea blue out of the corner of your eye. Spend a lazy afternoon on one of Trapani’s beaches, quiet and bare save for a few locals and bits of driftwood. Then walk along the boardwalk into the historical city center, an interesting mix of architectural styles that range from Gothic and Italian Renaissance to Baroque. Poke into boutiques and designer shops on Via Roma, visit the Museo Nazionale Pepoli to see a large collection of Sicilian arts and crafts, or sit on a terrace on Via Garibaldi for a drink as night falls. I chose to make Trapani my base for this trip, due to its proximity to the Aegadian islands, and rented an architect’s charming apartment, complete with an interior courtyard and 3-meter-high ceilings, not far from the town’s train station.
9:00 am: Explore the surroundings of San Vito Lo Capo.
This resort town is most known for its immense beach of pure, white sand. But if you get here early enough, hop on one of the shuttle buses that takes you away from the mass of striped umbrellas and into the natural park Riserva dello Zingaro. You can also opt for one of the many boat excursions around the coast, which allow you to see the natural park and its beaches from the water. Just be warned, although “swimming time” is included in these trips, the boats don’t actually dock in any of the tiny, hidden coves, and you’ll only be able to admire them from a distance. Pack a picnic; there won’t be any trattorias awaiting you in this natural reserve.
5:00 pm: Hit the beach and explore the old town.
If you have time (and patience), take advantage of the afternoon sunshine and try finding a spot of free towel space on San Vito’s main beach. While the summer months’ hoards of tourists and beach-goers can take away some of its charm, the water is pristine and great for swimming, and you’ll have views of the Riserva dello Zingaro as a backdrop. After catching some rays, stroll through San Vito’s old town for the white-washed homes and blue doors that remind you’re in Sicily again. If you happen to be here at the end of September, stick around for dinner as the town hosts their annual Cous Cous fest – an international food festival that fills San Vito’s streets in the evenings with bands, theatrics and, of course, plenty of cous cous.
9:00 am: Bike around Favignana.
Take an early morning ferry (the most affordable are operated by Siremar) from Trapani to Favignana, one of the largest of the Aegadian islands which lie not far from the north-western Sicilian coast. Rent a bike at the port and spend the morning cycling along the island’s coastline. Stop along the way at hidden, natural coves like Cala Rossa, Bue Marino and Cala Azzura. Just park (and lock up) your bike at the bike stands, and walk down the rocky paths to the shore, where you can cool off in some of the clearest, bluest water you’ve ever seen.
2:30 pm: Visit Genovese’s grotto in Levanzo.
Ferry over to the neighbouring island of Levanzo and have your camera ready as you pull into its tiny, picturesque port. Head straight up into town to find the information office for visiting Grotta del Genovese (located behind the restaurant that sits in front of the port). Visits to the grotto depart at 3:00 pm and you can only access this prehistoric cave with an official guide. Its rock paintings date back 12,000 years, and rumoured to be some of the oldest ever discovered. Then spend the rest of the afternoon discovering the island’s untouched coves, like the rocky Cala Minnola, which are great for snorkelling and spotting wild, happy sea life (just watch out for jellyfish). As evening sets in, walk through the island’s white-and-blue town, and wait for your ferry to arrive with a glass of wine, sitting on the terrace of the local bar, watching the sunset.