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Sicily - Advice Please

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Hello Forum!

I'm looking advice for locations in Sicily. It's important to note that I've visited Italy 5 times in my life, and lived in the North for a year. So I'm totally comfortable navigating small towns and speaking enough Italian. That said, I've never travelled south of Rome (I know, I know I'm missing out) and am returning in October.

My trip will consist of visiting Puglia and Amalfi coast (before finishing in Rome), but I want to START with 3-4 days in Sicily (and then fly over to Bari when I'm done).

Where do I base myself in Sicily? Right now, I'm leaning on Taormina, but feel that it may be a bit too touristy. I'm looking for the equivelant of what Montepulciano or Montalcino is to Tuscany - the smaller area that is "off the beaten path" but still beautiful and populus enough. I've considered basing myself in Palermo or Catania, and just doing day-trips from there? I'd also like to be somewhere that I can easily day-trip from, and/or somewhere where I can hike. Is there a cinque-terre of the south??

People have mentioned the Aeolian islands but I feel like that may be tough to do only in 2-3 days, especially as a base? Or is island hopping easy once on one island?

HELP!

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