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Sicily in Oct. 2-3 weeks---last minute planning

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As usual we are doing very last minute planning and are thinking to use up some FF miles. (Obviously, we are flexible type people who don't need to have everything all precisely planned and laid out ahead of time.) I'd been vacillating between Provence and Sicily (looking for decent weather) and think I've decided upon Sicily--one reason being that I can get a better deal with my miles on more favorable dates. Plus, October sounds like a lovely month to visit. Knowing that daylight savings time ends on Oct. 25, I am trying to plan so that we leave by then (or a day or two later).

We are flexible on the amount of time we can be gone (the benefits of retirement). We're experienced travelers who've driven all over Europe, so we'll rent a car. We know we want to spend our first couple days in a city (no car rental) where we can decompress, recover from jet lag, and wander around without a specific plan. We like to be in the city we are flying out of the night before departure just in case there are problems.

We don't need to hit all of the major tourist sites but want to do some. We do not need to do it all, preferring quality over quantity, and we are fine with visiting really good places that are not on the typical foreign tourist itinerary. We'd like to visit the Aeolian Islands for a couple days. The one place I want to make sure to fit in our itinerary is the place with the fabulous mosaics (can't remember the name off hand). We've visited Greece and Turkey and seen lots of ruins, so those probably are not our first desire. We love harbors, seafronts etc. but have no desire to go to the beach for relaxation.

We are moderate rather than upscale travelers. Our preferred travel style is to have some bases where we can rent an apartment/small house to spread out and be able to make an occasional meal, but from what I understand this is not too easy in Sicily. We'd prefer at least a couple nights n each place rather than getting up and moving all the time with a string of one night stays. Since this is off season, in some ways I am tempted to just do a road trip where we wing it a lot. But, I also know the down sides of this idea in all of the time that can be spent looking for the next place to stay. We like active travel and want to do some half day walks or perhaps a bit longer walks in interesting places, but we are not super fanatic hikers who want to do nothing but walk. Kayaking or easier cycling are also things we'd be interested in.

Where do you suggest we fly in and out of? I am thinking that if we visit the Aeolian Islands it would be wise to do that on one end or the other of our trip so we wouldn't have to just let a rental car sit for a couple days at a ferry landing. Do you have any general ideas for what might make a sensible itinerary? Finally, are there any places you just loved?

Thanks much for any advice you can give me.

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