The island of Sicily has an abundance of history. Some of the world's best-preserved Byzantine mosaics stand adjacent to magnificent Greek temples and Roman amphitheaters, awe-inspiring Romanesque cathedrals, and over-the-top Baroque flights of fancy. Add in the spectacular sight of lava-strewn Mt. Etna plus Sicily's unique cuisine—mingling Arab and Greek spices, Spanish and French techniques, and some of the world's finest seafood, all accompanied by big, fruity wines—and you can understand why visitors continue to be drawn here, and often find it hard to leave.
Sicily has beckoned seafaring wanderers since the trials of Odysseus were first sung in Homer's Odyssey—perhaps the world's first travel guide. Strategically poised between Europe and Africa, this mystical land of three corners and a fiery volcano once hosted two of the most enlightened capitals of the West—one Greek, in Siracusa, and one Arab-Norman, in Palermo. Sicily has been a melting pot of every great civilization on the Mediterranean: Greek and Roman; then Arab and Norman; and finally French, Spanish, and Italian. The invaders through the ages weren't just attracted by the strategic location, however; they recognized a paradise in Sicily's deep blue skies and temperate climate, its lush vegetation, and rich marine life—all of which prevail to this day.
In modern times, the traditional graciousness and nobility of the Sicilian people have survived side by side with the destructive influences of the Mafia under Sicily's semiautonomous government. Alongside some of the most exquisite architecture in the world lie the shabby, half-built results of some of the worst speculation imaginable. In recent years coastal Sicily, like much of the Mediterranean Coast, has experienced a surge in condominium development and tourism. The island has emerged as something of an international travel hot spot, drawing increasing numbers of visitors. Astronomical prices in northern Italy have contributed to the boom in Sicily, where tourism doesn't seem to be leveling off as it has elsewhere in the country. Brits and Germans flock in ever-growing numbers to Agrigento and Siracusa, and in high season Japanese tour groups seem to outnumber the locals in Taormina. And yet, in Sicily's windswept heartland—a region that tourists have barely begun to explore—vineyards, olive groves, and lovingly kept dirt roads leading to family farmhouses still tie Sicilians to the land and to tradition, forming a happy connectedness that can't be defined by economic measures.
Home to every great Mediterranean civilization, Sicily is a rich tapestry of art and history. A day in this paradise of deep blue skies and lush vegetation could include skiing down a snow-muffled volcano, walking through orange groves, and swimming within sight of majestic ruins. Unforgettable sights abound: the panoramic perfection of Taormina; Agrigento’s Valley of the Temples; a rose-tinted moon rising over Mt. Etna; and Palermo, Monreale, Cefalù, and Catania offer a feast of Roman, Byzantine, Arab-Norman, and Baroque architecture.