Please help with Sicily Itinerary!

Nov 18th, 2014, 02:03 PM
  #1  
hax
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Please help with Sicily Itinerary!

Hello Fodorites!
My husband and I are planning a trip to Italy in May. After one night in Milan and three in the Cinqueterre, we will be spending nine nights in Sicily, and need your help with this part of our itinerary.

Some background: This is our third trip to Italy, but first to Sicily (Milan and Cinqueterre, too!) My grandparents were from Nicosia, so we want to visit there, plus see as many highlights we can in our too-short trip. We love history, ruins, museums, great food and scenery. My husband plans to drive--he’s a great driver, but not a big fan of scary heights.

We've done quite a bit of research (including on this board--thank you!!!) and have settled on a few possible itineraries. I really don’t like one-night hotel stays, but seem stuck with a few here. Please weigh in with your experience and wisdom! Any hotel and restaurant recommendations are most welcome, too.

Tentative Itinerary:
Fly (free!) to Milan--1 night (Hotel: Gran Duca di York)
Day 2-4: Milan in am, train to Cinqueterre (Hotel: La Toretta in Manarola)
DAY 5: fly to Palermo via Milan or Genoa, stay 2 nights in Palermo (Hotel???)
Day 6: see Palermo and Monreale
Day 7: rent car at Palermo airport, drive to Agrigento. See ruins, stay 1 night (Hotel???)
Day 8-9: Drive to Piazza Armerina, see mosaics, then on to Nicosia, stay 2 nights
Hotel: Baglio San Pietro (agriturismo just outside town) or Hotel Panorama (in town)
Day 10-11: Drive to Siracusa, stay 2 nights (Hotel??)
Day 12-14: Drive to Taormina, stay 2 nights (Hotel??)
Day 15: drop car at Catania airport, fly home--overnight layover in Dusseldorf

We can’t change number of days in Sicily, but can change where we go.
Big Questions:
Do we need another day in Palermo?
Should we shorten our stay in Nicosia to one night? I hate one-nighters, and this is my ancestors’ home, so I don’t want to cut it short--but will we be bored in Nicosia or agriturismo?
Should we do Taormina as day-trip only and stay three or four nights in Siracusa? Some people seem to love Taormina, others think it’s touristy.
Is there a better route than the one we are taking?
Are we being too ambitious? Missing something we shouldn’t?

Thanks so much for your help!
Hax
hax is offline  
Nov 18th, 2014, 03:41 PM
  #2  
 
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Segesta a bit east of Palermo is a stellar arcaheological site - a tremendous and fairly intact Greek temple is a stark setting - if add a day to Palermo check it out!

http://www.bestofsicily.com/segesta.htm
PalenQ is offline  
Nov 18th, 2014, 03:45 PM
  #3  
Ian
 
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Since you have limited time, this itinerary will work but you will be driving every 2nd day. So, as long as you don't mind being in motion, it is doable. I would switch Siracusa & Taormina however, since you will already be north. The agro looks great btw & it would be my choice over the hotel in town. We loved the Villa Ducale - just outside of Taormina - so it is worth a look.

And we found Palermo to be a big, noisy, gritty city & 2 nights would give you one day - which is enough in my mind but you will hear howls from others about this opinion. To me, the true beauty of Sicily is in the countryside & the small villages & towns. A big city is a big city is a big city.

Ian
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Nov 18th, 2014, 04:22 PM
  #4  
 
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I would suggest basing in say Cefalu, a dreamy seaside town not far from Palermo and going to that gritty city on a day trip.

Picture-postcard Cefalu!

https://www.google.com/search?q=cefa...w=1455&bih=977
PalenQ is offline  
Nov 18th, 2014, 04:33 PM
  #5  
 
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On the other hand, I thought Cefalu overrated, and Palermo interesting. YMMV. Depends some on the weather and how much you are into beaches. I would spend longer in Palermo and day trip to Trapani or Erice (both are worth more time, but you don't have it). I'm in the "do Taormina as a day trip" camp.
thursdaysd is offline  
Nov 18th, 2014, 04:45 PM
  #6  
kja
 
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You already seem to know that you are being extremely ambitious, but if you go in with your eyes open, you can probably make this work.

I'm one of those who loved Palermo, which I would describe as vibrant and dynamic and a bit gritty. I gave it 2.5 days and seriously regret not having given it more. If you haven't already done so, you might want to think through the sites you want to visit, taking note of visiting hours, and see if you have enough time for the things you want to see and do there. Whatever you do, don't skip Monreale!

I'm also one of those who found the crowds in Taormina off-putting. The views are gorgeous, and IME it is MUCH nicer after day trippers leave. I'm a little confused by the way you laid out the times, though. FWIW, you probably don't need more than a day in Taormina unless you want to use it as a base for a full-day trip to Mt. Etna. Siracusa easily merits a minimum of 2 days IMO, more if you want to add a half-day visit to Noto.

For your lodging in Siracusa, definitely seek something in Ortygia. I was very well satisfied with L'Approdo delle Sirene:
http://www.apprododellesirene.com
(And BTW, I hope you enjoy La Torretta in Manarola as much as I did!)

No need to go to Palermo's airport to pick up a rental car unless you want to -- there are agencies at Palermo's railroad stations, which you can probably reach more quickly.

As PalenQ mentions, Segesta is worth seeing, as is Selinunte. Depending on your preferences and pace, you might be able to see one or both on your way from Palermo to Agrigento.

Although my comments are most certainly out of date, here were my notes on the restaurants at which I dined in Sicily back in 2007. Maybe they'll give you some ideas....

Sicily is wonderful in May - enjoy!
kja is offline  
Nov 18th, 2014, 05:11 PM
  #7  
 
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Here is Sicily in May. Click on my name for the trip report.

http://www.slowphotos.com/photo/show...y.php?cat=3828
bobthenavigator is offline  
Nov 18th, 2014, 06:51 PM
  #8  
 
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hax,

I have one main comment which is must you really visit the Cinque Terre on this trip? It's nice, but not nicer than more time in Sicily! Cinque Terre would fit better on another Italy trip. If you flew straight to Palermo from Milan you could gain some days for Sicily, allowing time for Erice, Segesta, and more.

Another detail with the way you have it planned - you would be leaving your luggage in your rental car while you visit Villa Romana. Not the best idea. Without looking at the map, I don't know how close Nicosia is to Villa Romana. Would it be possible to have the agritourismo hold your luggage for you while you visit the Villa?

Another vote for 1 night in Taormina. Less than 24 hours was enough for me.

Re Palermo, I liked it, but didn't fall in love. I had 3.5 days and was able to see most of what I wanted which was a lot! I did a 1/2 day historical walking tour with Jackie Alio which I really, really enjoyed.
Dayle is offline  
Nov 19th, 2014, 12:28 AM
  #9  
kja
 
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I left my luggage in my rental while visiting the Villa Romana del Casale (and Segesta and Selinunte) and had no trouble, which is (of course) NO guarantee that it is safe. FWIW, I made sure that there were no obvious signs from the outside that there was luggage in may car, I left the car in an area that was monitored by parking attendants, and I parked in a way that would have made it hard for anyone to discretely get into my trunk (where the luggage was). Again, though, none of that guarantees safety -- as Dayle has said.

One thing that I think people often forget is that they should NOT open the trunk of a car once they park it somewhere, unless it is to remove EVERYTHING. So (for example), people park, and then collect their belongings from inside the car, and open the trunk to leave some things there (say a GPS) and/or take some things out (even a jacket) -- and in doing so, they reveal the contents of the trunk to anyone who is watching. So, if you will need to swap things in or out of your trunk, consider doing so a mile or more from where you park.

@ Dayle, re your question on another thread -- oh yes indeed! Poking the hornet's nest for a while now.... even began one post with "feed the troll." So very VERY sad.
kja is offline  
Nov 19th, 2014, 12:42 AM
  #10  
kja
 
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Oops, I forgot to add the link to my ancient restaurant notes:
http://www.fodors.com/community/euro...estaurants.cfm

And, since you say you like museums, I'll note that I enjoyed the archeological museums in Palermo (awesome!), Agrigento (well worth seeing!), and Siracusa (an impressive collection). And if you enjoy art, consider at least a short visit to the Palazzo Abatellis in Palermo with its incomparable, if small, selection of outstanding works (e.g., Messina's Annunciata).
kja is offline  
Nov 19th, 2014, 01:56 PM
  #11  
hax
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Oh, how I love Fodor's! Thank you all for your swift and helpful replies. I have been reading many of your trip reports, and will continue to refer to them as we refine our planning.

Before I ask more questions, I will answer some of yours, and correct a mistake I made in original itinerary--we are in Taormina for two nights, day 12-13 (not day 14). Sorry!

Dayle--Yes, we are locked into the Cinqueterre for 3 nights. It's been 20 years since we've been to Italy--who knows when we’ll get back? So many places to go!--so decided to hit two places on our bucket list. Loved your trip report. Will check out Jackie Alio!

Michelin says Piazza Armerina is 1 1/2 hours from Nicosia, which is a mountain town. Stopping at Piazza Armerina on the way (vs. dropping our bags at agriturismo first) saves us over 2 hours of driving--not counting getting lost. I was glad to see kja's post that she also left luggage in the trunk at Villa Romana. Is it really that bad to do so?

Thursdaysd and PalenQ--We’re not really looking for beaches, as we’re coming from the CT. Cefalu looks gorgeous, and was on my wish list, but feel with such a short time it's better to stay in Palermo. Thursdaysd--just read your great trip report--thanks!

PalenQ and kja--Am sad to miss Erice, Segesta and Selinunte, just don’t see how we have the time. Unless we stop at one of them on way to Agrigento and leave the ruins there for the next day? Michelin says that route would take 4 hr, 45 minutes-- a lot of driving. Also means we’d have to switch our Villa Romana day and see it on our way to Siracusa. Maybe.

Kja--I found La Toretta through you! Thank you! No, not interested in a day trip to Etna--we just visited a volcano! Originally thought we’d do two nights in Taormina because I dislike one-nighters. May now switch it to a daytrip or one-nighter. Sure looks like it has beautiful views, though.

We thought we might have to rent a car from the Palermo airport as we need an automatic, and heard driving in the city was to be avoided. Is there a train station on the outskirts that wouldn’t be so bad? Would save us a lot of time to not go to airport!

We do have to do more research on opening hours in Palermo. With only two nights, we will really only have one full day there, which includes seeing Monreale. Hence the debate to add a night.

Ian--Michelin puts the drive time between Nicosia and Taormina or Siracusa as the same (2hr 13). The little mountain roads from Nicosia to Taormina take longer, so have to go via Catania either way. Villa Ducale looks gorgeous! Thanks! May do it as our last night.

Bob--Have read your report and seen your gorgeous photos. Thanks!

Here is an alternate itinerary:


DAY 5: fly to Palermo, stay 2 nights (Hotel???)

Day 6: see Palermo and Monreale

Day 7: rent car at Palermo train station, drive to Agrigento, stopping at Segesta or Erice on the way. (4.45 hrs driving.)
OR, spend morning in Palermo, then rent car and drive to Agrigento (2.5 hours) Stay 1 night (Hotel???)

Day 8: See Valley of the Temples (all day), then drive to Nicosia (2 1/2 hrs.) Stay 2 nights. Hotel: Baglio San Pietro (agriturismo just outside town)
Day 9: See Nicosia
Day 10-12: Drive to Piazza Armerina, see mosaics, then on to Siracusa, stay 3 nights (Hotel??)

Day 13: Drive to Taormina stay 1 nights (Hotel??)

Day 14: drop car at Catania airport, fly home--overnight in Dusseldorf

More Questions!
1) Is it better to see Valley of Temples after driving down from Palermo on day 7? Or the morning of day 8, before we drive to Nicosia? Complex is open until 7pm. Don’t want to stay in Agrigento more than one night.
2) Would we really have time to see Segesta or Erice on way to Agrigento as suggested? Michelin gives this route 4hr 45 minutes. A lot of driving. Or, we could spend the morning of Day 7 in Palermo, and still move seeing Valley of Temples to Day 8.
3) If we only have one full day (a Wednesday) in Palermo, assume we should we see Monreale first, yes? Would we really have time to see much else? Aaargh!
4) How bad is it to leave our bags in car while viewing Casa Romana? Wether we see it on way from Agrigento to Nicosia, or from Nicosia to Siracusa, I don’t see much other choice. My husband doesn’t want to back track.
5) We were assuming we’d keep our car until we dropped it at airport in Catania. Thought we’d take a day trip to Noto, Ragusa or Modica and drive to Taormina. However, after reading more trip reports--Should we lose the car upon arrival in Siracusa, if we can? How bad is driving in Siracusa and Taormina?

Thanks again for all your help! I appreciate it!
hax is offline  
Nov 19th, 2014, 02:17 PM
  #12  
 
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I didn't drive on Sicily, but I would put Siracusa and Taormina right after Palermo as places to avoid driving.

If you did Taormina as a day trip (enough time for the views and the Greek Theater) maybe you could add a night to Palermo and do Erice as a day trip?
thursdaysd is offline  
Nov 19th, 2014, 02:52 PM
  #13  
 
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How about ascending Mt Etna - it is a thrill - best from the south side from Philosopher's Tower, which I think you can drive to or near and do the cable way/ 4-wheel drive route to peer into the very active volcano's center.
PalenQ is offline  
Nov 19th, 2014, 05:26 PM
  #14  
kja
 
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"Kja--I found La Toretta through you! "

All the more reason to hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

"We thought we might have to rent a car from the Palermo airport as we need an automatic, and heard driving in the city was to be avoided. Is there a train station on the outskirts that wouldn’t be so bad? Would save us a lot of time to not go to airport!"

Ah, finding an automatic will make things more complicated! I rented a Europcar that was arranged by gemut.com, and I picked it up at the Piazza Matteo Boiardo, which is right next to one of the train stations -- I forget which, though! BUT I wasn't trying to get an automatic.... You might want to contact gemut -- i've always found them very helpful.
http://www.gemut.com
And most definitely, you do NOT want a car while in Palermo!

"Is it better to see Valley of Temples after driving down from Palermo on day 7? Or the morning of day 8, before we drive to Nicosia?"

Your call! As I recall, I spent somewhere between 5 and 6 hours ON SITE at the Valley of the Temples, plus another 1.5 hours or so at the museum there. You can, of course, visit more quickly, but do keep in mind that it is an EXTENSIVE site.

"Would we really have time to see Segesta or Erice on way to Agrigento as suggested?"

FWIW, I left Palermo around noon, stopped at Sagesta, stopped at Selinunte, and reached Agrigento in time to watch the sunset, stroll the medieval town, and have a late dinner. BUT I had a lot more time in Palermo than you expect to have. So you'll have to prioritize.... ;-)

"If we only have one full day (a Wednesday) in Palermo, assume we should we see Monreale first, yes?"

I think it makes sense to view Monreale as your highest priority. Whether that means first thing in the day is another question. With so little time in Palermo, you might want to try to time it so your bus ride there is during a time when other things aren't open. Just be sure to leave yourself enough time to savor it!

"Should we lose the car upon arrival in Siracusa, if we can?"

That's what I did! A car is really not convenient in either Siracusa or especially Taormina, and Noto (at least) is easily reached by public transportation from Siracusa.
kja is offline  
Nov 19th, 2014, 05:52 PM
  #15  
Ian
 
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>How bad is driving in Siracusa and Taormina?

While neither are crazy like Palermo, Taormina is all up & down and Ortygia is narrow alleys with a very interesting round-a-bout on the way - in the middle of Siracusa. Both are park & walk places. In Taormina we used the hotel shuttle for transport to/from the town center & Ortygia is walkable although the ruins in Siracusa need a car or taxi to get to.

Ian
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Nov 19th, 2014, 06:59 PM
  #16  
 
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hax,

Re the luggage in car issue, I did take the risk at 2 stops when I had no choice. All was fine. Needless to say I carried with me the valuable/vital items. All that was left in the car were clothes.

Re Palermo and Monreale. The bus ride up takes a while because of major traffic. It's slow going. My visit took nearly a half day round trip. Monreale is amazing, but honestly I enjoyed the two churches (Capella Palintina and Marmorata) in Palermo just as much, mosaics were amazing. What I think sets Monreale apart is sheer size and the beautiful cloisters! Skip the walk up to the roof, not worth it $.

I also dropped my car on Ortigia. It was a Hertz office booked thru Autoeurope. My 3rd time using them. Driving thru Siracusa and onto Ortigia was not difficult, although I did see one crazy aggressive driver in the roundabout Ian mentioned. I had no problems at all.

It's extremely hard to choose in Sicily with such a wealth of sights. That's why my one-in-a-lifetime trip was 3 1/2 weeks!
Dayle is offline  
Nov 20th, 2014, 04:07 AM
  #17  
Ian
 
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The Siracusa round-a-bout from my trip report . . .

"Depending upon the traffic volume, rotaries display the true mettle of Sicilian drivers. In other European countries, there are reasonably well-respected rules for rotaries. You know when to yield & when to enter etc – it’s all quite politely done. In Sicily (and Napoli too for that matter), the rule is: that there are no rules. You launch your car in & pick your way thru the maze of conflicting traffic whirling around you to the exit of your choice. Just think of it as a hundred cars, motorbikes, trucks & buses all engaged in some crazed choreographed dance. It’s terrifying the 1st time you experience it in a busy rotary but use kindly aggression & you will get the hang of it. Try to drive through in as straight a path as possible. I must have hit this one around the lunch time madness because it was a zoo. I missed the correct road because I wasn't aggressive enough worming my way across the 1st time so I had to re-circle the rotary - which was just awesome fun."

Ian
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Nov 20th, 2014, 05:57 PM
  #18  
 
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Hi Ian,

And just for another opinion, I didn't find the rotary crazy at all. I was through it in about 30 seconds without a problem. I learned to drive on the southern California freeways
Dayle is offline  
Nov 20th, 2014, 06:09 PM
  #19  
kja
 
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@ Ian -- The only difference I found between the traffic circle in Siracusa and the rest of Sicily's road was that the traffic circle in Siracusa was a circle. My experience of DRIVING in Sicily -- almost anywhere in Sicily, was what you describe: "... there are no rules. You launch your car in & pick your way thru the maze of conflicting traffic whirling around you to the exit of your choice. Just think of it as a hundred cars, motorbikes, trucks & buses all engaged in some crazed choreographed dance. It’s terrifying the 1st time you experience it...."

Oh, and BTW, I NEVER got used to it! I found anything other than back roads (and sometimes those, too) a truly terrifying nightmare.

But I survived!
kja is offline  
Nov 20th, 2014, 09:15 PM
  #20  
 
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The Palace Centrale in Palermo is a fabulous hotel. Do not let the fact that it is part of Best Western scare you--in Italy Best Westerns are often 4 star hotels, very individual. This has art deco space, roof side dining, wonderful service and a great location. We stayed there as a treat and would never go back anywhere else.

Try to go to mass in Monreale. It is magnificent but can get crowded like Disneyland. If you go to mass, you see the church doing the job it was made for, tourists are not allowed to roam, mosaics are lit and you have to pay only the offering.

Not a usual tourist spot but I would recommend Enna, high in the interior.
cmstraf is offline  

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