Sicily Without a Car - Please Help!

Old Jan 11th, 2021, 10:15 AM
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Sicily Without a Car - Please Help!

Greetings Fodorites,

My husband and I, in our 60's/70's, are planning a trip to Puglia and Sicily October/November of this year. We're independent travelers and while we've been to Italy a number of times, this will be our first time in Puglia and Sicily. We've made the decision not to rent a car, so we'll be relying on trains and other public transportation.I've posted questions about Puglia on another thread, so this thread will focus on Sicily. On Sicily we want to visit Taormina, possibly Ortygia, Ragusa/Modica, Piazza Armerina, Cefalu and Palermo. Our goal is to keep the packing and unpacking to a minimum, so we would hope to use a minimum number of cities (3 maybe) as a base. We think we can do this in about 9 days or so, but feel free to disagree with that.

First question is, if we take the ferry from Puglia to Messina, we'll have to get to Taormina. Same if we fly into Catania. What is the best way to get to Taormina from either? Taxi? Other?

I'm thinking a couple of nights in Taormina to include a tour to Mt. Etna. Then down the coast possibly as far as Ragusa/Modica where we'd spend a few days as a base. Day trips from there to include Ortygia/Syracuse (if we don't stay there on the way from Taromina), and Piazza Armerina with a quick stop in Caltagirone to see the ceramic-tiled steps. We'd also want to do a day trip to Noto. We've made the decision not to visit Agrigento.

Then two-three days in Palermo with a day trip to Cefalu and a trip to the Monreale duomo before flying to Malta.

We love Italian trains and are perfectly comfortable taking them from city to city. It looks like the schedules are pretty good and plentiful, but can we rely on them in Sicily? I've read that they may not be as reliable there as in other parts of the country, and I imagine that November isn't high season there.

Are there receptive tour companies you'd recommend my contacting for day trips?

Last question, I've read so many articles and blogs about Modica and Ragusa. About half say Ragusa is the best place to stay and half say Modica. Rick Steves seems to prefer Ragusa above Modica. Any thoughts?

Thanks in advance for your advice. You always come through!

Ellen








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Old Jan 11th, 2021, 11:44 AM
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Ellen, my DH and I went from Palermo to Syracuse, to Sorrento to Rome using busses and trains! If our experience was a good example, you can do it. We had to miss one thing because of bus scheduling so watch times.

Do double-check as our trip was in 2002! Please share how it goes.



Last edited by TDudette; Jan 11th, 2021 at 11:52 AM.
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Old Jan 11th, 2021, 08:44 PM
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My husband and I had a great trip years ago to Sicily and Malta, all by public transport, apart from hiring a jeep on Gozo. From memory the public transport all worked fine in Sicily but was hard to research as each small area of the island had it's own transport system. That may have changed. We mostly caught buses but did use the train from Siracusa to Catania (and buses up to Milazzo then ferry to Lipari). We flew into Catania (from Malta) then stayed in Siracusa, then Lipari which is one of the islands, then Taormina, then flew out again from Catania back to Malta (eventually heading back home to Australia). I think we had 3 or 4 nights in each place in Sicily.

The only organised day trip we did was arranged by our hotel in Taormina and we went by bus to Agrigento and Piazza Armerina. This emphasised why we prefer to travel independently as we could have spent hours at Piazza Armerina but ended up there at the end of the day and had a very short time there.

I did a brief trip report, if you click on my name it will come up.
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Old Jan 12th, 2021, 01:49 AM
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Sicily trains are famously incompetent but the main Pullman bus companies are pretty good (I assume a kick back in involved). Certainly I've used the Pullman to get around a lot and they are fine if a bit limiting.

In Palermo the city buses can get packed at rush hour but work out fine. Buying tickets; Assuming you get to Palermo at the bus/train station they are next to each other then when you exit the front of the train station there is a shack to the left of the station where you can buy the elusive 24 hour tickets, all single journey tickets can be bought in local tobacco shops or you can use the APP. If you are using the ticket system tell the inspector that it is Ventiquattro if he wants to see it.

Montreale falls into the Palermo bus system and the centre of Palermo has a free circulating bus in the old town.
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Old Jan 12th, 2021, 01:52 AM
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Originally Posted by TDudette View Post
Ellen, my DH and I went from Palermo to Syracuse, to Sorrento to Rome using busses and trains! If our experience was a good example, you can do it. We had to miss one thing because of bus scheduling so watch times.

Do double-check as our trip was in 2002! Please share how it goes.

My sister and niece spent spring break in eastern Sicily a couple of years back, believe it was in 2019. They spent 5 nights in Catania and 3 in Ortigia, taking the train between Catania and Siracusa. They also went to Taormina for the day and did a hike up Mt Etna plus visit of a few wineries, this was a guided tour. Not sure if they took the bus or train to Taormina, but I remember they said it was very convenient.

Of course these are major towns, maybe itís harder to get to the smaller places, but am sure youíll be able to work it out. Enjoy the planning and let us know how it goes...😊

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Old Jan 12th, 2021, 06:31 AM
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Thanks to all of you for your thoughts so far. It sounds like getting around via train and/or bus isn't too difficult. And since we'll be staying in major cities, there will probably be several options for getting from one to the other. The other thing I've found is that hotels tend to give good advice, and we're not shy about asking!

I'm also interested to see if anyone has any thoughts about Ragusa vs. Modica. Right now I'm leaning towards staying in Ragusa, but I'd love to hear from people who have been to both.

KayF, I did read your trip report; it was great! I also enjoyed your thoughts about Malta which we're looking forward to.
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Old Jan 12th, 2021, 07:19 AM
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I'd seriously stay in Ortigia, it is a small ancient island in the slightly less ancient Siracusa (ain't no Y). The island is a fantastic stop especially the cathedral which is built into a Roman temple. Siracusa has its own temple area which is worth the drag.

Agrigento is a long daytime visit.

Palermo and Montreale are a logical place to stay unless you prefer a beach holiday.

Getting around the south east bottom is slow going.

The whole Montelbano visit opportunities are another thing.

Last edited by bilboburgler; Jan 12th, 2021 at 07:21 AM.
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Old Jan 12th, 2021, 07:40 AM
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We spent 16 days in Sicily in October 2018. We did have a car, and our bases were Trapani, Ragusa, Savoca (near Taormina, where many Sicily-based segments of The Godfather were filmed), and Palermo, for 4 days each.

Ragusa is a town on 2 levels - we stayed in the pleasant, more modern upper town at Relais Antica Badia, a very nice, reasonably priced hotel, directly across the street from the Cathedral. Their website indicates it is currently closed, but hopefully will be re-opening. We did walk to the beautiful lower town one evening where a festival was going on, and it was terrific - lots of fun. We had plans for a day trip to Modica, but my wife wasn't feeling well on that day, so we did not make it there.

https://www.relaisanticabadia.com/

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Old Jan 12th, 2021, 10:00 AM
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My TR is divided into 3 parts (like Gaul?):

Sicily 2002 - A Trip of Miracles

2002 - More Miracles - Sorrento, Pompeii, Amalfi, Capri

End of 2002 Trip - Naples and Rome

There were several bus companies, each with its own payment method. With one, you could buy your ticket directly from the driver; another, buy the ticket at a nearby ticket office; and a third at the main train station and then return to the bus stop! Hopefully, things are more streamlined now. Looking forward to reading about your trip.
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Old Jan 16th, 2021, 02:56 PM
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Originally Posted by phillyboy View Post
We spent 16 days in Sicily in October 2018. We did have a car, and our bases were Trapani, Ragusa, Savoca (near Taormina, where many Sicily-based segments of The Godfather were filmed), and Palermo, for 4 days each.

Ragusa is a town on 2 levels - we stayed in the pleasant, more modern upper town at Relais Antica Badia, a very nice, reasonably priced hotel, directly across the street from the Cathedral. Their website indicates it is currently closed, but hopefully will be re-opening. We did walk to the beautiful lower town one evening where a festival was going on, and it was terrific - lots of fun. We had plans for a day trip to Modica, but my wife wasn't feeling well on that day, so we did not make it there.

https://www.relaisanticabadia.com/
phillyboy, the Relais Antica Badia looks perfect for us. Italy has been hit so hard by Covid; who knows how many hotels, especially the smaller B&B's, will reopen. This looks like a larger hotel, so hopefully they'll be open by this fall. In an effort to minimize packing and re-packing, we'll plan to stay in Ragusa 4-5 nights and use it as a base for day trips. Thanks so much for steering me here!
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Old Jan 17th, 2021, 06:24 AM
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Youíre welcome ellen, we really enjoyed our stay there. It is truly an old palace, with high ceilings and beautiful furnishings. Very nice staff and great breakfast also.
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Old Jan 17th, 2021, 08:35 AM
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"First question is, if we take the ferry from Puglia to Messina, we'll have to get to Taormina. Same if we fly into Catania. What is the best way to get to Taormina from either? Taxi? Other?"

There is of course no ferry from Apulia to Sicily, but I suppose you mean the strait of Messina ferries from either Villa San Giovanni or Reggio Calabria to Messina.
You have to worry about these ferries if you arrive in Calabria by train via Sibari only. From Messina, you can reach Taormina by either train or bus.
If you travel by train via Salerno, you can change there to a Catania bound train which stops at Taormina.
As to the Bari - Taormina overnight bus, you can remain in the bus during the crossing of the strait of Messina too.
Unless you take the overnight bus Bari - Taormina or the sleeping car Salerno - Taormina, the journey will take a whole day.
A direct Bari - Catania flight would be more comfortable indeed.
The direct Catania airport - Taormina bus runs very frequently.
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Old Jan 17th, 2021, 03:03 PM
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neckervd, duh, you're right; of course there's no ferry route from Puglia to Sicily. I skipped ahead a bit in my mind when I wrote that and of course meant the Strait of Messina ferries. Friends of ours took the car ferry and found it very easy, but the more we've researched and thought about it, I think we'll fly from Brindisi or Bari to Catania which will save a lot of time. It's good to know about the Catania airport-Taormina bus. The two cities aren't that far from each other and Taormina is such a tourist destination, so I'm not surprised that there's transportation. Thanks for the information!

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Old Jan 17th, 2021, 03:22 PM
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TDudette, just starting to read your TRs - wow! Cappella Palatina wasn't on my radar but it is now! I also want to see the duomo in Monreale, but this looks amazing. I'm looking forward to digging in to all three of them. Grazie mille!
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Old Jan 17th, 2021, 06:08 PM
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We were catching the bus to Taormina - well trying to - but with only very basic Italian we couldn't understand what was being said to us. A helpful local who spoke a fair bit of English stepped in and it turned out the bus going direct to Taormina was going to take quite a while but the alternative was to catch a different bus that was about to leave, then once at Giardini Naxos (the beach area) we could get the cable car, straight up to Taormina. From memory it was all pretty quick and easy and heaps better than waiting at the bus station for hours. We would never have known about this route and were very grateful to the bus station worker and the local woman.
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Old Jan 17th, 2021, 06:48 PM
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All personal, of course, and I am a big student of Greek architecture. Agrigento was a highlight of several trips to Europe, including Athens. If you can make it 11 days for Sicily, do so.
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Old Jan 18th, 2021, 01:03 AM
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The bus timetable Catania airport - Taormina is published under https://www.etnatrasporti.it/
Actually, during the lockdown, they run every 3 hrs only, under normal conditions about every hr.
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Old Jan 18th, 2021, 01:10 AM
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If you like ancient Greek architecture, Siracusa and Agrigento are musts; Taormina, Segesta, Selinunte and may be Tindari or the Historic Museum of Reggio Calabria are options.
For Medium Age and newer times until the early19th Century, check Palermo/Monreale, Cefalu, Noto, Modica, Ragusa and others
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Old Jan 18th, 2021, 06:31 AM
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Just depends on how much ground you want to cover.

Car obviously gives you more range but then you have to deal with parking and avoiding ZTL in these small towns like Ragusa.

I agree Ragusa is beautiful particularly the views in the evenings. But you arrive and leave it on winding roads, something to keep in mind about using as a base. Would one be more comfortable driving up and down in a car or in the back of a bus?

Don’t have to try to see all of Sicily in one trip. It’s a place which will have you coming back.
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Old Jan 18th, 2021, 07:41 AM
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Am only sorry, ellen75005, that I lost the taxi drivers' telephone numbers in Palermo and Siracusa! Again, looking forward to reading about your trip when you return.
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