Sicily is definitely a family travel destination that we recommend with young children. Our first travel there was for us like an incredible succession of warm welcome and charming attentions to our 3 years-old-girl that did not stop from the Southern to the Northern part of
The first fact that struck us was the relaxed atmosphere. It was indeed the summer bliss but more characteristically, the approach and kindness of every person we met or just stumbled upon. After the 3 rd travel, we just know this is the rule all over Sicily.
Upon our arrival in a small Marina of Sicily the Marina Manager, aboard his dinghy with the assistant, invited us following him with a grin underlining his large Ray Ban shades. The initial relaxed radio communication already gave us the tone before reaching the shore:
-‘Marina di ….., Marina di….., This is SV Alegria III, SV Alegria III, requesting permission to enter the harbour, Over’.
– ‘Yes proceed, a dinghy will guide you at the entrance, follow him!’
This reply was breaking the radio code as the Sailing vessel name was not repeated, nor communication concluded. But we were not disturbed for the least and appreciated the friendliness after a day at sea.
After a week of being gifted each day new things, a t-shirt here at the Marina ice-cream truck, and more spontaneous gifts when touching a new town, my daughter looked at me and asked amused ‘What’s happening in this country? Why is everybody making me presents?’
She was right to interrogate herself. Kiara has always been a subject of curiosity during our travels and generally attracted lots of smiles and act of kindness everywhere. But this was now a lot of attention to her with interjections ‘Bella, que Bella!’, and she was old enough to
notice something was usual comparing it to the next island she spent the previous year.
What did she do to deserve this?
Well, after our third trip in Sicily, we could finally answer this confidently: Sicilian love children and they are comfortable with reaching out to people, show their feelings to strangers and demonstrate kindness. Far from the mafia cliches right?
Later we discovered a documentary which echoed our feelings. ‘Sicily: a land of love and strife’ by Mark Spano, gives the same analysis and describes a love for the children and a relaxed attitude to life. The perfect point the author hits is that Sicilians don’t judge based
on the amount of money in one’s bank account. They value the attitude of people and their kindness. This is a place which incites you to be relaxed and in harmony with the others.
To us the top visits of Sicily are the fabulous archaeological sites and the famous Mount Etna, the largest active volcano in Europe.
A JOURNEY ON EUROPE LARGEST ACTIVE VOLCANO
Usually, Mount Etna is very accessible for family tour. In summer, we could walk around some of its craters without going to the top which requires another level of preparation.
With teenagers, I would definitely to plan a trek with a guide.
Plan one day to walk on its slope and do the local visits to the ancient natural caves born from the volcanic activity, which were used as ice cooler since the Middle-Ages. After all, one of Sicilian tradition is the Granita di Gelsi, the king of the dessert made of crushed ice
with mulberry sirup…
However, the stratovolcano is erupting again since the beginning of 2021, making it more difficult to plan anything these days. Frequent propulsions of small volcano stones are still falling down in black sands’ rain all over the Catania region as I write these lines. Reaching
Catania last week was the one time I felt grateful to wear a mask as I had sand all over my face and eyes. Some villages like Milo, are piling bags of sands that they hope the municipality will help evacuate as the State promised financial aids.
Still, the resulting damages on the region have conversely nothing in common with the historical tragedy of 1693 which killed 60’000 inhabitants and destroyed a great amount of the monuments.
The land of Sicily is fertile thanks to ‘Mama Etna’ as Sicilian passionate call it. For centuries, Sicily has been known as the breadbasket of Rome. Living in Malta for a while, we could also appreciate how Sicily was the main supplier of fresh quality organic food for its smaller
Mediterranean sister. Visiting South and West Sicily we treated ourselves with local restaurants and enjoyed the wine tasting of the Etna slopes.
The Gambino Winery offers a wine tasting experience with a lunch followed by a visit of the cave. You’ll meet with a passionate oenologist eager to give all details on the creation process. The Gambino family crafts various wines with low to no sulphites (which is important if you want to save on paracetamol) and care about the bio-dynamism of their
property situated about half an hour drive from Mount Etna.
To finish a perfect day of exploration, this is actually in Riposto also called the Porto dell’ Etna, that you’ll find the fine trattoria Marricriu in the small streets of the town. It is most likely the least expensive restaurant we had compared to its excellent quality. Though the
village’s decline, it is still one the oldest ferry and commercial hub in Sicily. Keep digging, you will find the gems of Sicily where you expect them the least…
THE LARGE ARCHEOLOGICAL SITES
Archaeological Park of Neapolis – SYRACUSE (West Coast)
In the heart of modern Syracuse, actually just a 15mn drive in Tuk Tuk from Ortigia, (yes they are popular there), spreads the 35 hectares of the Archaeological Park of Neapolis with at its epicentre, The Greek Theatre of Syracuse which is today the most famous monument
of the city. Check the city program and you may be lucky to book a concert ticket in this fabulous site overlooking a forest and the bay of Syracuse.
On the site, you’ll venture into Ear of Dionysius (the name was given by Caravaggio himself), a limestone cave that’s shaped like a human ear and known for its excellent acoustics. The cave is 23m high and extends 65 m back into a cliff and bends nearly in an”S” shape.
This shape gives the cave its acoustical quality; try singing and you’ll hear how nice it can amplify up to 16 times.
Back outside this area you’ll find the entrance to the 2nd-century Anfiteatro Romano , originally used for gladiators combats and horse races.
The Valley of the Temples – AGRIGENTO (South Coast)
Close to Agrigento, the Valley of the Temples is not only an extensive archaeological site representing the classical Greek civilization. With its 1,300 hectares, it is the richest archaeological park in the Mediterranean (Unesco World Heritage): ten Doric temples,
sanctuaries, and necropolises.
This site is not just a priceless archaeological patrimony: the ancient ruins with the landscape, the continuity of form and colour of the temples and those of the hills inspired painters and any artistic soul.
THE VIBRANT CITIES
Sicily is still investing in the valuation of its cities’ historical patrimony. The city of Ragusa is planning to open a new underground site. The visit of the City includes Italian ceramic shops and artisanal workshops such as the manufacturers of the Sicilian cart which make their pride.
Scicli’s and Modica’s palacio and churches are frozen in time: they make great family tour which are often concluded by the degustation of the artisanal Cannolo (made out of fresh Ricotta cheese cream and pistachio) or an artisanal ice-cream (gelato).
Marzamemi is a little coastal village which blooms in summer with people from all Italy and international tourists flocking by.
The port is in a walking distance from the village. Its promenade stretches along the three coves that shape three small beaches where beach clubs and nice restaurants can be found.
Continuing the walk, there are old streets leading to the Piazza Regina Margherita, a pedestrian square full of restaurants, taverns and boutiques. An old man selling his flowers on a traditional wooden boat at the nearby slip, a picturesque scenery. However, he restaurants can be overpriced and the food quality more than average… Also, check your bill twice before paying. We advise eating at the beach restaurants. Book in advance at Campisi restaurant for sundowners at the bar before moving the restaurant area for dinner.
Children can play on sandy beach while you enjoy the Sicilian specialities.
But our heart still goes to Syracuse and the island of Ortigia. The Roman writer Cicero described it as “the greatest Greek city and the most beautiful of them all", quite a reference isn’t
The island of Ortigia, also known as the Città Vecchia, opens on a wide-protected lagoon ideal for mooring. The large cruising ships are passing nearby and moor along the quay of the Marina, which gates open straight on the popular city promenade.
In a very small area, Ortigia offers interesting museums, archeologic sites, a prime Market with lively street restaurants, a variety of boutiques and a great choice for dining out. You’ll
also have to try the Fritto Misto from the Market and sit at the welcoming Fratelli Burgio, a fine gourmet family.
This is also the place for Sicilian summer nightlife, street live music, cafes and gelateria, shopping, all this while anchoring the boat quietly in the sheltered bay nearby. The best of both worlds.
MARINA DI RAGUSA (IT) – BOAT MAINTENANCE AND KITE SURFING!
We evaluated a few options before signing our Sailboat annual maintenance contract.
Considering we had a berth in Malta we could have either stayed there, or sail Alegria III to Sicily and pick one of the three promising Marina’s on the South coast.
We considered prices, quality, environment and political restrictions, with a maintenance calendar set-up for end of February 2021.
Sicily finally won taking us to the the nice Marina di Ragusa. Funnily enough, our intuition was good. Not a week after we set sails to Sicily, Malta announced new of Covid-19 restrictions while Sicily was still a white zone hosting in terrace a lively until sunset. (By law the restaurants are open all day until 6pm).
Several sailors recommended the Marina di Ragusa for the professionalism of their Yard team. The dry docks became independent from the Marina in Feb 2020, so if you knew the former company, note that these are 2 different organizations nowadays.
The work quality is definitely an important factor for us ,as coming both from an aviation maintenance background, the last thing we want is to break our nerves dealing with a bad maintenance team and escalating costs.
Sicily, though geographically just about 60 nm North of Malta, is definitely colder with freezing breeze in full winter. But the good surprise was to discover that the Marina di Ragusa had much more to offer than a white sandy beach. The Marina, directly connected to the local beach and its small town, is also a kitesurfing and a surfing spot during the low- touristic season. There is as well an excellent quality running track (that we did not experience yet…), and a large promenade for roller-skating. For the children, the activities are not missing either. There are daily skateboarding lessons at the Marina itself and on the weekends surf group lessons for kids as young as 4 years old.
Then coming to the live-aboard community life, it is also an excellent rating. Not to say that we did not enjoy Malta but apart from a few neighbours, the live aboard community is almost inexistent in comparison to Sicily. Actually, we did the crossing a few days after a Maltese couple who every winter enjoy their life aboard in Marina di Ragusa rather than in the warmer Malta. The community is composed of people from varied ages and nationalities (British seem to be in Number, but also Italians, Americans, Swiss, French, Australians…) who organize BBQ, yoga lesson, ‘petanque’ games. The mutual support is great from car rentals tips to group orders for local organic vegetables or Sicilian oil.
Add to that the ‘Porto Turistico’ offers excellent winter and annual berth package there is no doubt how Marina di Ragusa is so popular among cruisers.
SNAPSHOTS OF SICILY
1. Neopolis Archeological Park (35 hectares!) – Syracuse
2. The Temple of Apollo (oldest Doric temple in Sicily)- Syracuse
3. Market of Ortigia (Fritto Misto & market restaurants)
4. Fratelli Burgio – Italian eatery and fine grocery – Ortigia
5. Leonardo da Vinci Museum and Papyrus Museum
6. Arethusa Spring (dating from 1 st Greek settlement)
7. the Castello Maniace (fort) – Syracuse
8. Theatro antico – Taormina
9. Corvaja Palace and town streets- Taormina
10. Etna guided tour
11. Gambino Vini (wine tasting) – Linguaglossa
12. Trattoria Marricriu – Riposto
13. Riposto Fish Market and local market
14. The Valley of the Temples – Agrigento
15. Agrigento historical Centre
16. Stair of the Turks – rocky cliff on the coast of Realmonte
17. Scicli old town Tour and the many ‘Palazzo’
18. St Bartholomew’s Church and Ceramic shop – Scicli
19. Grigliera Cutelli (butcher restaurant) – Capo di Passero
20. Marina di Ragusa Beach (Surf and Kitesurf)
21. Marzamemi promenade and shopping
22. Ristorante Campisi – Marzamemi
23. Salamanca Restaurant – Marina di Ragusa
24. Lido Sayonara Restaurant – Fontane Bianche
2. Fontane Bianche
3. Portopalo di Capo passero
Top Family Berth:
1. Marina di Ragusa
Movies about Sicily
The film introduces the poor Mancuso family, headed by the widowed Salvatore, at the turn of the 20th century and follows their expatriation from their Sicilian rural mountainous region to Ellis island in NY. The story leads to a ship crossing the Atlantic where Salvatore meets with an elegant British woman who can’t enter the States without being married
(starring the French actress, Charlotte Gainsbourg). Film by Emanuele Crialese.
Another success from the film director Emanuele Crialese, set-up in the isolated island of Lampedusa, which is not Sicily, but still the closest Italian shores. We had to list it as its hypnotic movie soundtrack is still with us when we think about Sicily and Italian islands. Grazia is
a free-spirited mother of three married to shy fisherman and living on the idyllic island but showing signs of manic-depression… This movie gives another light on Lampedusa that the dramatic immigration stories.
Sicily Land of Love and Strife
A filmmaker’s journey. Mark Spano grew up in the States, he goes
to Sicily is search for the truth about his Sicilian origins, far from the American cliches he grew up with. An interesting documentary point of view.