Last updated: 02:42 PM ET, Tue June 12 2018
Beautiful old harbor with wooden fishing boat in Cefalu, Sicily, Italy. (photo via master2 / iStock / Getty Images Plus)

Sicily

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Considered Italy’s dark-horse destination, Sicily may be the victim of stereotypes from those who have never visited, but all that melts away once you step onto the shores of this rugged and beautiful island. As the largest island in the Mediterranean, Sicily is an intoxicating mix of internationally influenced architecture, world-class monuments and intriguing history.

Located along the northern coast of the island, Palermo is Sicily’s throbbing capital. The entire city, though parts are impoverished, is a treasure trove of Arabo-Norman buildings, museums and outdoor markets, such as the raucous Vucciria where full-color palates of fruit, vegetables and edible sea creatures are readily accessible. The main attractions within the city include the Palermo Cathedral, Palazzo dei Normanni, Teatro Massimo and the Museo Archeologico Regionale. For unique and spectacular panoramic views of the city, hike up to nearby Monte Pellegrino and take in the sights of the cityscape set against a backdrop of mountains and sea.

Being the Mediterranean island that it is, Sicily has some of the area’s nicest beaches. A few of the local favorites include Mondello, where residents of Palermo go to escape the heat; Mortelle, which is notorious for having the softest sands in northeast Sicily; Spiaggia Sabbie Nere, where black volcanic sand replaces the white; and Lido Mazzaro, a 15-minute cable car ride down from the town of Taormina. Mt. Etna is one of the world’s major active volcanoes and visitors to this Sicilian natural wonder can trek up the giant lava dunes and gaze down at the moon-like craters. For a true living archive of Sicily’s island history, the Duomo in Siragusa showcases its excavations dating back to the 5th century BC, and includes a Greek-built temple, columns and walls with an added 17th century baroque façade.

Sicilian cuisine is typically Mediterranean based, but also has strong hints of Spanish and Arabic flavors. Instead of using cream and butter for the base of many dishes, like areas of Northern Italy, Sicily substitutes tomatoes and olive oil. Featuring seafood heavy and full of spices, such as mint, rosemary, basil and jasmine, the island is full of authentic and incredible restaurants serving up the freshest of ingredients.

Sicily has major airports in Palermo (PMO) and Catania (CTA). There are also large cruising ferries that link Palermo with mainland cities, like Naples, Genoa and Livorno, as well as with Sardinia. The public transportation, called SAIS, runs frequently between many of the large cities, though is not as reliable as the many air-conditioned coaches that connect most areas of the island. There are also ferries that will transport passengers to Sicily’s smaller islands, including the Aeolian and Egadi islands.

Sicily has a Mediterranean climate, with extremely hot, dry summers, and warm and occasionally wet winters. The average high temperature in the warmest month of August tends to reach 100° F (38° C). January’s low temperatures can get as mild as the low 50°s, and the most precipitation comes in the months from October through March. The best time to visit Sicily is during spring and autumn, when temperatures tend to remain in the low-mid 70°s and weather is perfect for both sightseeing and laying out on the beach.