Updated: Dec 17, 2019
We arrived in Palermo, Sicily on 7th of September and booked on B&B close to the airport. And for the next 8 days nothing else was planned or booked. This is the story of our adventure, and our new found love for this incredible island.
If you're planning your next trip to Sicily and asking all kinds of questions, allow me to share with your the highs and lows, successes and failures and some advice from our 7 day trip. From where to go, what to pack and must-see spots, to carbon offsetting, breaking down on motorways and throwing caution to the wind. Grab a coffee and a notebook and let's get planning!
Our 7 Day Sicily Itinerary
We focused on visiting areas we felt most compelled to visit. We had already roughly worked out which direction we would travel in and that we wanted to drive along the coast on the way down and through the countryside on the way back. Each day we would decide to stay where we were, or would pick a place on the map and drive there.
Our eventual route/itinerary:
Day 1 - London Gatwick - Palermo - Cinisi
Good, Bad & Ugly:
In all honesty, this was a pitstop. We would normally book an early morning flight and arrive with half of the day missing. On this occasion we ended up booking a late night flight and actually flew after a day at work. We ended up arriving in Palermo airport and headed straight to our b&b for the night which was located a short drive away.
Cinisi wasn't much to write home about. It had charm, but was a little rough around the edges. I heard the beach was nice but we decided to leave the next morning and explore somewhere else. This was the only place we had booked. The next 7 days we just booked as we went along.
What did we eat?
We took a walk to a nearby family run restaurant. It seemed popular, a mix of people of all ages. I ordered a pizza called 'La Bruschetta'. It was literally a giant bruschetta. It was really fresh and tasty though.
I also ordered some 'Fritti' - small fried chunks of potato and some really nice little fried chickpea bites, I haven't seen these before in Italy despite traveling across the mainland for 5 months as an actor, although as a meat eater, in those days I would have probably gone for something else. I didn't take a photo of the pizza as I didn't think it needed much visual explanation. Literally, giant bruschetta....
Day 2 - Cinisi - Cefalu
So, here's a story all about how, my life got flipped right upside down...
We woke up on our first day with no set plan, other than to find a car hire place either in Cinisi or by getting a taxi or train to Palermo. No biggy, right?
Yeah...turns out Sundays aint days for doing ANYTHING other than coffee with friends and chilling.
Which we found out the hard way...
So we started our day with the 'when in Rome' frame of mind. Nice coffee to start the day before enjoying a nice Sunday somewhere and a lazy lunch later on...
I used my semi-alright Italian to ask the lady at the bar to call us a taxi. She handed me a number and said 'we don't call taxis' - I dialled the taxi, no answer. 10 attempts later. It was time to walk to the train station. 'It's only a short walk' said the lady. So off we went...
A 30 minute walk down a road with no paths and lots of gravel later.
No trains on Sunday.
After googling the nearest car hire place, we had to walk a further 20 mins up hill in the sweltering heat:
We signed a few forms and spend a few hundred pounds and were given the keys to a tiny little Yaris with no radio, no horn and no hope.
And on we went to Cefalu!
This is our relieved look...
Good, Bad & Ugly:
Cefalu is very pretty. The beach area is lovely, although, for us it was just too overcrowded to be enjoyable. Much as we love a buzz, we also like to enjoy a view but there were so many people on the beach it was a little difficult to relax.
We walked along to the end for an aperetivo which was very nice. There is a little place you can go on the water's edge to watch the sun set. It's not a quite place, we had a lot of families there with small children, so don't expect romantic secluded areas. But the views are worth it.
We did however LOVE the old town. It was incredible. As we were exploring at night, it was a little quieter and cooler in temperature, which made for a very enjoyable evening. There is a stunning piazza in the centre of the old town which is flanked by bustling and very nice bars and restaurants all around. The vibe was great - relaxed and happy. There was also a very cute seating area around a tree in the centre of the piazza which gives you a lovely panoramic view of the area. We decided to stay for one night and see how it went - so after lunch we strolled along the beach and booked into a hotel right in front of it.
What did we eat?
After the trials and tribulations of the first part of the day, we were more than ready to eat. We parked up and ordered lunch by the beach. Nothing fancy - but we were so hungry!
I opted for the spaghetti and tomato sauce. It was the only vegan option available but it was fine.
Later on after a little rest at the hotel, we enjoyed a little Aperol Spritz early, which naturally came with a few snacks - (all vegan - score!).
After a short walk to the piazza we settled for drinks and food at 'Duomo' - you can't miss this place if your in Cefalu, the ambience is the best we experienced at there is also a huge all you can eat buffet with plenty of vegan options for just €12 which also includes a glass of wine.
Here's a little video of the selection on the evening we visited. Everything tasted delicious!
Day 3 & 4 - Taormina
We decided that we would get back on the road and head down the coast to Taormina. We knew we would like to head further south so thought it would be a good idea to get the longer drive out of the way earlier in the trip. Little did we know it would be 3 hours longer than we thought....
So... we stopped half way between Cefalu and Taormina, about 10-15 km from Messina. 'A quick coffee and stock up on snacks and drinks for the road' we thought.
As I tried to start the car, the battery was dead...
3 hours, help from 5 lovely locals and a few strong words to our car hire company, we had bump started the car and were heading to a nearby town called 'Falcone', where we purchased a new battery and went on our way. Thank goodness we made an early start! And thank goodness we had booked into an absolutely SICK apartment for the next two nights.
But Taormina though...
Good, Bad & Ugly:
There isn't much bad or ugly about Taormina. After the long drive following our car drama, to be fair, most places would have been a welcome sight. But this small town is just beautiful. We scored ourselves a lovely apartment at the top of Taormina.
The drive up was beautiful, we pretty much had a tour of all the hot spots, although we didn't take much notice of the view on the way up to the top, due to being so exhausted, and navigating the intense hairpin bends and steep clamber up to the was a new build apartment had the most amazing view of the ocean. Just what we needed after the crazy day we had.
We spend the next two nights in this area and enjoyed visiting the amphitheater which is close to the centre of the island. Other highlights were the centre itself which is just so pretty, and as it is uphill on the most part, the views are spectacular.
At times we felt a little 'closed in' by so many tourists, (yes we were part of that). You can't really escape the crowds or the tourist shops, but we would definitely recommend this area.
Among the highlights was a gorgeous little wine bar 'Al Grappolo d'Uva'. A very good wine bar with a relaxed vibe that allows you to sit outside. We felt very bohemian. We can dream! There were several vegan wines on their menu (they aren't labelled as vegan I googled that for you, 'cos I'm a good girl). Definitely check this place out, we went there on both evenings in Taormina after dinner and enjoyed the 'Etna Red' which is one of the local wines and seems to be a popular choice.
So many tourists were trying to take photos of this alley way, we had to rush downt rush down to get out of their way
As with most tourists hot spots, we recommend exploring them just before dark as the crowds will die down and you can enjoy a little more space around the streets.
Other highlights we loved were Mazzaro Beach which we visited for lunch via cable car. They come and go often up until 1am so you can enjoy beach-side drinks 'til late - but make sure you are wearing citronella because the mosquitos are rife!
Taormina also has a beautiful garden Giardina Villa Comunale Di Taormina, with beautiful views of the bay.
The main thing with Taormina is, just walk and explore. There is much to see but part of the fun is just wandering!
What did we eat?
Our favourite dinner was at Rosmarino's which is close to the Teatro Antico di Taormina - which we visited on the same day. They have a dedicated vegan menu which meant we had a lot to choices. It is located right in front of the Giardina Villa Comunale Di Taormina. As we arrived in the evening it was too dark to appreciate the view and it was pouring from the heavens so we were seated inside.
We decided to opt for the Vegan Board as a starter. It was great to see a lot of variety on the board, but much of it lacked seasoning and a few items were a little too dry so we didn't enjoy it as much as we had hoped. The little tofu burger and 'Aubergine Mille Fuelle' (more like a mini lasagne really) were definitely the highlight but I didn't care for the other items.
The main course was incredible! I ate the truffle and mushroom spaghetti. It was so incredible, and that alone made me glad to have visited. The restaurant also have vegan desserts which we were sadly too full to try.
Re di Bastoni
Not the prettiest looking plate of food, but so incredibly tasty!
We stopped at this little 'pub' because they were playing Mario Biondi - one of my favourite musicians and a great mix of other funky jazz tracks. We ended up ordering some small bites as it was late in the evening. Wow. The presentation lacked, but hey this is a relaxed pub environment, but in all honesty this was the best bruschetta I have had. Each one was topped with different tapenade and purees - so incredible. You have to try this. They also serve great wine too so you can just sit and enjoy the atmosphere and perhaps make some friends, just as we did.
Hello vegan pizza! Ok, so after days of eating Spaghetti al Pomodoro and Pizza al.....POMODORO for days, I cannot tell you the happiness that came over me to discover that I could eat a vegan pizza. You will have to trust me on the fact this was great as due to the very low lighting it was impossible to photograph it! The pizza was topped with tomato sauce, asparagus, tofu and sliced potatoes. It was heavenly. Definitely recommend!
Day 5 & 6 - Syracuse & Ortigya
Good, Bad & Ugly:
When we first arrived in Syracuse, after dumping our bags at our hotel, we explored the area and at first it didn't seem to live up to my expectations. We walked along the coast line and found a little lido/solarium 'Solarium Ortigia Neptune' quite far out of the town. The ramble was nice and we were able to take in a few sights along the way. The narrow streets were beautiful - but I had a feeling there was more to discover. It was pretty cool on the surface but the atmosphere was a little off and the staff were not as friendly or forthcoming when we asked if they could call us a taxi. The waitress dumped a business card for a local taxi firm on our table. We walked...
The following day we took it easy. Our hotel had a very good gym so we took advantage and worked out for an hour then had a lazy breakfast. Later on, we ventured back into Ortygia and THAT is when we discovered the beautiful marina and cathedral of the town.
I recommend heading to this area for a light aperetivo early in the evening. You can then ramble through the beautiful streets and even head for a stroll along to Largo Artuso - make sure you go while it is still light to appreciate the beauty. I won't spoil it with photos. Just trust me.
After that I had spotted a place I wanted to eat, it was street food so a little more relaxed than we had been so far. We headed back through the street behind the marina. What a wonderful evening. The main piazza with the imposing, beautiful cathedral is lined with white tables, glittering candles and waiter in bow ties. We felt like we were in a movie. There were street musicians and charm everywhere. We fell in love all over again! The short walk to where I wanted to eat was just wonderful. So many quirky, cool, arty and fun little bars, restaurants and late night cafes. Why hadn't we come sooner?
What did we eat?
Trattoria Pizzeria Sala Eventi Cristina
We stopped on arrival at a place near a street market with the most delicious Sicilian Caponata - a mixed vegetable dish with aubergine, potatot, red pepper and other delicious items that varies from place to place. I also ordered a marinara pizza with a side of rosemary potatoes to pimp it out with.
We enjoyed some Aperol Spritz with the usual little snacks in the Marina - there are many lovely places to go along Viale Mazzini. The view is beautiful and the bars are so pretty!
Arancini Gluten Free
We spotted this place while walking around earlier in the day and it didn't disappoint. They have 5 vegan options, yes, 5!!! I asked the man to recommend one and he suggested the 'Italian Style' with garlic, oil, red pepper, spicy potato cream and parsley. All of the arancini are made fresh in front of you while you wait. I did ask if they are served with sides and he laughed while shaking his head. I later discovered they are the size of your face.
So pretty much all the carbs you would want for the day in one egg shaped golden wonder. It was so good, but I kind of wished it had some kind of sauce to dip it in, although I don't think that is the done thing. It was so carry and so delicious though. We ended up a little snoozy from all the carbs and had to call it a night. Definitely recommend, and try the green Mandarino to wash it down with. It was so delicious.
Day 7 - Mondello Beach
Good, Bad & Ugly:
The hotel was horrendous inside! We really did pick a bad one. The smell was stale and the staff were just very standoffish. No service with a smile here. This is the down side of booking as you go along.But the view from the front of the hotel was incredible. They have a beautiful restaurant on the water's edge with unrivalled views of the sea.
What did we eat?
After a few cocktails (it was my birthday), we went along the river to a pizzeria which had a very nice vegetarian pizza. I asked for it without these (senza formaggio) which made it completely vegan.
Day 8 - Travel to Palermo airport then London
Total miles to offset from flights and car travel for this trip:
Flight kilometres & cost: 3,600 / £37
Car kilometres & cost: 744 / £4
Total to offset from our trip: £41 but we will be rounding this up to £50
Carbon Footprint and Offsetting
Travel is a huge contributor to the climate issues we face. After I stopped eating meat for ethical/animal welfare reasons, I started to learn more about the environmental impact of my former meat & dairy-loaded lifestyle. I was shocked that I had impacted our planet so negatively for so many years of my life. Travel is my passion. And while we can't be perfect, I believe we should be doing everything in our control to alleviate the suffering we cause to other humans, our planet and animals.
For all of my future travel, I will be offsetting my carbon footprint by investing in environmental projects who are working to reverse our impact. Coupled with my meat-free lifestyle, I feel happier with my contribution to lowering the devastation we humans are paying into with our lifestyle.
Here's how we're doing it!
Who? myclimate.org - (this is not an ad or partnership, I just love what they're doing and genuinely think its too good not to share).
Unlike other ventures, they are not just blindly donating funds to other organisations and charities to do all the work, they are running these projects themselves. So you can easily see how your money is being spent. Now that's what I call 'changing the world!'
Take a look at this short video to find out more about their fantastic environmental projects.
How does is work?
You simply calculate your carbon footprint based on how many miles you travelled and how (plane, car etc) and then decide who to donate the money they calculate is needed to offset your emissions.
Tips and Suggestions
Pack light and make sure you have a comfortable pair of light shoes that will keep you dry (white trainers are perfect, they go with pretty much any outfit!)
Opt to stay in an Airbnb or private accommodation with your own kitchen. Not only is this a good way of saving money, you will also be in control of your food waste and recycling. Not to mention your use of plastic!
Pack a solid shampoo and conditioner, I can't recommend them enough and they honestly aren't crap! A good product should work just as well as a regular shampoo, they've come a long way. 1 shampoo bar can contain as much product as three shampoo bottles so will last you for several trips if you store it correctly.
If you hire a car, go for an established company. Don't be like us and risk hiring one on the day and ending up broken down on the motorway with a dead battery and not a single person who speaks English (also try to learn a few basics and use Google Translate if you're in an emergency). My Italian isn't what it used to be, but it got us out of trouble and we met some of the kindest people ever. Sicilians are the best!!
Expect to eat a lot of Spaghetti alla Pomodoro, it's always vegan, but it can get a bit boring and too many tomatoes can cause acid reflux. Staff are normally very happy to create a pasta for you if you ask. Just as for something without meat or dairy.
If you're planning to stick around in Taormina, check our The Little London Vegan's blog post she recently wrote about Taormina. She includes several lovely places to eat in addition to the eateries listing in this post