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Trip Report - 10 Days in Eastern Sicily (Long)

Potomac, Maryland
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Trip Report - 10 Days in Eastern Sicily (Long)

We had an amazing trip to Sicily! We liked it even better than we expected, and we had very high hopes. I spent months reading these forums and keeping up with nearly every post – and all that planning paid off. Just the few tips here and there from all of your posts made our days so much more enjoyable! And of course, all the great advice from Vagabonda was invaluable – I could not believe it when I looked at my profile before I left and saw how many questions I had asked! Hopefully something here will help everyone else that is lucky enough to be planning now! I have written separate reviews of the hotels and restaurants, but this will make a few general observations, and then hit the high points of our itinerary.

Vagabonda: First, one more note about Vagabonda... everyone in Taormina wants to know who he/she is!!! If you mention Trip Advisor, they immediately start talking about her and the influence she has. It can be pretty funny because everyone is afraid of getting on her bad side.

Where to Stay and When to Go? The best way to see Sicily if you want to hit all the major sights clearly would be to travel around every few days. However, we prefer to get to know one place more in-depth and moving hotels a lot does not mesh well with child travelers (we were there with our children, ages 10 and 12). We also expect that we will return to Sicily soon (and now we know we want to!), so we did not feel compelled to see “everything.” We had to go in August for school/ work/sports reasons, and because this was our only real vacation of the summer, we wanted to spend some time on the beach at a nice hotel as part of our trip. We decided to base in Taormina for convenience, choice of restaurants, and the nice beach resorts, do day trips from there, and focus on Eastern Sicily. We spent 5 days staying in town (Hotel Villa Carlotta), and then 5 days staying on the beach (Hotel Villa Sant’Andrea).

Language. My family is Italian (my grandparents come from Sicily) and I studied Italian (a long time ago), so I speak some Italian and understand a lot more. I do think this helped – many people, including at some of the tourist sites and definitely in the stores and in the less touristy areas, did not speak a lot of English. Everyone gave it a shot and was also very kind about my attempts to speak Italian. We didn’t have any communication problems as a result, but if you know no Italian at all, you might occasionally have trouble communicating your point or getting information you want.

It’s All Relative. One general observation before I start is that what you think of Sicily depends on what you expect and what perspective you have. We are coming from Washington, DC. So...was it hot in August? Yes, but no hotter than it was at home. Was it expensive? Taormina may be expensive for Sicily, but most things cost significantly less than they do in DC. There also were a wide variety of options, at all price ranges, everywhere we went. Was it crowded? To be honest, we didn’t think so. We were there at what is supposed to be peak time, and we were actually concerned about how few people seemed to be there – how do all those shops and restaurants stay in business? But ... DC has a LOT of tourists, so again, it may just be a matter of perspective. Also, we were usually away during the day, and in town at night, so the daytime probably was a lot more crowded (though lunch time usually seemed pretty empty too).

Money. As Vagabonda frequently advises, cash rules supreme in Italy! This was somewhat of an issue for us – although hotels and restaurants (even small ones in small towns) all took credit cards, all activities (incl. our driver) had to be paid for in cash and with 4 of us, those costs added up to quite a bit. We changed some money before we left, and notified our bank that we wanted to be able to take more out of the ATM each day. Still, the Italian ATMs seem to limit how much you can withdraw (even if your US bank would allow it) so we could only take a little out from each machine and had to visit several. We spent a fair amount of time looking for ATMs so we could get cash, especially on the second half of our trip when we were in Taormina Mare (there is only one ATM in that part of town that we could find, and it was out of service).

Transportation. We used New Travel Service for all our day trips. They were purely amazing. Always organized and on time, and offered helpful ideas for where good shops and restaurants were in the towns we were visiting, where the public restrooms are, etc. They had large, clean and comfortable cards, and on the days we had Christian himself (the owner), he was particularly funny with his ideas and observations about Sicilian history, life and culture.

With these thoughts, on to the trip.

San Vito Lo Capo Express Shuttle Sharing
Taxis & Shuttles, Bus Transportation
Trapani Tourism Service
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Ncc Taxi Privato - Pizzuto Rosario
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Sicily Tours & Taxi Taormina
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Potomac, Maryland
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870 posts
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1. Re: Trip Report - 10 Days in Eastern Sicily (Long)

Our Trip: Day Zero-One. We flew from DC to Munich overnight, and then from Munich to Catania in the morning. We were able to check our luggage through from DC to Catania, but just in case, we each took a carry-on containing everything we needed for the first few days, and just checked one large suitcase with the remainder. We had some confusion picking it up in Catania because it did not arrive on the carousel with the rest of the bags from our flight, but then noticed a small sign that luggage from outside the EU was sent to a different carousel – and there it was. We went through customs/passport in Munich but not in Catania (although they screened our luggage on the way out of Catania, which seemed odd). Christian was there to meet us as promised, even though our flight had a small delay, and we were off! We arrived at the Hotel Villa Carlotta and were immediately charmed. They brought us up to their amazing rooftop terrace and welcomed us with drinks and pasteries. Although we had tentatively planned to try to see a bit of Taormina that day, the kids had not slept on the plane and were exhausted. We walked up to town – an easy walk from Villa Carlotta – and were surprised at how un-crowded it was – deserted, really! Though the stores were closed for the mid-day, even the restaurants seemed empty, which we didn’t expect. We had a nice lunch at Ristorante Le Naumachie, where everyone was extremely welcoming and did not rush us a bit, even though they seemed ready to close when we got there (we were the only ones there), and then let the kids nap for most of the afternoon. We got up early evening, strolled around Taormina checking out the shops and a few churches, and had one of our best dinners of the trip at Vicolo Stretto. The kids were extremely amused at just how narrow the “Vicolo” is – it is hardly bigger than a person! We had asked Villa Carlotta to make dinner reservations for us each night we were there, and we found they really made a difference. While the restaurants were not necessarily full, the V.C. reservation got us the best table in the house every single time (usually on a beautiful terrace with an amazing view, especially at Vicolo Stretto). We had an early morning ahead so we turned in early.

Day Two – Lipari. We got up early, had a really amazing breakfast at the hotel (no one can beat the VC breakfast!) and then NTS picked us up and drove us to the hydrofoil dock in Milazzo. We had bought tickets online earlier and the voucher (sent to us by email) was easily redeemed in the office right next to the dock. It was an easy trip over to Lipari – the hydrofoil was full but we got seats no problem and the ride was not at all as bumpy as I had feared. There were also clean bathrooms on the hydrofoil I had not found a group tour that really spent enough time on any of the islands for really getting to see/know it, so we just designed our own day. We went to the archaeological museum (which had a lot of really interesting displays, though it does get a bit repetitive because there is a serious amount of pottery shards that look a lot alike). We then had lunch at R. Nenzyna, which was not one of our better meals (and my memory is tainted even further by what happened that night... more to follow). We then had arranged with Da Massimo for a 4-hour private boat trip circling the island. The boat was gorgeous (prices were so reasonable that we paid a little extra to get a bigger boat with a bathroom) and they showed us all the interesting spots around the island, stopping for us to swim and snorkel (they provided the equipment). They also brought us sliced melon and at the end of our afternoon, a glass of the local wine (Malvasia - a strong fortified wine, which we liked (in small quantities)). It was a great afternoon. The returning hydrofoil (last of the day) was a bit late, but NTS faithfully awaited our arrival. We got back very late to the hotel and managed to run up to the rooftop dining terrace to have dinner. We all fell into bed exhausted and happy, expecting to sleep soundly. Unfortunately, my husband and I were soon awakened by the sounds of one very sick son. Whether it was something at lunch (my personal suspicion, though I would never say so in a review since we really don't know), the melon, or maybe some bad sea water, he was up sick the entire night.

Potomac, Maryland
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2. Re: Trip Report - 10 Days in Eastern Sicily (Long)

Day Three- Etna. We were hopeful that my son would have recovered by morning, but he was as sick as ever, so after some family negotiations, it was decided that my husband would stay home with him and I would take my daughter on our planned hike to Etna. Knowing it would be very hot, we had chosen Sicily Off Road’s trip that does not go to the summit, because the website advised that it was a family-friendly hike for those that don’t want to do any serious walking but would like to see some Etna sights. A few notes –

First, I have no idea where my husband and son would have sat if they had come. The only other people on our trip that day were an Italian couple and their teenage daughter, and the six of us were really, really crowded into a jeep with no AC. So I was a little thankful they were not there.

Second, the experience and sights were magnificent- but be warned – it was not exactly a low effort hike! When Eddy (the guide and owner) cheerfully announced that we were going for a “short nice walk,” we ended up going straight up the side of Etna, at a fairly steep incline and at a fairly quick pace. We were able to keep up no problem, and we are no hikers, so it was probably not all that hard, but if you think it is an easy stroll, think again. The difficult part is that because of the way Etna is formed, you go up, up, up, and then finally go down (relief!), only to soon be climbing up, up, up again. More than once, we remarked that my husband sitting at the pool might be having the better day. But each climb was worth the effort – the sights are amazing (we had a great clear day) and we were really glad we went. And Eddy was full of knowledge of volcanos, their formation, etc. Note: he delivered the basic information in both Italian and English, but he offered much more extensive information in Italian (I could understand but my daughter was rather bored).

Third, Eddy could use some self-discipline. After the climb, we were supposed to go to lunch, but he sat chatting with the couple about his history, relatives, etc. for well over an hour. By that time, it was nearly 3 pm and my daughter was starving and I was getting pretty annoyed despite my best efforts to not act like an American on a schedule. We finally did get to lunch (at a very casual remote place in one of the Etna villages - I wish I knew the name because we really enjoyed it). We all sat together and the lovely Italian woman did her best to chat with me. By this time, my Italian was sadly breaking down – I can easily navigate shopping and restaurants but real prolonged conversation was a challenge since I kept remembering the right word several sentences after saying it. She was very gracious. Her teenager openly mocked me but I deserved it. Nice to know teens are the same everywhere. :)

We then went to to the Alcantara Gorge. Eddy took us first to a private spot he enjoys, which we loved – my daughter jumped around on the rocks and it was deserted so we were able to enjoy the beauty. We then went to the usual entrance and down a LOT of steps (I was hoping for the elevator entrance, but no such luck). The water is seriously cold but we didn’t mind and it was nice to have a little time to relax. It was a really beautiful place and I would like to spend more time there next time so we can hike a little farther afield. We ended up getting home 1.5 hrs late, and my husband was pretty worried. But hey, this is Sicily and that’s how it’s done.

While we were gone, my son had been fussed over by the amazing staff at Villa Carlotta, who made him plain pasta, brought him water and juice, etc. Every one of them inquired how he was, which was really nice. He was feeling well enough to walk out to dinner with us -- which we appreciated, because we had reservations at L’Incontro and did not want to miss them. We really enjoyed our evening on their back terrace- it was pretty, the food and wine recommendations were great, and everyone in the place was having a good time, so it was a fun place to be.

Potomac, Maryland
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3. Re: Trip Report - 10 Days in Eastern Sicily (Long)

Day 4 - Ortigia

Because we had decided not to switch hotels, we had only one day to visit Siracusa and we did not want to spend it rushing around hysterically. Therefore, we made the difficult decision to miss the ruins on this trip and simply enjoy Ortigia. We were using New Travel Services again because the time saved in transport somewhat made up for the wasted time not moving between cities (and it was nice to not have to deal with finding our way, finding parking, etc.) The driver picked us up early, dropped us in Ortigia (I am not sure what part of the island is supposed to be car-free... there were cars everywhere), and we spend a great day just wandering around. We visited the market, a shop we wanted to see (Fish House Art!), various churches, explored the Duomo and the WWII tunnels underneath (which we loved!), saw the fountains, took a boat trip around the island and out to the sea caves, and visited the puppet workshop and museum. We would have liked to see a puppet show, but they were in the evening that day, and we were returning to Taormina for dinner (at Da Nino, a casual place which we loved and where my normally fussy daughter ate not only her own dinner, but her brother’s (he still wasn’t feeling great) and as much of mine as I was willing to grudgingly part with. She also extracted a promise for us to return later in the trip, which we happily did. Again, the Villa Carlotta reservation secured us the best table on the terrace, and it was the perfect end to one of our favorite days.

Day 5 - Caltagirone and Piazza Armerina

Christian did this trip with us himself, and brought us to Caltagirone, all the while pointing out various sights and points of interest along the way. We really like ceramics and have enjoyed similar days elsewhere in Italy, and we ended up buying some beautiful things for our home. One thing that is somewhat difficult about Caltagirone is that except for the shops that are off the famous steps, they are not all located in one spot, so you have to wander the streets a bit. We had only allocated a few hours for this portion of the trip, so we did what we could (and later shopped in some of the Taormina ceramics stores, which were extensive, although we prefer dealing with the artists themselves). Following Caltagirone, we had planned to eat lunch and then go to Piazza Armerina. At Christian’s suggestion, we held off eating lunch and went directly to P.A.’s Villa Romana del Casale so that we would arrive when most were eating lunch (and so it is less crowded). The villa was one of our absolute favorite parts of the trip. The mosaics are amazing, very detailed and well preserved, and the site is constructed to allow you great views of each room. We returned to Taormina in the early evening, which allowed time for a nap before heading out for the evening.

At this point, my daughter put her foot down and demanded pizza. Although everyone says it is everywhere in Sicily, the restaurants we had chosen up to this point did not offer it. She does not like seafood so she was generally having a hard time picking dishes she liked (although Da Nino was the exception). So tragically, we cancelled our reservation at Nero D’Avola – something we are even sadder about since our Italian neighbor that owns a wine store here in DC recently told us that would have been our best, most fantastic meal. Before dinner we wandered the Taormina shops and had a glass of wine on one of the main people-watching piazzas.

We went to a pizza place recommended by the hotel, which was fine but not how I wanted to spend my time eating in Sicily!

Cedarburg, Wisconsin
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4. Re: Trip Report - 10 Days in Eastern Sicily (Long)

I love long trip reports! We are leaving in 11 days so it makes it all the more enjoyable even though Taormina is one of the few places we will not visit! Can't wait for the rest of it!

Potomac, Maryland
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5. Re: Trip Report - 10 Days in Eastern Sicily (Long)

Day 6 – Taormina Mare. On our sixth day, we woke up feeling lazy and decided to sleep late, have a leisurely breakfast and go to the pool. We had planned to go to Castelmola but alas, that will have to be for next time – it was just too hot for the hike (even down). After lunch, we switched hotels to move down to the beach to Villa Sant’Andrea. (Note: doing so was not at all a reflection on Villa Carlotta, which we loved, but rather due to our plan to spend some time enjoying a beach resort). Villa Sant’Andrea is a lovely resort and we spent the afternoon alternating between the pool and their private beach. The water is calm and the kids enjoyed swimming out to the rocks and jumping off and snorkeling around the water (V.S.A. provides snorkels for the kids). In the evening, we had drinks on the beach and then headed to Il Barcaiolo for dinner. One odd thing about Mazzarò is that everyone uses the street (which is higher than the beach) to get around, rather than just walking down the beach. So following the directions from our hotel, we walked up the hill to the street, down a ¼ mile, and then down a long dark passageway with many steps to the restaurant, only to find ourselves looking across the bay at our hotel. When we asked the restaurant if we could just walk back across the beach, they also assured us it was not possible. I suppose this is because the properties in between (various beach clubs) are private but it was extremely inconvenient and by the end of the week, we just walked down the beach to get to where we wanted to go.

Days 7 and 8 - Taormina, Acicastello, Acitrezza. Days 7 and 8 were more of the same, beach, fun and pool, including renting a peddle boat and poking around the shore into the various caves, but in the evening of Day 7 we went (via New Travel Services, of course!) to Acicastello to see the castle, and then to Acitrezza for dinner. We had hoped to go on the glass bottom boat ride and visit the island at Acitrezza, but those activities ended late afternoon, we wanted to have dinner there and Christian advised that we would not have much to do in between (which turned out to be right). Acitrezza is a great little town, full of restaurants (all PACKED), but interestingly, no shops. My daughter and I would have liked to do some shopping, but we could find only two shops and one was going out of business. As we were walking around the streets to see if we could find any, we encountered such a very (at least to our minds) Sicilian scene... an old man was trying to park his car (the traffic in Acitrezza was unbelievable, with tiny streets and cars passing each other with just a few inches to spare. It made me again thankful I was not driving.). Anyway, he was having trouble backing up into his spot and was holding up the entire road. An old woman came out of her house (unsolicited) to “direct” him with her cane, so she was screaming directions to him and waving the cane around, practically hitting everyone (“turn right! More! More! Now the other way!). I don’t know if he was listening or could even hear her, because the entire street was going berserk that he was blocking the road (as we walked down the street, traffic was backed up for an unbelievable distance) and everyone was getting out of their cars to assist in the direct and express their emotions (quite vigorously).

Anyway.... that there are seemingly no shops was especially curious to us because it seemed that every Italian in a 50-mile radius was in the town to walk around – especially the Italian teens who dressed up to the max (in VERY high heels and often VERY little clothing). It made for great people watching (and you would think, some of those people might shop if there were places to go). New Travel Service had recommended a restaurant for us and made a reservation and it was really some of the best seafood we had on the entire trip – we watched the chef hand pick our fish off the display and I had a zuppa di pesce that had more kinds of seafood than I had ever seen. It was interesting to us that following the trip, whenever anyone Italian asked us where we had visited so far and we mentioned Acitrezza, they immediately seized on Acitrezza and noted how they loved it and it was a good place to go.

Miami Beach, Fl
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6. Re: Trip Report - 10 Days in Eastern Sicily (Long)

Enjoying your trip vicariously. Thanks for being detailed and helpful information for us planning....thank you!

Potomac, Maryland
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7. Re: Trip Report - 10 Days in Eastern Sicily (Long)

Very belatedly - here are the two final days!

Day 9 - We were supposed to do a 3-hr snorkeling trip with Dive Sicily in the morning, but they did not appear at the arranged meeting place. We checked with their office on the beach and they were remarkably uninterested and said the leader had gone out with others. Luckily, there are many similar outfits offering snorkeling on the beach, so we arranged to join a different one in the afternoon and returned to our beach to hang out (this was one of the really hot days - over 100 degrees). We had lunch by the beach at the hotel and then my husband and kids went snorkeling while I took the hotel shuttle up to Taormina (very convenient - it ran every 15 minutes so we normally did this rather than use the funivia, which is fun but time-consuming) and did some shopping. We all got back together in the evening and NTS picked us up to take us to Murgo. When we arrived, there was some confusion as they had lost our reservation (bad day for us!) , but the NTS driver went around and talked to people and one of the family members came out and did the tour for us anyway. He was absolutely delightful and we loved the tour, as well as the wine tasting that followed (I've written a separate detailed review). We stayed for dinner, which includes the families that are staying at the vineyard (looked like a great option for a few nights on a future visit). Our driver initially sat down at a different table but we invited him to join us and he was happy to do so (the owner noted after we did so that Sicilians are very formal and would never presume to join in unless invited). We enjoyed hearing his observations during dinner, especially because he was a food-lover and had lots of thoughts about cooking. He did think we were crazy for tipping so much at dinner, but we can't generally shake the habit... it seems cheap to us not to do it, and we figure that even if it's not the custom, it makes up a little for the behavior of other Americans, who let's face it, can be obnoxious tourists. Of note, all during dinner, there had been a really big wildfire burning. No one seemed concerned about it, and several people explained that people setting fires is a common occurrence due to some dispute about unemployed firefighters. It was slightly alarming to us, as we had to actually drive through the fire to get out of Murgo, but it seemed relatively contained to certain areas.

On Day 10, we generally relaxed at the beach, renting boats to explore the coast, and doing some last-minute shopping and eating!

All in all, a really fabulous trip. We plan to return soon and see more!

Island of Hawaii...
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8. Re: Trip Report - 10 Days in Eastern Sicily (Long)

"everyone in Taormina wants to know who he/she is!!! "

The one with a halo over her head. I was looking for her too. Didn't see anyone with a halo, but I'm sure she saw me and smiling at me :-)

Hagerstown, Maryland
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9. Re: Trip Report - 10 Days in Eastern Sicily (Long)

Enjoyed your report. Well done!

From a fellow DC'er.

Scotland, United...
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10. Re: Trip Report - 10 Days in Eastern Sicily (Long)

Thanks TCRH.

Enjoyed reading your post enormously.

Like many others, I have followed this forum for ideas and advice planning our own trip to Taormina next week. Thanks for sharing yours.