Travel to Sicily in Italy – Episode 197

categories: europe travel


The Amateur Traveler talks to Madeline Jhawar from Italy Beyond the Obvious blog about Sicily. Madeline was a tour guide for a number of years in Italy and says that Sicily is where the tour guides vacation. This beautiful island is more intense than the rest of Italy but it is also rich in culture and history. It is sometimes an assault on the sense says Madeline who honeymooned on the island. Madeline leads us in a trip circumnavigating the island from Messina to Palermo with stops in Taormina, Siracuse, Agrigento, Villa del Casale, Erice, and Palermo. We take a side trip to climb the volcano at Stromboli and we touch on the many influences on the history of Sicily.

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Show Notes

Italy Beyond The Obvious
Sicily map
Taormina, Sicily
Valley of the Temples, Sicily
The Best of Palermo, Sicily
Magna Graecia


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Chris Christensen

by Chris Christensen

Chris Christensen is the creator of the Amateur Traveler blog and podcast. He has been a travel creator since 2005 and has won awards including being named the "Best Independent Travel Journalist" by Travel+Leisure Magazine.

13 Responses to “Travel to Sicily in Italy – Episode 197”



I’ve wanted to go to Sicily ever since watching Il Commissario Montalbano! Listening to the podcast now…

Ira H. Bernstein


Let me thank Madeline Jhawar for an absolutely superb trip i had from home to work listening to her talk about Sicily. Now, I have to go through it a second time to catch the slides that I can’t look at while driving (if I were a Neapolitan or Sicilian driver, I might try). My wife, adult daughter, and I were there about five years ago but could only spend a week, so let me pass on the following addenda. As a bit of context, we go to Italy every year. We try to see one group of Italian friends who are in the Turin-Milan area and a second that are in Florence so much of our itinerary takes that into account. That year, we could not make contact with our Turin-Milan friends so, at my behest, we went to Palermo and Taormina.

1. I certainly understand why Palermo would be thought of as “rough”, but we found it considerably less so that Naples. Excuse what may seem a bit crass, but when we went, my wife and daughter thought Sicily would look like a scene from the Godfather, but they got acclimated immediately when they saw the Louis Vuitton store on the way from the airport. If expenditures on designer goods can be used to index civilization, Palermo was right up there.
2. In addition to couscous, another gift of the North Africans to Sicily was the almond. Marzipan is a well-known form, but to us the ultimate is the desert known as “cassata” (more formally, “cassata Siciliana” as there are a couple of other less popular dishes referred to as cassata). It is magnificent, but, like a lot of dishes, you have to go to Sicily to get it done right. I tried it at a presumably Sicilian restaurant in Rome and found it lacking there. Cannoli are perhaps a better-known Sicilian export, but go for cassata.
3. As noted in the show, the vegetables in Sicily are also magnificent. I ordinarily don’t like eggplant, but I could eat it every day there.
4. Somewhat on the negative side, I tried another Sicilian specialty, pasta con le sarde (pasta with sardines). Too salty, but I may try it again when we go back.
5. For those who think of deep-dish pizza as Sicilian, tain’t so. It’s Chicago. At the same time, the pizza we had in Sicily was another high point albeit with thin crust.
6. We visited Taormina in May and found it considerably less overrun with tourists than Florence or Rome that time of year. We loved it. I think that the problem is August rather than Taormina. Fortunately, we have never gone that time of year.
7. Yet another enjoyable site is Cefalù, which is an hour outside of Palermo by train.
8. Perhaps we are cowards, but we have been to Italy perhaps 17 times and have never driven a foot. I don’t doubt the advantages of having a car, but you really don’t run short of things to do using public transportation.
9. On that same note, both Palermo and Naples are great cities if you like looking at auto accidents. Given point 8, it is refreshing knowing that none of the cars involved are yours.
10. I did take classes in Italian and can phrase thoughts, but I have a difficult time hearing it spoken as I lack people on whom to practice. The course was taught, like nearly all, in Dante’s Italian. Given my limited ability to practice, Dante lost by a wide margin. However, the only problems we had in Sicily linguistically, and they were minor, were when I tried to speak Italian to get directions, etc. Up North, they can tell I am inept. In Sicily, they may not know this (they may think we are from Milan) so we get a burst of what is to us largely unintelligible Italian (and I know enough to know it is not dialect). I preface my remarks with a “Parla Inglese?” (Do you speak English?), and only begin my fumbling when they say no and I am desperate.
11. Mainland/Sicily (or North/South) differences are most interesting. The wonderful TV series “Homicide/Life on the Street” had an episode relating this difference to American born vs. Caribbean born African Americans some years ago.
12. On that same note, the more discerning might recognize from our names that we are not remotely Italian. However, my late father spent the last 10 years of his working life as general manager of a chain of grocery stores owned by a Sicilian family. Most of the employees were mainlanders and referred to the owners as “Africans”, a common epithet (at least in that 1950s era).
13. Every time “Stromboli” is mentioned, I am reminded of the relationship that Roberto Rosselini and Ingrid Bergman had when he directed her in the movie “Stromboli terra di Dio” in 1950. This resulted in the conception of Isabella Rosselini and the associated Hollywood banishment of Bergman (and, perhaps unsurprisingly, not Rosselini) as they were both married to others at the time.
14. I also thank Ms. Jhawar for informing me that the pronunciation is STROM-bo-li and not Strom-BO-li, contrary to the usual Italian pronunciation on the next to last syllable. Mainly I thank her for a totally informative presentation.

Madeline Jhawar


Ira Bernstein – great to read your detailed and thoughtful comments about the podcast, thanks for taking the time to share. I agree with your #8, too – I often recommend people not drive in Italy. Most of the time there’s no need to anyway.

When I read your name, I thought it rang a bell but I couldn’t think of why. Then I remembered – you did a great podcast with Chris recently about Venice and the Veneto!



Thanks for highlighting Sicily – I’m another big fan. I traveled there partly with a tour group, and partly on my own. I’m a solo traveler and I don’t drive myself in Europe – it costs too much and is too stressful – but I wasn’t sure how public transport would work out in the middle of the island. Next time I’ll go solo for the whole trip. (Note – public transport is in seriously short supply on Sundays.)

I was in Taormina in April 2008, and I thought it was too touristy then – would hate to be there in August! It’s not just the crowds – it’s all the hotels, cafes and SHOPS! I would definitely plan to visit for the views and the theater (and go up to Castelmola), but one night should be enough.

My absolute favorite places in Sicily (aside from the marvelous mosaics) were Ortigia (Siracusa’s island), Erice, and Taormina. I didn’t expect to like Taormina, but the old town is well worth wandering around, just like Ortigia. The views from Erice are awesome, and it’s another great place to wander around. Although it’s popular with day trippers on coach tours, they all seem to stay on the main street and main square. I spent two nights (Hotel Moderno) and was sorry to leave. Sad that Madeline didn’t get to see the view, I was luckier – my (unedited) Erice pix are here:

I think how rough you find Palermo depends on where you are. I stayed a bit out of the center in a great B&B (Sky Sleeping) on a street that felt like a little village, but a bit further out around the disappointing Castello della Zisa, things did feel iffier. (Don’t miss the Palazzo Mirto in Palermo).

I went to the Egadi islands instead of the Aeolian, but that was a mistake. They’re totally dead out of season, and there’s no shade if you want to hike.

Cassata is too sweet for me, but I ate lots of luscious cannoli!

Jet Set Life


I didn’t know Sicily could be this interesting! Thank you for all the info that you have provided. It was very helpful. I’m sure my readers would think so too.



Wow, what a Freudian slip. Realize I wrote Taormina when I meant to write Trapani as one of my favorite places in Sicily!Sorry.



Thanks for drawing my attention to Sicily. Wow!

I’ve been to Italy on numerous occasions but never made it down there. I feel like I have new reason to go back. I liked your rule of thumb about how “if you’re okay with Italy — keep moving south.” The hiking sounds amazing.

My favorite Italian experience was the hike in Cinque Terre between the villages there.

The outdoors of Italy is so beautiful!



I saw Baaria at the Toronto International Film Festival last week. It’s a great movie about small town life in Sicily.

Eugene Trujillo


Holidays in Italy may be very expensive but tourists on a budget can still have a great time if they look around for the cheaper accommodation and eating places.

Brian Mcintyre


Holidays in Italy could be notably expensive but tourists on a budget can still have a great time if they look around for the cheaper accommodation and eating places.

Michael Browne


Hi Chris,
Really enjoyed this podcast which I only found this week.

We are into week 2 of 7 weeks in Sicily with Siracusa as our base. It’s our third visit to Sicily.

I could understand Madeline’s comments about driving in Palermo which I’ve done. The second time in Palermo we decided to drop the car at the airport (my wife and daughter still laugh about my 4 times around the roundabout as I tried to find the minute sign pointing to the airport on our first visit) and use a taxi for travel in Palermo. Much more relaxing for all concerned.

Her comment about about Sicily’s authenticity rings true as you walk through the local markets where English is very much in the minority.

As my son said this week on his passing visit – ” Sicily is a bit s!?t but…”

I’ve taken notes from this podcast to plan some further excursions for the next few weeks. Sicily is an amazing place to just soak up.

Thanks, as always your podcasts are just excellent,



I had to laugh about the 4 trips around. I have not done it in Sicily, but I feel like I have done it somewhere 🙂



Thanks Madeline,
That was v helpful. I bought my ticket on a whim this morning after watching a movie but not sure what I have let myself in for. I am going solo without a car and would like to see as much as possible in two weeks and wondered if you could recommend a good tour company as the public transport sounds like a bit of a nightmare… Am on a budget 7-10 days..? Are u free?! Ciao

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