The Sicilian Dolce Vita - Hero & Leander

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FIRST PUBLISHED ON hero-and-leander.COM - october 2015

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Couples full of Wanderlust have always had the same romantic destinations marketed towards them; Greek Islands, Maldives, South of France, Italian Riviera, Bali etc. For those, however, who prefer the road less travelled (or perhaps don’t have the budget quite yet for these honeymoon destinations) we propose a deliciously beautiful alternative; The Sicilian Dolce Vita.

Certainly one of the more overlooked Italian Islands, Sicily, whilst also being the largest and most populated, is a fantastic couples retreat provided you know where to go. Tourists normally gravitate towards the largest and most accessible city – Palermo, however, we suggest flying to the other side of the island, to Sicily’s second city, Catania. Catania is a sprawling metropolis that sits on the periphery of the most active Volcano in Europe, the breathtaking Mount Etna.

Flying into this port city, the Volcano is a remarkable landmark that is seen from most of the east coast of the Island. For the thrill seeking duos, there’s nothing quite like circling this smoking, snow capped giant whilst the orange sun melts into the horizon.

For couples that like sun, sea, sand and not much else, head to the beautiful coastal towns of Aci Trezza, Aci Castello or Giardini Naxos. Luxury lovers will certainly feel at home in the regal, medieval Taormina, perched on a cliff overlooking Naxos beach and the ever-present Etna. For those seeking more of an adventure and aren’t afraid of driving on Sicilian roads, many towns on the volcano provide easy access for skiing, hiking and excursions up to the lava craters; Randazzo, Linguaglossa and Castiglione di Sicilia are all pretty options, with medieval Churches and a stunning 13th Century Castle to explore in the case of Castiglione.

We certainly believe that good food and drink are the cornerstones of the best romantic holidays, and thankfully Sicily has provided some of the finest dining experiences we have ever had. Local delicacies such as Nebrodi Wild Pig (for the best wild pig ragu head to husband and wife run Terra Mia in Sollichiata and ask for a table on the terrace), Cannoli (patisserie cream stuffed cones), and Etna Rosso wine (using the rich, plummy Nerello Mascalese Grape) are unbeatable. Naples may lay claim to pizza, but let’s not forget that Sicily is the home of Ice-cream!

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The land around Etna is protected by Unesco and was recently awarded DOC classification, meaning that wine produced around this area has a prestigious, international mark of quality and consistency. There are many family owned vineyards that can provide wine tastings and vineyard tours which are sure to provide the perfect setting for an evening stroll, wine glass in hand.

Excursions to the white, fairytale town of Noto are well worth the hour drive from Catania, whilst Agrigento further south has the best collection of temples and ruins outside of Athens. For a slightly longer day trip, ferries for the pristine Aeolian Islands leave from Milazzo port in the north East of the island daily. Panarea is a tiny unspoilt island with a no car policy, perfect for hikes (or donkey rides) with some of the freshest air and spectacular views in Europe. For more of a party feel try the islands of Vulcano or Lipari, whereas Salina is the place to go for the freshest octopus, salted sea bass and lobster around.

Summer temperatures can hit 42 degrees so, generally speaking, April-July and September-November provide more pleasant temperatures in the 20s and 30s. Easyjet Flights from London to Catania depart several times weekly all year round and take around 3 hours. Location is King here, our favourite places to stay are:

 

– Anna’s Apartment – Aci Trezza, from £87 per night for a sleek, modern apartment with first line sea views.

https://www.airbnb.co.uk/rooms/7430028?guests=2&s=hheA

– Taormina Hotel Villa Carlotta – One of the trendiest hotels in the town. Doubles overlooking the breathtaking bay start from £199.

http://www.hotelvillacarlottataormina.com/

– Villa Neri Resort & Spa Etna – A stunning wellness retreat hidden within Etna national park. Doubles from £ 157.

http://www.hotelvillanerietna.com/en/

 

Sicily is on the cusp of a tourism explosion, so is the perfect destination for those who want to experience the authentic Mediterranean lifestyle without hoards of tourists in toe. Long summery nights are common well into November, so is perfect for an indulgent long weekend or a relaxing fortnight stay.