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The Geography of Sicily

Sicily's north coast and Madonie, Nebrodi and Peloritani mountains

Villas on the north coast and in the mountains of Sicily >>

Stretching from Messina, the closest point to mainland Italy, across to Palermo, the island's capital city, the north coast of Sicily is home to some stunning beaches and seascapes, many fascinating towns, including Cefalu, and three separate mountain ranges, essentially continuations of the Appennini: the Peloritani Mountains to the east, the Nebrodi in the middle and the Madonie towards the west. With peaks rising to nearly 2,000m (6,000ft) the north coast area features some of Sicily's most beautiful landscapes, vast areas of agricultural land and myriad picturesque villages to explore.

Nature, food and wine

The sandy beaches of the north at Tindari, with its amazing tongue of sand, Capo d'Orlando and San Gregorio, Cefalu and Mondello are some of the finest in Sicily. Some wonderful hiking through rugged countryside and fascinating mountain villages such as Petralia Soprana and Polizzi Generosa awaits the more adventurous hill walker in the Nebrodi and Madonie Mountains, and there is also some spectacular coastal walking in "Lo Zingaro" nature reserve in the north west of Sicily.

The swathes of vineyards growing ancient local grape variants such as Nero D’Avola, Inzolia and Cataratto (as well as "foreign" Shiraz and Cabernet) produce some of Sicily’s best wines. Gastronomic specialities include Pasta con le Sarde (with sardines, raisins, pine nuts and wild fennel) a staple in Palermo, arancini (deep-fried rice balls stuffed with meat sauce or mozzarella and ham) and many more mouthwatering delicacies. All along the coast you’ll find fresh fish including tuna, swordfish and the local delicacy "neonata", while in the mountains, tasty cheeses, roast meats and mushrooms dominate. Seasonal fruit is also incredibly flavourful, with peaches, grapes and "nespole" (medlars) particularly typical of the area.

History and Monuments

Sicily’s ancient history (to be distinguished from its pre-history which goes back even further to when it was attached to Africa) began in the area around Palermo when the Carthaginians landed there in the eight century BC. Their colonies at Panormus (now Palermo), Solunto, Mozia (where you may visit the salt works and the Carthaginian remains unearthed by Englishman Joseph Whittaker), Segesta and Erice provided ample rivalry for the Greeks of Selinunte, who arrived in the area from the east of Sicily a couple of centuries later, leaving some of their most splendid monuments. Romans have also left their mark, notably at Solunto near Palermo.

Byzantines in the sixth century AD were followed by Saracens in the eighth who colonised the whole area. Most of their monuments were however destroyed by the Normans who, arriving in the eleventh century (in the same decade as the invasion of Britain) leveraged the skills of Byzantines and Arabs alike to produce some of the finest works of art and architecture in the world, notably in Palermo, Monreale and Cefalu.

Normans were followed by Angevin French, Hoenstaufen and five hundred years of various strains of Spanish, whom we must thank for much of the architecture we see today, including the Baroque churches of Palermo and the opulent villas of Bagheria. The Bourbons were finally defeated during the unification with Italy by the thousand troops of Garibaldi in 1860 which led to a wave of prosperity evident in the Liberty style architecture of Palermo.

Villas on the north coast and in the mountains of Sicily >>