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Central inland Sicily, amongst the mountains and valleys

THE GEOGRAPHY OF SICILY

Sicily villas in the interior >>

When you think of Sicily, you may think of Greek temples, or Norman Cathedrals, or Mount Etna, or perhaps just sitting on the beach or prodding a granita at a coastal cafe. In fact, most visitors to Sicily don’t venture far from the coast, save perhaps for a quick trip to see Mount Etna or the mosaics at Piazza Armerina. In the opinion of The Thinking Traveller, those people are missing out big time.

It is true that with over 1,000 km of coastline, there is plenty to do without going inland, but when you consider that Sicily has a surface area of 25,708 square kilometres (roughly the same size as the US states of Massachusetts or New Hampshire, one and a quarter times the size of Wales and four fifths of the size of Belgium), and that this surface includes a 3,323 metre high active volcano, mountains almost 2,000 metres above sea level and hundreds of towns, large and small, exhibiting over 2,500 years of European history, it becomes clear that the Sicilian interior has much to offer. The wonderful thing about it is that you don’t have to go far. Whether you prefer to stay in a sea front villa or an apartment in a mountain village, mountains or coast are easily accessible.

The Italian mainland is just 3 km away across the straits of Messina, and the reappearance of the Appenine mountains in north eastern Sicily determines the geography of much of the island. The Peloritani, the Nebrodi and the Madonie, the three tallest mountain ranges, dominate the area between Messina and Palermo and offer the more adventurous traveller rich rewards with spectacular views, fauna and flora and mountain village communities, such as those of Polizzi Generosa or Petralia Soprana in the Madonie, that have existed since antiquity.

Whether you prefer to stay in a sea front villa or an apartment in a mountain village, mountains or coast are easily accessible.

South of the Peloritani and the Alcantara valley, Etna gives way to the flat plain of Catania, with its rich citrus groves. Moving south east the limestone Iblean plateau dominates the Val di Noto, where the calamitous earthquake of 1693 left its legacy in the form of some of the most splendid Baroque architecture in Europe at Noto, Modica, Ragusa and Scicli.

Moving north west from Ragusa, the Monti Irei stretch from Enna past Piazza Armerina and Mazzarino to the ancient Greek colony (now a modern industrial town) of Gela on the coast. Here, huge expanses of grain production bear testimony to ancient times when grain from Sicily fed the Roman armies that conquered Europe.

The landscape softens moving towards Agrigento and across to Selinunte and Menfi, where the serious wine production gets going, but the Monti Sicani just inland stretch almost all the way to Palermo, passing several fascinating towns with evocative names: Caltabellotta, Bisaquino (Sta Maria del Bosco), Palazzo Adriano (set of “Cinema Paradiso”) and, last but not least, Corleone.

The Western part of Sicily is generally known as the “Val di Mazara”, though the plains and the valley are interrupted by mountainous peaks such as that on which the beautiful hilltop town of Erice sits. The rolling hills and plains of the west around Marsala, Trapani and Alcamo have the greatest concentration of wine production in the whole of Sicily, and a visit to a winery offers an insight into an industry that began in these parts over two and a half thousand years ago.

Sicily villas in the interior >>

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