Our tour started with a pick-up in largest and most well-known city in Sicily, Palermo. As we landed in Palermo, we got a spectacular view of the island and the cliffs around the city. We had a tip that one of the best places for Aranchini (a fried ball of risotto with meat ragu in the middle) was in the Palermo airport – I’m happy to say that the tip was completely valid.We chose to arrive a couple days early to Palermo and stayed at a little Bed and Breakfast to better experience Sicilian life. The B&B we found, Giorgio’s House http://www.giorgioshouse.com/ , ended up being quite a jewel. Giorgio, the proprietor, met us at the train station and took us to the flat, then took us for an introductory tour of the city, ending in dinner at a fantastic little pizzeria restaurant. Giorgio is ever the gracious host and is famous for his night walking tours and excursions that he offers his guests free-of-charge.
Palermo is a bustling city with much to see and experience. In the city, the Palatine Chapel in the Royal Palace is not to be missed with a beautiful painted Arabic ceiling, the grizzly catacombs are a popular favorite, and the markets are spectacular. Look for Sicilian cannoli with bits of candied orange, and try some of the local wood-fired Pizza.
from Palermo that should not be missed are Monreale, famous for it’s
chapel with a dazzling mixture of Arab, Byzantine and Norman artistic styles
framed by traditional Romanesque architecture. Monreale not only boasts some
of the most spectacular mosaics in the world, but also some spectacular views
Cefalu is a wonderful escape to a quiet little village on the sea with swimming, great restaurants, shopping, and some great hiking trails. The hiking trails above Cefalu are not to be missed with spectacular views of the village and great ruins of both the fortress and an old Greek temple. Take a picnic up and enjoy your lunch with a spectacular view.
The tiny islands off of Sicily are also a wonderful escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. Ustica is known for world-class diving and is a mere 1.5 hour hydrofoil ride from the port of Palermo. Arrange for a dive or an island tour, as well as lodging for the night, through a local dive company, Profondo Blu, http://www.ustica-diving.it/ . Ann and Paolo, owners of Profondo Blu, are fabulous hosts and the food and lodging they provided were absolutely spectacular.
di Noto, Eloro
The actual bike tour started with the bus delivering our group of 25 to a fabulous hotel surrounded by orange groves across a small valley from the beautiful village of Noto. We were greeted with a traditional Sicilian Italian meal including Pasta Alla Norma and Chicken stuffed with a savory mixture of oregano and bread crumbs.
The next day was our first day on the bikes with a round trip to Lido di Noto, a sleepy little beach town on the Mediterranean sea. The air smelled of orange and lemon blossoms as we rode past large orchards and olive groves.
Today was also our first taste of Sicilian history with a visit to the Eloro Ruins. Much of the priceless history of Sicily remains buried and decaying yet to be excavated. Eloro is one of those sites – dating back to the Greek times that remains largely untouched, it’s treasures still undiscovered. Elora was perched on a cliff overlooking an pristine, aqua-blue sea, the surrounding cliffs dotted with more ruins, fragrant anise, and tons of glossy brown and white striped snails.
That evening, we bussed into Syracusa for dinner on our own. Syracusa is a beautiful walled city encompassing it’s own island. The city itself is medieval in nature with rustic stone buildings, lovely local patisseries, wine shops, and lots of restaurants to choose from. Dinner for us was at a tiny Spaghetteria down a hidden alley. Surrounded by locals, we had some of the best pasta of the entire trip.
Noto, Noto Antiqua, Testa Dell’Acqua
The following day was a 6-mile hill to visit Noto Antiqua via Testa Dell’Acqua. The ride up the hill afforded incredible views overlooking Noto and the surrounding valley. Testa Dell’Acqua, a sleepy little village at the top of the 6-mile hill, was a welcome sight to weary cyclists. We had a break in a little coffee shop for a cappuccino and an ice-cream bar, then on to Noto Antiqua. Noto Antiqua was founded around 450BC, was destroyed by an earthquake in 1693 and was rebuit lower as modern-day Noto. The towering gateway into the city still remains, as well as some incredible frescos, and an extensive hiking trail system throughout. We explored the area while our guides setup a wonderful picnic lunch for us to share before heading on to explore modern Noto.
Noto itself was spectacular, from the Cathedral to the Palazzo Ducezio. A wonderful baroque town with much history and one of the best noted pastry shops in Sicily. After indulging in a Canoli, cappuccino, and a couple other pastries, we worked off our treat by climbing the narrow, winding stairs to the dome of Santa Chiara and were rewarded by incredible views of Noto and the surrounding countryside.
The next day we said goodbye to our beautiful hotel in Noto and climbed on our bikes headed to Raguzza. Halfway through the morning, we stopped in a little village for a snack and a rest – most of us had decadent, and well deserved, Magnum ice-cream bars. Later that afternoon, we lounged in the shade of olive and pomegranate trees to eat our picnic lunch, then heading down the hill to the valley below Raguzza. At about 4:00pm, our tired little group arrived at the half-way point at our last hill of the day, Raguzza Ibla - time enough for a gelato break, or a quick look around the city center before we continued the breath-taking climb into Raguzza. Even though the climb was strenuous, we found ourselves distracted and stopping at every opportunity to admire and photograph the spectacular views of this scenic Sicilian hill town.
We were on our own that evening for dinner, and we found there was a busker-festival in Raguzza Ibla, so we decided to walk down the 500 steps and find a restaurant near the action. The town was enchanting with the narrow walkways, incredible views, and little churches in the most unexpected places. Dinner was off the main square in the courtyard of a little restaurant, and the food and the wine were spectacular. Climbing back up to our hotel was a killer, but we were happy and ready for bed when we arrived.
The next day arrived a bit wet, but we were happy to put on the rain gear and climb on our bikes, as the temperature was still quite pleasant. The morning’s ride was scenic past olive groves, vineyards, and lots of prickly pear cactus. Along our way, our guides picked prickly pears, grapes, and pomegranates for us to try. Everyone was on their own for lunch, so Brian and I decided to get our lunch from an alimentare (local grocery) and feasted on local bread, cheese, pesto, sausages, and pear juice. We had plenty of entertainment with our lunch, as our support van had a flat tire and Theo used one of the bikes to transfer the tire to and from the repair shop. Before departing, we went across the street for a quick coffee and had the difficult but sweet job of choosing between a multitude of yummy-looking pastries in the display case. Then it was on to our hotel in Caltagirone.
Villa Romana Del Casale
The next day was a round-trip ride to the famous tile steps at Caltagirone and then on to the ancient roman ruins at Villa Romana del Casale, site of the richest, largest and most complex collection of late Roman mosaics in the world.
We first stopped in Caltagirone, location of Scala di S. Maria del Monte. The 142 stairs connecting the old and new cities are complemented by highly decorative, multi-colored tiles representing periods of history from the Arab age to the 1800’s.
Villa Romana Del Casale was originally a Roman hunting lodge from the 4th
century, inhabited through the domination of the Vandals, Visigoths, Byzantines
and Arabs, then was covered by a landslide and forgotten in the 12th century.
The villa was not excavated until the mid 1900’s, after-which a cover
was built to retain the state of the amazingly well-preserved mosaics. The
mosaics were breathtaking. Walking through the halls, you could almost imagine
yourself living in roman times.
Agrigento and Ficuzza
The next day was a bus transfer from Caltagirone to Ficuzza with a visit to the famous Greek temples in Agrigento. Agrigento was even more breathtaking than the Acropolis in Athens. Where the Acropolis is crowded by the city of Athens, Agrigento is perched at the top of a hill over looking the sea. The town of Agrigento is in the distance but, because to the extensiveness of the ruins, no new construction has been allowed near the ruins. Walking the road in between the temples you almost feel like you had stepped back to Greek times.
we left Agrigento and headed inland towards Ficuzza, the mountains were huge
spires remminicent of the dramatic alps in mainland Europe. Villages, instead
of built in the valley floors, were built on the sides of these spires to
the point where shear rock faces jutted out of the center of the village,
like this picture of the village of Sutera.
Our hotel in Ficuzza was a renovated train station from the late 1800’s to early 1900’s. The rooms were very quaint and rustic, and we were surrounded by lush forest, bordering on a nature preserve. The village of Ficuzza was quite small, but hosted a hunters’ lodge for Bourbon Kings from the 13-1400’s set against the backdrop of a sheer outcropping of mountains that left it easily identifiable for miles around. The meals in this small lodge were fabulous and the lodge owners prided themselves on using organically-grown food from local farmers. We feasted on local specialities such as caponata, panella (a fried chickpea bread), and chicken stuffed with sage and bread crumbs.
The first day’s ride from Ficuzza was a loop to Corleone, made famous by The GodFather. This sleepy little village capitalized on tourism generated by the famous movie by offering a Maffia Museum and producing a wonderful liquor, called Il Padrino Amarone. We tasted the Amarone liquor, also featured in the movie, at a little café across from the church.
Gibellina, Poggioreale, Selinunte
The next day was to be our longest day riding, 72 miles. The first part of the day was rolling hills past vineyards and farms, then climbing up into a small hill town for a cappuccino break with beautiful views of the surrounding countryside. Later, we stopped again to regroup at the foot of a dramatic jutting mountain with vineyards growing almost all the way to the top – vineyards we got to view a little closer as we climbed this spectacular hill. After a brief break at the top, we descended the other side and came upon two villages that were destroyed during the 1968 earthquake.
first village, Gibellina, had sustained severe damage in the quake with half
the houses damaged and 400 people killed. The town was relocated as Nuova
Gibellina and the ruins of Gibellina were turned into a monument. The artist
responsible, Alberto Burri, covered part of the old town with a thick layer
of white cement with cracks running through it following the lines of the
streets. The resulting monument was both beautiful and bizarre at the same
The second village we encountered, Poggioreale, was even more surreal, as it had been abandoned with many of the buildings still standing. Some of the buildings had large holes in the walls revealing beautiful marble stair cases and frescos on the ceilings and walls. In the square was a magnificent statute amidst the rubble that touched your very soul. The result was both disturbing and strangely beautiful – you could almost hear the ghosts of children playing or old men gossiping as you wandered through this lost village.
After a picnic and a bit of exploring around Poggioreale, we were back on our bikes to climb into Partanna and then descend towards the sea into Silenunte for a much-deserved gelato and shower, ending the day with a spectacular view of the sun setting over the mediterranean sea.
Our rest day in Selinunte dawned rainy and windy. Some ventured out to explore the ruins of the Greek Acropolis, while others, used the rain as a fine excuse to catch up on postcards or enjoy a cup of tea and a good book. Founded around 650BC, the Greek ruins originally contained 5 temples, only one remaining in discernable condition, and permits the visitor a good impression of what life in an ancient Greek city was really like.
Leaving Selinunte, the morning was sunny and calm, a stark contrast to the rain and wind the previous afternoon. The sun warmed our backs as we rode along the Mediterranean into Mazara Del Vallo for our lunch break. After talking a local pizzaeria into firing their wood ovens so we could enjoy a pizza lunch, we had a few minutes to explore.
Mazara was founded by the Phoenicians in the 9th century BC then passed under the control of Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans, and Byzantines, before being occupied by the Arabs in the year 827. Today Mazara is widely considered to be one of the most important fishing centres of Italy. It is also one of the most unique and beautiful villages we encountered in Sicily with Arabic domes, mixing with Norman Castles, and Baroque architecture.
As we rode out of Mazara Del Vallo, we noticed dark clouds above us. About 10 miles from our last hotel outside of Marsala, the clouds opened up and we suddenly were riding through torrential rain. As we rode on to our hotel, we got very strange looks f rom the locals as we rode through flooded streets amongst the cars and other drenched pedestrians. We ended at our last hotel at the top of a steep hill overlooking Marsala and the Mediterranean sea.
Our last day of biking was a short ride down to the Mediterranean and a visit to historic Mozia. As we rode towards Mozia, we came upon large hills of salt and an ancient windmill. The salt flats are still in operation, and the windmill, originally used to grind salt, is open to the public as a museum. Boats depart from the windmill and wind through great mountains of salt before crossing the lagoon to the island of Mozia. The island of Mozia has a remarkable museum and the ruins of the equally remarkable Phoenician civilization, complete with harbor and cemetery, that provide the visitor with a rare unspoiled glimpse into Sicily's Phoenician past.
returning from Mozia, we said goodbye to our bikes and our faithful driver,
mechanic, and friend, Theo who was leaving later that evening on a ferry back
to the mainland. The farewell dinner was bitter-sweet with many laughs, great
food, and wonderful memories of a spectacular adventure.
We encourage you to experience the magic of Sicily for yourselves and, if at all possible, experience vacationing from the seat of a bicycle – open up your senses, and immerse yourself in all the magic of sights, smells, sounds, and tastes a new country has to offer.
authors may be contacted at: