Some international locations are blessed. After which there’s Italy, which is endowed with not one however two big island areas within the Mediterranean.
Each stuffed with church buildings, vineyards, church buildings and websites testifying to millennia of historical past, Sicily and Sardinia are nonetheless actually distinct – and actually fantastic. Having bother choosing between the 2? We’ve requested two partisans to go to the mat for his or her picks.
Sicily: savor its luxurious soul
A Lonely Planet Italy skilled for greater than a decade, Nicola Williams lives a scenic flit via the Mont Blanc Tunnel from il bel paese. Her favourite Sicilian journeys are these the place time slowly stills.
Sure, sure spots in Sicily have all of the dazzling magnificence and million-dollar glamour of a Hollywood film star. (Figuring out the island inside out as I do, it’s truthfully a no brainer why The White Lotus staff decamped right here to movie the second season of HBO’s breakout hit.) However it’s actually Sicily’s gutsy soul, ravishing virgin landscapes and cultural treasures that make it so completely charming and irresistible as a vacation vacation spot. I problem anybody to step foot on Sicilian soil and never go away with a burning want to return.
My first Sicilian escapade was with my household moons in the past. We sailed into the small however busy port of Trapani one April and spent two gloriously heat weeks roaming the less-explored west of the island: studying to reap salt alongside the By way of del Sal, mountain climbing mule tracks within the distant Madonie mountains, working wild via meadows of sun-yellow fennel round Segesta’s majestic Greek-temple ruins. The actual fact we didn’t even make it to uber-chic Isola Bella, glitzy Taormina or baroque magnificence Noto (all now of White Lotus fame) was utterly incidental. Sicily had me hooked.
I’ve spent numerous weeks since digging deep into Sicily’s inexperienced soul: once more with the youngsters; solo; and within the depths of winter, when snow caps Mt Etna and blood-red pomegranates ripen. Throughout final August’s apocalyptic heatwave, Sicily’s paradise-like seashores had been my second residence. In the event you suppose it’s all dreamy sweeps of sentimental golden sand polka-dotted with parasols and hawkers roasting ears of corn to order, suppose once more. Seaside Cefalù on the Tyrrhenian Coast is a shameless heartthrob, with its cinematic sands and honied previous city showcasing one in every of Sicily’s best Arab-Norman architectural masterpieces.
Snorkeling off sun-scorched rocks with locals on Capo Cefalù, uncovering tiny pebble coves cradling emerald waters within the Riserva Naturale dello Zingaro, and clambering throughout wave-splashed rocks to Capo Milazzo’s pure piscina (swimming pool) within the sea are all equally awe-inspiring. And if it’s high-octane pure magnificence and solitude you’re after, merely set your compass south to the wild and windswept seashore of the WWF-protected Riserva Naturale di Torre Salsa on Sicily’s Mediterranean coast.
Then, in fact, there’s Sicily’s elegant islands: the Egadi and Aeolian archipelagos. Volcano aficionados naturally gravitate to “mainland” Etna – the Wine Prepare is a superb probability for households and less-active vacationers to eyeball the explosive peak shut up. But it surely’s the spectacular nightly fireworks on back-to-basics Stromboli that’s the sneaky heart-stealer. Whether or not you’re mountain climbing up its volcano at sundown, flopping on a black seashore or watching a rooftop film beneath the celebrities at Fifties Lodge Villaggio Stromboli, you’re feeling the car-free island’s primeval power scorching off each final volcanic rock and grain of black sand. I really like breakfast and aperitivo at buzzy Il Canneto and uncooked fish at after-dark hotspot L’Angolo del Pesce. A half-hour hydrofoil experience away, fashionista Panarea is the manicured yin to Stromboli’s rough-cut yang. Drink within the insanely stylish vibe over cocktails – Italianate shades firmly on – at Bridge Ammare overlooking Baia Zimmari.
Sorry, Sardinia: you merely can’t compete with Sicily’s Herculean cultural heritage. Outdoors of Greece, nowhere else in Europe summons the traditional world with such drama. Greek temple ruins at Selinunte, Segesta and Agrigento’s Valley of the Temples are unbelievably nicely preserved. However watching a classical tragedy unfold on stage at Syracuse’s historic theater actually is one thing else solely. Ditto for the island’s cache of baroque cities and spellbinding assortment of Roman, Byzantine and Arab-Norman mosaics (you solely want to go to Unesco-listed Villa Romana del Casale or Cattedrale di Monreale to get the image).
I’ve saved waxing lyrical about Sicily’s unpretentious grassroots delicacies till final in case it’s essential to set off for lunch. In all honesty, it’s laborious to know the place to start: a beefy spleen bun from a pushcart at one in every of Palermo’s intoxicating, souk-like markets, or a paper cone of battered frittura mista (deep-fried seafood) from one in every of Catania’s conventional fish distributors? Mulberry granita and a candy brioche bun by the ocean at Da Alfredo’s on Salina? Lobster soup and couscous-esque frascatole at Trattoria Il Veliero on Marettimo? Michelin-starred gastronomy in caves in Ragusa Ibla or a Renaissance artwork studio in Palermo? Decadent cannoli and dolci (desserts) to easily die for all around the island?
Eat your coronary heart out, Sardinia.
Sardinia: into the wild unknown
Kerry Walker has made Sardinia her religious residence within the Mediterranean over the previous decade and has co-authored the Lonely Planet Sardinia and Italy guidebooks.
Sicily has hogged the limelight for lengthy sufficient. The island is so ridiculously widespread and so often splashed throughout screens – from the household drama of The Godfather to the secrets and techniques of the hideously super-rich in The White Lotus – you’re feeling it earlier than you even arrive. And whereas Sicily’s attract is plain, it may endure from the mass tourism curse. Come summer time, it’s merely swamped.
And Sardinia? What have you learnt about this island? My guess isn’t quite a bit – except you occur to have been there. You may need heard in regards to the jet-set haven of the Costa Smeralda, the place celebs with mega-yachts escape the paparazzi – however apart from that, niente. As a result of whereas Sicily has been busy blowing its personal trumpet (and its volcanic prime), its much less showy cousin is joyful to remain within the sidelines and whisper quietly about its charms.
However my, what charms! I’ve traveled just about each inch of Sardinia over the previous decade, and I swear that is the island of your wildest Mediterranean goals. So put Sicily out of your thoughts for a minute, and comply with me.
Let’s begin with the seashores, we could? Sardinia has among the most insanely stunning spiaggie you’ll discover with out stepping foot off European shores. They’re usually likened to the Caribbean, however why think about your self anyplace else? Again and again I’m blown away by the east coast Golfo di Orosei’s beautiful bays, lots of which might solely be reached on foot or by boat. Right here, ragged limestone cliffs dive to flour-white sands and a sea so turquoise it appears to be like Photoshopped.
On the north coast, La Maddalena’s pink granite islands conceal elegant coves and ruffled azure waters. Then there may be La Cinta, with bleached sands sloping into cerulean seas and a lagoon fizzing with flamingos, and the Costa Smeralda’s astonishing Spiaggia del Principe. Heading west reveals the nice dunes and waves of the Costa Verde, whereas south-coast Is Arutas sparkles with an arc of frost-white quartz sand. Selecting a favourite is unattainable. I swear.
However the seashores are simply tip-of-the-iceberg stuff. Positive, Sicily has Mt Etna – but Sardinia is simply as wild, mountainous and ripe for journey. Spring brings the magic contact, with wildflowers lighting up the slopes and coast. Go then and also you’ll get the island’s trails largely to your fortunate self. Nice mountain climbing is plentiful, however the uphill scramble via a lush, silent valley to the mysterious Bronze Age ruins of Tiscali, and the trek to Gola Su Gorropu, the place 400m(1312ft)-high partitions of sheer limestone rise above a boulder-strewn gorge that’s usually billed “Europe’s Grand Canyon,” are unmissable. Italy’s hardest trek? Heading off the radar on the week-long Selvaggio Blu trek on Golfo di Orosei is epic, involving climbing, abseiling, route discovering and tenting by a starlit sea as for those who had been the final individual left on earth.
In the event you favor motion by the water, it’s all right here: from a few of Europe’s finest DWS (deep-water soloing) to windsurfing; browsing; kitesurfing; diving the coral-filled, cathedral-like depths of the Nereo Cave, the most important underwater grotto within the Mediterranean; or kayaking to your personal personal cove on the island’s east coast.
Sicily’s cities get all of the fuss, however Sardinia can rival them for tradition – they usually’re usually much less crowded and chaotic. Take Alghero, with its honey-colored sea partitions, Gothic palazzi, cafe-lined piazzas and palpable Spanish vibe, as an example. And I really like heading as much as the rock-hugging ramparts of Cagliari’s Il Castello district for a sundowner at nightfall, when the sky pinkens, the Pisan towers glow gold and locals head out for a night passeggiata (stroll) amongst medieval citadel partitions.
Traditionally, you would possibly suppose Sicily has the ace with its Greek temples and Byzantine mosaics, however Sardinia has many surprises up its sleeves. Specifically 7000 megalithic nuraghi, Bronze and Iron Age towers and settlements that embody tombe dei giganti (“large’s grave” tombs), pozzi sacri (sacred wells) and domus de janas (fairy homes) straight out of a youngsters’ story. One is a Unesco World Heritage web site (Nuraghe Su Nuraxi) – although the actual thrill of prehistory right here is that you just simply occur upon it, as if a 4000-year-old temple plonked in a farmer’s discipline had been no huge deal.
Ah, however what in regards to the meals, you say? Once more, you would possibly suppose Sicily had the sting, however a few of my most memorable meals have been on Sardinia, an island that embraced gradual meals lengthy earlier than it grew to become a development. The pasta right here is sensational: sun-dried, couscous-like fregola; shell-shaped malloreddus swimming in wealthy tomato, garlic, basil and saffron sauce; and ravioli-like culurgiones, filled with pecorino and mint. And the seafood? Divine. Strive sea urchins and lobster from Alghero, large gamberi rossi (purple prawns) and Cabras bottarga (mullet roe). Agriturismi (farmstays) dish up spectacular feasts: antipasti, pasta, porceddu (suckling pig slow-roasted over juniper or myrtle) and seadas, honey-drenched fritters stuffed with ricotta and lemon zest which can be – dare I say it – much more scrumptious than cannoli.
Excellent news: you possibly can drink the native Cannonau wine with a clear conscience. The total-bodied, antioxidant-packed purple is among the causes the island’s mountainous inside is among the world’s 5 “blue zones” – locations of extraordinary longevity, with extremely excessive percentages of centenarians. No marvel: there may be a lot right here to dwell for.