A report from Andalucia, July 2017
Well, it's the long version or the short version! We'll keep to the latter pro tem.
Our normal travelling is usually very much DIY. So, based in the east in Taormina, we had sketched out two weeks in May of moving around most sights in the island.
However - thank you travel industry - we were advised with far too little notice that G7, of which we'd never heard, was causing a lockdown and cancellation of all hotel reservations in Taormina for the duration.
We wanted to stay with the hotel carefully chosen (within all this was a family celebration) so we ended up in Taormina a month late, and in uncustomary heat and humidity (even for Sicily!) that foreshortened too much activity.
So we stayed centred in the east, cut our various overnighting stays planned in the west and, in the reduced 'charging around' time relied on conducted tours more than we usually would.
Here's a precis of some notes I sent to a friend who's also shortly visiting for the first time.
Aeolian islands: Beautiful. Get cruises for the day from the port near Messina. Do include the version that stands off at sea in the dark of the evening so that you can watch Stromboli erupting - we saw 4 good bangs/flames within 45 minutes. Great stuff!
Etna: Can't be missed - we were very lucky and apart from heat haze had exceptional views. Depending on your preference you can stop at the end of the road access (with views up towards the main craters, plus small old craters nearby to look at), or go on the cable car rather higher, and then take 'jeep coaches' higher still, and then move as high as the guides will let you trek depending on volcanic action. Your choice! We saw copious smoke action from two top craters plus some black ash eruption. Marvellous day!
Syracuse: Its history is rather more interesting than what is left (!) but nevertheless well worth walking around if you have spare time. Good stuff from ancient Greek to Roman/Byzantine/Norman and later, but relatively sparse. A half-day conducted walk would ensure you saw the highlights.
Taormina: Our base, which proved exceptionally good for that, and very attractively sited below Etna. It appears on numerous excursions from other parts of Sicily, but I wouldn't have thought it was worth any significant diversion by travellers unless close anyway, but it's certainly very pleasant, with several good mediaeval piazzas.
Mountain-top villages/towns: One of the unpublicised delights we discovered, so we went to many off our own backs (by hired car, mainly - buses available but took too much time). Usually, massive scenic drives up to them, great views from them (usually from bar/restaurants!), and usually you're well looked after by mine hosts since tourists were relatively rare. Often they'll have a good castle, too.
Hot heat: For Sicilians to complain because of a heat wave is rather unusual - it's always xxxxxxx hot anyway! - but we went right into one, always in the higher 90s (in June), and sometimes humid (which wasn't supposed to happen in Sicily). So prepare. That's one of the reasons we escaped into the hill villages so often.
So, also, disappointingly, we curtailed some of the planned longer trips - Agrigento (temples) and Palermo (Monreale). A shame, but they would have been physically suicidal (and, as you know, we're used to deserts' heat)!
If you're nearer to those sites and your temperatures/humidity prove more sensible, then obviously go, as we did to our more nearby Syracuse.
Food: Italian, of course. Better than average, we found the pizzas, the street food (arancini especially), Aperol spritzer (a Sicilian sour orange cocktail liqueur) and, massively, the out-of-this world fresh seafood in all its guises (but avoid the thick cheese/breadcrumb coatings, which Sicilians love but which kills the seafood taste). And watch out for 'spaghetti with (whatever)' descriptions - the (whatever) is often just there in powdered breadcrumb form, which Sicilians love but we found tasteless! Check that you're going to get whole pieces of (whatever). And, one of the best, is the Sicilian form of bouillabaisse, which I gorged on!!! Also, the 'mixed fried fish' - lightly battered and whole. We ate a lot!!
Don't try and find any decent beer (from my point of view) although if you favour your USA light gassy 'lager' stuff, there are bottles of that type all over - such as the Dutch Heineken, which I found they do and which I could just about tolerate.
Wines are as mixed and variable as all over the rest of Italy. I didn't find any really excellent ones to suggest but, personally, I avoided Nero (which the bars sometimes push) - it's their local red one from the Etna slopes.. I found it rough and slightly effervescent. Generally, I just had house reds and dry whites - they were mostly fine. Prosecco we get too much of in the UK already, and I detest the stuff! For one meal I found a Barolo on the list, which I'll always devour!
The people we found excellent, unfailingly cheerful and helpful, and never encountered the reserve sometimes present further north.
Rather shallow, I'm afraid, since Trump upset much of our original plans, but happy to dwell further on any specifics as far as I can if you have questions.