This Italian island with a violent history is a peaceful paradise for foodies
Wandering through winding alleys dotted with shops and cafes, we reach the mighty cathedral which proudly towers over the city.
The sun might be shining outside, but it’s the amazing interior that blinds us – shimmering, shimmering golden mosaics, made with exquisite craftsmanship in the 12th century.
We come back in the Sicilian sunlight and sparkling in the distance, the Mediterranean Sea laps over a small stretch of sandy beach.
We are in Cefalù, a bustling resort in the north of the island, and we ventured here from our secluded vacation home, Villa Frisca, in Campofelice di Roccella, to explore its large stone buildings and lively restaurants.
Cefalù was founded by the Greeks in 400 BC and today its rustic charm makes it an ideal day for us to get away from lazing by the pool.
It took 20 minutes to get here by car and the ride was almost as pretty as the town itself, with rugged mountains looming on one side and sea views on the other.
With so many gems to visit near our villa, hiring a car was a must.
Palermo, the noisy and frenetic capital, once again infamous for being the home of the Sicilian Mafia, the Cosa Nostra, was a 30 mile drive and a highlight for its fascinating history. The Greeks, Arabs and Normans all invaded and you can see their influence in the architecture and taste it in the food.
Not far from Cefalù are Castel di Tusa, a Blue Flag pebble beach with small sailboats that float in the shallows; and the Santo Stefano di Camastra, which houses shops selling traditional ceramics handcrafted by the locals.
With nothing but greenery surrounding our four-person villa, it would be so easy to overlook all of these spots while lounging by the quiet pool.
Nestled in the Sicilian countryside, our Villatravellers house is both stylish and relaxed.
A spacious dining room has retained some original features including a rustic stone wall and the living room leads to a quiet patio sheltered by a pergola.
The whole place is quiet, from the simple decor and wooden ceilings to the grassy landscape.
Lying on my lounge chair, I am treated to a breathtaking view of a three-acre field leading to a valley.
But we tear ourselves away from the patio to make the trip to the mighty Mount Etna, an active volcano on the east coast of the island.
Some of the nearby areas still bear the scars of its eruption in 2001, and higher up the mountain, giant craters have formed in the rocky ground. We admire the summit from the town below, but those who wish to get closer to the summit can take a cable car up the black rock and hike around the red ash craters.
Anyone visiting Etna should also make sure to get to Taormina, Sicily’s main tourist resort.
This picturesque town sits on top of a hill and has views just as impressive as the one from our villa.
Good restaurants are plentiful here, many with tables overlooking the beautiful bay. One place, La Capinera, has a Michelin star.
After tasting delicious wines from the Etna hills, we venture further up the cliff to the town center where there are small craft shops, an ornate church and many small bars.
Taormina was celebrating a festival that day and the streets were rows of vintage Ferraris.
Al Duomo is the perfect place for those who want to try classic Sicilian pasta dishes.
It serves spaghetti with sardines and wild fennel and paccheri with black pig stew. Grab a table on the terrace if you can – you’ll be in a prime spot to admire the old church and the bustling cobblestone streets below.
Sicily surprised us.
Every quaint coastal town here feels secluded and romantic, but there’s plenty to keep even the pickiest vacationer busy.
From our patio table at Villa Frisca, we take one last glance across the fields, the calm only disturbed by a donkey from one of the neighboring farms.
GO TO: SICILY
GETTING THERE : Ryanair flies direct from Manchester and Stansted to Palermo with base fares in October starting at £ 15 one way. See ryanair.com.
STAY THERE: Seven nights’ rental at Villa Friscais for four from £ 2,050 per week. See villatravellers.com or call 020 3608 4505.
OUT AND ABOUT: Avis offers rental cars for pickup in Palermo from £ 60.13 per day for a Volkswagen four-seater up !.