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Destinations

Visit Sicily: 6 Great Escapes You’ve Never Even Heard Of

Everyone wants to visit Sicily, and it’s not hard to see why. Just off the toe of Italy’s boot, this gorgeous Mediterranean island encompasses sublime rural scenery, stunning beaches, and (arguably) some of the best food in the country. Part of the beauty of this beguiling region is how easy and affordable it is to access. Direct flights operate out of most major European airports, and it’s possible to stay in some simply dreamy hotels and villas for less than elsewhere in Southern Europe. Most visitors congregate Sicily’s main urban centers, like Palermo, Catania, and Syracuse. While each of these has its appeal, the heartlands of the island reveal some incredible rural experiences to those who seek them.

Duomo Square, Visit Sicily

Photo| Duomo Square, Catania, Sicily| GETTYIMAGES – DOMINGO LEIVA

Whether you’re seeking an authentic village atmosphere or just a stretch of sand away from the crowds, we’ve got you covered. With over 400 million annual visitors to HotelsCombined, we’ve compiled our favorite underrated places to explore on a visit to Sicily. Flung far from the beaten track, these small-town destinations loom large on our travel bucket lists, and soon they will on yours too.

San Matteo Church - Palermo

Photo| San Matteo Church – Palermo| GETTYIMAGES – ELZAUER

1. Cefalù

Coast of Cefalu, visit sicily

Photo| Coast of Cefalu| GETTYIMAGES – FEDERICO SCOTTO

norman cathedral

Photo| Cefalú, Norman cathedral| GETTYIMAGES – DOMINGO LEIVA

Sitting midway along Sicily’s northern coast, Cefalù speaks volumes about the island’s storied past. Its origins are lost to time, but you can glimpse remnants of its prehistoric past at the Temple of Diana, a ninth-century-BC structure that hides away above the town atop an enormous rocky rise. Descend its slopes to immerse yourself in medieval heritage, from the Arab architecture of the medieval wash house to a creepy chapel crypt housing hundreds of mummified bodies. Visiting Sicily for the beaches? Don’t move on without checking out Mazzaforno and Settefrati, which are just up the coast.

Other Cefalù highlights:

  • See: Il Lungomare (“The Promenade,”) a 5-kilometer is a beautiful seafront walkway with sublime evening views of the old town.
  • Eat: Pasta taianu is a delicious local primo made with eggplant, meat, pinenuts, raisins, and savory pecorino cheese.
  • Drink: Right on the Lungomare, Maljik is an after-dinner favorite, popular for its pool and colorful, beachsider cocktails.

Where to stay: Hotel Kalura

Hotel Kalura, Visit Sicily

Photo| Hotel Kalura| Provided by BOOKING.COM

If you want to stay for more than just one night in Cefalù, seriously consider this resort-style hotel right on the water. Book one of the airy, sea-view rooms to gasp at glittering Kalura Beach right from your private balcony. For a truly secluded beach experience, opt for one of the independent apartments, which are located down a peaceful private trail away from any noise; Kalura actually promises the twittering of birds. You’ll have your own kitchen, but if you don’t feel like cooking, the hotel restaurant is still yours to enjoy.

Star Rating: 4*
Price: USD 218 – USD 360
Guest Rating: 8.4
Address: Via V. Cavallaro 13, 90015 Cefalù, Sicily, Italy

2. Licata

Valle Dei Templi

Photo|Valle Dei Templi| GETTYIMAGES – ANDREA GURRIERI

If you’re all about your antiquities, you’ll want to consider this sunkissed seaside town when you visit Sicily. Licata is an easy 30 minutes’ drive from Valle dei Templi, a UNESCO World Heritage Site housing some of the best-preserved Greek structures in existence. Hilltop Castello Sant’Angelo and a pretty, historic core with plenty of Baroque palazzos make the town itself a worthwhile stop on any visit to Sicily. If you’re craving some beach time, there’s also a couple of great swimming spots, like wide-stretching Marianello beach.

Other Licata highlights:

  • See: The Black Christ of Licata, which, according to legend, miraculously survived an Ottoman attempt to destroy it with flaming arrows.
  • Eat: La Madia. Boasting two Michelin Stars, this creative kitchen is worth a detour for its innovative interpretations of local staples.
  • Drink: La Drogheria, a local favorite in Licata’s historic core, with creative cocktails and plenty of craft beer.

Where to stay: Villa Giuliana Relais

Villa Giuliana Relais, Visit Sicily

Photo| Villa Giuliana Relais| Provided by BOOKING.COM

Most people who visit Sicily on the cheap end up very happy in a medieval-quarter guest house or family-run pension. Licata offers something even better — the chance to lord it over the city from your own historic mansion. Housed in a turn-of-the-century residence, Villa Giuliana Relais has incredible views of both Castello Sant’Angelo as well as the old town. You’ll need to book a superior room or suite to enjoy the vistas in private, but they do throw in a balcony dining space for good measure. On that note, the restaurant is an upscale joint that places special focus on local seafood and wines — so don’t dine out every night.

Star Rating: 4*
Price: USD 146 – USD 193
Guest Rating: 9.2
Address: Via Oreto Grata Snc, 92027 Licata, Sicily, Italy

3. Scicli

San Matteo church

Photo| Scicli, San Matteo church| GETTYIMAGES – STEFANO SALVETTI

Orange Fruit Growing On Tree

Photo| Orange Fruit Growing On Tree, Scicli| GETTYIMAGES – ROBERTO CURT AMODEO – EYEEM

Hillside Scicli is a treat to look at, even if you’re just driving through the area. Peeling away from its centerpiece — the abandoned Church of San Matteo — this gorgeous, hill–hugging town forms apart of the Val di Noto UNESCO World Heritage Site. For shutterbugs, that means endlessly excellent photo ops of its Baroque palazzos and curious cave dwellings. Seriously, you may want to bring a second SD card. Just to the south, the fishing village of Donnalucata stretches out along a gorgeously golden beach.

Other Scicli highlights:

  • See: Museo del Costume is a fascinating ethnographic museum detailing Sciclian life in centuries past.
  • Eat: Enjoy a storied snack at Basile, an artisanal bakery that’s been selling delightful bites since 1966.
  • Drink: Sommelier, a local wine seller with numerous grape varieties you can purchase to go or drink on tap.
Chiesa Santa Maria La Nova

Photo| Chiesa Santa Maria La Nova, View of Scicli| GETTYIMAGES – WESTEND61

Where to stay: Donnalucata Resort

Donnalucata Resort, Visit sicily

Photo| Donnalucata Resort| Provided by BOOKING.COM

Yes, we admit it — it’s in Donnalucata, but it would be a shame to visit Sicily without carving out some time to lounge lazily somewhere on its unspoiled southern coast. Aesthetically, Donnalucata is a pristine, Ibiza–style setup with a poolside bar to match the vibe. It’s got a private swimming beach too, with free sun loungers and a drinks service. Dinner is traditional Sicilian fare with plenty of choices if you are vegetarian or not a fan of fish.

Star Rating: 4*
Price: USD 106 – USD 129
Guest Rating: 6.7
Address: S.P. 63, 97010 Donnalucata, Sicily, Italy

4. Castellammare del Golfo

Castellammare del Golfo Harbor, Sicily, Italy

Photo| Castellammare del Golfo Harbor, Sicily| GETTYIMAGES – PETER ADAMS

Riserva Naturale

Photo| Natural Reserve dello Zingaro| GETTYIMAGES – MAREMAGNUM

Game of Thrones fans will appreciate the Kings Landing vibe. But even if you don’t watch the show (or fell off after the seventh season), Castellammare del Golfo is impossible to pass up when you visit Sicily. Head up to this viewpoint for the best view of the town’s Norman Arabic castle, which thrusts itself out to sea surrounding by inviting aquamarine waters. A little further up the coast, Riserva dello Zingaro, the island’s first nature reserve, is a must on any visit to Italy, offering secret swimming coves and scenic coastal hikes.

Other Castellammare del Golfo highlights:

  • See: San Vito Lo Capo, a great day trip just past Riserva dello Zingaro. It’s prized for it’s fine-sanded, Caribbean beach.
  • Eat: For a great Mediterranean menu, head to Mirko’s, a reputable family-run establishment in the old town.
  • Drink: Via Don Leonardo Zangara comes alive at night thanks to its string of waterfront bars. We like Vogue Bar, which livens up with live music and great Aperol Spritzes.

Where to stay: Residence Itaca

Residence Itaca, Visit Sicily

Photo| Residence Itaca| Provided by BOOKING.COM

Offering incredibly good value for its waterfront location, Residence Itaca steals great views of the sea, and if you cross over the road, Castellammare castle. Despite an old-town location, you can look forward to modern boutique accommodation, with a choice of simple yet pleasing guest rooms and serviced apartments. With fantastic options all around you, dining in might not be a concern. However, if you do wish to stay in and recharge for an evening, Itaca has an onsite restaurant and room service.

Star Rating: 4*
Price: USD 109 – USD 121
Guest Rating: 9.7
Address: Via Largo Petrolo, 13, 91014 Castellammare del Golfo, Sicily, Italy

5. Castelbuono

Castelbuono Cityscape

Photo| Castelbuono| GETTYIMAGES – CLAUDE LETIEN

Castelbuono, Palermo, Sicily

Photo| Castelbuono, Palermo, Sicily|GETTYIMAGES – ROBERTHARDING

For a slice of authentic rural Sicily, a journey up the mountainous Madonie National Park is essential. Trust us — you’re going to want to yourself out of Castelbuono, the region’s largest “city,” which remains an old-country maze of terracotta-topped buildings and intricate medieval churches. Rise early to see the streets be cleaned (by donkeys!) and refuel with a pastry and caffè from Pasticceria Sferruzza. Castelbuono Ventimiglia Castle, the residence of Castelbuono’s former ruling family, is a difficult one to miss, especially as it continues to dominate the city skyline.

Other Castelbuono highlights:

  • See: The Old Madrice, a 14th-century temple decorated wall-to-wall in vibrant frescoes.
  • Eat: Palazzaccio, a family-run establishment popular for their millefoglie pasta, served with a ragù of white pork and salted ricotta.
  • Drink: Abbazia Sant’Anastasia, a local winery known for it’s Garganega, makes for an excellent afternoon of sips and snacks in a sublime country setting.

Where to stay: Paradiso delle Madonie

Paradiso delle Madonie, Visit sicily

Photo| Paradiso Delle Madonie| Provided by BOOKING.COM

For easy access to Castelbuono’s main sights, Paradiso delle Madonie ticks all the boxes. It’s just a short amble from Ventimiglia Castle and its historic piazza, which is the perfect place for an evening drink on the terrace. Meanwhile, the buffet breakfast (complimentary) is served until 10:30 a.m., so you won’t have to force yourself up out of bed too early. Paradiso delle Madonie also serves regionally-focused evening fare, and there’s a breezy terrace for those that wish to sit out.

Star Rating: 4*
Price: USD 101 – USD 119
Guest Rating: 8.7
Address: Via Dante Alighieri 82, 90013 Castelbuono, Sicily, Italy

6. Palazzolo Acreide

The star-child of southern Sicily, Palazzolo Acreide has been the setting of numerous classic Italian films. But you don’t have to be an avid movie goer to appreciate the town, either. “New” Palazzolo (read: the bit that was built after the 1693 earthquake) is known for its elegant Baroque architecture. Further up the hill, the town is crowned by the ancient Greek settlement of Akrai, where you’ll find some of the best-preserved classical ruins in the Mediterranean.

Other Palazzolo Acreide highlights:

  • See: The miraculously-preserved Akrai Greek Theatre. Nearby, you’ll also find The Santoni, a series of stone-hewn statues dating back to the fourth century BC.
  • Eat: Andrea Sapori Montani, a Michelin-Guide-recommended restaurant with a fantastic selection of wines.
  • Drink: Sample Moscatos and light-bodied reds at Morro Venere Sicilian Vinery Azienda Agricola Di Lanteri Daniela.

Where to stay: Domus Hyblaea

Domus Hyblaea, Visit Sicily

Photo| Domus Hyblaea| Provided by BOOKING.COM

Domus Hyblaea offers upscale agriturismo just outside Palazzolo Acreide and the ruins of Akrai. Rustic in character, this hacienda-style hotel is set in a grove of bending olive trees, against stunning pastoral views. Between the old town and day trips to reserves like the unspoiled Anapo Valley, there’s plenty to see and do on your doorstep. For those seeking a little idle R&R while they visit Sicily, Domus Hyblaea’s gorgeous outdoor pool and jacuzzi will be welcome amenities.

Star Rating: 4*
Price: USD 142 – USD 354
Guest Rating: 9.3
Address: Via G. Campailla, 96010 Palazzolo Acreide, Sicily, Italy

Hotel Location

Visit Sicily, Not Just Sicily’s Main Highlights

San Vito Lo Capo Beach

Photo| San Vito Lo Capo Beach| GETTYIMAGES – MASSIMO CALMONTE

Don’t get us wrong — with their historic buildings and fantastic food, Palermo and Catania are well worth your time. However, a visit to Sicily shouldn’t stop at its two largest cities. Much of the island’s many-chaptered past is to be discovered in the rural areas. From ancient Greek ruins to Val di Noto’s intangible Baroque heritage, the Sicilian heartland covers it all. To top it all off, many of these little-visited destinations can be reached in a couple of hours from the larger cities, while local hospitality makes them charming and memorable places to stay put for a night or two.

Which underrated travel destination has surprised you the most? Let us know in the comments below!

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