Sicily’s diverse blend of luxury and history

Sicily has more historical sights than even the most ardent tourist could cover in one holiday

For an island so closely associated with Italian cultural stereotypes, Sicily is surprisingly diverse. The island's positioning means it has been invaded by just about everyone in European history, from the Greeks to the Normans. Even the Allies seized the island in the Second World War as a launch pad for the Southern European attack. As a result, it has more temples and historical sights than even the most ardent tourist could cover in one holiday.

This melting pot atmosphere extends to the food; Italian influences jostle for menu space with North African cuisine, while hints of Greek, Spanish and even English tastes can also be found in the country's specialities. It's cheap too around €7 will buy you a delicious bowl of pasta.

Add to this the fact that Sicily is chock-full with luxury accommodation and it's a wonder you're not booking your flights already or if you're worried about your carbon footprint, and have a couple of days to spare, you could even take the train. An afternoon Eurostar to Paris, followed by the Palatino overnight sleeper to Rome then the InterCity train to Catania, Syracuse or Palermo will allow you to catch a glimpse of the rest of Italy. And you will also experience one of the rarest forms of European transport when the train uses a train ferry to cross the Straits of Messina.

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So where should you stay? It depends partly on what you want to see. For easy access to the island's history, head to Caol Ishka which is just outside the Unesco World Heritage Site of Syracuse, which was home to Archimedes. The town is possibly the most picture-perfect urban landscape in Sicily, according to Lonely Planet. The old town, which dates back to 734BC, when it was founded by the Corinthians, is situated on Ortygia island. A bridge connects it to the new town.

The Caol Ishka hotel "is rooted in history but contemporary in style", says Rhiannon Batten in The Independent. The hotel rents out bikes and canoes for use in the nearby Fiume Ciane nature reserve and river Anapo. An infinity pool and sun loungers cater for the less energetic.

But the top attraction in Sicily has to be Mount Etna. "Europe's largest and most active volcano dominates the skyline and is revered like a benevolent ogre", says Kathleen Herron in The Sunday Times.If you want to holiday close but not too close to the natural fireworks, you'll struggle to do better than L'Olmo, which is situated between the sea and the volcano. This beautifully restored villa is surrounded by terraced gardens and a large pool, says The Independent. It sleeps 24 but you can rent as few as eight rooms in the low season.

Alternatively you could try Villa Verderama in western Sicily, which is "the jewel in Simpson Travel's Sicily programme", says Tony Dawe in The Times. "The generous windows and first floor balcony at the front are in keeping with a conventional villa, while the interior fits the image of a grand family house." Situated on a hill complete with sloping gardens, views of the Egadi Islands, and a 15m pool, the villa is well worth the £3,792 weekly price tag.

Holidays in Sicily: the best places to stay

Caol Ishka

Doubles from €190 with breakfast. For more information, call 00 39 09 31 69057, or visit


Rentals from €16,000 per week, for 16 people sharing, with staff. For more, call 020-7377 8518, or visit

Villa Verderama

Prices for a week start at £474 pp, based on eight sharing with flights. Call 0845-811 6504;

Ruth Jackson-Kirby

Ruth Jackson-Kirby is a freelance personal finance journalist with 17 years’ experience, writing about everything from savings and credit cards to pensions, property and pet insurance. 

Ruth started her career at MoneyWeek after graduating with an MA from the University of St Andrews, and she continues to contribute regular articles to our personal finance section. After leaving MoneyWeek she went on to become deputy editor of Moneywise before becoming a freelance journalist.

Ruth writes regularly for national publications including The Sunday Times, The Times, The Mail on Sunday and Good Housekeeping among many other titles both online and offline.