Bellissima Sicily: 13 Charming Villages and Towns You Must Visit on the Italian Island
Bellissima Sicily: 13 Charming Villages and Towns You Must Visit on the Italian Island - Cefalù - Seaside Beauty with Norman Influence
Cefalù is a picturesque seaside town on the northern coast of Sicily that perfectly blends beachside charm with medieval history. Known for its sweeping sandy beach and dramatic seaside promontory dominated by a 12th-century Norman cathedral, Cefalù encapsulates the diverse cultural influences that shape Sicily.
Wandering the narrow cobblestone streets of the town’s historic center, you’ll discover medieval architecture alongside Sicilian Baroque facades. The magnificent Norman Cathedral of the Transfiguration sits atop the promontory overlooking the sea. Constructed under the reign of King Roger II between 1131-1148, the cathedral exemplifies Norman architecture with elaborate mosaic interiors, soaring twin towers, and a striking mosaic of Christ Pantocrator above the entrance. Don't miss climbing the steep stone steps to explore inside the cathedral and take in panoramic coastal views from its terrace.
Beyond the cathedral, Cefalù’s winding medieval streets are a delight to explore on foot. Head to Piazza Duomo, the town's main square, lined with lively cafes perfect for people watching. From there, stroll down pedestrianized Corso Ruggero to the scenic harbor, where you can watch local fishermen bring in the daily catch. The Mandralisca Museum houses an impressive art collection and the famous Antonello da Messina portrait of the Unknown Mariner.
When you need a beach break, head down the steps from Corso Ruggero to relax on Cefalù's crescent-shaped sandy beach set against dramatic seaside cliffs. The crystal clear turquoise waters are ideal for swimming and snorkeling. Rent a sunbed or just spread your towel on the sand and take in spectacular views of the medieval old town. Summertime gets lively with locals and visitors basking on the shores.
Come evening, stop by Osteria del Marinaio for the catch of the day or sip an aperitivo on the harborfront at Bar Imperium. Then stroll the illuminated streets, which take on a romantic medieval ambiance after dark. For accommodation, splurge on a sea view room at Posta Marina to wake up overlooking the beach and promontory. Or check into cozy La Plumeria B&B nestled in the old town.
What else is in this post?
- Bellissima Sicily: 13 Charming Villages and Towns You Must Visit on the Italian Island - Cefalù - Seaside Beauty with Norman Influence
- Bellissima Sicily: 13 Charming Villages and Towns You Must Visit on the Italian Island - Erice - Medieval Mountain Town with Sweeping Views
- Bellissima Sicily: 13 Charming Villages and Towns You Must Visit on the Italian Island - Taormina - Picturesque Cliffside Village Overlooking the Sea
- Bellissima Sicily: 13 Charming Villages and Towns You Must Visit on the Italian Island - Modica - Baroque Architecture in Southern Sicily
- Bellissima Sicily: 13 Charming Villages and Towns You Must Visit on the Italian Island - Noto - Elegant Streets Built from Golden Stone
- Bellissima Sicily: 13 Charming Villages and Towns You Must Visit on the Italian Island - Castellammare del Golfo - Quaint Fishing Village on the North Coast
- Bellissima Sicily: 13 Charming Villages and Towns You Must Visit on the Italian Island - Syracuse - Ancient Greek and Roman Ruins by the Sea
- Bellissima Sicily: 13 Charming Villages and Towns You Must Visit on the Italian Island - Corleone - Hilltop Mafia Film Setting in the Interior
Bellissima Sicily: 13 Charming Villages and Towns You Must Visit on the Italian Island - Erice - Medieval Mountain Town with Sweeping Views
Perched dramatically atop Monte San Giuliano along Sicily's northwestern coast, the ancient town of Erice offers spellbinding views and a portal into medieval Sicily. Set 750 meters above sea level overlooking the port city of Trapani, Erice's hilltop location affords sublime vistas of the Egadi Islands floating on the Mediterranean horizon. Cobblestone streets lined with stone medieval palaces and churches create an enchanting labyrinth to explore on foot. Vibrant flower boxes and winding alleys bursting with local charm transport you back to the Middle Ages as you wander Erice's pedestrianized historic center.
Dominating Erice's skyline are the imposing stone towers and turrets of Castello di Venere, built atop the ancient Temple of Venus. The Norman castle dates back to the 12th century, though the site held importance since ancient Roman times as a temple dedicated to the goddess of love. Take time to explore the castle grounds and climb the towers for sweeping coastal panoramas. The small tree-filled courtyard offers a peaceful respite from the bustle of town.
From Piazza Umberto I, Erice's atmospheric main square, lose yourself meandering the cobblestone lanes and popping into artisanal workshops where locals craft ceramics by hand using ancient techniques. Via Vittorio Emanuele feels straight out of a fairy tale, lined with medieval stone houses adorned with carved stone portals and wooden balconies overflowing with cascading flowers. Stop for tea and sweets at a cafe tucked within the ancient walls of Palazzo Sales for glimpses of Erice's aristocratic past.
The highlight of Erice is arguably the 13th-century Chiesa Matrice, Erice's imposing cathedral dedicated to the Assumption of Mary. Step inside this stone Gothic masterpiece to admire the intricate carved ceilings and fading Baroque frescoes. Don't miss the views from the peaceful cloister garden next door. Food lovers should indulge in Erice's famous sweet almond wine and frutta martorana, marzipan sweets shaped like fruits.
Bellissima Sicily: 13 Charming Villages and Towns You Must Visit on the Italian Island - Taormina - Picturesque Cliffside Village Overlooking the Sea
Perched dramatically on steep sea cliffs along Sicily's Ionian coast, Taormina ranks among the island's most scenic destinations. This sophisticated village seduces visitors with its striking seaside setting, vestiges of ancient Greek and Roman history, lively cafes, and charming boutique hotels. Taormina encapsulates Italian seaside glamor while offering postcard-perfect panoramas from its clifftop plateau.
A cable car whisks you up the steep hillside to Taormina proper, depositing you beside the crenellated walls of the medieval Palazzo Corvaja. From there, get lost wandering photogenic pedestrian lanes lined with shops, cafes, and historic sites. Piazza IX Aprile serves as Taormina's chic living room, fringed by lively bars perfect for people watching. Pop into the famed Caffè Wunderbar for house-made gelato, refreshing granitas, or Campari cocktails.
Don't miss Taormina's ancient Greek theater, which dates back to the 3rd century BCE and still hosts performances with Mt. Etna and the sea as a sublime backdrop. Climb up the stadium-style seats for exhilarating coastal vistas taking in the sweeping curve of Taormina's beaches below. For beach time, take the cable car down to seaside Mazzarò Beach where you can rent lounge chairs or play in the turquoise surf.
Taormina dazzles after dark when the village glows with twinkling lights. Find a table at cozy Tischi Toschi along Corso Umberto for Sicilian specialties before enjoying a passeggiata (evening stroll) with gelato in hand. For accommodation, Hotel Villa Belvedere oozes vintage seaside glamour with a cliffside pool and privileged views. Or check into the central Hotel Villa Schuler, just steps from lively cafes and boutiques.
Beyond the main village, trip highlights around Taormina include soaking up panoramic vistas of Mt. Etna from the stunning gardens of Villa Comunale. The charming hill town of Castelmola perches just above Taormina, offering spectacular overlooks and cafe-lined squares. Further up the coast, time your visit to Isola Bella nature reserve to explore picturesque coves and impressive rock formations along the sea cliffs.
Bellissima Sicily: 13 Charming Villages and Towns You Must Visit on the Italian Island - Modica - Baroque Architecture in Southern Sicily
Tucked into the rocky hills of southeastern Sicily, Modica transports you back to the island's golden era of Baroque architecture crafted after a devastating 1693 earthquake. One of the UNESCO-listed Sicilian late Baroque towns, Modica dazzles with elaborately decorated churches, aristocratic palaces, and a warren of steep cobblestone streets leading down into the valley. The town is divided into Modica Alta and Modica Bassa, or upper and lower Modica, connected by numerous flights of stone stairs winding between finely decorated historic buildings.
A highlight of Modica Alta is the massive St. George Cathedral, dedicated to the city's patron saint. The impressive church was constructed in the early 1400s, with Baroque and Neoclassical touches added after the earthquake. Inside, the cathedral impresses with its sheer size and ornate details including twisting Solomonic columns, elaborate altarpieces, and vivid frescoes. Don't miss the sunken Crypt of the Martyrs down below, containing relics of Modican saints.
The star of Modica Bassa is the elaborate San Pietro Cathedral, built between the 1600s and 1700s. Designed by Rosario Gagliardi, a prominent Sicilian architect, the cathedral exterior flaunts a convex swirling facade in the Sicilian Baroque style. Inside, the cathedral dazzles visitors with gleaming marble, extravagant altars, twisted Solomonic columns, and impressive organ pipes. Climb the bell tower for aerial views of Modica set within a canyon carved by two rivers.
Throughout Modica, unique features of the Sicilian Baroque style include curvaceous facades, wrought iron balconies, flowery ornamentation, and external spiral staircases. Walk along Corso Umberto I, Modica's main drag, to admire these decorative details on churches, mansions, and municipal buildings. Stop at Cantunera for cannoli and other sweet Sicilian treats. The original chocolate recipe was introduced when the Spaniards brought cocoa beans here in the 1600s.
For a Baroque architectural immersion, visit during Modica's Chocobarocco Festival each March. The town celebrates its chocolate heritage through events held in historic palaces and churches. Tours reveal the elaborate vaulted ceilings and frescoed interiors of aristocratic homes rarely open to the public. You can witness the original technique of chocolate production with ancient stone grinders and taste the results.
Bellissima Sicily: 13 Charming Villages and Towns You Must Visit on the Italian Island - Noto - Elegant Streets Built from Golden Stone
Nicknamed "the Stone Garden" for its honey-hued architecture, Noto dazzles visitors with its harmonious streets and piazzas built entirely from golden-colored limestone. This elegant town serves as the pinnacle of Sicilian Baroque style, meticulously constructed after the 1693 earthquake leveled Noto Antica on the hillside above. Meticulous town planning regulations ensured a cohesive aesthetic and urban design to create one of Italy's most captivating historic centers.
Wandering Noto's pedestrianized streets feels like walking through an open-air museum or film set frozen in the late Baroque era. The soft golden glow of the buildings at sunset adds to the magical ambiance. UNESCO recognizes Noto's unique town plan and architecture by designating it a World Heritage Site. Even mundane buildings like warehouses and private homes received elaborate decorative touches. Intricate carved balconies, wrought iron railings, decorative stone corbels, and curved facade lines adorn not just palaces and churches but simple row houses.
The remarkably consistent architectural style across Noto stems from reconstruction efforts in the early 1700s. Architects, artisans, and builders followed defined parameters regarding decorative details, building materials, and alignment when reconstructing the new town one kilometer away on safer, stable terrain. Aristocratic families hired prominent architects to design their new palaces and indexes dictated specific decorative elements allowed for private homes based on the owner's status.
A stroll along Corso Vittorio Emanuele III, Noto's palm tree-lined main street, allows you to admire the harmonious uniformity up close. Historic palaces feature grand balconies and window surrounds. Intricate wrought iron balconies accentuate plaster curves above doorways even on modest buildings. Row houses align perfectly with no gaps between adjacent structures. Continuity creates a seamless effect as you look down the elegant streetscape.
Bellissima Sicily: 13 Charming Villages and Towns You Must Visit on the Italian Island - Castellammare del Golfo - Quaint Fishing Village on the North Coast
Nestled along Sicily's scenic northwestern coast, Castellammare del Golfo charms visitors with its laidback seaside ambiance, picturesque medieval alleyways, and colorful fishing boats bobbing in the harbor. This tranquil destination offers an authentic taste of traditional Sicilian life, from savoring just-caught seafood to exploring historic churches and subtle Baroque architecture.
Upon arrival, make your way to the pleasant seaside promenade lined with palm trees overlooking the protected Gulf of Castellammare. Historic palazzi built by noble families after the 1693 earthquake mingle with rows of brightly painted fishermen's homes. Watch as local boats unload the daily catch, which you can sample later at a harborfront restaurant. Then wander into the peaceful historic center, where flower-filled alleyways dead-end at tiny sun-drenched piazzas.
Rising above Castellammare is the impressive Norman Castle, built in the 9th century upon earlier Arab foundations. Hike up to explore the ruins and admire panoramic vistas of the town's pastel buildings framed by the glistening sea. Back downhill, the ornate Chiesa Madre showcases the Baroque architecture that shapes Castellammare's reconstruction after the earthquake. Its convex facade and elaborate sculptural details typify Sicilian Baroque style.
Of course, no visit to Castellammare is complete without indulging in seafood plucked straight from the harbor. For an unforgettable experience, head to Puny's where Sicilian nonna Rosa will cook up whatever her son caught that morning in a charming kitchen that feels straight out of her home. Be sure to try pasta with sea urchin, swordfish involtini, or shrimp drizzled with sweet Marsala wine reduction. More casual Osteria La Marina serves heaping plates of fresh seafood on a lively harborfront patio.
Beyond the main village, scenic nature reserves and historic sites await discovery within easy reach. Don't miss Zingaro Nature Reserve, the first protected coastline in Sicily, offering hikes between secluded coves for swimming in crystalline waters. Or take a boat trip to the Egadi Islands like Marettimo for lazy beach days on pristine shores. For ancient history, Segesta wows with a remarkably intact 5th-century BC Doric temple.
Bellissima Sicily: 13 Charming Villages and Towns You Must Visit on the Italian Island - Syracuse - Ancient Greek and Roman Ruins by the Sea
With over 2,700 years of history, Syracuse offers an open-air museum of ancient Greek and Roman ruins alongside the sparkling Sicilian sea. As one of the great powers of the ancient world, this city preserves archaeological treasures that allow visitors to step back in time. Wandering the pedestrian streets of Ortygia Island, Syracuse’s atmospheric historic heart, you’ll discover temple columns built by the ancient Greeks incorporated into medieval palazzi. Crumbling Roman amphitheaters overlook the harbor where modern-day Sicilians sell the daily catch.
Food lovers shouldn’t miss Syracuse’s raucous daily market, overflowing with colorful fruits and vegetables, buckets of olives, and freshly caught seafood. Grab arancini rice balls or chickpea fritters for a quick bite before exploring the UNESCO World Heritage ruins. Just across the bridge lies mainland Syracuse, where the extraordinary Neapolis Archaeological Park contains remnants of Greek and Roman theaters and sanctuaries. The park’s main attraction is the Greek Theater, an immense stone amphitheater carved from bedrock where performances are still held today. Wander the semicircular rows of tiered seating for views over the old city framed by Mt. Etna in the distance.
Next head to the Roman Amphitheater, an arena used for gladiator fights and hunting events that could hold 15,000 spectators. Though partially collapsed, enough remains to envision the arena’s former size and steeply raked seats. Nearby, the unusual trapezoid shape of the Ear of Dionysius, a limestone cave with acoustic peculiarities, intrigues visitors. Legend claims the tyrannical Dionysius used the cave to eavesdrop on prisoners through the amplified sounds. End your explorations with a visit to the archaeological museum to see Greek black-figure pottery and Roman marble sculptures.
Bellissima Sicily: 13 Charming Villages and Towns You Must Visit on the Italian Island - Corleone - Hilltop Mafia Film Setting in the Interior
Tucked into the rugged interior of Sicily, the town of Corleone holds a dark fascination for its role in Cosa Nostra history immortalized in The Godfather films. Though the Mafia’s influence has declined in modern times, remnants of Corleone’s past lurk around every corner. Visitors intrigued by the clash between beautiful Baroque architecture and the village’s notorious legacy as a Mafia stronghold will find plenty to explore in this scenic hilltown.
Corleone’s position atop a rocky spur with sweeping views of the surrounding countryside provides hints to its strategic location for a criminal network. Historic buildings crafted from golden limestone after the 1693 earthquake add photogenic charm. Follow the main drag of Via Navarro lined with decorative churches and aristocratic palaces. The Chiesa Madre showcases an elaborate 18th-century façade and frescoed altarpieces by local artists. Climb the belvedere for panoramas over tile rooftops to the rugged mountains beyond.
Inside the Palazzo di Città, the original office of fictional Godfather Vito Corleone now houses the small Anti-Mafia Museum. Exhibits trace the rise and operations of the Corleone clan and other Mafia activity throughout Sicily. While the village’s Mafia connections are undeniable, residents hope tourists will appreciate Corleone’s cultural heritage beyond the stereotypes.
For the full Godfather experience, book a tour with the Corleone Travel Agency. Guides bring you to filming locations from the movies to provide commentary on how places like the Chiesa Sant’Agostino were featured on screen. You’ll stop at the olive oil factory that served as a front for the Corleone family’s dealings. The day ends at a countryside masseria (fortified farmhouse) for a traditional Sicilian meal just like in the famous wedding scene.
Beyond the main town, take a day trip into the rugged Sicani Mountains to soak up the area’s raw natural beauty. Hike through the Ficuzza Forest Reserve with soaring pines and rocky gorges. Or visit Lake Arancio, a tranquil reservoir renowned for its turquoise waters backed by sheer cliffs. Stop at the Sambuca di Sicilia for sweeping views of the lake.