Think of Sicilia (Sicily) and come to mind: beaches. There is no doubt its beaches are beautiful. Anyway it is a place of contrasts, from the crumbling, grandeur of the capital, Palermo, to the unpmarket glitz of the tourist resort, Taormina. There are Greek ruins at Siracusa, Agrigento, Selinunte and Segesta; and the volcanic Isole Eolie off Sicilia's north coast have a wild beauty matched only by the spectacular Mt Etna on the island's east coast. Sicilia is the largest island in the Mediterranean and its strategic location made it a prize for successive wayes of invaders. As well as Greek temples, there are Roman ruins, Norman churches and castles, Arab and Byzantine domes and splendid Baroque churches and places.
It is believed the earliest settlers were the Sicanians, Elymians and Siculians, who came from variouspoints around the southern Mediterranean; they were followed by the Phoenicians. Greek colonisation began in the 18th century BC with the foundation of Naxos. The cities of Siracusa, Catania, Messina and Agrigento grew and still dominate the island.
Although some industry has developed and tourism is a fast-growing sector, the island's economy is still largely agricultural and the people remain strongly connected to the land. The coastal landscape ranges from rugged and windswept shores to long stretches of sandy beach, while rolling hills, mountains and dry plateaus dominate the interior. The temperate climate brings mild weather in winter, but summer is relentlessly hot and the beaches swarm with holiday-makes.
Sicilian food is spicy and sweet. The focus along the coast is on seafood, notably sword-fish, and fresh produce. Some say fruit and vegetables taste better in Sicilia. The cakes and pastries can be works of art, but are very sweet. Try the cassata, a rich cake filled with ricotta and candied fruits, cannoli, tubes of pastry filled with cream, ricotta or chocolate; and dolci di mandorle, the many varieties of almond cakes and pastries.
City Palermo (PA); Agrigento (AG); Caltanissetta (CL); Catania (CT); Enna (EN); Messina (ME); Ragusa (RG); Siracusa (SR); Trapani (TP).