Editor’s Note: This Sicily itinerary is presented as a first-person perspective from one of our frequent traveling contributors, Kristen Oliveri. Learn about her first-hand experience and recommendations for navigating Sicily from a wine lover’s perspective. This itinerary includes information on traveling to and around Sicily, various wine regions worth visiting, and specific wineries and tours that offer unique experiences.
- Welcome to the Sicilian Food & Drink Revolution
- Visiting Sicily Travel Logistics
- Stop #1: Catania
- Stop #2: Head to Mount Etna
- Stop #3: Taormina
- Tips for Visiting Sicily
- More Essential Wine Regions & Towns to Visit within Sicily Wine Country
- Books on Sicilian Wine
- Frequently Asked Questions about Visiting Sicily
Welcome to the Sicilian Food & Drink Revolution
This trip to Sicily is going to be special.
I had visited once before, writing about the incredibly diverse wine region, but now I had the opportunity to take my husband whose family immigrated to the US from Sicily before landing in Brooklyn three generations ago. We knew that his grandfather was born and raised in Catania, so we structured the trip as such that we would begin there and continue for further exploration throughout Mount Etna and Taormina, stopping to eat and drink along the way.
Sicily is still an incredibly untouched region for tourism in many ways and I experienced that the first time I was there.
Visiting Sicily Travel Logistics
As you read on, we’ll explore the ins and outs of this Mediterranean gem, from the bustling major airports to the most efficient ways to navigate the island. We’ll also share our handpicked selection of luxurious hotel options tailored to wine enthusiasts, as well as other essential information to make your Sicilian adventure a trip to remember.
Transportation: The Truth About Traveling in Sicily
Getting to Sicily and navigating travel within it can be precarious, to say the least.
We chose a US air carrier (Delta) to fly directly into Rome (check flight prices here on Kayak) where we later transferred to Catania. As per our travel agent’s suggestions, we began our trip there, Sicily’s second-largest city, a working town with a younger vibe that is going through a major culinary revolution.
To make the most of my first few days in a new region while fighting jet-lag, I often use the app TimeShifter to help begin setting my body clock to my destination’s time before the trip so I can maximize my time.
We were informed that the best way to get around once there was to rent a car. It quickly became clear that driving in Italy can be intimidating, a challenge to say the least. Despite this, it’s still the best option for flexibility. Just pace yourself
While we often relied heavily on Google Maps during our road trip, we also printed out addresses and directions from place to place (Google Maps didn’t have it all) and we also opted for a navigation system in our rental car, should we need it. Given the intricacies of the roads and lack of street signs, I would highly recommend the three-tiered approach.
While you can easily fly between main cities within Sicily, we constructed this itinerary to begin in Catania and then drive to Mount Etna where we would spend the bulk of our time exploring wineries and restaurants and then end in the popular town of Taormina, where we could park the car in the hotel and get around mostly on foot.
It’s worth noting that while all of Sicily speaks traditional Italian (the days of dialect are not as prevalent as they were a few generations ago) many people do speak English fluently, even in the most remote places. Still, be armed with Italian phrases including greetings, asking where the bathroom is and be sure to know how to thank someone after they have helped you.
Essential Italian and Sicilian Phrases to Know when Visiting Sicily
If you are visiting Sicily, here are some essential Italian phrases that could be helpful:
Ciao – Hello/Goodbye
Buongiorno – Good morning/Good day
Grazie – Thank you
Per favore – Please
Mi scusi – Excuse me (formal)
Parla inglese? – Do you speak English?
Quanto costa? – How much does it cost?
Dove si trova? – Where is it located?
Vorrei ordinare – I would like to order
Posso pagare con la carta di credito? – Can I pay with a credit card?
It is also a good idea to learn some basic Sicilian phrases as well, since Sicilian is a distinct language from Italian and is widely spoken on the island. Some common Sicilian phrases include:
Salutamu tutti – Hello everyone
Bedda – Beautiful (used to describe things or people)
Cumpari – Friend (male)
Cumari – Friend (female)
Ci videmu – See you later
Tanti auguri – Best wishes
Chistu è sangu – This is blood (a way to say “this is serious”)
Scurdammo – Let’s forget it
Un ti preoccupari – Don’t worry about it.
When to Go
The spring and fall seasons tend to have the most temperate weather in Sicily, making the trips more enjoyable while avoiding any extreme heat. Most of the hotels, agriturismos, and accommodations either at or near wineries rarely have air conditioning. While some are beginning to incorporate AC into their rooms, most do not, so it’s better to avoid that situation. I have been to Sicily twice in July and I would caution against it. Months like April, May, September, and October are the way to go.
Stop #1: Catania
Book Catania Wine Tours & Activities Ahead of Time
Where to Eat and Drink
After arriving in Catania and fighting dreaded jet-lag, we had a quick shower and hit the town to see the famous fish market. We took a stroll through the market and had dinner at the restaurant Mm!!, which artfully prepared fresh seafood in every way imaginable: raw, grilled and fried.
Seafood platters with raw fish are often the star of a dinner table in Sicily. They marinate the fresh fish ever so lightly and dress it with olive oil, lemon, pepper and sea salt. In true mediterranean style, the lemon and oil tenderizes the fish, just like ceviche, and adds flavor without detracting from the taste and freshness of the fish itself.
Within the city, the relatively new dedication to elevated cuisine was on display. Catania is currently undergoing a true culinary renaissance with restaurants like Ostier and Sapio (awarded a one-Michelin star) which are redefining the way Sicilians eat today. Once places for more casual dining, these two restaurants in particular offer fine dining experiences with true Sicilian flair.
Hotels in Catania
When it comes to accommodations in Catania, it is slightly lacking in moderate to upscale options, so we choose to spend only a few nights in town at a local apartment rental. Some alternative, higher-end hotel options include Hotel Villa del Basco and Il Principe Hotel.
Stop #2: Head to Mount Etna
Book Mount Etna Wine Tours & Things to Do Ahead of Time
While Catania is filled with raw energy and excitement, once we were well fed, we were itching to head to the quieter region of Mount Etna to continue our wine and food exploration.
Up in the mountains, the volcanic vistas are nothing short of life-changing. You can feel the fresh breeze sweep over the mountainous terrain even on the warmest of days. Another reason we chose to go to Mount Etna is for their daily breakfast spreads. There are a range of interesting lodging options, many on vineyard properties themselves, that showcase local breakfast specialties with everything from fruit and yogurt to juice bars to warmly cooked eggs, baked goods, Italian meats, and fresh vegetables.
Etna Wineries to Visit
Our first transformative breakfast experience happened at Tenuta di Fessina, a boutique agriturismo, and winery owned by winemaker and proprietor, Sylvia Maestrelli. She bought the land back in 2007 after 18 families who previously owned it and started her organic vineyard that produces 90,000 bottles per year with eight different varietals. Her winemaking philosophy is simple: she wanted to produce feminine, crisp wine that was complex. After our private tasting on the property, we agreed that she achieved that and then some.
During our stay at Tenuta di Fessina, we also made a trip to Planeta Winery in Etna run by Hungarian winemaker Patricia Toth, who is truly Sicilian in spirit. The vineyard spans 10.8 hectares and began its first production in 2009. Toth came to the property where she was dedicated to her pursuit of volcanic-style winemaking.
Guests travel to the Planeta year-round for tours and tastings. After we explored the vineyard and had our tasting with Toth, we sat down for a proper Sicilian lunch in their tasting room which included fresh olives, cheese, meats, crackers and vegetables paired with more of their wines.
While staying at Tenuta di Fessina, we also tried other local eateries like Dai Pennisi in Linguaglossa, which is a popular local butcher shop with a sit-down restaurant that makes grilled meats and traditional eggplant dishes. Their deceptively simple preparation wowed us with every bite. Other wineries worth noting in the region include Frank Cornelissen that produces intriguing natural wines.
We also spent time at Palmento Costanzo, which produces wines within the Parco dell’Etna (Etna Park). The winery was renovated and restored in 2011, carried out according to the principles of bio-architecture. The organic vineyard now spans ten hectares, built on a series of terraces made of dry lava stones found in the region. They produce a variety of wine that we felt connected to (perhaps due to the fact my husband’s family name was the same as the family’s owner), namely the Mofete Bianco 2018 that we sent home to fill our wine cellar with.
Luxury Accommodation in Mount Etna
As world travelers, my husband and I do love a little luxury in our lives. We found the understated elegance we were looking for at Villa Neri Resort & Spa in the Etna region and let ourselves completely indulge.
The accommodations were excellent and geared more towards the American traveler with amenities like incredible air conditioning and other creature comforts, plus a wonderful pool area complete with loungers and an outdoor restaurant.
The restaurant in the hotel, Le Dodici Fontane, offers an elegant dining experience curated by head chef Elia Russo. The menu wows with sensory dishes and different tasting options. We chose one that took us on a culinary journey that mixed traditional Sicilian ingredients with a more elevated, new-age way of executing dishes.
Following our stay at Villa Neri, we spent a night at Monaci delle Terre Nere that provided us with a holistic, sustainable experience from beginning to end. Part of the Slow Food International movement in Italy with organic, local, sustainable options, this boutique hotel has one of the most beautiful outdoor restaurants overlooking a luxurious pool and garden area.
We enjoyed a typical al fresco Sicilian lunch there including linguine vongole and a tomato and mozzarella salad paired with a fresh, crisp Sicilian white wine from Mount Etna. Dinner was another special experience at Locanda Nerello on the property where we took the server’s recommendations with vegetable dishes including the beloved eggplant, as well as a pasta and meat dish, all paired with Sicilian wine. We ended that meal with a mouthwatering, delicate cannoli, smaller in size then I have seen back home, but packed with love that made each bite taste like heaven.
Our morning breakfast buffet was served on the top of the hill, a wonderful way for us to get a little exercise without foregoing a meal. Afterward, we went back to our room with a private garden where we had a private yoga instructor come and give us a wonderful 60-minute yoga class, with nature as our backdrop.
Our final two evenings in the region were spent at Relais San Giuliano. This Italian oasis hotel felt like a dream. It was home to a quaint and warm spa where we each got a treatment and a restaurant on property with one of the best meals we had– a simple roast beef with fresh figs.
On our final afternoon in the area, we decided to simply lounge by the pool and stay put, but we weren’t sure if we wanted to eat at the restaurant on the property again. We spoke to the hotel manager who said they would be happy to coordinate a poolside luncheon that featured “tavola calda” which roughly translates to “hot table.” In practice, it essentially means Sicilian street food like arancini, versions of Stromboli, pizzette (mini pizzas) and other fried goodness. We even finished the meal with a pistachio flavored granita, the Sicilian dessert of choice and more local wine, discussing how we finally got the hang of the Sicilian lifestyle.
Stop #3: Taormina
Schedule the Best Things to Do in Taormina
Our final stop on our week-long journey in Sicily was Taormina. I hadn’t had the pleasure of visiting on my first trip, so we decided to end our experience in a more touristic part of Sicily where we could sneak in a bit of shopping and restaurant and bar hopping before heading back to reality.
The hotels in Taormina are more expensive given its popularity, so we went with a standard hotel close to the heart of town so that we could park the car and leave it there for a while as my husband was certainly tired of driving like a Sicilian.
We chose the Grand Hotel Miramare, nestled into the side of a cliff with beautiful views of the sea. The standard room was basic but we didn’t spend much time there. Instead, we toured the local town, shopping and eating any chance we could get—trying everything from gelato to cannolis, washing them down with refreshing Aperol spritzes.
Wineries near Taormina
If shopping and bar hopping isn’t quite your thing, or you simply aren’t done tasting fantastic Sicilian wine, here are some of the best wineries to visit near Taormina. Note that not all wineries are necessarily in Taormina proper, but they are close enough to the accommodations we just mentioned accessible by rental car.
This winery is situated on the slopes of Mount Etna and offers breathtaking views of the volcano. They specialize in producing high-quality wines using traditional and modern techniques. They offer wine tastings with local food pairings and also provide guided tours of their vineyards and cellars.
Donnafugata is a family-owned winery located in the historic town of Marsala. They produce a wide range of wines using both native and international grape varieties. The winery offers guided tours of their vineyards and cellars, as well as wine tastings paired with local cheeses and meats.
Benanti is a historic winery located in the town of Viagrande, just a short drive from Taormina. They specialize in producing wines made from native grape varieties, including the famous Etna Rosso.
Cantine Russo Winery
Cantine Russo is a family-owned winery located in the town of Solicchiata, near the base of Mount Etna. They produce a range of wines made from local grape varieties, including one of our favorites, Nerello Mascalese.
Where to Dine in Taormina
For our final meal before heading home, we dined at Villa Zuccaro and kept it simple with our ordering. We split a bowl of spaghetti vongole, a spicy salami pizza made in a brick oven and a bottle of Nero D’Avola.
Our final meal was simple, yet deeply satisfying, exactly how I felt about the trip itself.
Tips for Visiting Sicily
Make appointments and schedule tours at wineries that you would like to visit ahead of time, especially in their main seasons of the spring and fall. Book lunches at a handful of wineries as well so that you can taste and eat at the same time, which takes the guesswork out of finding food in remote locations after your hunger has kicked in after a long morning of wine tasting.
Stay at boutique agriturismos on vineyards for the holistic wine experience. Not to mention they often have the best breakfast spreads.
Schedule some wellness time in between meals and tastings. Several of the boutique hotels offer private yoga classes or nature walks (or simply some pool time if it’s warm enough) so that you can add in a holistic element to your trip.
Save your shopping for Taormina, that has everything from beautiful tapestries to classic souvenirs and unforgettable local citrus-themed perfumes.
More Essential Wine Regions & Towns to Visit within Sicily Wine Country
Venture to the foothills of the majestic Mount Etna, where vineyards thrive on the mineral-rich volcanic soil. Etna DOC is renowned for its elegant reds and crisp whites, offering a unique tasting experience that beautifully reflects the terroir’s remarkable character.
Embrace the charm of Vittoria, a picturesque wine region in southeastern Sicily. Celebrated for its flagship Cerasuolo di Vittoria, a harmonious blend of Nero d’Avola and Frappato grapes, this destination is a must-visit for those seeking the perfect balance of fruit and spice.
Savor the exquisite flavors of Marsala, a historical coastal town in western Sicily. Home to the world-famous fortified wine, Marsala offers a delightful journey through centuries of vinicultural tradition, from the golden-hued dry styles to the velvety sweet delights.
Explore the sun-kissed Baroque town of Noto, nestled in southeastern Sicily. This enchanting locale is famed for its Moscato di Noto, a luscious dessert wine that bursts with fragrant floral notes and seductive hints of honey and apricot.
Immerse yourself in the lesser-known but equally captivating region of Salaparuta, located in southwestern Sicily. Here, you’ll encounter diverse microclimates and terroirs that yield an intriguing array of wines, from the full-bodied Nero d’Avola to the bright and zesty Grillo.
Books on Sicilian Wine
A fun romp through the vineyards of Sicily, this writer interviews many of the winemakers who have been instrumental in bringing Sicilian wine to the forefront of winemaking.
This book is thorough and contains much about the wine history and how it intertwines with the history of the island as a whole. A good summary and reference guide for the subject matter. This is not a travel book, but a real look at Sicily for people who want to delve a little deeper.
This winemaker owns his family estate but only because he fought for it when local “undesirables” wanted his land. A tale of courage and heart-warming passion, with local wine as a backdrop. B & N carries the book.