Italy was one of the worst-affected countries, hit by a staggering amount of COVID-positive cases early on in the pandemic, and the closure of its tourism industry that contributes 13% to the GDP.
Most Italian destinations are still drawing up their strategies to open tourism: some travel to and fro from Europe is allowed, some journeys can be taken with a few days of quarantine thrown in, and some destinations are still out of bounds.
The biggest island in southern Italy is strategizing a big comeback: an $84 million fund to kickstart tourism, picking up half the flight cost and a third of hotel tab for travellers, and free entry to many of its museums and archaeological sites.
The island getaway
It was German author and statesman Johann Wolfgang von Goethe who described this lush island as a gateway or “the key to Italy”.
The Greeks, Phoenicians, Normans, the Spanish, Arabs and the local Italians have all held sway. For many conquerors, Sicily was a gateway to reign over the Mediterranean. Each left an imprint, which is why a journey to the island is like a journey into how human history evolved as people travelled, migrated, conquered and transformed the cultures they passed through.
The largest in the Mediterranean Sea, it is a multi-spatial theatre of culture, nature, history food and traditions, where art and culture intertwine with a formidable culinary heritage. It is home to the finest Doric temples and theatres from the ancient Greek world, which formed a setting for Homer’s Odyssey.
Sicily lies at the crossroads between Europe and Africa. The monarchs brought with them their art and traditions, including culinary ones, which still coexist and overlap with each other.
So, why Sicily?
Nature seems to have found its sweet home in this land: the mountains, the sea with its incredible colour palette, Mount Etna’s smoking volcanoes, and the baroque palaces that tell a story of Sicily as a bridge for many invaders to conquer the Mediterranean.
Sicily has endless stretches of wild beaches that are ideal for social distancing.
Palermo flaunts an inheritance of Arab-Norman monumental wonders; Trapani is famous for its byzantine sunsets, windmills and saltpans; Catania’s buildings sport unusual black-and-white facades, dominated by Mount Etna; Taormina, a hilltop town has cliffs that drop sharply to the sea, forming coves along sandy beaches; Agrigento and its ten well-preserved Doric Temples are wonders of the world, and the Egadi and the Aeolian Islands are where you go for those wild seas we spoke about.
Its rich vegetation and rivers in full spate are an adventure seeker’s havens. Enjoy regattas on a sailing boat; fly over Etna in a helicopter; trek the mountains and snorkel and dive in the sea.
Thanks to rich vegetation, long rivers in full flow and the sea that surrounds it, Sicily is a destination for adventure, from the sporty to the adventurous.
Sicily attracts people keen on hosting lavish destination weddings and corporate events, set to the backdrop of brilliant sunsets and the squares of the small villages, where guests can blend in with the native population and feel a part of their world.
The culinary traditions
The history of Sicilian cuisine can be told in 13 invasions: a vibrant blend of different empires over the last three millennia. If the Lebanese brought with them the luscious figs, one of the oldest Sicilian cheese, Pecorino Siciliano, is made from sheep’s milk and was invented by the ancient Greeks in Sicily in about 500 B.C. Today, Sicily is the sole production base for the cheese in the world.
To explore the island’s culinary heritage, many travellers enroll in cooking classes hosted by famous chefs, including Michelin-starred ones, to learn quintessential Sicilian recipes. Best known for its seafood, fish couscous, fresh pasta, caponata and “Martorana” fruits (almond pastries) are just a few indulgences.
Among its many resources, Sicily is home to vineyards that produce wines that have won global accolades.
Wine traditions in regions such as Vittoria and Mount Etna have continued to stay strong. The recent improvements in viticulture and winemaking ensure that the island turns out some of the most exciting labels in Italy.
Heritage regions such as Marsala have put Sicilian wine on the map. The dry or sweet fortified wine is unlike the cheap variety you buy in American supermarkets. A good-quality Marsala from Sicily is often used in great cooking and is also seeing a revival as a good wine to drink.
Sicily’s small villages surrounded by sun-kissed groves, a wild, wild sea, fading baroque palaces, and a rich heritage, is just the destination you want to explore after spending months cooped up.