Drive along beautiful coastal roads and visit towns in which the past and the present come together in the food, the mythologies, and the warm Mediterranean culture. Explore the eastern coast of Italy's finest island on a Sicily road trip that takes you deeper than what you'll see in most brochures and guides.
Discover Sicily's eastern coast at your own pace, cruising along sunny highways with breathtaking views of the Ionian Sea and uncovering hidden gems from the area's fascinating past. Throughout this Sicily road trip, you'll come and go as you please and make your vacation what you want it to be with a rental car in Italy.
Pick up your car rental at the Catania-Fontanarossa Airport, and embark on a road trip through Sicily that you'll surely never forget. Watch as Greek mythology comes alive in Catania and its neighboring towns along the Cyclops Coast, and learn just why the Ancient Greek believed these one-eyed giants inhabited the island of Sicily. Wake up your adventurous spirit with a trek up Mount Etna, the tallest active volcano in all of Europe. In Taormina, attend a Sicilian cooking class with a local professional chef, or simply relax on the picturesque beach of Isola Bella. Discover the fabulous architecture inspired by many cultures and time periods around the city of Messina, but steer clear of the two monsters that the Greeks believed lurked in the strait between Sicily and Italy! The comfort and convenience of your own rental car in Sicily will afford you the remarkable opportunity to explore this magical, mythical route at your own pace and on your own terms.
Auto Europe has compiled an easy-to-use Sicily road trip planner, sorting the trip into several daily itineraries with suggestions of where to go in Sicily. This Sicily itinerary will guide you to the best activities and attractions on Sicily's eastern coast while leading you along some of the most iconic and scenic roadways in Europe. The structure of this trip is by no means set in stone, and you can use the information provided to arrange any number of fantastic day trips in Sicily. Uncover a more intimate side of this gorgeous island that can only be experienced with the versatility and freedom granted by a Sicily rental car on your very own road trip in Sicily!
Catania is a delightful city on the eastern coast of Sicily, located about halfway between Messina to the north and Syracuse to the south. Visitors here will be treated to breathtaking views of the Ionian Sea. The capital of the Province of Catania and the second-largest city in Sicily, Catania's geological history is eventful; the town has been destroyed over the centuries by powerful earthquakes and, due to its proximity to the active volcano Mount Etna, residents and visitors have historically been wary of its neighbor's fiery temper. Today, however, Catania is a charming seaside city that is the perfect place to begin a road trip along Sicily's eastern shores.
Best Things to Do in Catania: There are many exciting things to do in Catania and its neighboring towns, an area collectively referred to as The Cyclops Coast because of its ties to the rich, historical tapestry of Greek mythology. For the Ancient Greeks, the Cyclopes were a race of one-eyed primordial giants that, according to many accounts, once populated the island of Sicily. For that reason, upon your arrival in Catania, you should first stop at u Liotru, or the Fontana dell'Elefante, a fountain assembled in 1736 by Giovanni Battista Vaccarini. Located in the Piazza del Duomo, the fountain, which consists of a dwarf elephant made of lava stone topped by an Egyptian obelisk, might at first seem out of place in Sicily. However, paleontologists now know that the prehistoric fauna of Sicily included dwarf elephants, and some believe that these elephants may be the origin of the legend of the Cyclops. On the island, the Ancient Greeks discovered skulls about twice the size of a human head with a large hole that they mistook for an enormous, single eye-socket. Instead of understanding that these holes were the central nasal cavities of extinct dwarf elephants, they speculated that the skulls had belonged to giants with a single eye.
After visiting u Liotru, you should check out the nearby Catania Town Hall, which has been dubbed the Palazzo degli Elefanti, or "The Palace of the Elephants." You'll also be close enough to walk to Castello Ursino, a castle built for Emperor Frederick II during the thirteenth century. Though it may seem strange to have a fortress tucked in the heart of a city, the castle was actually built on a cliff overlooking the sea. Over the years, the seismic activity of volcanic eruptions, lava flows, and earthquakes has moved the castle nearly a mile inland.
Although the city of Catania is beautiful, one of the best things about staying here is its proximity to the small towns of Aci Trezza and Acireale, which will be easily accessible in your rental car. Driving from Catania to Aci Trezza will offer you stunning views of a beautiful, rocky coast and a quaint harbor filled with colorful boats. Off the coast of Aci Trezza are three tall, column-shaped islands known as the isole dei ciclopi, the "islands of the Cyclopes." According to legend, the Cyclops Polyphemus caught Odysseus and his companions during their great journey and began eating them one by one. Odysseus, however, succeeded in blinding the giant and escaped. In a rage, the now-blind Cyclops threw huge rocks at Odysseus, who managed to escape into the sea without being struck. Today, these rocks give the region its name. If you want to see the isole up close, you can dive or snorkel off the coast or take a boat trip. The boat trips in the area are many and varied; depending on your taste and budget, you can look for tours in smaller motor boats, luxury boats, or even glass-bottomed boats.
If you drive to Acireale, check out the Piazza Duomo, which houses the magnificent St. Peter's Basilica. If you feel like enjoying an activity that's fun and a little different, pop into Chocostore (Corso Umberto 214), a small business that sells chocolate in all its possible incarnations: chocolate bars, chocolate drinks, and even chocolate treats that come in every imaginable shape, from high-heeled shoes to watches. For those visitors that like to get out of the city and back to nature, Acireale is close to two large public parks, Villa Belvedere and Parco delle Terme, as well as La Timpa, a beautiful natural reserve overlooking the Ionian Sea.
The Best Restaurants in Catania, Acitrezza, and Acireale: Sicilian cuisine is, in reality, a delicious combination of influences that are drawn from the many civilizations that invaded Sicily over the millennia, including the Arabs, the French, and the Spaniards. Primarily, Sicilian food mixes Italian staples--such as pasta, tomato sauce, and seasonal vegetables--with local specialties that abound in and around the Mediterranean island; chilies, olives, pine nuts, capers, and copious amount of fresh-caught seafood all figure heavily in typical Sicilian cuisine. You could argue that anywhere you choose to dine in Sicily is a great place to enjoy a meal, but to make selecting the best restaurants in Catania, Aci Trezza, and Acireale easy for you, check out the following list of the top restaurants in the area.
In Catania, the stylish interior of Don Mimi is a mix of rustic and modern. The restaurant is known for its amazing cocktails and flavorful dishes, like pasta with pistachio sauce, and although it may seem surprising in culture with so many wheat-based dishes, they also have an extensive gluten-free menu. Situated in the north of town, outside the crowded tourist areas, Al Tortellino is perfect for a quick bite and travelers on a budge who want quality pasta, paninis, and pizza. They offer traditional Sicilian fare such as involtini di pesce spade (stuffed swordfish rolls), and everything is made fresh to order. Hosteria de Panda offers loads of seafood and pasta dishes that are served in generous portions, and the friendly, attentive staff are sure to make your meal memorable.
If you're in the mood for a snack or dessert, Café Solarie, located in the center of Aci Trezza, is the place to go. Locals and tourists rave about their granita and gelato, and the low prices won't put a dent in your budget. Known for its wide variety of perfectly prepared and fresh-caught seafood dishes, from swordfish and lobster to octopus and mussels, Il Moro de Trezza is perched overlooking the beautiful harbor. It's a great place to stop if you're in the mood for an elegant dinner or a romantic evening.
Looking for a fun time in Acireale? Check out Etimue, a gastro-style pub with rock legend décor, a wide selection of beers and cocktails, and an assortment of paninis, salads, and first courses. This downtown pub often has innovative, original live music that's sure to give you a taste of authentic Sicilian nightlife, and the prices are very reasonable. Vico Proiette is a lovely Acireale restaurant with a beautiful outdoor courtyard that serves a variety of pasta, meat, and seafood dishes. Situated just outside the downtown, it's a great place to get away for a relaxing dinner. When you crave fast food but don't want to sacrifice quality, the downtown Il Rosticcere is the best place to stop. Their Mediterranean-influenced menu is popular with the locals, and they have a wide selection of savory, visually appealing baked goods.
Catania Hotels and Lodging: Now that visitors have caught on to Catania's charm, there are a number of hotels in Sicily to choose from in this small metropolis. The five-star Romano Palace, nestled in its own private park just south of Catania, specializes in comfort, relaxation, and wellbeing. They also have an extensive range of top-quality facilities, and you can relax while taking in the luxuriant natural surroundings that are unique to the area. However, if you're on a budget, take a trip just outside of Catania and stay at the Garden Hotel, a four-star hotel for a much cheaper price. Its quiet location makes it a great place to recharge your batteries so you have lots of energy for the rest of your road trip.
There are also a number of great places to stay in Catania if you prefer parking your rental car and walking to the city's sites. Right in the heart of the city of Catania, the Excelsior Grand is a luxury hotel resort that offers absolute relaxation, a restaurant with southern Italian cuisine, and a world of history and culture just on the other side of the hotel walls. The stylish NH Bellini, situated in Catania's commercial zone, gives you convenient access to many of Catania's main attractions. Some perks of this hotel include free parking, a filling breakfast, and friendly and attentive staff members. Housed in a baroque-era building with decorative stonework, Il Principe Hotel Catania is centrally located close to u Liotru. The rooms are modern and simple, a breakfast buffet is put out every day of the week, and the staff are exceptionally friendly.
Would you like your sleeping quarters to take you back to another time? You could stay at La Ville. Don't be fooled by the hotel's modest exterior; the recently renovated rooms are large and spacious, and the hotel itself quiet and clean. Best of all, the interior design boasts period furniture, precious tapestries, arched ceiling, and paintings that create a sophisticated atmosphere and make this one of our favorite hotels in Sicily.
Sicily Road Trip: Catania to Mt. Etna Scenic Drive Map
Map image and directions courtesy of Google Maps
Always drive in accordance with posted road signs and all applicable laws
The second day of your fantastic road trip in Sicily takes you to Mount Etna, whose fiery summit looms in the background of many towns along the eastern Sicilian coast. Etna is the tallest active volcano in all of Europe and the highest mountain in Italy south of the Alps. The Ancient Greeks believed that Typhon, the largest and most fearsome beast in all of Greek mythology, was defeated in battle by Zeus, who then trapped the monster under the mountain. Typhon's buried rage was said to be the source of the volcano's frequent activity.
Since its first recorded eruption during the glory days of Ancient Greece, Mount Etna hasn't ceased throwing ash and smoke into the air and spilling lava flows from its craters. Having a car makes visiting Mount Etna a breeze because, going by car, you can reach all the starting points of the varied nature trails and excursions on Mount Etna. You pass different trails and points of interest depending on the side of the mountain you drive up. Leaving from Catania, it is easiest to drive to the town of Nicolosi and continue up the volcano from there, although you could also drive a bit farther north and enter from the town of Zafferana Etnea. Both towns lead you to a roughly 12-mile drive to the Sapienza Refuge on the south side of Mount Etna.
Parking at Mt. Etna: The Sapienza Refuge is a great place to leave your car. Many visitors park their cars at the refuge for €.80 an hour, €2.50 for a half day, or €4 for the whole day. However, if you want to save a few dollars, park at Hotel Corsaro; they offer free parking even if you aren't a guest, and in addition, they're one of the best places to stay in Etna. If you need a snack or would like to buy a souvenir, you can duck into one of the restaurants or shops at the refuge. From here, you can take a cable car or find a guide to take you on foot to get closer to the volcano's many craters. The variety of tours you can choose from is nearly endless, and all tours on Mount Etna are affected by not only the weather and current volcanic activity, but also your fitness level and your sense of adventure. A walking tour of Mount Etna might take you into volcanic caves, where you can see slumbering bats, or to a wide, lunar landscape covered in volcanic rocks. During the winter, skiers flock to the slopes around the Sapienza Refuge and the Piano Provenzana. Once you're on Mount Etna, the kind of tour you take is ultimately up to you, but nearly everyone who has visited this region of Sicily agrees that Mount Etna is an absolutely can't-miss destination.
Best Restaurants Near Mt. Etna: Although dining options on Mount Etna are limited to a handful of restaurants in the Sapienza Refuge, the small towns around it are filled with gastronomical gems that have options to satisfy every taste. Make sure you stop for a meal in one of these towns; you may never again eat a meal surrounded by such breathtaking, otherworldly scenery. Here's a short list of some of the best restaurants near Mount Etna.
In Milo, Da Rinuccio provides spectacular views and lots of local options, including local meats, cheeses, ice cream, and house-made pasta. They also provide a selection of local wines and sell large bottles of boutique beer. Conveniently, they have a spacious parking lot where you can leave your car and a play area to keep the kids busy. Another Milo restaurant, 4 Archi, offers straightforward Italian fare with no frills and no fuss, just high-quality food cooked right, and for that reason, the locals love it. The menu is only in Italian, but the point-and-order method will surely not disappoint because the portions are large and the prices low for the delicious, home-cooked meals. For more local flavor, ask about taking a private cooking class with the charming head chef.
The rustic L'Osteria del Siciliano, in Nicolosi, serves traditional Sicilian food and a wide variety of wines. You can order more typical pasta and seafood dishes or try something different like the horse meatballs or pasta with pig cheek and pistachio. At this restaurant, you'll fill up on good food without spending a lot of money. Whether you're looking for heaping portions of ribs and steaks or filling pizzas, L'Orlando Furioso, also in Nicolosi, is for you. You might have trouble communicating with the staff, but the locals love the place, and if you can order anything at all, you're sure to leave satisfied. Try a rich, decadent dessert to round out your meal.
In Zafferana Etnea, Ristorante Il Castello di Bacco provides views for every taste. One on side, you can watch the locals strolling by, and on the other, glance at the sea almost 2000 feet below. The price tag is steeper, but the dishes are beautifully arranged and cooked to perfection, and on the right night, the owner/chef might even come out to your table. Try the never-ending Sicilian antipasti to awaken your taste buds. Trattoria Ardichetto is in an out-of-the-way location outside the town of Zafferana Etnea, but it's a trek the locals often make and well worth a visit. The food is tasty and traditional, the structure modern but warm, and the prices modest. Make sure you look for the outdoor pond filled with adorable, photogenic turtles!
Mt. Etna Hotels and Lodging: Many visitors stay in Catania or Taormina due to their proximity to the volcano, but if you book early enough, you might be able to stay in one of the lovely Sicily hotels that are dotted on the side of the volcano. Hotel Corsaro (Contrada Cantoniera, 95030 Nicolosi), located near the Sapienza Refuge, is your best bet. This hotel has simple yet elegant rooms, a wellness area with a sauna and whirlpool, a convenient location, and spectacular views that just can't be beat. However, if you can't find a room on the mountain--or if spending the night that close to an active volcano would make it hard for you to sleep easy--there are also a number of delightful small towns that encircle the volcano just outside the park's borders.
Staying in a town on the eastern side of the volcano is most convenient for this leg of your road trip in Sicily. If you're in the mood to relax, Airone Wellness Hotel (Via Cassone 67, 95019 Zafferana Etnea) is a fabulous luxury hotel that provides a wellness area complete with sauna, Turkish bath, relaxing shower, Jacuzzi, and "hydropool." The swimming pool is nestled in a park filled with chestnut trees, and you can request additional extravagances, from beauty treatments to horseback rides, should you want them. Hotel Villa Dorata (Via Serra la Sciara, Nicolosi), designed and built in the early 1900s, has since been completely restructured and decorated with antique furniture, some of which has been around since the building's construction. The villa has nine charmingly refined and impeccably designed bedrooms equipped for every comfort, a restaurant that serves Sicilian delicacies, and a bar. Another hotel in Nicolosi, Hotel alle Pendici (Viale della Regione 18, 95030 Nicolosi), combines tradition and modernity with particular design details, such as baked clay walls, country-style wood, and ceramizzata lava stones. A smaller hotel of only two stories, each room has unique furniture and differently colored walls. The B&B Dimora dell'Etna (Via Crisafulli 21, 95010 Milo) has sleek, brightly-colored rooms named after the fruiting plants that surround the hotel, like the Camera Cirasa (Cherry Room) and the Camera Racina (Grape Room). This Sicilian hotel offers rooms with views of the ocean and Mount Etna, as well as breakfast every day of the week.
Sicily Road Trip: Mt. Etna to Taormina Scenic Drive Map
Map image and directions courtesy of Google Maps
Always drive in accordance with posted road signs and all applicable laws
The next part of your road trip through Sicily takes you to Taormina, a small yet charming town located about halfway between the larger cities of Catania and Messina. Its sits, calmly overlooking the Ionian Sea, about 650 feet above sea level on the hillside of Monte Tauro. Though small, the town was an important settlement for the Sicels, the Italic tribe that gave Sicily the name it's had since antiquity, and the Ancient Greeks and Romans. Today, there are many sites and activities that make for an unforgettable stay with your Taormina rental car.
Best Restaurants in Taormina: There are approximately 80 restaurants in Taormina, many of which display their menus and prices outside their doors so that you can get a sense of what they serve before you enter. But in this town, you'll need some willpower! Many of Taormina's restaurants sumptuously display anitpasti to tempt you the minute you walk in; cold dishes such as insalata di mare (seafood salad), vegetables, salami, ham, olives, stuffed artichoke hearts, anchovies, and eggplants in many shapes and forms abound.
Taormina Hotels and Lodging: Taormina is a small, beachside town, which means that almost anywhere you stay will be conveniently located, never too far from the beach or the town. Some of the best hotels in Sicily are located here ... here are several terrific hotels in Taormina that are worth considering during this leg of your Sicily road trip. The Ora Resort Baia Azzurra overlooks the sea from its location in the center of the Bay of Mazzaro. This moderately priced hotel offers free parking and a heartier daily breakfast than most Sicilian hotels provide. The views are stunning, especially if you can get a room with a balcony. Isabella Hotel is located right at the heart of downtown Taormina, convenient if you'd like to walk to Taormina's restaurants, bars, and sites, including the Teatro Greco. Despite its central location, the interior of the hotel is quiet, and the rooms are simple but elegant. It's a great place to stay if you plan to do a lot of shopping but don't want to haul your bags around town.
If you don't mind staying outside of Taormina, Hotel Alexander is a beautiful hotel at a great price. The hotel just a ten-minute walk from the beach, and it's in a quiet area and tucked into lush gardens. One of the owners, a father-daughter team, is almost always there and happy to help their guests. If you're not afraid of heights, check out the Baia Taormina Grand Palace, which clings to a rocky hillside that hangs over the sea. In summer, the swimming choices are nearly endless; guests can choose the hotel's private rocky beach, visit the nearest sandy beach, or simply hang out at the hotel's swimming pool. The hotel offers a calming, romantic atmosphere far enough from Taormina to feel secluded but close enough to easily drive there in your rental car.
It may be a small town, but Taormina's natural beauty has brought a number of exclusive, pricey hotels to its shores; they're the perfect option for those looking to be truly pampered during their stay. La Plage Resort is located right next to the famous Isola Bella and is comprised of a low-rise building and several bungalows nestled in lovely gardens. The whole building has free WiFi, and free parking is available for your rental car on the premises, a rarity in Taormina. Relax on the resort's private beach, or pamper yourself in their spa. The crème de la crème of Taormina hotels, however, has to be the Belmond Villa Sant'andrea, a five-star hotel set so close to the water's edge that you can hear the waves lapping against the rocky beach from your room. A stay at Belmond Villa Sant'andrea will cost you, but the high price tag buys you inside access to an architectural gem, built by an aristocratic family in 1830, that makes its guests feel as if they were staying not in a hotel, but rather in a charming private residence. We feel these are great choices when planning a trip to Sicily.
Sicily Road Trip Itinerary: Taormina to Messina Scenic Drive Map
Map image and directions provided by Google Maps
Always drive in accordance with posted road signs and all applicable laws
The city of Messina, on the northeast corner of the island of Sicily, is caught in the state of perpetually being kicked by Italy's boot. Messina's harbor arches out into the Strait of Messina, and the city was originally named Zancle, from the Greek word for "scythe," due to its naturally curved shape. Throughout its long and tumultuous history, the city has in turn been ravaged by warring civilizations, natural disasters, and the Black Plague, but today, the bustling port city is known for its breathtaking architecture, wine production, and lemon, orange, and olive cultivation, which are all reasons that it should be the final stop on your road trip in Sicily.
Best Restaurants in Messina: Due to the fact that Messina is the third-largest city in Sicily, there will be no shortage of great places to eat during your stay here. Cooks in Messina are known for their cakes and pastries, so this is a good town in which to ignore your diet for a day and savor their celebrated sweet treats. To help you choose some of the best restaurants in Messina to suit your taste buds and budget, take a look at this quick-reference guide.
Messina Hotels and Lodging: There are a number of lodging options in the port city of Messina, and if you're hoping to find the perfect Messina hotel to suit your budget, you have quite a few options to choose from. NH Royal Palace is pleasant four-star hotel just a stone's throw from the commercial center of Messina and the scythe-shaped jetty. The rooms are large, the hotel provides breakfast, and there are a high number of shops, restaurants, bars, and nightclubs in the immediate vicinity. The Guest House Residence (Via Mario Reitano Spadafora 1, 98124 Messina) is simply named and simply decorated, but the rooms are modern, spacious, and welcoming nonetheless, perhaps in part due to the exceptional staff. Just speak to the wonderful owners if you need anything in particular, from a special breakfast to your own parking space, and they'll surely help you out. If you feel the need to get away but don't want to have to travel outside of Messina, look for La Mia Valle (Frazione San Gregorio, 98071 Capo d'Orlando) hotel. The setting is peaceful and relaxing, set in green gardens and a lush natural setting. Here, you can wind down in the wood- and light-filled rooms that are a reflection of the natural beauty around them. However, if you don't mind taking your rental car just a couple miles outside Messina's city center, you could stay at Aparthotel Kalaskiso (Stromboli 3, 98035 Messina), a hotel with stylish rooms and common areas that's a good place to stay for both couples and families.
Your Unforgettable Road Trip in Sicily: If you plan your road trip in Sicily or your Sicily trip itinerary using this guide, you're sure to leave the island with unforgettable, magical memories of your vacation. The island of Sicily may not be large, but its eastern coast is filled with breathtaking views, culinary and architectural gems, and stories of a rich and fascinating past. There is no better place than Sicily to let factual and mythological histories weave themselves together to awaken your senses, spark your imagination, and breathe life into your dreams. Now is the perfect time to rent a car in Sicily and set off on the road trip of a lifetime!
After Your Road Trip: If you're not ready for your vacation to come to a close, there are many options for you once you've reached the end of this Sicily road trip. If you'd like to fly out of the Catania-Fontanarossa Airport, you can follow the shoreline of the Ionian Sea and drive back the route you came. If you're a fan of scenic drives and are looking for more opportunities to be on the open road, after leaving Messina, take a slightly longer route around the western side of Mount Etna through the towns of Randazzo, Maletto, and Bronte before returning to Catania. There are many beautiful cities in Sicily, so you could also take a few days to explore the island, stopping at popular destinations like Syracuse, Palermo, Agrigento, Cefalu, or Stromboli. For those who want to see more of Italy, there is the option to take a short ferry ride across the strait from Messina to the mainland. In truth, the possibilities are nearly endless with a rental car, so you don't look at the conclusion of this Sicily road trip planner as an end, but rather as a beginning!
Enjoy a preview of some of the views you'll enjoy on this amazing road trip!
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