Spending the Winter in Sicily
Who wouldn't fancy spending the winter where it feels just like summer?
Some people fly all the way to the southern hemisphere. The main drawback is, of course, that you can't just pop home if something crops up that quickly needs sorting out.
This is where wintering in Europe has its advantages. The other benefits are that you don't need to arrange visas, you can use the same currency (for most Europeans!) and you can relax surrounded by a culture similar to your own.
No wonder the lure of the Mediterranean islands is so powerful. There are several to choose from, but the one most often overlooked for winter holidays is probably the most appealing: Sicily.
Why spend the winter in Sicily?
- A winter holiday in Sicily is still an insider tip, so you can bask in a "tourist-free zone".
- A lot of Sicily's attractions are more enjoyable in winter. These include nature walks among plants at their best in winter (citrus trees, for example), crowd-free city sightseeing, and ancient sites to be explored at comfortable temperatures.
- In Sicily you can learn Italian, the most beautiful language in the world.
Sir John Soane, designer of the Bank of England and parts of the Houses of Parliament in London, spent many of his winters in Sicily for the sake of his health, and for creative inspiration.
Il mare d'inverno - The wintery sea
Winter Impressions of Sicily
A picture is worth a thousand words. Given these images, it is hardly surprising that sun-starved northern Europeans are beginning to spend their winters in Sicily.
The winter with good weather
People who spend the winter away from home are often pretty active types. Sicily offers just as many things to do in winter as it does in summer, if not more. One great winter activity in Sicily is hiking in the countryside. The air is fresh, the landscape is green, and you can gaze out far and wide with never a tourist in sight!
Calmly exploring antiquity
The lack of rival tourists or dehydrating sun makes winter the best possible season to visit the ancient archaeological sites of Sicily. Our picture shows one of the Greek temples of Selinunte... and what else? Greenery, and not a single person!
The photographer, who can no longer survive a single winter without her annual trip to Sicily, had the temple all to herself. She shot this photo in January 2013.
Useful tips for your exploration of the ancient world while you're on holiday in Sicily can be found here.
Discover Sicily's Cities
Whilst winter is great for exploring Sicily's ancient cities without the crowds, it's even better for exploring her modern towns.
In summer, most people would rather cool down by the sea than stew in the historic center of Palermo or any other city. In winter the sea gets a bit nippy, though, whereas the cities are full of things to do and really come into their own.
Apart from all the art galleries, museums and shops, you can enjoy sitting in the sun at outdoor cafés most days, and explore the streets thoroughly without the tourist hordes. If you start your winter holidays in December, you can not only escape the tourists but the hassle of Christmas back home as well!
Here we offer some practical tips for exploring Sicily's cities.
One of the obvious, and most enjoyable, things to do in winter in Sicily is hiking, offered by over 70 Sicilian nature reserves.
Good winter weather is the prerequisite for walking tours at all levels of difficulty. Nobody wants to be sweating from every pore, but you don't want a red nose either!
For the perfect conditions, stay close to the coast. Inland, Sicily reaches almost 2,000 metres in altitude and you will find snow, even during the very mild Sicilian winter.
If you want to tour Sicily and enjoy the open air, cycling holidays are a great way to explore a wider area than you could on foot. Cycling around Sicily in the heat of summer comes close to torture, but in winter it's relaxing and highly enjoyable.
Winter visitors to Sicily from northern Europe appreciate bicycles not only for sports, like the couple in the video, but also to get around town or even to go shopping without the hassle of finding a parking space.
Local bike shops are discovering that renting out bicycles is a convenient new line of business. The owners of some holiday lettings and hotels in Sicily are also offering bicycles to their guests. You can make fantastic savings if you find a holiday landlord who offers an all-in package.
Sicily's winding roads are a paradise for motorcycle fanatics. The video (right) suggests that this particularly applies to Harley riders!
Of course, not everyone wants to ride their own bike all the way from Northern Europe to Sicily in winter. Fortunately, you can rent motorbikes in Sicily.
In Sicily they are not offered by the car rental companies, but by small, local businesses run by motorcycle enthusiasts. Just ask the owner of your apartment or at the hotel reception for suggestions.
Geo what? You could call this new-ish craze a "scavenger hunt" or "treasure hunt".
Geocaching is a real-world, outdoor treasure hunting game using GPS-enabled devices. Participants first register on a geocaching website to join the game, navigate to a specific set of GPS coordinates, and attempt to find the geocache (container) hidden at that location. There are geocaches scattered about Sicily.
The rule is that you can take an item from the geocache so long as you leave one of equal or greater value in exchange. Then you enter your visit in the lobgbook inside the geocache, and on the geocaching website online.
The clues are riddles on geocaching websites, describing the general direction in which the geocache can be found. A geocache may be in a public garden, in a city street, or in the countryside at the end of a long hike.
Now that geocaching is taking off in Sicily, it is one of the fun things to do while exploring the island, particularly if you come for long winter breaks rather than short sightseeing holidays.
Winter tends to make us think of battening down the hatches and staying indoors, or at least of being less physically active. In the Sicilian winter this does not apply! It is the best season to enjoy the countryside in more ways than one.
It is only in winter that Sicily has enough rain to fill the streams and rivers, so this is the only time you can enjoy the many waterfalls on this rocky, mountainous island.
The waterfalls in the Parco Fluviale dell'Alcantara are probably the best known, but you can find many other lovely waterfalls in the countryside around Palermo. The waterfall called the Throat of the Dragon (Gola del Drago; see video) in the countryside around Corleone, and another waterfall just on the outskirts of Corleone, are truly beautiful.
One of Italy's most famous kite festivals takes place in Sicily, on the beach of San Vito lo Capo. This is hardly surprising, given the perfect, steady wind that Sicily sees in winter on the beaches. International kite-enthusiasts meet every spring or autumn for the Festival Internazionale degli Aquiloni.
As the video on the right shows, you can basically bring anything that flies. The other beaches in Sicily are literally deserted during the low season, so why not use your winter holidays in Sicily for your own personal kite festival?
Nowadays you can buy kites that do not require bars. These "soft kites" fold up so small that some of them even fit in a coat pocket. You can also buy kites from many a roadside market stall in Sicily which are rather flimsy, but so cheap you can regard them as single-use objects!
Is kite flying starting to feel a bit tame? Would you like to try flying over Sicily yourself?
No problem - Sicily is a paradise for paragliders. There are mountains all over Sicily and some of them have perfect landing sites, namely the deserted winter beaches.
You can only go paragliding (called parapendio) in Italy if you have a specific license to do so. This can generally be obtained without bureaucratic obstacles.
Some clubs offer paragliding tandem flights. As the video shows, paragliding is not only for youngsters. The "guest flier" here is 75 years young!
Bad weather in the Winter
As we all know, there is nowhere on the planet that never has bad weather. They even get violent storms in the tropics from time to time! Despite having on average four hours of sunshine a day even in January, Sicily sometimes has cold and rainy days.
That does not mean you have to die of boredom indoors. There are still plenty of things to do when the sun stops shining.
The photo on the right was taken in January 2013 during a spot of bad weather. A stiff northwest wind drove one cloudy front after another over Sicily.
Of course, that was exactly what this particular surfer and his friends were looking for. This kind of wind generates perfect surfing waves of four to six feet near the harbour of the small town of Santa Flavia - a real insider tip among surfing enthusiasts from Palermo and the surrounding area.
Surfing is a rare sport among Sicilians so you will never be competing for waves among the locals! You will also easily find long, empty stretches of beach and optimum wind speeds if you enjoy kite surfing.
Of course, most of the people who come to Sicily for a winter holiday are no longer in the right age-group for surfing, but a walk along the each to look at the storm-tossed sea provides free entertainment and some dramatic photo-opportunities for anyone!
For many fashionistas, winter is more exciting than summer.
Sicily is top of the fashion game, as Sicilian fashion designer Domenico Dolce – one half of the world famous D&G brand – shows in the video (right) of his "Autumn-Winter 2013 Women's Campaign". We chose to showcase this year because he took all his inspiration from the sights and colours of his native island.
Palermo, with all its glamorous shopping streets, is "shopping central" in western Sicily. There are also street markets where you can pick up bargains which still look stylish.
An ideal base camp for holidays exploring Palermo, where you can find accommodation which gives you a tranquil night's sleep at lower prices than the city, is the clean and quiet suburb of Santa Flavia. Just 20 minutes outside the city, it feels a world away from the busy crowds.
Most people associate Sicily with colourful horse-drawn carts, religious festivals and, of course, The Godfather movies. We less often connect Sicily with art and the cinema - especially when it comes to modern art.
This is hardly surprising when you ask yourself how many people spend time on their summer holidays visiting museums and galleries, when right next door the beach is calling out to them.
During winter holidays in Sicily, it suddenly looks quite different. Even in a small town like Bagheria, you can find a museum with a mission to promote contemporary Sicilian art (see video, right).
The little town of Gibellina holds the title for "highest density of modern art in a public space in Italy". But the biggest selection, and of course the widest variety of artistic styles, is to be found in Palermo. This is one more reason to look for holiday lettings close to Palermo when planning winter holidays in Sicily.
The Mediterranean diet is considered the best way to eat food which is tasty and healthy at the same time. Sicily has its own special variant of Mediterranean cuisine, evolved over the centuries; nowadays, it would probably be called "fusion cuisine".
In Sicily virtually all the Mediterranean peoples crossed paths, and they all brought crops from home and their own culinary specialties to enrich the diet. The Phoenicians brought olives, grapes and figs, the Greeks brought pulses and spelt, the Romans added a great variety of vegetables, the North Africans brought lemons and spices, the Germans brought aromatic herbs from the north, and the Spanish brought chocolate, prickly pears and the indispensable tomato.
A winter holiday provides an excellent opportunity for foodies to learn more about Sicilian cuisine, and to enjoy a variety of vegetables and fruits which are out of season and unavailable in Sicilian shops and restaurants in summer – this includes all the citrus fruits! You will also be able to eat types of fish which are legally protected during their breeding seasons in summer.
Sicily and wine? First and foremost we may think of Marsala. It's not only the best fortified wine in the world, but also lies at the heart of the interesting English contribution to Sicilian history.
The ancient Romans considered Sicily's wines to be the best in the world. They are still used secretly to blend and improve the taste of expensive french and other wines, without receiving recognition in their own right.
But Sicily's wine industry has been enjoying modernisation in recent years. Today Sicilian wines are better appreciated, and regarded as an insider tip with great development potential.
For wine enthusiasts, a winter vacation is of course an excellent opportunity to taste the new season's wines. A tasting tour of Sicily's wine cellars always keeps you cosy and warm even when the sun stops shining outside!
From artist Anthony Van Dyck to author Robert Graves, generations of writers, artists and poets have moved from northern Europe down to the inspirational Mediterranean. The dazzling sunshine all year round and the intense colours of the sea, plants and sky are surely the best possible stimuli for creative ideas.
Whether you want to write poetry or short stories, polish your novel or learn to shoot better photos or paint pictures, we are certain Sicily will fire your imagination. We think the lashing waves and dramatic clouds of winter are the best possible setting to make the creative sparks fly!
Handicrafts and Games
If you don't see yourself as a great artist or photographer, you can still find a creative outlet and some original inspiration in Sicily.
Sicily has a lot of keen beachcombers who gather beautiful shells and pebbles, fantastically twisted branches of driftwood and other materials which can be used at home for decoration and handicrafts. You can buy glue and paint in any Sicilian hardware shop, and the Internet offers countless sites packed with creative ideas.
If you prefer the ephemeral approach you can simply decorate the beach like the people in the video (right) – what these experts are able to do with nothing but stones is amazing.
Italian is the most beautiful and romantic language in the world, but it is also a language in which you can have fun waving your hands about while joking and chatting with your new Sicilian friends!
Language classes offer probably the best opportunity for lone travellers to make new friends among other visitors and expats in Sicily. Winter language classes are one of the ideal things to do if you want to keep your intellect agile on holiday, whilst avoiding crowds of teenage students on their summer break and the kind of heat that may make you nod off in the classroom!
Making friends with locals is far easier in the more relaxed, smaller towns than in busy Palermo. Our holidays lettings recommendations include a great selection of well-heated flats in Palermo's satellite towns which would provide a perfect winter base for people who want to make new friends on holiday.
How to organise your Winter holidays in Sicily
A summer holiday in Sicily can't go wrong: you book a hotel room or holiday apartment close to the sea, pack your bathing suits and off you go. In winter, it can be a different story. There are plenty of beautiful-looking holiday lettings in Sicily that have no heating and, instead of bathing suits, you will literally end up wearing your anorak indoors. The following sections contain our tips for avoiding the pitfalls and ensuring a relaxing winter in Sicily.
Where to stay for the winter?
We all know we'll be pampered by warmth and sunshine in Sicily even in winter. Weather statistics tell us to expect 4 hours of sunshine a day, even in the dark months of December and January.
Even so, the temperatures of the Sicilian winter depend very much on your location. Sicily does have three skiing reserves, after all. Two of them, unsurprisingly, are on the 3,300 meter-high Mount Etna, where you will certainly not spend the winter eating outside under the palm trees!
To do that, you have pitch your headquarters in or around Palermo. Here are some of the reasons for spending the winter near Palermo:
- The lowest mean temperature of 10°C, in January, is one of the highest of Sicily.
- Sicily's capital has the greatest cultural diversity of the island.
- Palermo gives you the best Trenitalia train routes around the whole island. If you are staying for the whole winter, a rental car could be hair-raisingly expensive.
The apartments described at the bottom of this page are conveniently located: You can reach central Palermo by Trenitalia from any of them in 30 minutes, including the walk to the station.
The Sicilian winter weather
We all know how depressing it is after a grey and rainy summer to face the shortening days of an even greyer, even colder winter. Most Sicilians struggle to believe that we northerners often need to turn our electric lights on even in the daytime!
Winter holidays in Sicily will give you, on average, at least 4 hours of full sunshine a day even in January, Sicily's coldest month.
Of course it does rain in Sicily sometimes – otherwise it would be a desert, instead of a lush green oasis brimming with fruit and vegetables! The difference in Sicily, though, is that even when it's raining or cold, the light is always bright and happy and the days are always longer than they are in northern Europe. Winter depression is easily kept at bay.
Our holiday lettings include a few penthouse apartments full of French windows, which will give you the brightest of lighting all day long, even when it rains.
Despite the Sicilian sun you need heated accommodation!
Lots of Sicilians still live in apartments with no heating system at all. Almost all of the smaller shops and offices have no heating, so you will be served by employees who look like the Michelin Man in their anoraks, scarves and often gloves as well.
Sicilians think that Northern Europeans are even tougher than they are, and will be happy to spend their holiday in an unheated apartment. We have tried this, and the result was bronchitis. Our advice is never – absolutely never - spend the Sicilian winter in an apartment without heating.
The commonest type of heating used in Sicily is a stand-alone air-conditioning unit which can warm a room in winter and cool it in summer, just like the air-conditioning system in your car. They are usually mounted near the ceiling and blow warm air at your head. The more modern, and dramatically better, variety is a floor-standing unit like the ones in Casa Enza, shown in the picture. They emit heat like a normal radiator and warm the whole room evenly.
An open fireplace is also charmingly cosy, and can be found in typical Sicilian country houses. Spending the winter by the fire has its special charm even though it may not be to everyone's taste.
Out and about in winter with Trenitalia
You can find heavily discounted rental cars in Sicily during the winter, but it is still expensive to hire a car for a whole winter.
The trains, buses and coaches offer a great alternative. Sicily is a rocky and mountainous island which presents great challenges when building railways. Since the tracks were laid a long time ago on a low budget, Sicilian railways are not exactly like Swiss trains, but what they lack in speed they make up for with beautiful scenery, cheap tickets and very few delays. For long inter-city journeys, coach travel is usually the faster option.
For shorter journeys around the larger cities, rail travel is a godsend. The trains are never held up in traffic jams and you don't have to drive round in circles looking for parking space when you arrive. This can cut your journey time drastically.
If you will be relying on Trenitalia to get around, you should pay special attention on the location of your apartment. Being near a train station is essential, but of course it's not the only criterion to look for. Here, you can find more information on accommodation.
Make sure the holiday letting you choose has a good Internet connection: many don't.
Most people want – or need – to take care of things at home and stay in touch even if they do choose to get away from it all by spending the winter in Sicily. It is also fairly indispensable these days to use the Internet to plan travel arrangements and check in online when it is time to fly home.
Some flats also offer satellite TV which gives you the chance to keep up with the news. Some apartments in our listings have satellite dishes which receive Astra and Hotbird transmissions.
Let's stay in touch
Holidays in Sicily are always over too soon. You have just started getting used to all the beauty and the wonderful sunshine - and it's time to go home! And there was so much more to see!
The good news is that you can get a taste of Sicily from anywhere in the world. We are on Facebook, Google+ and other social media. Click on your choice:
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