Those of you who have been following Mapo Tapo from our early days know that Sicily holds a special place in our hearts. It's where we ran the first Mapo Tapo ‘trial’ trip and found the inspiration for this whole project. There’s just something about the island, about the way that capricious nature blends with millenia of history and cultural exchange to bring you a rich and unqiue palette of sights, sounds, smells, of feelings… It got us thinking about what it really means to climb ‘off-the-beaten-track’, and, well, the rest is Mapo Tapo history :)
If you are travelling to Sicily with the aim of getting some climbing done, we encourage you to put aside some time to explore this extraordinary region, connect with the local community and sample everything it has to offer. We partnered with Magna Sicilia - a local slow tourism network based in Sicily - for this very reason: to bring you 14 suggestions of activities to try during your ‘rest’ days. The focus is on supporting local businesses that operate in the slow-tourism sector, and discovering this island with its 2000 years of history…
The town of Cefalu in northern Sicily © Magna Sicilia
But first, what is slow tourism (slow travel)?
Slow Tourism is more than just a type of travel: it is a philosophy.
It begins with recovering a positive connotation in the concept of ‘slowness’. Travelling ‘slow’ should not be understood as a waste of time, but instead as the ability to fully enjoy every single moment of the trip, according to the rhythms of the place and situation in which you find yourself. It’s a way of going with the flow, of savouring the present moment, of better connecting with the place and community in which you find yourself.
Slow tourism goes hand to hand with sustainability. It leads you to truly appreciate the beauty in your surroundings, immerse yourself in local traditions and flavours, in nature and culture, with a deep respect for the place you are visiting.
Sicily is home to some incredible landscapes and cultural and historical sites - certainly worth a visit during your rest days © Magna Sicilia
How does slow tourism differ from responsible or sustainable tourism?
Sustainable (or responsible) tourism focuses on the environment and the impact that tourists have on it. Everything revolves around the concept of ''responsibility'': an individual must pay attention to the impact of their actions on the environment and communities whose homeland they are visiting.
Slow tourism also promotes respect, responsibility for, and attention to the environment but it also focuses on inner well-being and experiencing a place, a holiday, a period of time in a ‘slow’ way. The idea is to fully enjoy the experience, to find inner balance and be in sync with the outside world. In addition to connecting with the environment and respecting it, slow tourism pushes you to connect with local communities and traditions, to discover an area’s true essence, and to reconnect with oneself.
Mount Etna under the snow © Magna Sicilia
What are the benefits of slow tourism?
The benefits of slow tourism include:
making up for lost time,
enjoying the simple things,
getting in touch with local traditions and culture,
finding your balance,
becoming travellers and not just vacationers
Spend an evening wondering around Sicily's historic towns, experiencing the island's rich culture and delicious food © Magna Sicilia
Slow travel in Sicily and Magna Sicilia
Magna Sicilia is the slow tourism network that wants to enhance the Sicilian tradition and let the region’s guests know the true essence of this island with a thousand-year history.
During the 2020 Covid-19 lockdown, three young Sicilian friends with multiple international experiences decided to come together and create a project promoting all commercial activities, tourist and sports services, and beautiful accommodation options dedicated to welcoming the Region of Sicily. It was a bet, born during a time when everyone longed for the freedom to go out and travel. Magna Sicilia was motivated by their love of their home, of the indigenous traditions of a land conquered, at various times, by Greeks, Phoenicians, Romans, Arabs, Aragons, Bourbons, giving it a unique intercultural richness.
Helping travellers experience Sicily like true Sicilians - rather than just vacationing in an anonymous luxury resort - became our mission. Among the "Magni'' services you will find the typical Sicilian welcome, characterized by availability, brightness and simplicity. We are at the complete disposal of our guests, and help guide them with respect to places to visit, activities to do, foods and flavours to try during our stay.
So, without further ado, here are…
14 rest-day activities to try in Sicily.
Hike the slopes of Mount Etna - with alpacas!
Alpacas in the Bosco Ragabo © Alpaca Trekking Linguaglossa
Alpacas are the epitome of ‘slowness’. In contrast to their cousins - llamas - alpacas have a very docile temperament: they are animals that hate chaos, seek tranquillity and during walks assume an almost relaxed behaviour, characterized by slow and short steps. What better way to relax, connect with nature, and discover the Bosco Ragabo than with an alpaca companion as your guide?
The Bosco Ragabo - also known as Linguaglossa pine forest - is an ancient pine and beech forest located at 1,600m in the Etna park. The area is rich in flora and fauna, and a beautiful place to explore, recharge, and enjoy a slower pace of life. Luciano, founder of Farm School, will bring you on a two-to-three hour trek through Bosco Ragabo, passing through the Pittarone barracks and admiring the 2002 lava flows. But it’s his alpacas really who will lead the way :)
Try surfing or kite-surfing
The Straits of Messina and Mondello beach are two of the best spots in Sicily for kitesurfing © Magna Sicilia
The Strait of Messina (North-east Sicily) and Mondello beach of Palermo are hotspots for kitesurfing, thanks to their windy expositions. For those of you who don’t know it, kitesurfing is a sport that uses a board (quite similar to a wakeboard) and kite to harness the power of the wind and propel you through the waves, undertaking incredible acrobatic moves. If you’d like to give it a try, we highly recommend the Kite Tour Stagnone school in the Stagnone di Marsala, which offers courses for all levels combining both theory and practice.
Sicily also boasts some good surfing spots. Again, Mondello beach is a favourite, but you’ll also find good surf in San Vito Lo Capo, Macari and Isola delle Femmine (all near Palermo). The waves may not be as big as in more famous worldwide hotspots, but you’re guaranteed crystal clear waters and lots of sun.
Hike through the Zingaro Reserve
The stunning Zingaro Reserve © Magna Sicilia
The Zingaro Reserve is a protected natural area not far from San Vito Lo Capo, home to seven of the most beautiful beaches in Sicily. It is one of the few Sicilian coastal stretches without roads; a place where the reddish colour of the Mediterranean scrub melts seamlessly without interruption into the dark blue of the Sicilian sea. The Reserve is home to a number of bird species, including buzzards, kites, kestrels, barn owls and the endangered Bonelli’s Eagle, as well as many small mammals.
There’s a number of different ways to experience the reserve. You can choose from 3 different panoramic hikes, ranging from a flat coastal path suitable for families, to a steep 7-hour trek.
There are also 5 museums honouring the 7 historic settlements of the Reserve, and 7 stunning natural coves with some of the most beautiful beaches you’ll ever see! You can also book a boat tour to visit the Reserve's coves by sea and do some snorkelling.
To enter the Reserve, you will have to buy a ticket (5 euros) from one of the 2 entrances. The Reserve is open from 7am to 7pm daily. Note that it can get quite crowded during the high season in summer.
Watch the sunset on the Saline dello Stagnone di Marsala
The Saline dello Stagnine © Magna Sicilia
The Saline dello Stagnine, stretching from Trapani to Marsala, are said to be home to some of the most beautiful sunsets in the world. The colours of the sky are reflected by the still waters of the lagoon, giving rise to extraordinary hues of pink, blue, purple, orange… The area’s beautiful landscapes and rich flora and fauna also make it a lovely place to head for an evening stroll or spend the afternoon birdwatching.
In summer, you can even visit the mill of the Saline Ettore Infersa where salt is milled and, if conditions are favourable, see it in operation. You can even try your hand at harvesting fleur de sel too - tours are available from a number of different local companies.
Skiing on Mount Etna
Skiing on Mount Etna is definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience © Magna Sicilia
Skiing on Europe’s tallest volcano is certainly something you want to try at least once in your lifetime!
From mid-December to February each year, the upper slopes of Mt Etna become blanketed by snowfall. This has allowed for the construction of two different ski-areas on both sides of the volcano, with gondolas, chairlifts and other facilities allowing you to practice downhill skiing, snowboarding and cross-country skiing (at lower altitudes). The skiing, admittedly, is not of the same calibre as that found in the Alps - but where else in Europe do you get panoramic sea views and glimpses of the ancient town of Taormina from your chairlift?
Visit the Aeolian Islands (Isole Eolie)
Each of the Aeolian Islands have something unique to offer © Magna Sicilia
The Aeolian islands, located off the North East coast of Sicily, are an archipelago of 7 islands and 5 islets which represent the summits of a submerged mountain chain. Seismic and volcanic activity has been a regular occurrence here for millenia and this led the Ancient Greeks to believe that the islands were the home of Aeolus, god of the winds, from which they take their name.
A visit to this UNESCO site will bring you hiking up volcanoes, wandering through unspoilt nature, relaxing on charming beaches and enjoying the slower pace of life. From the bustling port towns of Lipari and Salina, to the volcanic paradises of Stromboli and Vulcano and untouched landscapes of Filicudi and Alicudi, each island boasts its unique charm. Here are some highlights:
- In Stromboli, you can join a guided hike up the most active volcano in Europe at sunset and enjoy a night-time natural fireworks display.
- In Vulcano, take a dip in the rejuvenating geothermal mud-baths, renowned for their healing qualities.
- Head to Panarea if you want to experience a VIP luxury resort and spot some celebrities.
- Experience some mind-blowing nature and incredible snorkelling in Filicudi.
For more information, you can get in touch directly with Magna Sicilia.
Visit the Egadi (Agadean) Islands
The Agadean islands can be reached for a day trip from Trapani, and are a beautiful place to explore © Magna Sicilia
The three islands (Favignana, Levanzo and Marettimo) and two islets (Formica and Maraone) of the Agadean archipelago are located off the Northwest coast of Sicily, not far from Trapani. The archipelago is part of the largest protected marine area in Europe, and home to a huge variety of different martime species.
Favignana - the largest of the three islands - is certainly worth a day trip. A ferry from Trapani will bring you here in about 1.5 hours, and you can enjoy a day of snorkelling, exploring the island by bike, relaxing in quiet creeks, wandering around the harbour village, and visiting the island’s Norman castles.
At Levanzo, the smallest of the islands, you’ll find wild nature and pristine beaches, including Caletta del Faraglione which is considered one of the twenty most beautiful beaches in Italy. The island also holds a number of interesting archeological and historical attractions: you can dive to explore the remains of a Roman shipwreck, while above land the Grotta del Genovese contains fascinating cave art dating back to the Paleolithic era.
Marettimo is the place to head for peace and quiet: you’ll find a coastline full of caves, great hikes, lush flora and diverse fauna, and a number of diving adventures for those of you who are keen!
Go ‘river hiking’ on the Alcantara river
A 'river hike' on the Alcantra River is the perfect adrenaline-filled rest day act activity © Sicily Green Adventure
The Alcantra river is one of the main rivers in Eastern Sicily, with steep gorges formed by ancient lava flows from Mount Etna. The area is home to beautiful flora and fauna, and varied scenery which changes along the course of the river, making it a rich and interesting place to explore.
One of the best ways of exploring the Alcantra River is by booking a river trek with Sicily Adventure excursions. Using a mixture of climbing, trekking and swimming, you will make your way along the river against the flow, conquering rapids, whirlpools and waterfalls. It’s the perfect adrenaline-filled rest day activity for any climber!
Spend an afternoon in Erice
The hill-top town of Erice © Magna Sicilia
Erice is a quaint medieval town perched at 750m a.s.l on top of a mountain with the same name. An afternoon here means exploring medieval churches and ancient courtyards, getting lost in paved alleys, enjoying soul-stirring views over the bay of Trapani and Agadean islands, and trying some of the best paste di mandorla (almond pastry) in the world! Must-visit sites include:
- The cathedral, built in 1312 by Frederick III of Aragon before his return to Palermo, using material from the Roman temple of Venus.
- The tower of King Frederico: by climbing the 110 steps you get an incredible view of Erice from above.
- The Venus castle, an imposing Norman fortress castle built on top of the Roman sanctuary of Venus.
- The Cyclopean walls - the name given to the Elymian-Punic walls built by the ancient Elymian people to defend the city between the 6th and 7th centuries BC.
The beaches of Syracuse are a nice place to relax after a day out © Magna Sicilia
On the other side of the island from Erice another spectacular ancient city awaits. Founded by Corinthian colonists in 734 BC, during its heyday Syracuse was one of the largest cities in the Ancient world, rivalling even Athens. Today, Syracuse boasts two main areas of interest (although you can spend days exploring): the Archaeological site and the old town of Ortiga.
If you want to see the ruins of the ancient city, then it’s the Parco Archeologico della Neapolis you should head to. Make sure to stop at the awe-inspiring Teatro Greco (Greek Amphitheatre), constructed in the 5th century BC. Between May and early July, open air classical plays are performed here - if you’re lucky you may be able to snap up some tickets.
Ortiga is the Syracusan ‘old-town’, located on a small island connected by bridge to the rest of the city. As it’s mostly pedestrianised it’s a wonderful place to spend a morning wandering around: enjoy the local food scene, visit the temple of Apollo, or sit and relax in the harbour watching people go about their day.
Eat pistachios in Bronte
The world-famous Bronte pistachio © Magna Sicilia
Pistachios were originally imported to Sicily by the Arabs who found the climate and soil very favourable for the cultivation of this plant. Unsurprisingly, they grow especially well on the slopes of Mt Etna where the soil is constantly fertilised by volcanic ash. The small town of Bronte on the north-western slope of the volcano is the true heartland of Sicilian pistachio cultivation.
The Bronte pistachio differs considerably in terms of taste, aroma, and quantity of chlorophyll compared to other varieties of pistachio. A number of pistachio based products have been developed with the Bronte pistachio as it’s base, including:
- Pistachio cream - a real treat, existing as both a savoury cream (similar to a pesto) and sweet spread (put in pastries, or eaten on bread). A rule of thumb when buying your own: go for the one with the shortest ingredient list!
- Arancino al pistachio - Arancini are a true Sicilian delicacy made even better by the presence of pistachios inside. There’s two different versions: a vegetarian one, made with mozzarella and pistachio cream, and a meat one which adds sausage or bacon to the mix. YUM!
- Pizza pistacchiosa - you guessed it: pizza with pistachios. There’s a variety of different combinations, but the true classic is pistachio, mortadella and burrata.
Live your chocolate fantasy in Modica.
Modica chocolate, characterised by the undissolved sugar crystals © Magna Sicilia
The history of Modica chocolate traces its origins back to the 16th century Spanish conquest of Sicily, when wealthy local families used to make it to honour holidays or other important events. But the recipe is much older than this, dating all the way back to Aztec times!
What makes this chocolate unique is the very simple manufacturing process which still remains largely unchanged. Essentially, the chocolate does not undergo any conching, meaning that the sugar crystals inside of it remain intact leading to a very unique taste and texture. Now, every year, the town of Modice is besieged with tourists looking to get their hands on this chocolate, and the production of chocolate (and related choco-tourism) has become a very important source of local revenue!
We recommend booking a chocolate themed tour with Casa Ciomod. It's a real culinary experience that will teach you the ins and outs of the sweet world of Modica chocolate.
Eat your way through Palermo
There's loads to buy from the food markets of Palermo, including fresh produce and street food © Magna Sicilia
The vibrant capital of Sicily, Palermo, is a real melting pot of culture, with Roman, Byzantine, Arab, Norman and Italian influences. A visit to this city is, however, incomplete without a tour of at least one of the 3 main food markets - Capo, Vucciria and Ballaro. You can find a huge abundance of local foods for sale here, including some must-eat delicacies such as:
- Panelle - chicken pancake served in between bread
- Pan Con Medusa - calf spleen on bread
- Stigghiole di Tanino - a sort of kebab made of lamb or goat guts enriched with parsley, onion and leeks. It's roasted and eaten hot with lemon juice for flavour.
- Seafood, including boiled octopus, roasted fish and swordfish rolls…
Explore and eat seafood in Trapani
Trapani is a beautiful town to explore and enjoy an evening meal © Magna Sicilia
Trapani is a town originally founded by the Elymians who used it as the agricultural centre for their hill-top fortress town of Erice. It became an important port town under the Phoenicians, and since then tuna-fishing and salt production have played a significant role in the economic life of the town and surrounding region.
Today, you can enjoy an evening wandering around the beautiful old town centre (now largely restored and pedestrianised), and trying some of the local seafood dishes, such as Tuna Bottarga, fish soups, cous-cous alla Trapanese and Egadi lobster soup. If you’re looking for a cheap but delicious evening meal, we recommend heading to Sapurito, with its rich menu of local dishes including Trapanese rolls, Arancini, Octopus, Panelle and seafood sandwiches.
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A huge thanks to Magna Sicilia for the help on this article. Be sure to get in touch with them if planning a trip to Sicily: they can provide recommendations on activities to do, places to visit, restaurants to eat at, bars to enjoy a post-climb beer, and more...
If you would like to find out more about the rock climbing in Sicily, check out this blog post here.