Europe’s largest active volcano, Mt. Etna has shown its temper at regular intervals for for about 300,000 years—according to mythology, Zeus imprisoned Typhon, “the father of all monsters,” beneath it. Frequent eruptions have raised its peak high above the surrounding plain, and today it soars nearly 11,000 feet in the air with no foothills in sight. Four separate calderas can be seen at the mountain’s peak, while more than 300 smaller vents on Etna’s flanks help prevent a catastrophic eruption like the one that devastated Mount St. Helens and the surrounding area. While Etna’s eruptions often produce clouds of ash and the “globes of fire” Virgil describes in the Aeneid, Sicily’s most famous mountain has also been observed emitting smoke rings, an extremely rare occurrence in volcanology.
From the Italian for “little tube,” cannoli are Sicily’s best-known dessert. The traditional recipe is simple and endlessly variable: fry dough around metal molds to create the tube shape, then fill with a mixture of ricotta cheese, citrus zest, powdered sugar and vanilla. In the States, you’ve probably seen cannoli adorned with candied cherries, chocolate chips, ganache and more, but in Sicily, there’s only one other ingredient in true cannoli: succade, candied citrus peel, most popularly of the citron fruit.
While it’s considered Italian soil, the spirit in the city of Syracuse is decidedly Greek. It was once a Mediterranean power to rival Athens and Rome, thanks to its strategic position on the southeast corner of Sicily amid vital sea lanes. It was considered by Plato considered to be a model of the ideal city and also home of Archimedes, one of the great engineers of the ancient world. Legend has it that Archimedes devised ingenious, almost magical devices to defend his hometown during the Athenian invasion, including mirrors that reflected the sun to set fire to Athenian ships and an enormous claw designed to pluck boats from the water. Archimedes’ war engines may be a matter of folklore, but the Greek ruins at Syracuse are palpably real.
Just a few short miles from Mount Etna sits Sicily’s favorite resort town since ancient times. Perched on a cliff overlooking the Ionian Sea, Taormina has drawn vacationers since before the rise of Rome. The city’s architecture reflects Sicily’s unique blend of cultures from all around Europe and Africa, from the Normans to the Greeks to the Arabs. Taormina is also home to perhaps the most dramatically situated theater in the world—the audience faces southwest, making the snowy slopes of Mount Etna and the gorgeous Sicilian coastline the backdrop for every scene. Nature lovers should take time to explore Isola Bella, a teardrop-shaped island in the heart of Taormina’s tranquil cove. You won’t need a boat to get there, since a rocky sandbar connects Isola Bella to the mainland.
A town seemingly untouched by time, this hilltop commune was chosen by Francis Ford Coppola as a fitting backdrop to Vito Corleone’s early 20th-century Sicilian childhood in The Godfather Part II. The town’s Bar Vitelli has become a popular destination for fans of the film, but the unspoiled natural beauty of Savoca and nearby Forza d’Agrò is the real show-stopping attraction.
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