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AAA Traveler Worldwise | International
A Solo Traveler’s Take on Sicily

A SOLO TRIP TO THIS SOUTHERN ITALIAN ISLAND LEAVES OUR WRITER WITH A SPECIAL CONNECTION TO ITS PEOPLE AND PLACES

If you had asked me before my visit to Sicily last August if I would attempt even half of the adventures that I tried while there, my answer would’ve been a resounding no. Yet, here I am back home in Philadelphia reminiscing about when I climbed the stony hills of the medieval town of Erice to snap some panoramic photos. And when I ate an uncooked mussel plucked fresh from the sea. And when I explored Mount Etna, a volcano that erupted just a few weeks before my visit.
  

There’s something about the freedom of traveling solo on a journey—even within the safe confines of a guided small-group tour—that drives you to conquer something new. That was certainly the case on my 10-day Sicily tour through Palermo, Marsala, Agrigento, Syracuse and Catania with Club Adventures. Granted, our group of seven travelers—about half middle-aged couples and half solo Millennials, led by our local Italian tour leader—were all strangers to me, and because I had never been to Italy, the country was also a stranger. But soon after I arrived, that quickly changed.
     

What I mainly knew about Sicily before my trip was that the Mediterranean island is separated from the rest of Italy near the toe of the “boot.” But now, I understand how unique Sicily truly is beyond its geography. My tour presented not only a new way to travel and a new culture to experience but also—and most importantly—a new me to discover.
  
Alfresco dining in Syracuse’s Marzamemi village. Photo by daliu/STOCK.ADOBE.COMAlfresco dining in Syracuse’s Marzamemi village. Photo by daliu/STOCK.ADOBE.COM
   
  

SAVORING THE FLAVORS

Our first stop was Palermo, the capital of Sicily, where we stayed in a centrally located boutique hotel. Here, we spent time exploring the popular street markets, shops and beautiful churches. We enjoyed delicious meals together, too.
  

Many would claim that Italian food is among the world’s best cuisines. Sicily’s take on that fare includes plenty of fresh seafood straight from the Mediterranean as well as locally grown produce. From the day I landed to the day I went home, I didn’t have a single bad meal, not even at a McDonald’s where I tried the panzerotti (a mini calzone).
  

In Italian culture, having meals together is about more than just eating good food; it’s about bonding and socializing, especially among friends and family. This was evident on our second day in Sicily when we attended a cooking class at a chef’s home.
 

Chef Antonio’s herb-filled backyard featured a beautiful outdoor kitchen and dining area where members of his family joined us in preparing a meal of bruschetta, mussel tomato soup and seafood linguine. Chopping tomatoes, sipping chilled white wine, and sharing laughs and stories, our group instantly bonded. I felt as if I were with family. I also appreciated learning how to make the best bruschetta I’ve ever tasted. (Quality olive oil is essential!)
   

Our day in Marsala, world-renowned for its wines, was another memorable treat. I’m probably biased because I love Marsala wine—especially for cooking. Here, at a charming restaurant with stone patio seating under the stars, we savored a four-course meal paired with five wines. A restaurant manager even came to our table and explained the background and process of creating each wine.
  
 The Castle of Venus in Erice. Photo by dudlajzov/STOCK.ADOBE.COMThe Castle of Venus in Erice. Photo by dudlajzov/STOCK.ADOBE.COM
    

Italy is also famous for its fashion, and while Milan may get most of the spotlight, Marsala also takes its designers seriously. Virtually everywhere we went, the people of Marsala were well-dressed from head to toe in designer clothes. Do Gucci and Versace ring any bells?
 

After Marsala, we traveled by private bus to the countryside of Agrigento and then to the historic town of Syracuse. Travel between these areas felt leisurely, delicate and sweet compared with the fast pace of the cities. Coffee and pastry shops were plentiful in both towns, and I enjoyed a croissant and espresso in the mornings. Some shops specialize in frozen desserts such as gelatos and granitas, which I also indulged in. 
  
Alfresco dining in Syracuse’s Marzamemi village. Photo by daliu/STOCK.ADOBE.COMAlfresco dining in Syracuse’s Marzamemi village. Photo by daliu/STOCK.ADOBE.COM
   
 

During our day tours, we often stopped for a treat and drink to stay cool and energized. Special stops included a wonderful chocolate shop in Modica with assorted candies made without milk, allowing you to purchase them without fear of the chocolate melting all over your luggage. (I can attest to this, as I successfully brought some home with me to share with my family.) Another stop was a church near Agrigento, where I bought biscuit-like amaretti cookies made by nuns at a bakery next door.
   
The Palace of the Normans’ Palatine Chapel in Palermo. Photo by Michael Knöbl/STOCK.ADOBE.COMThe Palace of the Normans’ Palatine Chapel in Palermo. Photo by Michael Knöbl/STOCK.ADOBE.COM
     

DISCOVERING ARCHITECTURAL GEMS 

I lost count of how many churches we visited over the course of my trip, but the architecture and artwork throughout all of them was gorgeous. It was mind-boggling to ponder the craftsmanship and patience that went into creating such masterpieces, especially the religious stories painted on the ceilings. The examples of ancient Greek and Roman architecture that we visited were equally fascinating.
 

As a lover of Greek mythology, I am ashamed to admit that I had no idea that Sicily is home to ancient Greek temples. Visiting them in person at the Valley of the Temples, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Agrigento, was pure culture shock. More than 2,000 years old and honoring Greek gods such as Hera and Hercules, the temples were essentially the skyscrapers of their time.
   
The Temple of Concordia in Agrigento. Photo by Boris Stroujko/STOCK.ADOBE.COMThe Temple of Concordia in Agrigento. Photo by Boris Stroujko/STOCK.ADOBE.COM
  
 

As a huge movie and TV nerd, I was even more pleasantly surprised that we had the chance to explore some of the same ancient areas featured in Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny. Some scenes were filmed at the Neapolis Archaeological Park in Syracuse, where we spent time exploring and learning about its Greek and Roman history. I was in cultural bliss by the time we visited Noto, famous for its beautiful baroque architecture and recently featured in the popular HBO TV series White Lotus. Double bonus points to Noto for hosting a film festival during our visit and displaying vintage film posters of locally made movies throughout the town, which added even more glamour to the surroundings.
  
Catania’s Piazza del Duomo, home to the “elephant fountain” and the Cathedral of Saint Agatha. Photo by rudi1976/STOCK.ADOBE.COMCatania’s Piazza del Duomo, home to the “elephant fountain” and the Cathedral of Saint Agatha. Photo by rudi1976/STOCK.ADOBE.COM
   
  

EMBRACING THE CULTURE

As much as I could go on about the food, art and history of Sicily, it’s the island’s loving people who made the biggest impression on me. Sicilians know how to make you feel like family. From Chef Antonio welcoming us in his home to cook and share a meal to discussing music, video games and movies with the local tour guides, the connections were almost instant and genuine.
  
The Orecchio di Dionisio (“Ear of Dionysius”) cave in Syracuse’s Neapolis Archaeological Park. Photo by dudlajzov/STOCK.ADOBE.COMThe Orecchio di Dionisio (“Ear of Dionysius”) cave in Syracuse’s Neapolis Archaeological Park. Photo by dudlajzov/STOCK.ADOBE.COM
  
  

In a short time, I went from arriving as a nervous, excited solo traveler to, on the last day of my trip, feeling like I was leaving behind a second home and family. I had become so accustomed to Sicilian life that the only things left for me to do are to brush up on my Italian and buy a house there.
  

Dear Sicily, I really cherished our time together, but don’t think that means I’m finished with you; I’ll be back. Until then, grazie and ciao!