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Sicily is one of the Mediterranean Sea’s gems. It offers visitors the chance of enjoying fabulous beaches, translucent seas and a range of water sports. Historic towns such as Taormina, ancient castles, Roman archaeological sites, unique cultural draws and great cuisine also await people who choose Sicily for their holidays. Car rental is the most comfortable means of getting around and experiencing the charms of the island.
Who to Book With
International vehicle hire firms including Hertz and Avis offer service on the island. Up-and-coming local supplier Sicily Rent Car, together with Italian national company Maggiore, are among the other companies with offices and depots in the main towns, ports and airports on the island. Booking a hire car online saves the hassle of contacting each individual supplier. Online reservations usually offer savings on rental rates to boot.
Best Time to Go
Sicily is at its best from May to October. Temperatures are typically above 20°C all through these months. July and August are much hotter, and this is especially true on the northeast coast which is not cooled by Mediterranean breezes. These two months coincide with the island’s peak season for holidaymakers and prices for hotels and vehicle rentals are always much higher. Winters are wet, with snow in mountainous regions, and the only reason to visit at this time is to go skiing at Mt Etna.
Need to Know Essentials
When getting a rental car here, the hire company will ask to see these items:
- Your UK driving licence, both the paper and plastic sections, or an International Driving Permit
- Your passport or another identification document
- The credit card that you made the reservation with
- The printed confirmation voucher
It is better to avoid driving in Sicily’s ancient towns and cities if possible. Their streets and alleys are narrow and bendy, a fact often compounded by badly parked cars, vans and motorcycles. Parking spaces on the street are hard to come by. There are car parks in the bigger cities with hourly rates sometimes as high as £2.50. Bigger car parks are located on the outskirts, but in Taormina, for example, there is a complimentary shuttle service into town.
Outside the cities, roads are not busy and parking is rarely a problem. Motorways and toll roads link Siracusa, Catania, Messina, Palermo and Marsala on the triangular shaped island's north and east coasts. These motorways are convenient primary routes for reaching beach resorts and roads for interior tourism draws. Secondary routes are not well signposted so a good map or GPS system is an invaluable resource.
Drivers on these secondary roads are advised to keep within speed limits and to keep an eye out for potholes as well as pedestrians in rural areas and villages where there are no pavements. When it is raining, speed limits are reduced. Outside the cities, motorists are required to drive with their headlights on low beam.
The main public transport options in Sicily are bus or train. Azienda Siciliana Transport operates 750 vehicles on 154 different routes and is the island’s principal bus operator in both rural and urban districts. The buses are well-maintained and clean, and depending on the specific route, reasonably frequent. Trenitalia runs the railway system which covers 800 miles (1,300kms) of track.
As is the case with most public transport in Italy, passengers have to buy their tickets prior to boarding. When travelling by train, passengers have to validate their tickets at the yellow machines in the stations. Fares are inexpensive. A bus journey of up to six miles (10kms) costs £0.85 for a single, £1.50 for a return and £8.70 for a carnet of 10 tickets. In the main towns, tickets are sold at stations, bars and tobacconists.
Trains in Italy link most major locations, but apart from services between Palermo, Messina and Catania, they are not quick and operate sporadically. People heading to mainland Italy after their Sicily sojourns might find the Messina to Naples train service useful. The trains are shunted onto a boat for the five-kilometre trip across the Messina Strait. A heritage narrow-gauge train still operates at Mt Etna.
Taxis and private-hire cars are widely available in towns such as Taormina, Palermo and Catania, and wait for passengers at designated ranks. Most have meters. Locals say the meters have usually been tampered with and that it is better to agree on a fare to the required destination before setting off. Sicily Taxi Service is one of the more reputable companies.
The two hubs of Sicily’s intercity bus routes are Palermo and Catania. Buses operate frequently during daylight hours. The more out-of-the-way rural towns and villages might have only one bus a day.
Both Palermo and Catania have small metro systems. Palermo’s system has two lines, one linking Punta Raisi Station at the city’s airport with the city centre, while the system in Catania consists of a single four-kilometre track between Borgo and Galatea.
Sicily’s attractions are not limited to famous sites such as Palermo’s majestic cathedral, Ursino Castle in Catania and the combined World Heritage site of Syracuse and Pantalica Necropolis or the delights of pristine beaches including Mondello and San Vito Lo Capo. There are also abundant less-visited historic sites and centres for activities, with car hire the easiest means of travel.
Valley of the Temples - Located at Agrigento, this is a complex of Greek-style Doric temples and the Tomb of Theron, which is one of the island’s UNESCO designated archaeological sites. The Temple of Concordia is largely intact and a national landmark.
Mt Etna - This is an active volcano around 25 miles (40kms) from Catania and part of the national park it shares its name with. Trekking through unique landscapes with lava deserts and pristine forest is the main draw. The village of Piano Provenzana is the base point for treks and in winter, for skiing.
Monreale Cathedral - Located in a village high above a verdant valley to the south of Palermo and dates from the latter half of the 12th century. It is noted for the beauty of its cloisters and a splendid nave supported by granite pillars. The road up to Monreale Village offers pastoral views.