Mention Sicily to anyone, and Mount Etna and the bustling towns of Palermo, Catania and Messina immediately spring to mind. But away from these popular tourist haunts can be found some pretty incredible lesser-visited places that are Sicily’s hidden gems.
Historic towns and quirky villages clinging to craggy rockfaces are waiting to be explored. And secret Sicilian hiking trails and quiet golden beaches offer the chance to discover Sicily away from the usual tourist trail.
In this post, I have asked fellow travel bloggers to tell me about the beautiful hidden locations in Sicily they have visited.
It’s a great selection of places off the beaten track, including the charming medieval village of Erice, the Art Nouveau seaside town of Mondello and the natural beauty spot of Zingaro Nature Reserve.
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Discover Sicily’s Secret Destinations off the Beaten Path
- Marzamemi – freshest seafood in Sicily
- Erice – churches, castles and Sicilian sunsets
- Mondello – Art Noveau seaside glamour
- Modica – a hidden Unesco Town
- San Vito Lo Capo – kite surfing on the beach
- Castelmola – the hidden town above fabled Taormina
- Militello in Val di Catani – the Baroque capital of Sicily
- Zingaro Nature Reserve – the undisturbed Sicilian beauty spot
- Vendicari Nature Reserve – An oasis of flora and fauna in Sicily
- Favignana Island – a hidden rival to the Caribbean
Map: 10 unmissable places in Sicily
Marzamemi – freshest seafood in Sicily
On a sunny autumn day, I made my way to Marzamemi, a tiny seaside village in the southeastern corner of Sicily. Out-of-the-way, Marzamemi originated as a fishing village and, until 1969, was home to a functioning tonnara (tuna fishery).
I first heard of Marzamemi from my father-in-law, a Florentine who loves exploring sunny destinations in Italy and knows I’m always seeking hidden gems. I remember asking him what was there. His reply was, “Sun, sand, and seafood.” It sounded great to me!
Summer was over, so I expected to find empty streets and boarded-up shops as I drove into town. After all, it’s a beach town. Instead, the village was bustling with in-the-know Italians who had flocked to it for a stroll along the water and an outdoor seafood lunch in the sunshine.
Happily, I blended in. I made my way past the old tonnara (Marzamemi’s first tonnara was likely from around the year 1000!), along the small fishing harbour, and to Campisi (tuna, fish, and local food products) for the next day’s picnic supplies – including jarred tuna with peperoncino.
Where to eat and stay in Marzamemi
My stomach was beginning to growl, and luckily my lunch stop wasn’t far. Just behind the Campisi shop, the Restaurant Campisi welcomed me with beautiful harbour views. I was soon devouring my tuna steak (caught locally and processed just a few kilometres from Marzamemi) and fresh salad of local pachino tomatoes.
Post-lunch, I sauntered back along the harbour to Piazza Regina Margherita – a jewel of a town square with colourful flowers, lively restaurants and cafes, and two San Francesco di Paola churches (the older one is deconsecrated).
Then, I returned to the beach for one last look at the turquoise water before hopping back into my car and waving goodbye to Marzamemi.
Erice – churches, castles and Sicilian sunsets
The little village of Erice is often overlooked by travellers flocking to Sicily. As I usually stay in Sicily for a couple of weeks every year, locations off the beaten path are what I want to explore, and Erice is one of them.
As we drove from Palermo to Erice, we could see the medieval city perched atop a hill many miles away. The village has two parts, the old town – on the hill – and the new town, Casa Santa – at the foot of the hill.
Getting to the old town can be done in two ways, take a scenic cable car from Casa Santa or drive up to the old city walls (Porta Trapani) and park your car there. If you opt for the latter, as we did, carry coins to pay the parking ticket from the little machine on the edge of the parking lot.
Best things to see and do in Erice
We spent half a day in Erice, wandering around the various churches (the tiny village once contained 100 churches!). We popped into the Santa Maria Assunta church, the oldest church in Erice, and leisurely explored the old Spanish Quarter.
What makes Erice such an absolute must-visit is the beautiful view over the entirety of the island and the little Aeolian islands. This million-dollar view is best viewed from the Norman Castle, known as the Venus Castle.
It is the highest point of Erice and derives its name from a temple of Venus which adorned this hilltop long before the Normans decided to build a castle. The castle can be visited, though the opening hours can be erratic. Come around sunset with a nice bottle of Sicilian wine or a Mustaccioli or two (sweet pastry), pop yourself on one of the many benches and watch as the sun dips into the sea.
Where to eat and stay in Erice
All this sightseeing in Erice got us super hungry, so we ducked into one of the many bakeries and tried the local specialities called Mustaccioli (marzipan fruits) and Genovesi Ericini (pastries filled with lemon custard and covered in icing sugar), both very sweet!
After something more filling? Head to Il Frutto della Passione to enjoy Mediterranean and local Sicilian dishes with a bottle of local wine. The restaurant gets excellent reviews and also caters for vegans and vegetarians.
Like the sound of Erice? Book a night or two at Il Carmine Dimora Storica, a former monastery linked to the Carmelite order of monks.
Guided Tours of Erice
Mondello – Art Noveau seaside glamour
One of Sicily’s hidden gems has to be Mondello in Sicily. Despite being just a few kilometres from Palermo, the gorgeous beachside village of Mondello has remained off the tourist radar.
To get to Mondello takes around 30 minutes on the 806 bus from Via della Libertà in Palermo. If coming from Palermo Airport, Mondello is just 20 minutes away by taxi.
I only heard of Mondello when I moved to Sicily to work as an au-pair. I had planned to live in downtown Palermo but then the idea of living by the beach in a quieter location but within very easy reach of the bustling city appealed to me!
Once a small fishing village in boggy marshland, Mondello is now an extremely elegant and upmarket place with a stunning white sandy beach, crystal clear water, many historic Art Noveau villas and beautiful panoramas in every direction you look.
Best things to see and do in Mondello
There are lots of things to do around Mondello, such as strolling to the nearby Capo Gallo Nature Reserve, where you can swim in paradise-like secluded sandy coves, visit Mondello’s grand pier, take a dip in the calm waters of Mondello Beach or head up the 606 metres high Monte Pellegrino (‘Pilgrims Mountain’) for spectacular views over Palermo and Mondello.
Where to eat and stay in Mondello
Make sure to have lunch or dinner in one of the many seafood restaurants in Mondello – the local fishermen freshly catch the seafood that day – L’angolo di Mondello is a brilliant one to try. For a more extended visit to Mondello, book a stay at the 5-star beachside Unico Boutique Hotel d’Arte.
Guided Tours from Palermo
Modica – a hidden Unesco town
If you are looking for a beautiful Italian town entirely off the tourist radar, I highly recommend Modica in southeastern Sicily.
Modica is one of Sicily’s hidden gems and part of the UNESCO-listed Late Baroque Towns of Val di Noto. It is home to the unique Aztec-inspired chocolate brought to Sicily by Spanish conquistadors.
Now known as Modica chocolate, it is still prepared the traditional Aztec way and is available in many unique flavours like lime and chilli.
I travelled to Modica to be part of the popular Montalbano tours but ended up loving the Sicilian Baroque architecture and chocolate more.
Best things to see and do in Modica
On my visit, I found many interesting things to do in Modica. You should check out the stunning Cathedral of San Giorgio, one of the prettiest churches in Sicily. Then stroll Corso Umberto, the main street of historic landmarks and specially adorned baroque balconies. And St. Peter’s Church, the Grimaldi Palace, and the Garibaldi Theater are some unmissable landmarks.
Modica is a beautiful hidden gem in Sicily with a storied history and a fascinating culinary scene. You can easily visit Modica on a day trip from Ragusa.
Where to eat and stay in Modica
Remember to taste some authentic Modica chocolate at Antica Dolceria Bonajuto, a small shop producing the chocolate for more than 150 years. While there, I also tasted the cannoli which is also delicious.
To extend your time in Modica, you can book a night in Modica Boutique Hotel, a modern, new hotel with spacious rooms, a free garage and in an excellent spot to explore the area.
San Vito Lo Capo – kite surfing on the beach
San Vito Lo Capo is one of Sicily’s hidden gems we visited when road-tripping in Sicily at the island’s northwestern tip.
It has a sizeable crescent-shaped beach overlooking Mount Monaco and a laid-back small resort vibe. These attributes make San Vito Lo Capo more of a traditional Sicilian holiday town than a tourist trap.
Every year in May, San Vito Lo Capo holds a kite festival, where people flock to watch the colourful spectacle on the sandy beach.
We loved watching the stunt and massive themed kites from our vantage point at La Sirenetta, a traditional gelateria at the beach’s edge.
Afterwards, we wandered around the pop-up restaurants, shops, and street markets selling local produce and crafts. This is a perfect place to buy olive oil, local fruit, painted ceramics, handmade lace, and embroidery.
Best things to see and do in San Vito Lo Capo
As we walked away from the beach into the town centre, we came across the 15th-century Santuario di San Vito, a fortress-like church with Arab-Norman architecture.
We researched and discovered that these Arab-Norman influences are common across Sicily. They can also be spotted in the town’s tiny Santa Crescenzia chapel and the circular Torrazzo watchtower.
We walked north to the cape itself, which took about 30 minutes. Here we found the Faro di Capo San Vito keeps ships safe from the rocky shores. There’s a pebble beach which wraps around the cape.
We walked south to Cala Mancina, a public bath in Sicily. Still, it’s a great swimming hole in a pretty secret rocky cove lapped by the turquoise waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea. We took towels and swimmers with us and took a dip with our snorkels in the clear water before lounging around in the sun!
Where to stay in San Vito Lo Capo
We stayed at Artemide Hotel in town. The rooms are modern and beautifully designed, with a rooftop terrace and jacuzzi. This is a fantastic spot to spend a few hours on a sunbed, admiring the panoramic view.
Castelmola – the hidden town above fabled Taormina
Castelmola is a charming Sicilian hilltop town that I enjoyed visiting during a family trip to Sicily.
We stumbled upon lesser-known Castelmola while looking for a break from the touristy atmosphere in nearby Taormina. Castlemola, perched high above Taormina, boasts stunning views of Mount Etna, the Ionian Sea, and the surrounding hills.
Best things to see and do in Castelmola
One of the highlights of my visit was the Castello di Mola, a 14th-century castle that stands at the town’s highest point. Castello di Mola was initially built as a fortress to protect nearby Taormina.
The castle ruins are only a fraction of their former glory, but I could take in stunning views of Mount Etna and the surroundings from the terrace.
Fortunately, my visit coincided with the sunset, and I was rewarded with a spectacular sight: the sun setting behind a smoking Mount Etna.
Aside from the views and the castle ruins, one of the best things to do in Castelmola is wander through the town’s winding streets. The charming narrow alleyways are a joy to get lost in. You never know when you’ll stumble upon a quaint local store selling Sicilian ceramics or Vinno Alla Mandorla – Sicilian almond wine.
Overall, my visit to Castelmola was a wonderful experience. I loved exploring this charming town with its winding streets and sweeping hilltop panoramas. Castelmola is one of Sicily’s hidden gems, rarely visited by tourists, with a rich history, architectural beauty, and charming atmosphere.
I would recommend Castelmola to anyone looking to explore the off-the-beaten-track wonders of Sicily.
Where to eat and stay in Castelmola
While in Castelmola, be sure to stop by Antico Caffè San Giorgio. Centrally located in the town’s main square, this restaurant serves delicious pizzas paired with local almond wine and incredible views. It’s the perfect stop to refresh yourself and take in the scenery.
Militello in Val di Catani – the Baroque capital of Sicily
Militello in Val di Catania is a tiny town of just 7000 people located 35 km southwest of the larger city of Catania. Incredibly, the whole town is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for representing ‘the culmination and final flowering of Baroque art in Europe.’
I visited with a few other bloggers as part of a press trip, and I must confess that despite spending a lot of time in Sicily before this trip, I had never heard of this hidden gem!
However, despite its relative anonymity, you could spend an age exploring Militello in Val di Catania and never get bored. More thanks to its majestic palaces, countless churches, and vast underground crypts home to Saints and Noblemen.
Best things to see and do in Militello in Val di Catania
One place that took my breath away was the Museum of Sacred Art, located underground in the crypts.
Here, you can admire numerous examples of sacred clothing, silver goblets from Messina (examples of the best Baroque art in Sicily!), and precious jewels donated by the townspeople of Militello to the Saints that rest within the crypt.
Equally impressive is the 16th-century Madonna della Catena Oratory, a church dedicated to Sicilian female saints.
Inside, you will find 13 statues depicting each of Sicily’s most revered Virgin Martyrs.
Where to eat and stay in Militello in Val di Catani
Head to Art Cafe to enjoy traditional local food if you get peckish.
I plumped for scacciata, fragrant bread dough folded, baked, and stuffed with anything you can think of. I got spinach, pork, potato and cheese in mine!
Next, I tried some Mostarda Siciliana, a thick marmalade flavoured with cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and toasted almonds. It is heated and poured into moulds before being coated in sugar and left to set in the Sicilian sunshine.
Finally, I couldn’t resist sampling the Cassatelline di Militello, square baskets of puff pastry filled with peeled almonds, fruit jam, chocolate, liqueur, cinnamon and cloves – delicious!
Zingaro Nature Reserve – the undisturbed Sicilian beauty spot
Sicily is known for its stunning beaches and delicious food, but hidden away in the island’s northwest corner is a true gem; the Zingaro Nature Reserve. This 4,000-acre protected area is a must-visit destination, with stunning cliffs and crystal clear waters.
Opened in May 1981, Zingaro Nature Reserve is just a 25-minute drive from Castellammare del Golfo or 55 minutes from Trapani.
Best things to see and do in Zingaro Nature Reserve
One of the best ways to experience the Zingaro Nature Reserve is on foot. The park has a well-marked 7 km coastal hiking trail that takes you through some of the most breathtaking landscapes in Sicily. Although Zingaro is home to several trails, the coastal route is the most popular, easiest, and the one we recommend.
The path is relatively easy, even for kids and beginner hikes, as there are very few inclines or declines on the packed dirt trail. There are also signs on the trail marking the numerous beaches and coves you will pass along the way.
If you want to spend some time in the water, the Zingaro Nature Reserve is also an excellent place for swimming and snorkelling. The park has several small beaches surrounded by crystal clear waters, perfect for lounging on a hot summer day.
If you can take a cruise to Zingaro, we highly recommend it. It’s a great way to see the iconic grottos and swim in the gorgeous water surrounding the park.
The easiest way to get to the Zingaro Nature Reserve is by car, but you can also take a bus or taxi from Castellammare del Golfo. Zingaro is open year-round, with only a small entrance fee to get into the park (€5 per person, €3 for children aged 11-14, and free for kids under 11).
But just a heads-up, pack everything you need, as there is nowhere to purchase food or drinks inside the reserve. Also, start your hike early in the morning, as there is very little shade on the trails, and it gets HOT!
Where to stay near Zingaro National Reserve
There are several options for accommodations in Scopello, including hotels, B&Bs, and vacation rentals. And if you’re looking for a true nature escape, there are also several campsites in the area.
Vendicari Nature Reserve – An oasis of flora and fauna in Sicily
The Vendicari Nature Reserve, established in the early 1980s, overlooks the southeastern coast of Sicily and is home to a protected wildlife oasis.
I accidentally learned about this hidden gem while travelling in Siracusa, 40 km north of the Reserve.
I had booked my accommodation for a week in Syracuse and was travelling on foot. After a few days, I had already seen the main attractions in and around the city.
As I was looking for a tour to join to explore lesser-known parts of Sicily, I was attracted to a walk that involved gathering herbs.
The next day, a novice but knowledgeable naturalistic guide, who knew the area like the back of her hand, drove me to explore the Reserve.
The beauty and quiet that reign in this place off the beaten track is hard to describe.
Best things to see and do in Vendicari Nature Reserve
Three main trails mapped out by the park lead you to the discovery of Vendicari’s fauna, flora, and beaches.
The Reserve is fascinating for bird lovers; several species, including flamingos, come here for the winter. The shelduck has become the symbol of the Reserve.
Those interested in plants, however, should visit this place over several days because the ecosystem supports the growth of so many species.
The guide and I collected thyme, myrtle, juniper, chicory, and wild fennel in half a day.
There are lovely free beaches in the Reserve, such as Calamosche beach. Just be equipped with an umbrella, water, and hat because southern Sicily in summer easily reaches temperatures of 45-48 C°.
There could also be no shortage of historical evidence, for this area has been inhabited since at least the 5th century B.C. It is to this era that the latomie, ancient stone quarries from which the Greeks extracted to build their temples on the island, date.
Where to eat in Vendicari Nature Reserve
If the walks in the Reserve make you hungry, refuel at the agriturismo “Il Baglietto,” famous for its appetizers and pasta made with fresh catch.
Favignana Island -a beautiful undiscovered island
If you’re visiting the west of Sicily and looking to get away from the main tourist areas, I 100% recommend catching the ferry from Trapani to the Egadi Islands.
The Egadi Islands comprise three islands, and the largest is Favingnana, with a population of around 3000 inhabitants. The town and the island share the same name.
Historically, Favingnana was a fishing village. Today you can still see relics in the large building opposite the marina. This building was owned by the Florio family (their old mansion is next to the marina) and dates back to 1859. The family made their fortune in tuna production right up until the 1970s.
I was staying in the city of Trapani in the northwest of Sicily, and as charming as Trapani is, it doesn’t have the best beaches.
The island of Favingnana is gorgeous and enough to rival any Caribbean island. It’s easy to get to Favingnana from Trapani, with several crossings a day by hydrofoil, and as crystal clear waters and sandy beaches surrounded it, it was a hidden gem that I had to visit.
Best things to see and do on Favingnana Island
I’m a huge fan of getting away from the town and exploring the countryside, so I took advantage of hiring one of the e-bikes from the hire shops in the marina. The island has very little traffic, so cycling around is bliss.
One of my favourite spots was the white sandy shallow bay of Cala Azzurra.
Where to stay and eat on Favignana Island
As a vegetarian, I found it quite challenging to find a lunch that didn’t revolve around fish or seafood on the island. However, in the main square, a take-out cafe called Tuna Fish City made the most delicious vegan panini; they also serve a killer affogato!
If the turquoise water and sandy beaches make Favignana hard to leave, you can book one of the beach chalets at Stabilimento Lido Burrone and stay for a few days. Perfect!
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