About Eastern Sicily
First sight of Sicily, for most, is across the Messina Strait: the isle of dreams, Italy with an extra dimension. This was where the ancient Greeks came for their holidays and liked it so much that many never went home. You stop and stare. There before your eyes are the glossy evergreens and golden fruits of the Lemon Riviera, the strips of tawny rock, prickly pear and palm trees which run down to Siracusa; farther back an arid hinterland where Doric temples stand, so noble and so little understood, baked in the heat of 2,500 Sicilian summers. Near the peaks of mountains which have been trimmed by some mythological axe are tiny white smudges. Patches of snow? Aureoles of mist not quite evaporated? Incredibly, they are villages, but how you could get to them without crampons and ropes is a mystery.
The white coastal towns are real enough and you can almost believe in the subtle harmonies of cliff and surf, foliage and volcanic sand – but there must have been a spillage of dye in the sea. ‘Mediterranean blue’ was never as blue as this.
The roads marked on the map connecting the best places to visit follow well-trodden coastal highways and inland roads through once-impenetrable country. Between Messina and Catania the riviera route is in and out of villages, frustratingly slow.
TRANSPORT, INCLUDING MAINLAND CONNECTIONS
Catania is eastern Sicily’s airport, with connections to all parts of Italy and some other European cities.
Rail services are frequent on the coastal lines Messina-Cefalù and Messina-Siracusa-Gela and across the interior Catania-Enna-Caltanissetta. Trains stop everywhere. The little Circumetnea train, round the skirts of Mount Etna from and to Catania (136 km) navigates a troubled landscape among villages as sombre and jumbled as the basalt and lava-blocks around them.
Express buses skim between coastal cities and along the west–bound motorway. Companies which specialize in tourist services are Etna Trasporti, Via San Giuseppe La Rena 86a, Catania and Saistours, www.saistours.com. Also look into the eight-day ‘Golden Tour’ of Sicily, starting and finishing in Catania, run by www.bestofsicily.com
Train ferries, car ferries and hydrofoils shuttle between Messina and Reggio Calabria/Villa San Giovanni on the mainland. From Messina to Lipari and Vulcano takes 3½ hours, from Milazzo 1½ hours. Inter-island ferries in the Lipari group do not carry vehicle, but you may travel by car ferry between Lipari and Naples (9 hours).