Many islands like to dub themselves ‘a slice of paradise’, but the extraordinary Mediterranean delight of Sicily has more claims than most - and a lot to offer those seeking property for sale in Italy.
On the toe of Italy’s boot, Sicily couldn’t be closer to the mainland, separated only by the Straits of Messina from the Italian port of Reggio di Calabria. Yet Sicily doesn’t feel like mainland Italy, let alone Europe. Look for real estate in Sicily and you are looking at a land apart, one that is an exciting, cosmopolitan amalgam of all the cultures that dominated this island over the centuries.
Sicily was the capital of Magna Graecia in Classical times, such a powerful rival to Athens that the mother city sent a fleet to subdue the city of Siracusa — a fleet that was sent home in ignominious defeat. The mythology of Ancient Greece lives on here: the Straits of Messina, though narrow, were guarded on one side by Scylla, the huge rock that concealed man-eating monsters, and on the other by Charybdis, the terrifying whirlpool which could suck down six ships a day. The Straits were one of the most strategically important, yet terrifying passages of ancient times: little wonder that a journey to Sicily seemed an enormous leap of faith.
The Straits of Messina pose rather less of a threat to the modern visitor seeking Italian property for sale on Sicily. For one thing, Charybdis just isn’t that scary (and Scylla is just a rock). For another, Ryanair runs breathtakingly cheap flights into Palermo airport on the north coast of the island. The invasions these days come from a different quarter. Now it is holidaymakers seeking the sun, good beaches, beautiful countryside and the rich culture and history of Sicily; and property seekers looking for some of the best value real estate in Italy.
Sicily is also home to a great range of hotels, and ahotelinitaly.com offer a wide range and quick booking for hotels across Sicily; if you're heading to the island in search of property you'll doubtless need to stay in at least one hotel, and you'll find a good range on their site.
Anyone buying a home on Sicily follows a bewildering mix of colonists, all of whom have thrown their influences, their language, their cuisine and their culture into the rich melting pot of the island. Sicily’s position on Italy’s toe was strategically vital, of great military importance and crucial for trade routes. Sicily divides the western and eastern Mediterranean, it lies close to north Africa, and divides Western Europe from the beginnings of the East. Take a boat from Siracusa and head due east and the first landfall you make will be Greece.
Little wonder it was such a target then. It was seized by the Sicanians from Spain in 1000BC, Elymians from Asia Minor, and then Siculians (hence Sicily) from Italy. Phoenicians opened trading posts here in 800BC. The Greeks came around 700BC, and by 500BC Siracusa was effectively the capital of Ancient Greece. Throughout the Dark Ages, Sicily fell prey to Goths, Vandals, Romans, Normans, Arabs and the French. Garibaldi and his army of the Risorgimento were welcome invaders in 1860, and Sicily became part of unified Italy in 1861.
But the 19th and 20th centuries saw big problems for Sicily. Economic decline, mass emigration (nearly a million Sicilians ended up in the US), and arcane land and inheritance laws caused stasis and poverty. There was always one authority willing to fill the breach however, and it has become Sicily’s main problem in the minds of many foreigners.
The one thing everybody ‘knows’ about the island, and it certainly puts many people off looking at real estate for sale in Sicily, is ‘the Mafia’. We’ll get onto some of the myths and historical truths behind this, but let’s get one thing clear. Buying a home in Sicily may bring you into contact with somebody who offers you ‘insurance’ for your property. Consider it an onerous additional tax, pay it and forget about it. As a foreigner you’ll probably never come into contact with organised crime again. As for personal safety? When it comes to violent crime against the person, Sicily is safer than most parts of Britain, and certainly the US.
Sicily is an island to delight sun seekers and gourmands, but it is equally appealing to those in search of culture and marvellous architecture. Buy real estate on Sicily, whether for your vacations or to relocate to Italy, and you will never be bored.
The arrival point for ferry passengers from the mainland is the city of Siracusa, the old Greek capital; it has a revitalised harbour front, with good restaurants and bars, leading into a lovely medieval old town. There are good churches and museums and a cathedral (duomo) based around the pagan temple to Athena. Remarkably, large parts of the fifth century BC temple walls survive as part of the newer structure.
Head down into this south-eastern corner of Sicily in search of Italian property for sale, and you’ll find a clutch of Baroque towns, such as Ragusa, Comiso and Modica, the finest being Noto. It’s well worth looking at real estate in these unsung marvels (Noto is more promoted by the tourist boards) as you are likely to find Baroque properties from under €2000 per square metre.
Anyone flying into Sicily is likely to arrive at Palermo. Sitting on the north coast, the Sicilian capital was founded by the Phoenicians and then taken by Carthage. This is a terrific mix of age-old sights, such as the Cattedrale, the Palazzo dei Normanni, the Capella Palatina and marvellous Norman churches such as Savn Giovanni degli Eremeti and La Martorana.
There are Baroque buildings too and a clutch of good museums. EU and Italian government money has revitalised Palermo, and this offers a superb opportunity for those looking for Italian real estate, having good transport links, beautiful countryside nearby, and a good coastline peppered with lovely little resorts and fine beaches. The A29 highway runs along the northern coastline, linking Palermo to the resort of Cefalu to the east, and the lovely town of Trapani on the west coast.
The whole of the northern (Tyrrhenian) coast enjoys good road and rail links in fact — well worth considering if you need to get from Palermo airport to your Sicilian holiday home. Adventurous buyers are even starting to snap up holiday homes on the Aeolian Islands, Vulcano, Lipari, Salina, Panarea and Stromboli — though anyone buying an Italian property on the latter will have to get used to regular volcanic explosions.
The coastal highway takes you round the city of Messina, back to the east coast and to Taormina — Sicily’s best-known resort and certainly worth considering for a holiday home, apartment or villa in Sicily. The open-air Greek theatre, with Mount Etna behind, looks down on a lovely town of palazzos from the late medieval period and beyond. Little, flower-filled squares, a castle and narrow alleyways create the small-town charm that drew DH Lawrence and Goethe here.
The following may be of use if you're planning to visit Sicily to look at property - the links are to listings of Sicilian hotels organised by city or region, with all hotels offering instant online booking:
The marvellous collision of influences and cultures yields real delights in Sicilian cuisine. Invest in real estate in Sicily and you’re never going to want to eat anywhere else: this is Mediterranean food at its lightest, freshest and most eclectic. Street food is a big deal here, just like Naples, with potato croquettes, individual pizzas and fritters sold from stalls.
With so much coastline, fish should be big, and Sicily doesn’t disappoint: swordfish with olives and capers, anchovies, sardine and tuna — sometimes marinated, sometimes simply seared and served with pasta. The Arab flavour comes in with couscous and superb pastries and sweets: candied fruits, marzipan and cannoli (these pastries stuffed with ricotta, rolled in chocolate and deep fried are delicious but perhaps not for the calorie conscious).
And while you’re looking at property in Sicily why not relax with a glass of the very good Corvo (red or white) and Regaleali (white) — Sicily is producing increasingly good wines. The town of Marsala (on the far west coast) gives its name to a dessert wine they couldn’t give away a generation ago, but which is now hugely popular.
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