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5 Finds for Families with Kids in Sicily

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Most visitors to Sicily head for the old world charm of Palermo, the biothermal wonder of Mount Aetna or the antiquated charm of Taormina and Agrigento—all well worth a visit. But take one of the smaller exits off the autostrada anywhere near the coast, as we did this summer when my family of five and some friends rented a villa near Messina, and you’ll be richly rewarded. Enjoy these finds for families with kids in Sicily.

My 6-year-old daughter enjoying the vertical pleasures of Grotte Beach

My 6-year-old daughter enjoying the vertical pleasures of Grotte Beach (Photo credit: Halle Shilling)

1. Find the beach.

We stayed in San Giorgio, a tiny town near the Port of Patti (which prompted many jokes among my husband and sons since “Patti” pronounced in Italian sounds awfully close to “potty” in English) and discovered quickly that the key to surviving the famed summer climate of Sicily is to find the water. Often. If looking for more temperate beach weather—you might look into visiting in June, September or October—when temperatures remain mostly in the 70s.

Each coastal town has a regular beach, the one crammed with tourists. But ask the locals where to find the best beach and you will get a variety of options beyond the obvious coastline. We discovered one beach, called simply Grotte, full of small caves and rocky outcroppings a few hundred meters beyond the crowded sand beach by asking our waitress one night where she goes when she’s not working. Another local led us to a nearby peninsula surrounded by naturally occurring lagoons perfect for snorkeling with kids.

The gorgeous Tindari Sanctuary perches high on a cliff overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea as seen from below

The gorgeous Tindari Sanctuary perches high on a cliff overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea as seen from below (Photo credit: Halle Shilling)

2. Find the local ruin or antiquity.

Just look in your guidebook to find the closest Sicilian ruin or antiquity. There’s at least one in every town. And they are absolutely worth a visit despite the unenthusiastic offspring who must accompany you. In the summer, plan your visit for the morning before the heat has built up, and promise the beach for after. On our first day, we dragged ourselves to the top of a promontory in Tyndaris, one of the last Greek colonies in Sicily, and discovered the Madonna di Tindari Sanctuary housing not only a world famous Black Madonna, but also an artistic marvel of a church. After fortifying our group with popsicles, water and sugared almonds handed out by candy merchants, we wandered through an archeological site dating from the town’s founding in 396 B.C. and stumbled upon a Roman bath with colored mosaic tiles.

Our group enjoying a gelato break in Lipari

Our group enjoying a gelato break in Lipari (Photo credit: Halle Shilling)

3. Find at least TWO gelaterias.

My 6-year-old daughter has a book about Olivia, the pig, who goes to Venice with her family and they eat ice cream twice a day. I vaguely promised her that we would also do this if she was a good girl on the plane ride. Did I make good on that promise!

Every town has at least half a dozen ice cream stores, serving quite frankly the most insanely delicious Italian invention in the history of Western Civilization: gelato. Forget about chocolate or vanilla—point to any flavor and your children will not only eat it, but also they will do anything you ask to guarantee more of it. (My pickiest eater began a love affair with pistachio gelato despite the color.)

Don’t be afraid to mix it up either with granita which is closer to sorbet but just as flavorful as the gelato. In fact, my 10-year-old son and I spent a lovely half hour sitting on the curb comparing and contrasting lemon granita with lemon gelato culminating in, of course, a second serving of each.

Just one course of our meal at the Santa Margherita agritourismo restaurant in the hills of Patti

Just one course of our meal at the Santa Margherita agritourismo restaurant in the hills of Patti (Photo credit: Halle Shilling)

4. Find the local agriturismo for a meal.

A combination of the word “agriculture” and “tourism”—agriturismos are typically rustic operations designed to expose tourists to local working farms. They are also a delicious gateway to regional delicacies and five-course meals at a reasonable cost. Often agriturismos also have rooms for rent and many are housed in refurbished villas offering everything from swimming pools to spa treatments or guided hikes with naturalists. Even if you don’t sleep there, the restaurants are an excellent way to get a taste of the best of Sicily.

Our party of nine (four adults and five children) spent an evening at Santa Margherita, a gracious stone farmhouse in the hills overlooking the coast. For the price of 25 Euros per adult (kids were half price and had a choice of two kinds of pasta) we began our feast with 11 antipasti dishes, from sautéed wild mushrooms to Caprese salad to local artisanal cheese to stuffed zucchini blossoms. After a double offering of pasta, came the meat course with no fewer than five types of grilled flesh including several kinds of homemade sausages. We capped off the evening with a selection of house made liqueurs.

With the kids in Sicily, enjoying our private boat tour of Vulcano

Our private boat tour of Vulcano (Photo credit: Halle Shilling)

5. Find a boat.

Whether it is a high speed hydrofoil ferry, an off duty fishing boat or a pontoon boat excursion to a lagoon, Sicily is—after all—an island and her charms, both manmade and natural, are no more magnificent than from the prow of a boat.

One day we made an excursion to the Aeolian Island of Vulcano and negotiated a private tour with a local fisherman who steered our boat into a cave before dropping anchor so we could leap into the Mediterranean to snorkel. We spied hot pink jellyfish and a cuttlefish before climbing back aboard, to dry off chilled and salty from the sea. All in all, the best day of our week.

Which of these finds for kids in Sicily would appeal most to your family? Let us know in the comments!

Halle Shilling was a journalist for several newspapers in the Midwest before moving to the Golden State to teach writing and drive her three children to soccer practice. She and her family live in Solana Beach, California.

About Halle Shilling, Travel Mamas Guest Blogger

Halle Shilling was a journalist for several newspapers in the Midwest before moving to the Golden State to teach writing and drive her three children to soccer practice. She and her family live in Solana Beach, California. 

Comments

  1. Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

    Halle – My family had such an incredible meal at an agriturismo in Sicily. Reading about your experience makes me want to go back TODAY! Did you have a cannoli in Sicily? Oh my, that is worth a trip to Sicily alone!

  2. Ruthie Kaminskas says:

    We stayed on the island of Lipuri and took day boat rides to Vulcan, Stromboli and 2 other island that I can’t remember their names right now. Kids were treated like rock stars and we were able to experience that old Italian hospitality. Would highly recommend Sicily for a family vacation. We are definitely going back. Arrivedercci Sicilia!!!

  3. Just found your site while researching travelling with kids in Sicily. I’m thinking of taking my 3 kids there and to Naples as well. I’ll be alone with the kids most of the time (my husband will be in a conference). Having been there with kids do you think this is feasible? My kids are 7, 4, and 2. The older one’s are boys and are quite hyper. I’d love to hear your thoughts. We’re deciding now whether or not it’s worth it for me to go. Thank you in advance!

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

      Hi Nina – This post was written by a guest blogger and unfortunately I no longer have her contact information to ask her to reply to your question. I have been to Sicily once with my then 2-year-old, but it was just for a day during a cruise. Having said that, I think you really could enjoy Sicily with your three children. As in any location, the key is to have a balance of up activities and down activities. So, one day of exploring followed by a mellow day hanging out at the hotel pool or visiting a local park. Sicilians seemed very friendly and fond of children during my brief visit. My vote? Go for it!

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