From popular beaches where cafes serve fish straight off the boat to nature reserves and hidden coves, our readers pick their favourite places on Sicily’s dramatic coast
Winning tip: history and relaxation: Licata
On the south coast, this is close to Agrigento but far less touristy. The beautiful sandy beaches saw allied landings in 1943, but now attract locals for swimming and sunbathing (two sunbeds with a sunshade can be hired for €5). Grangela B&B (from €66 a night) makes a central but quiet base, with welcoming owners and comfortable rooms with balconies and (a rare luxury) kettles. Osteria La Lampara, opposite the port, cooks fish straight from the trawlers; for a snack, the bakery on the Corso Roma sells lovely spinach arancini (fried rice balls).
North by north-west – San Vito lo Capo
Pristine white sands and the beautiful backdrop of a rocky mountain jutting dramatically out into the sea are just a couple of reasons to go to this tropical-feeling beach in the west of Sicily, near Trapani. Swim easily in aquamarine waters and grab a granita (ice flavoured with fruit) from the beach sellers. Sunsets, with the mountain casting a spooky shadow along the sand, have inspired travellers and poets for centuries.
Secret beach a train ride from Palermo
I’ve lived in Palermo for five years. After eight months I’d grown tired of always ending up at Mondello (bedlam in the summer months) and Cefalù (pretty but very busy). It was a student who whispered to me one day: “Go to Lascari: it’s the stop before Cefalù on the train.” Not only is the beach stunning and almost always empty, there are also a couple of fantastic places to eat.
Turkish steps near Agrigento
Last March, my boyfriend and I were driving on the coastal roads leading to Agrigento, where we found a moonscape-like bright white rock formation called Scala dei Turchi. Over time, wind and sea spray have carved out the limestone to form what look like huge steps. There is a long sandy beach that you walk along and it’s amazing to see the stairs looming over you as you get nearer, and the natural white rock and blue sea makes it an excellent photo opportunity if you’re brave enough to climb up!
Turtle territory: Torre Salsa
This nature reserve/beach managed by the World Wide Fund for Nature is frequented by peregrine falcons and loggerhead sea turtles, which breed here. Wild orchids paint the mountains pink and purple, while sea currents bring fish from all over the Mediterranean. The area was to become tourist resort, but was saved by the local architect, Francesco Galia. Born near Agrigento, he spent a lifetime working with the WWF and received many international awards for his work. The beach is still unknown to many tourists and has no tourist facilities.
Caves and coves: Lo Zingaro
After a breakfast of homemade panelle and cake at B&B Baglio Buccellato, near Scopello (north-west Sicily), head to nearby Lo Zingaro nature reserve and explore the coves, grottos and beaches along the well-marked coastal trail. Pack a lunch from the market connected to the B&B before you go – make sure you try the caponata, our favourite local speciality. The rugged trail in Lo Zingaro seems to puts off many beachgoers, leaving the coves to you and a few locals.
In Montalbano country: Sampieri
Sicily is fabulous – still quite unspoilt, certainly in the south around Montalbano country. Sampieri beach, a few miles south of Ragusa, boasts a vast expanse of pretty much deserted golden sand, and nearby are the Unesco-listed towns of Scicli, Ragusa and Noto, all built in beautiful baroque style.
Aperitvo on the beach: Isola Bella
In the height of summer, Taormina swarms with cars, Italian families and tourists. By aperitivo hour, crowds have dispersed and you’ll have this beautiful pebbly cove to yourself. Get a Negroni from the fringe of cafe-bars on the boardwalk around the bay in preparation for a cool dip. Snorkelling is amazing, with great visibility of fish and rock formations in clear water. Drift around the island to watch twinkling lights from clusters of boats and sunset hitting the clifftop opposite.
Dip out of Palermo: Mondello
When visiting buzzy, bonkers Palermo, take a 30-minute bus ride to Mondello beach to unwind, take a dip and enjoy incredible seafood. Buy a bus ticket from any tobacconist, then take the 106 bus direct to the seaside. It’s a long, sandy beach with clear blue sea, and while the locals love to pose and tan at the weekends, it’s quieter during the week. There are plenty of seafood restaurants, but we went to Trattoria Simpaty (it had featured on a Rick Stein documentary) with a stunning sea view, delicious fresh seafood and a good wine list (beware: bottles of water cost a fortune).
Cefalù is delightful. The beach is long and sandy, and the sea is perfect for bathing. The town is full of narrow and pretty roads with interesting shops and restaurants overlooking the beach. It is well worth visiting the beautiful and historic Norman cathedral, although it is quite a steep climb from the main town.
Notable near Noto: San Lorenzo beach
This is a lovely sandy beach with crystal clear water, and is quiet outside of the high season in August. As with most beaches in Sicily, it has a beach cafe for drinks and food, but best of all, it is next to the Vendicari nature reserve, 10 minutes’ drive from Noto and, if you are a wine drinker, a five-minute drive to the Planeta Buonivini vineyard, where you can take a tour and sample the wines.
Nature reserve peace: Calamosche, south of Avola
Cycle or drive south on the SP19 towards the Vendicari nature reserve. There’s a dirt track to the left 1km shy of the nature reserve entrance, signed for an agriturismo. You have to pay €1 each at a booth and then walk for 20 minutes. Pay to park your car at the restaurant or lock your bike round the back of the booth. Act like a local and take umbrellas and cool boxes and enjoy a gorgeous sandy beach in a pretty cove. The sea shelves gently and the beach doesn’t get stupidly busy even on public holidays. The agriturismo restaurant does wonderful, freshly cooked and locally sourced food at very reasonable prices. They mist water from an irrigation system in the trees that shade the tables. Perfetto!
Bolthole for a princess: Filicudi
Filicudi is the most overlooked of the Aeolian islands, but when Afghan princess and designer Belquis Zahir chose it as her bolthole around 20 years ago, she certainly knew what she was doing. There are many wonderful beaches here – most obviously beneath the Macine on the side of the port, or on the opposite side of the island at Pecorini. But there is a spectrum of other options here too: for the upmarket end, try the lido Solarium Lidolina or, for a more bucolic adventure, trek to Zuccogrande then head down to the beach on Filicudi’s northern shore. But if you really want to find an out-of-the-way beach, you’ll have to ask one of the local fisherman to take you: ask at the port for Angelino. For a place to stay, La Canna hotel is as good as anywhere in the Aeolian islands. And it serves delicious evening meals too.