I want to share my experience traveling to Sicily with you. But not just the typical touristy spots, I’m talking about going off-the-beaten-path and exploring some hidden gems.

The first place we visited was a teeny tiny fishing village called Brucoli.

Brucoli is located on the eastern coast of Sicily, about halfway between two much larger cities, Catania and Syracuse. Brucoli is petite and quaint, with amazing food and beautiful scenery. Brucoli has a main square, with a pretty terracotta colored church with bells that chime and local congregants that gather inside to worship and sing. I snapped one of my favorite photos of my husband Dan holding our daughter in that square at sunset. There is a main street next to the square with local boutiques, art galleries, restaurants and bakeries on it. If you follow the main street toward the water, you’ll reach a castle at the end. There are additional streets with homes on them and the necessities of living like a grocery store, bank and post office. That is basically the entire village of Brucoli! We felt really safe there, as the locals were very friendly and welcoming. We stayed in an Airbnb and the owner assured us that Brucoli is a very safe place, and we could even leave our stroller in the front lobby of the apartment building.

Brucoli is tiny but perfectly formed and had everything we needed. We absolutely adored the small grocery store with four aisles and an amazing deli in the back. It was right down the road from our AirBnb, a three minute walk. We tasted some of the freshest and most amazing cheeses, meats, and olives we’ve ever had there. The mozzarella with pistachios in it was my favorite. I even learned, through trial and error, how to complement the delicious cheeses by saying “formaggio buono!” This translates to “good cheese!” Even though this is a very basic compliment, it is one that I was proud to have learned. As a tourist, I enjoy putting in the effort to speak some phrases in the local language. 

We also explored the little streets and shops, where we found fresh bread, jewelry, dresses, and a local ceramic maker. I bought a beautiful ballerina pink lace top and we purchased a white ceramic owl as a souvenir to display in our living room. Sicilian artists often create works using owls, which symbolize wisdom in Roman mythology.

Brucoli is a diamond of a village. Staying there for a few nights will give you the experience of living in a sleepy little Sicilian town, living the slow life amongst the locals. I spent my days walking with Harlow to the playground outside the castle, then to Cream & Chocolate, a cafe and ice cream shop on a nearby street to try a new pastry and let Harlow explore and play. The people who worked there were patient with Harlow, letting her wander in and out of the shop and ponder what pastry to try next. My fellow patrons at the cafe were so sweet as well, stopping to chat and offer complements to Harlow. It was my first exposure to the way Italians tend to treat young children. We’d cap off the day with a sunset stroll to Ristorante Al Castello, our favorite beach-y restaurant to enjoy a campari spritz and some local pasta. This restaurant was the first time I had a campari spritz garnished with a grapefruit slice, and it’s now my favorite. The bitter citrus complements the bitter Campari perfectly. 

After a few days, we traveled further south to Syracuse, which has some of the most amazing ruins at the Neapolis Archeological Park. We stayed on Corso Gelone, one of the main streets, and I’d recommend that for ease of getting around by foot. I was able to walk to the archeological park from our Airbnb. Harlow and I visited a Roman amphitheater where they used to hold gladiator events, which could even be filled with water. It was fascinating and scary at the same time. We also saw an ancient altar that was used for various ceremonies. I marveled and pushed her around in a stroller, she took a little nap. She woke up just in time to relax in the shade near the exit and get some snaps of her with the ruins in the background. She’s eating a banana and has folded up surgical masks on her tiny wrists. A memory for a pandemic toddler traveling. The archaeological park has a cafe connected to it where you’re able to relax, eat and drink at shaded tables. I have some of the cutest photos of Harlow sitting in my lap while drinking sparkling water and eating pasta with tomatoes there. 

Syracuse is a bigger city and has many options for shopping and eating. I stopped into a local children’s clothing store one and browsed around for Harlow. We walked by a local boutique and purchased some wine glasses and a decanter. The person at the shop walked my bag of purchases back to my AirBnb with me as a kind favor. I suppose she could see I had my hands full with a toddler and a stroller. Dan, Harlow and I ate sushi one night, which was a nice change of pace. I also found a local bookstore with my own name, “Libreria Diana” and bought some books for Harlow in Italian and some prints to take home with me. 

We stayed in the center of Syracuse for a few days and then traveled down to Ortigia. Ortigia is the historic downtown of the city of Syracuse. It is located on a small peninsula. We had suitcases, so we took a taxi from Syracuse to Ortigia, but it is walkable. From our AirBnb to Ortigia, was approximately a 20 minute walk. And there are many ice cream shops and playgrounds on the way.

While Harlow and I were waiting for our taxi, the server at the cafe outside our AirBnb asked if we were coming back. When she found out that we were moving to another AirBnb, she asked to hold Harlow and made her smile. She even held Harlow while I was loading suitcases into the taxi. 

Ortigia is so beautiful and full of life, with really nice restaurants and spas. The Temple of Apollo is one of the first sights you see as you come across the bridge to the peninsula. We could even see the Temple from our AirBnb balcony. There was a fountain in the main square with a statue of the goddess Diana riding horses out of the water. It was breathtaking and I loved walking to the square with Harlow from our AirBnb and having coffee and arancini there. It was at these cafes that Harlow decided she liked “foamy milk” which she still loves to this day. I have great memories of giving her tiny spoonfuls of the top of my cappuccino. Dan and I also tried some homemade pasta and local wines and did wine flights. 

One thing I loved about Ortigia was that every place that sold pastries would get them delivered fresh that morning. We tried the freshest, most amazing pastries there. They were out of this world. There was also an open-air market where we bought fresh fruits, vegetables, seafood, and spices. We even got to know some of the vendors who were so sweet to Harlow, my daughter. They would always give her a cookie or banana and talk to us in their chit-chatting ways. One of them taught us a new term of endearment for toddlers: polpetta. This means meatball in Italian and we still refer to her lovingly as our little polpetta!

The whole area of Brucoli, Syracuse, and Ortigia is definitely off the beaten path, and not many Americans visit there. But it’s a must-see for anyone who wants to experience authentic Italian culture and hospitality. You can even see the volcano Aetna from some parts of the island, which is breathtakingly beautiful.

Sicily has so much to offer beyond the typical tourist spots. The small towns and hidden gems are what make it truly special. So if you’re planning a trip to Sicily, don’t forget to explore places like Brucoli, Syracuse, and Ortigia. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed!

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Hi, I’m Diana — the Dolce Mom! 

In 2023 my husband took a job in southern Italy and we moved our family from Austin, Texas to Bacoli, Italy near Naples. I’m a professional home organizer by trade, but now spend my days immersing myself and our little one in Italian culture and travel. 

I believe a well-traveled life is as much about experiencing new things as it is a state of mind. I’m in a pursuit for the good life in all its forms. Here I share that pursuit and its innersection with real life. 

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