Sicily – the name alone conjures up images of an exotic island, a mysterious and fascinating past. I have wanted to explore Italy for some time now since I had not been there for a long, long time, and when I was pondering which region of Italy to explore Sicily came to mind. I figured this island would offer a combination of fascinating history, rich culture, scenic beauty, and an opportunity for a wide variety of activities. One activity I definitely wanted to pursue was to combine my journey with language studies: my earlier language study trips to Havana and Cuernavaca, Mexico, not only got me closer to the Spanish language, but these on-site language learning experiences really allowed me to explore the culture from within.
The famous Torre dell’Orologio and the Wünderbar in Taormina
So this time I was going to focus on learning Italian, and I was able to locate two language schools in Sicily that would both provide a totally different experience and a different way of exploring the island. Armed with no prior knowledge other than having read through an Italian grammar book, I was going to see how much of this beautiful language I would pick up in my three weeks in Sicily.
Entrance to the Palazzo Corvaja in Taormina
My first eight days were spent in Taormina, a gorgeous mountain-top town on the eastern side of Sicily, whose main distinguishing feature is an ancient Greco-Roman Theatre that is still in use today. The town itself has to be among the most picturesque destinations anywhere, with its beautiful buildings, narrow streets and passageways and stunning views of Mount Etna and the Mediterranean.
View of Taormina from the mountains above
Shortly after my arrival I got to meet the people at the Babilonia Language School where I would be learning Italian for a week and exploring the culture of Sicily. My accommodation was in a lovely 13-room privately owned hotel that has been operated by the Sciglio family for more than 50 years.
Lookout over the Med from the “Tempietto” at Hotel Villa Nettuno
Mr. and Mrs. Sciglio are in their mid-eighties and continue to work extremely hard, without even a thought of retirement, and their son Salvatore works with them. In an interview I learned more about the hotel’s history and the family’s involvement in this business. On the second day I joined my first guided excursion with the Babilonia language school: a guided hike to the ancient village of Castelmola which was followed by a tasting of Sicilian delicacies in a local bistro.
A Sicilian smorgasbord
My first weekend in Sicily promised to be great: an excursion to the ancient town of Siracusa and an exploration of the gorgeous coastline just east of Taormina, including the town of Mazzaro and Isola Bella. The following Monday was my first day of language studies: first we went through the placement test, and then we had our first lesson which included some unique yet effective teaching methods. The next day was May 1, Italian Labour Day and a national holiday: a perfect opportunity to rent a car and drive into the countryside surrounding Mount Etna, Europe’s largest volcano, which by the way, had erupted the night before.
The Cathedral of Siracusa