Dale Says

January 16, 2007

Cycle Sicily on Your Own

Filed under: Travel — Dale @ 5:14 pm

With the dollar’s recent decline versus the Euro, there are few travel values left in Western Europe. For adventure travelers willing to go on their own, a self-guided bicycle tour of Sicily is still a bargain and a wonderful adventure.

Are you ready for a European bicycle tour, but don’t want to spend a fortune? If so, you might want to consider a self-guided bicycle tour of Sicily.

Why Sicily?
Sicily offers a rare and wonderful combination of history, incredible views, warm hospitality and some of the best food on earth. And, if you are enterprising enough to go on your own, a self-guided bicycle tour of Sicily can be a rewarding and affordable adventure.

If you enjoy history
Over the past 2,000 years every major Western civilization visited and occupied Sicily. Those influences remain and are evident from a bicycle. Greek temples, Roman cities, Norman and Arabian churches the vestiges of previous cultures are well preserved and accessible.

Incredible views
A bicycle tour offers sweeping views of the Sicilian countryside, including hill towns and coastal villages, vineyards and olive orchards, medieval cities and mosaic cathedrals. Sicily is a land of many cultures and contrasts and the closer one gets the more it can be absorbed. A bicycle offers a front row seat.

People who appreciate you
Sicilians are naturally gracious, a tendency that extends to treatment of their guests, including American tourists. People in smaller towns are especially friendly and helpful. Few small town Sicilians are fluent in English, but they have little difficulty understanding and satisfying your needs. As we cycled through the towns and villages of Sicily, we were greeted by old men who sit on benches, share gossip and opinions and wave at the occasional bicyclists who glide by.

Fantastic food
The food is excellent throughout Sicily, and meals are works of art — occasions to be celebrated and enjoyed. And you can eat as much as you like, guilt-free, after a day on your bicycle. A typical evening meal consists of antipasti, then two main courses (the primi Piatti, which is typically pasta, and secundi Piatti, which can be seafood or shellfish on the coast; or beef, pork or chicken inland. This is followed by the insalata course, which is typically lettuce and whatever vegetables are the freshest, then dessert, which might be cannoli, Â Frutta di Martorana (almond marzipan pastries colored and shaped to resemble real fruit), or gelato (ice cream), which is plentiful and excellent.

An interesting option is to arrange a cooking class along the way, to learn some of the secrets behind Sicily’s wonderful food. We made risotto with Paolo, our host at a bed-and-breakfast in the hills near Countessa Entrellina. “Fresh ingredients are the secret,” he told us. “Fresh vegetables and herbs.” He showed us how to add and reduce broth until the pasta is just about done, then to shake the risotto as it cools. We all helped and preparing the meal was organized chaos, as it should be in Sicily, followed by a triumphant presentation another Sicilian work of art!

Good wine
In addition to great food, Sicilian wines are plentiful, inexpensive, and surprisingly good. The mild Mediterranean climate produces fine grapes, and centuries of practice result in excellent, smooth wines. Sicily’s vintage wines are among the world’s best, and the island’s traditional wines and spirits are famous far beyond its shores. Throughout our ride, local wines were pleasant, full-bodied, and affordable (typically under US$5 per bottle). Sicily also has a wide assortment of excellent dessert wines (including the well-known Marsala wine), and a number of regional liqueurs.

A great value
Sicily is still affordable. With the fall in value of the US dollar versus the euro, there are few reasonably priced vacation destinations left in Western Europe; fortunately, Sicily is still one. Sicily has not yet been “found” by bargain-hunting Americans, and prices are still reasonable. If you can go in the fall, it’s less crowded and even more of a bargain

Our hotel and some restaurants had been arranged by a tour company ahead of time, but we generally saw the bills. Very acceptable rooms in small hotels and B&Bs ran from US$40-80 per night; a full dinner with wine was around US$20 per person.

Should you consider a self-guided tour? The term “self-guided” doesn’t mean you have to bring your own bicycle, and you don’t have to take your gear with you each day. It basically means no guide and no group. It is more flexible, because you can go when it fits your schedule, and can be less expensive (note: check prices with tour companies), because the tour company doesn’t have to accompany you. Tour companies can make arrangements for lodging, meals, and they can furnish bicycles, pannier bags, route directions and maps. And arrangements can be made to have your luggage transported from hotel to hotel each day. All you have to do is follow directions and enjoy the sights.

Self-guided tours could be a viable option if you have your own group (two or more), and at least one of you is good at reading maps and finding your way around new places.

A self-guided tour is probably not the best option if you are traveling by yourself, or if you want the company of others during your ride. There are several bicycle tour companies that operate guided and self-guided tours of Sicily. (See Resource section.)

We chose the self-guided option for schedule and pricing advantages, but left the details and transportation of our luggage up to a tour company. Following the maps and finding our way around each day was part of the adventure, and the sense of accomplishment at the each of the day was gratifying.

When to Go
Fall is a great time to explore Sicily. The weather is warm but generally not hot, summer vacationers are gone, and prices are lower. October is harvest time, with grapes early in the month and olives later. Both are a wonderful sight (and smell) from the saddle of your bicycle. As we rode through the olive orchards in Southern Sicily, we saw families picking olives from olive trees near their homes that are hundreds of years old. We visited a small olive press, where the olives were mashed into a light green pulp, and a thin, steady stream of liquid gold ran into a barrel at the end. A pure, earthy smell hung in the air.

Study the route maps
Sicily is a pretty hilly island, and it’s best to carefully review route descriptions before making a final selection. There are wide variations in terrain in different parts of the island, and it’s best to choose a route that matches your abilities and interests.

A very rewarding experience
There is a sense of solidity in Sicily. This is a land where centuries-old traditions are comforting and satisfying and an important part of life. Family and friends are treasures, and food and meals are part of life to be shared and enjoyed. A bicycle tour in Sicily is not for the weak of body or spirit, but the payoff is worth it. If you are adventurous and can get in decent “hill” bicycling shape, it can be a very rewarding experience.

About the author:
Dale Fehringer is a freelance writer and editor who lives in San Francisco, California. He travels the world riding his bicycle and occasionally writes about his experiences. He can be reached at dalefehringer@hotmail.com


Several tour companies, including those listed below, organize guided and/or self-guided bicycle tours of Sicily. Hiking tours are also possible (guided or self-guided), and several tour companies offer coach or personally designed tours.

Info on Sicily




Tours, Bicycle Tours, Other Info

Alo Italy www.aloitaly.com

Andiamo Adventourswww.andiamoadventours.com

Bed & Breakfast Sicily (www.bed-and-breakfast-sicily.it)

BicyclingWorld.com (www.bicyclingworld.com)

Bike Riders (www.bikeriderstours.com)

Bike Tours Direct (www.biketoursdirect.com)

Biketravel.net (www.biketravel.net)

Ciclismo Classico (www.ciclismoclassico.com)

Cobblestone Tours (www.cobblestonetours.com)

Delicious Italy (www.deliciousitaly.com)

Dolcevitabiketours.com (www.dolcevitabiketours.com)

ExperiencePlus (www.experienceplus.com)

Exodus (http://www.exodus.co.uk)

Flavors of Sicily (www.flavorsofsicily.com)

Info Hub (www.infohub.com)

In Sicily Travel Consultant (www.insicily.com)

International Bicycle Tours, Inc. (www.internationalbicycletours.com)

Irish Cycling Safaris (www.cyclingsafaris.com)

Italian Cooking Vacations (www.cookitaly.com)

Italian Food Forever (www.italianfoodforever.com)

Italy Tour Travel (www.italytourtravel.com)

MacQueen’s Island Tours (www.macqueens.com)

Nichols Expeditions (www.nicholexpeditions.com)

Pedal & Sea Adventures (www.pedalandseaadventures.com)

Research & Escort in Sicily (www.papiro.net)

Siciclando (www.siciclando.com)

Sicily Food Online (www.sicilyfoodonline.it)

Sicilytravel.net (www.sicilytravel.net)

Sicilytrip (www.sicilytrip.com)

SicilyWeb (www.sicilyweb.com)

Travel Innovations (www.travel-innovations.com)

VBT (www.vbt.com)

Wines of Sicily (www.winesofsicily.info)

World Ventures (www.world-ventures.com)

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