A historical feast with 300 days of sun per year, spectacular landscapes, and a vibrant culinary scene, Sicily is becoming one of Italy’s buzziest destinations. There’s a new respect for heritage on an island that’s shaking off the yoke of the Mafia, and the once hidebound hotel sector is also enjoying a resurgence. The most trumpeted debut, the suave Verdura Golf & Spa Resort—part of the Rocco Forte Collection—has focused the spotlight on a handsome swath of the southern coast between the Greek temples at Agrigento and Selinunte. Orient-Express recently renovated two classic hotels in Taormina, the Grand Hotel Timeo and the Villa Sant’Andrea. Regional capital Palermo, in the northwest, is now a real destination, with restored nobleman’s residence Palazzo Riso hosting a contemporary art space, and beach clubs like AddauraReef relaunching the family-oriented Mondello area, just west of the city, as a fashionista hangout. Nearby, in Terrasini, young chef Giuseppe Costa is making waves at Il Bavaglino with his spin on Sicilian traditions, such as cuttlefish stuffed with rice on a bed of lentils and dried tuna. Over in Siracusa, the restoration of the old town, Ortygia, continues, with the new Moorish-style Musciara Siracusa Resort and Regina Lucia, a nouvelle-Sicilian restaurant, leading the style pack.
Sicily Affordable Tip: When it opened in 2006, the shabby-chic inn BB22 was a pioneer of the once run-down Vucciria area of Palermo’s centro storico. Now Vucciria is thrumming with upmarket galleries and wine bars, but BB22 is still a great value. 22 Largo Cavalieri di Malta, Palermo; 39-091/611-1610; doubles from $169.
Sicily Active Tip: Etna, the tallest active volcano in Europe, still belches up ash and lava. A guide will bring you up close; Gruppo Guide Alpine Etna Sud covers the easier-to-access southern slope. 43 Piazza Vittorio Emanuele, Nicolosi; 39-095/791-4755; excursions from $78 per person.
Sicily, Italy: World’s Best Scorecard
No. 6 island overall
No. 2 island in Europe
Crystal Cruises 92.45
Regent Seven Seas Cruises 90.14
Silversea Cruises 90.034
SeaDream Yacht Club 88.33
Oceania Cruises 86.42
Disney Cruise Line 85.70
Windstar Cruises 85.63
Cunard Line 84.27
Azamara Club Cruises 82.51
Celebrity Cruises 81.92
Holland America Line 81.29
Royal Caribbean International 80.28
Princess Cruises 79.81
AddauraReef 3021/3043 Lungomare Cristoforo Colombo, Addaura, Palermo; 39-091/455-167; addaurareef.com.
Grand Hotel Timeo by Orient-Express 59 Via Teatro Greco, Taormina; 800/237-1236 or 39-0942/627-0200; grandhoteltimeo.com; doubles from $660.
Il Bavaglino 20 Via B. Saputo, Terrasini; 39-091/868-2285; giuseppecosta.com; dinner for two $110.
Musciara Siracusa Resort 42 Riviera Dionisio il Grande, Siracusa; 39-0931/463-613; siracusaresort.it; doubles from $260.
Regina Lucia 6 Piazza Duomo, Siracusa; 39-0931/22509; reginalucia.it; dinner for two $200.
Riso, Museum of Contemporary Sicilian Art 365 Corso Vittorio Emanuele, Palermo; 39-091/320-532; palazzoriso.it.
Verdura Golf & Spa Resort Km 131, SS 115, Sciacca; 888/667-9477 or 39-0925/998-180; verduraresort.com; doubles from $1,430.
Villa Sant’Andrea by Orient-Express 137 Via Nazionale, Taormina Mare; 800/237-1236 or 39-0942/627-1200; hotelvillasantandrea.com; doubles from $631.