Family villas in Sicily >>
Five of Think Sicily’s staff have young children and in our experience Sicily provides a great deal of stimulating, adventurous activities for the more youthful members of your group. There are lots of “child-friendly” things to do and, apart from spending wonderful days on Sicily's beaches or besides your villa's pool, all you really need is a little imagination. Here are some suggestions that have been tried and tested using our very own offspring!
The Madonie Adventure Park
If you're staying in or near the Madonie National Park, head for Il Parco Avventura Madonie, where there is a fabulous adventure playground in the woods. Ropeladder-walking, tree-climbing, cable slides and all sorts of fun are to be had! There are different levels for different ages and it's not uncommon to see Mum and Dad having even more fun than their children!
It's also possible to go mountain-biking (bikes and helmets provided), trekking and horse-riding! There are picnic areas and, if you phone ahead, you can request some local products, such as cheeses, hams, sausages etc. to be waiting for you! Alternatively come stocked with food yourself and make use of the available barbecues (but don't forget your charcoal!).
Exploring the fun side of Sicilian Baroque!
One of our special interest itineraries for children (and parents!), this creative workshop (i.e. with lots of hands-on activities) for children focuses on the artist Serpotta’s playful stuccos in two of Palermo's loveliest baroque churches (one of which, Santa Cita, featured in BBC's Sicily Unpacked with Giorgio Locatelli and Andrew Graham-Dixon). Click here for more info >>
Another wonderful adventure playground with the same activities as the Parco Avventura Madonie, is to be found on the southern flanks of Mount Etna, not far from the cable car at Rifiugio Sapienza (the exact address is Contrada Serra la Nave, Ragalna). Once again, there are different levels for all ages and picnic tables can be booked on request (there is no catering). Etnavventura is open from the middle of June to the middle of September.
A trip up Mount Etna itself is excellent fun with children. After having driven up to Rifiugio Sapienza (1910m above sea level), on the southern slopes, I took my six-year-old son for a ride on the cable car. After initially being rather dubious, his face relaxed and he was soon marvelling at the little cabin suspended over mounds and mounds of lava.
At the end of the cable car run, some 2,500 m above sea level, it is possible to continue your ascent in a special minibus jeep that winds its way up to the summit. The off-road bumps, the wild moon-like scenery and plane-like views all made it an experience that will never be forgotten. Take a look at our 4x4 adventures...
There are cafés and bars at both end of the cable car but if the weather is good, we recommend a picnic - you will find lots of great places for a panoramic lunch.
Another, rather less dramatic cable car ride takes you from the seaside town of Mazzaro’ up to Taormina. This is not only the best way get to Taormina, but also a little adventure for younger children. After a sightseeing walk around Taormina and its Greek amphitheatre, why not reward them with a couple of hours on Mazzaro’s lovely beach and an ice-cream.
Le Gole di Alcantara
Meanwhile, north of Mount Etna, on the road that leads from Giardini di Naxos to Francavilla, there is the Gole di Alcantara, a 20-metre-deep gorge carved out of lava by the river of the same name. It is possible to hire waterproof trousers and wade up the gorge through the cold water, very refreshing in August though probably more suitable for adventurous teenagers.
Eureka! Discovering Archimedes' Syracusa
Another of our Special Interest Itineraries is an archaeological workshop for children accompanied by their parents, during which the ancient history of Siracusa - home to Archimedes - is brought to life through visits to the Archaeological Museum and the Archaeological Park of Siracusa (complete with Greek theatre, Roman amphitheatre, a stone quarry and a huge ear-shaped prison!). Children are given a variety of materials and can take part in a series of activities including discovery-games, drawing and colouring. Click here to find out more >>
Still on the east coast is Etna Land, a theme park, water park and dinosaur park all rolled into one. It has a suspended cableway, laser shows and rides such as the crocodile rapids. While it does get very crowded in August, it’s a good day out with lots to see and do, and there are plenty of places to grab a bite to eat.
The Salt Pans
The salt pans, between Trapani and Marsala on the west coast of sicily also provide a fascinating day out for children, who marvel at the enormous piles of salt drying in the sun and the succession of fabulous windmills. You can then take a little boat trip across to the island of Mothya for a wander around the remains of this old Phoenician town... plenty of opportunities for hide and seek, a good run about and lots of great picnic spots.
There is a good little café at the little port on the mainland and several other restaurants nearby.
If your children love castles, then Sicily will be a paradise for them! There are hundreds of castles all over the island, some in towns, such as the Castello Orsino in Catania, or Castello Maniace in Syracuse, and castles perched on top of hills in the middle (almost) of nowhere. The one at Caccamo (in the hills between Palermo and Cefalù) is impressive, as is the one at Mussomeli, half-way along the road between Palermo and Agrigento. Then there is Erice, which boasts two castles as well as an extra treat: the cable car ride that connects this ancient hill-top town with Trapani down below.
Selinunte and the beach
Huw and Rossella, the founders of Think Sicily, have a favourite spot to take any visiting friends with children: the vast archaeological park of Selinunte in the south-west of Sicily. The children have a great time running around the ruins, playing hide and seek behind millennial pillars and, when tiredness set in, they all jump on the electric train and have a more leisurely tour. From Selinunte, it's a hop, skip and a jump to the beach at Marinella, where parents can enjoy a nice lobster lunch while the children play on the sand!
One of Sicily’s strongest cultural traditions is the puppet theatre. There are at least five in Palermo alone, but they are to be found in all major towns, including Syracuse (La Compagnia dei Pupari) and Acireale, just north of Catania (Teatro Pupi Macri). Generally the puppeteers re-enact the stories of Charlemagne and his battles against the Saracens, the chivalrous exploits of his Paladins Orlando and Rinaldo, and their rivalry for the love of Angelica.
There are, however, many other stories and the mastery of Sicilian “pupari” (puppeteers) is renowned. Maybe the most acclaimed puppeteer is Mimmo Cutichhio who has a theatre in Via Bara dell’Olivella, a narrow street right opposite the Teatro Massimo in Palermo. For more information, see figli d'arte cuticchio. Also well worth a visit is the International Puppet Museum in Palermo, in Piazzetta Niscemi, just behind Piazza Marina, www.museomarionettepalermo.it.
The Catacombs in Palermo
For children with a rather more gruesome imagination, the Catacombe dei Cappuccini in Palermo will certainly give them some promising material. Underground corridors are full to brimming with the decaying, mummified remains of Palermo’s 16th and 17th Century noble classes. There are also, however, some rather more modern examples, including a young girl who was mummified as late as 1920.
Caltagirone and ceramic making
Caltagirone is synonymous with the art of ceramic-making, and, when your children have finished playing on the 142 steps of the Scalinata di Santa Maria del Monte, why not head off to one of the town's pottery schools so they can make their own little work of art?
Blessed are the cheese-makers!
Also in the Madonie, it is possible to indulge in a little cheese-making, courtesy of TracceSicane. They will also be happy to help you make bread the old way and, for the artisctically-minded, pottery decoration.
The Bioparco at Carini
Half-way between Palermo and the airport is the Bio Parco, a dinosaur park, playground and zoo, complete with a bird garden, reptile house, zebras, camels and lots more. There is also a picnic area, a café and plenty of space for burning off energy!
A spot of Greek Theatre, anyone?
Sicily is full of Greek theatres: Syracuse, Taormina, Segesta, Tindari, Catania, Eraclea Minoa... in our experience children love to do a little bit of acting in a theatre dating back over 2,000 years...
Family villas in Sicily >>