This Italian island with a violent history is a peaceful foodie paradise

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WALK through winding streets with shops and cafes we reach the mighty cathedral, which towers proudly over the city.

The sun is shining outside, but it’s the amazing inside that dazzles us – brightly shimmering gold mosaics made in the 12th century with exquisite craftsmanship.

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Cefalu Cathedral at dusk in the old town – full of magnificent stone buildings and lively restaurantsCredit: Alamy
Cefalú is surrounded by Craggy Hills

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Cefalú is surrounded by Craggy Hills

We emerge again in the Sicilian sunlight and in the distance the Mediterranean Sea glistens on a small sandy beach.

We are in Cefalù, a lively resort town on the northern edge of the island, and we ventured here from our secluded holiday home Villa Frisca in Campofelice di Roccella to explore its magnificent stone buildings and lively restaurants.

Cefalù was founded in 400 BC. Founded by the Greeks in the 4th century BC and today with its rustic charm it offers the ideal day to relax from lazing around the pool.

The car journey took 20 minutes and the journey was almost as beautiful as the city itself, with rugged mountains on one side and ocean views on the other.

With so many gems around our villa, renting a car was a must.

The noisy, hectic capital Palermo – once notorious as the home of the Sicilian Mafia, the Cosa Nostra – was a 50-mile drive and a highlight for its fascinating history. The Greeks, Arabs and Normans have all invaded and you can see their influence in the architecture and taste it in the kitchen.

Not far from Cefal is Castel di Tusa, a blue flag pebble beach and small sailing boats swaying in the shallow water; and the Santo Stefano di Camastra, which is home to shops selling traditional ceramics handcrafted by the locals.

Sicily offers many blue flag sandy beaches and clear waters to enjoy the glorious sunshine

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Sicily offers many blue flag sandy beaches and clear waters to enjoy the glorious sunshineImage Credit: Shutterstock

With nothing but greenery surrounding our four person villa, it’s so easy to overlook all of these places while lounging by the tranquil pool.

Embedded in the Sicilian landscape, our house in Villatravellers is stylish and yet relaxed.

A spacious dining room has retained some original features, including a rustic stone wall, and the living room leads to a quiet courtyard protected by a pergola.

The whole place feels calm, from the simple furnishings and wooden ceilings to the grassy landscape.

Stretched out on my sun lounger, I have a breathtaking view of a three hectare field that leads into a valley.

But we tear ourselves away from the terrace to start the journey to the mighty Etna, an active volcano on the east side of the island.

Some of the nearby areas are still scarred by the 2001 eruption, and further up the mountain, huge craters have formed in the rocky ground. We admire the summit from the town below, but those who want to get closer to the summit can take a cable car up the black rocks and hike around the red ash craters.

Those who visit Mount Etna should definitely go to Taormina, the most important tourist destination in Sicily.

This picturesque town is located on a hill and offers a view that is just as impressive as that of our villa.

There are many good restaurants here, many with tables overlooking the beautiful bay. One place, La Capinera, has a Michelin star.

After trying some delicious wines from the Etna hills, we venture higher up the cliff into the center of town, where there are small craft shops, an ornate church and lots of little bars.

Taormina had a festival that day and rows of vintage Ferraris stood in the streets.

Al Duomo is the place for those who want to try classic Sicilian pasta dishes.

Here they serve spaghetti with sardines and wild fennel and paccheri with black pork ragout. Grab a table on the patio if you can – you are in a prime spot to admire the old church and the busy cobblestone streets below.
Sicily surprised us.

Every quaint coastal town here feels secluded and romantic, but there’s plenty to keep even the fussyest vacationer busy.

From our terrace table in Villa Frisca we take a last look over the fields, the silence is only disturbed by a donkey from one of the surrounding farms.

Villa Frisca is set in the rural fields of Sicily - a peaceful retreat from the busy streets of Palermo and Cefalú

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Villa Frisca is set in the rural fields of Sicily – a peaceful retreat from the busy streets of Palermo and Cefalú
Al fresco dining is a must with great views of the rural fields and the distant sea

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Al fresco dining is a must with great views of the rural fields and the distant sea

TO GO: SICILY

GET THERE: Ryanair flies direct to Palermo from Manchester and Stansted at base fares starting from £ 15 each way in October. See ryanair.com.

STAY: Seven nights self-catering at Villa Friscais for four people from £ 2,050 per week. See villatravellers.com or call 020 3608 4505.

OFF & ABOUT: Avis offers car hire in Palermo from £ 60.13 per day for a four seat Volkswagen up! at.
See avis.co.uk.

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