WANDERING through winding alleys dotted with shops and cafes we reach the mighty cathedral standing proud over the city.
The sun may be shining outside but it’s the astonishing interior that’s blinding us – bright, shimmering gold mosaics, made with exquisite craftsmanship in the 12th century.
We re-emerge into the Sicilian sunlight and sparkling in the distance is the Mediterranean sea lapping on a small stretch of sandy beach.
We are in Cefalù, a lively resort on the northern edge of the island, and have ventured here from our secluded holiday home, Villa Frisca, in Campofelice di Roccella, to explore its grand stone buildings and buzzing restaurants.
Cefalù was founded by the Greeks in 400BC and today its rustic charm makes for the ideal day out to lift us from lazing by the pool.
It has taken 20 minutes to get here by car and the journey was almost as pretty as the city itself, with craggy mountains looming on one side and sea views on the other.
With so many gems to visit near our villa, hiring a car was a must.
The loud, frenetic capital Palermo — once more infamous as the home of the Sicilian Mafia, the Cosa Nostra — was a 30-mile drive and a highlight for its fascinating history. The Greeks, Arabs and Normans all invaded and you can see their influence in the architecture and taste it in the food.
Not far from Cefalù are Castel di Tusa, a pebble Blue Flag beach with small sailing boats bobbing in the shallows; and the Santo Stefano di Camastra, home to shops selling traditional ceramics hand-crafted by locals.
With nothing but greenery surrounding our four-person villa, it would be so easy to overlook all these spots while lounging by the quiet pool.
Nestled in the Sicilian countryside, our Villatravellers home is stylish yet relaxed.
A spacious dining room has kept some original features, including a rustic stone wall and the living room leads on to a tranquil patio sheltered by a pergola.
The whole place feels calm, from the simple decor and wooden ceilings to the grassy landscape.
Sprawled out across my sun-lounger, I’m treated to breathtaking views of a three-acre field leading on to a valley.
But we tear ourselves from the patio to make the journey to mighty Mount Etna, an active volcano on the eastern side of the island.
Some of the nearby areas still bear the scars from its eruption back in 2001 and, further up the mountain, giant craters have formed in the rocky ground. We admire the peak from the town below, but those wanting to get closer to the summit can take a cable car up the black rock and hike around the red ash craters.
Anyone visiting Etna should make sure they drive round to Taormina, too, the main tourist resort in Sicily.
This quaint town sits on top of a hill and boasts views every bit as impressive as the one from our villa.
Good restaurants are plentiful here, many with tables overlooking the beautiful bay. One place, La Capinera, has a Michelin Star.
After sampling some delicious wines from the Etna Hills, we venture higher up the cliff to the centre of town where there are small craft shops, an ornate church and lots of little bars.
Taormina was celebrating a festival that day and throughout the streets were rows of vintage Ferraris.
Al Duomo is the place for those wanting to try some classic Sicilian pasta dishes.
Here they serve up spaghetti with sardines and wild fennel and paccheri with black pig ragout. Grab a table on the terrace if you can — you will be in a prime spot to admire the old church and busy cobbled streets below.
Sicily surprised us.
Every quaint coastal town here feels secluded and romantic, yet there’s plenty to keep even the fussiest holidaymaker occupied.
From our patio table at Villa Frisca, we take one last look across the fields, the stillness only disturbed by a donkey from one of the nearby farms.
GETTING THERE: Ryanair flies direct from Manchester and Stansted to Palermo with basic fares in October from £15 one way. See ryanair.com.
STAYING THERE: Seven nights’ self-catering at the four-person Villa Friscais from £2,050 per week. See villatravellers.com or call 020 3608 4505.
OUT & ABOUT: Avis has rental cars available to pick up from Palermo from £60.13 per day for a four-seater Volkswagen up!.
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