Cycling the southern Sicilian coast

Published on:  | Last updated: 28 March 2017

Coastal road between Portopalo di Capo Passero and Marzamemi

Coastal road between Portopalo di Capo Passero and Marzamemi

Overview

This tour takes you from Trapani on the western coast of Sicilia to Siracusa on the eastern shore. It mainly follows the well-signposted SIBIT Trapani-Siracusa route. The great thing about the SIBIT route is that it follows the quieter roads that only local cyclists know about - avoiding the busier, and more boring, roads. There's even a short stretch of cycleway.

The route takes in some of the highlights of the Sicilia coast including the salt lagoons at Marsala, the sand dunes of the southern coast, the tonnara at Marzamemi, the dramatic Scala dei Turchi, and some of Sicilia's best beaches. It also takes in some of the most important arche­olo­gical sites including the Valley of the Temples at Agrigento, the temples of Selinunte, and the Greek theatre at Siracusa.

The route suggested here detours from the SIBIT signposted route to head inland for the beautiful baroque cities of Ragusa Ibla, Modica, and Scicli. These towns were included in the UNESCO list of world heritage sites. Along the there are other towns with beautiful and inter­esting historic centres including Marsala, Trapani, and Sciacca.

And of course there are some beautiful beaches.

At a glance

Distance

602 kms

Difficulty/​Terrain

Relatively easy. However, the fact that it follows the coast doesn't mean that it is completely flat. There are no big climbs, but the small climbs add up, also in one of the stretches along the southern coast there are limited accom­mod­ation options meaning that you may face a long day

Traffic

The route is predom­in­antly on quiet roads with the occasional cycleway. There are a few short stretches on busier roads

Surface

Mainly on tarmac roads. There are some short stretches of unsur­faced road that are avoidable, and some short stretches of road that are in poor condition. There's also a section on the beach which you can also avoid

Signs

This route mainly follows the SIBIT Trapani-Siracusa route. The SIBIT route is signposted in both direc­tions. The signposting on this route was generally excellent - in the western section is seemed a little patchy, but in the eastern parts it was very consistent with signs at every junction

Inland Sicilia: the SP83  near Gela

The SP83 near Gela

The SS115.

The main road across southern Sicilia is the SS115. If you look at the map you'll notice that while there's an autostrada linking the cities of the northern half of the island, there's no equivalent for the southern part. This leaves the SS115 as the main transport link for the southern half of the island. The SIBIT route avoids it wherever possible, but there are short stretches where there's no altern­ative. It isn't too awful, but it's defin­itely a road to approach with caution.

Map and altitude profile

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Signposting:

Note that the route described here includes a variant via Ragusa Ibla and Modica. This section isn't signposted.

The SIBIT route has some variants - and the signage doesn't distin­guish between the variants and the main route - so it's a good idea to have an idea of which bits of the route you want to follow - and which ones you don't.

It's always a good idea to carry a back up map, but this route is very easy to follow.

Sign on the SIBIT Trapani -Siracusa cycle route

Sign on the SIBIT Trapani -Siracusa cycle route

Distances
Trapani - Marsala 56 kms
Marsala - Selinunte 60 kms
Selinunte - Eraclea Minoa 88 kms
Eraclea Minoa - San Leone (Agrigento) 42 kms
San Leone - Licata 55 kms
Licata - Punta Braccetto 94 kms
Punta-Braccetto - Modica 49 kms
Modica - Capo Passero 76 kms
Capo-Passero - Siracusa 82 kms
Total 602 kms

Highlights

Archeological sites

Sicilia was settled by Greek settlers and was part of the Magna Grecia (Greater Greece). Siracusa was one of the great powers of the ancient world - and home to Archimedes. For more on Magna Grecia see en.wikipedia.org: Magna Graecia.

Probably the star of the ancient Greek sites is the Valley of the Temples near Agrigento (en.wikipedia.org: Valle dei Templi). If you start from Palermo you can visit the site at Segesta (en.wikipedia.org: Segesta) where there's a temple that's almost intact, plus a hill-top theatre with views for miles over the surrounding countryside. It's less well-known, but for my money, runs Agrigento close. At Selinunte (en.wikipedia.org: Selinunte) there are the extensive remains of the old city as well as two impressive temples.

Agrigento - the fall of Icarus and Tempio di Concordia

Agrigento - the fall of Icarus and Tempio di Concordia

Although there's not much to see at the Eraclea Minoa site, the setting is glorious (en.wikipedia.org: Heraclea Minoa).

In Mazara del Vallo don't miss the Satiro Danzante (Dancing Satyr) sculpture - one of the greatest master­pieces to come down to us from the ancient world (en.wikipedia.org: Dancing Satyr of Mazara del Vallo).

Finally there are the remains of the great theatre at Siracusa (en.wikipedia.org: Greek Theatre of Syracuse)

Beaches

A lot of the coast of Sicilia is low, rocky scogliera, but there are some lovely stretches of unspoilt beach along the way. My top tips would be:

  • the Punta Bianca near Eraclea Minoa
  • Porto Palo
  • Punta Braccetto
  • the beach at Maganucco between the Marina di Modica and Pozzallo
  • the miles of unspoilt beach and sand dunes between Santa Maria del Focallo and Capo Passero di Portopalo
Sicilia: SIBIT signs on the beach at Maganuco

Sicilia: SIBIT signs on the beach at Maganuco

The coast between Marsala and Trapani would be a good place to go for a paddle - but you have to wade out quite a long way before it gets deep enough to swim in - which makes it a popular place for kite-surfing.

Tonnnaras

As you travel along the coast there are a number of tonnaras - all that's left of Sicilia's tuna fishing industry. The tuna used to travel along these coasts were they would be caught using an elaborate system of nets designed to channel them into a pen where they would be killed and then taken to the tonnara to be processed. The industry has died partly as a result of over-fishing and declining stocks, and partly because the tuna seem to have changed their migration routes.

The route takes you to the tonnara at Marzamemi - for my money the nicest of the restored tonnaras along the route. You can also make a trip to the island of Favignana where there is perhaps the most beautiful of Sicilia's tonnaras. There's also a tonnara at Scopello on the coast between Palermo and Trapani. It's perhaps the best known of Sicilia's tonnaras - partly because it was used as a location in the film Ocean's Eleven.

Tonnara di Marzamemi: La Taverna La Cialoma

Tonnara di Marzamemi: La Taverna La Cialoma

Baroque cities of the Val di Noto

The cities of Noto, Ragusa, Modica, and others in the Val di Noto are on the UNESCO World Heritage list, but other, less well-known towns along the way all have their elegant, beauti­fully-restored, historic centres (en.wikipedia.org: Val di Noto). The towns were all rebuilt after being destroyed in a massive earth­quake in 1693. As the rebuilding programme continued in the decades after Sicilian archi­tects, and their aristo­cratic patrons, became increas­ingly confident and developed their own local form of the baroque style (for more inform­ation see: (en.wikipedia.org: Sicilian Baroque).

Even if you're not inter­ested in baroque as you sip a drink and watch the the evening passeg­giata with swallows swirling around in the sky, you'll be captivated.

Noto: baroque stonework on the Palazzo Nicolaci

Noto: baroque stonework on the Palazzo Nicolaci

Commissario Montalbano locations

The route takes you through a number of the places that feature in the Commissario Montalbano (Inspector Montalbano) films. There's Ragusa the hilltop town that features in the aerial shots in the opening sequence. Also featuring in the opening sequence is the the dramatic road viaduct near Modica which you can admire from below. In Scicli are the locations used for the local and regional headquarters. the route also passes by the Castello di Donnafugata used as the fictional home of a mafia boss.

The location used for Montalbano's house and the light­house that features in the opening credits are at Punta Secca which isn't on my suggested route. If you want to visit these I'd suggest a side-trip from Punta Braccetto. You could of course also stick with the official route and by-pass Ragusa, Modica and Scicli - but that would be a pity.

For more inform­ation about the locations, this article on
italyheaven.blogspot.co.uk is a (shaved) head and shoulders above the rest.

Spaghetti allo scoglio - ristorante Boca Marina, Marina di Modica

Spaghetti allo scoglio - ristorante Boca Marina, Marina di Modica

Lowlights: What's not to like

Rubbish

One of the negative aspects of cycling in Sicilia is the amount of rubbish left by the roadsides. I don't want to give the wrong impression: it certainly isn't the whole of Sicilia, and it isn't a problem that should prevent you enjoying touring here. But if you are the sort of person who expects the rest of the world to be neat and tidy and you get upset when it isn't, then Sicilia may not be for you.

Dogs

In Italy the law holds dog-owners responsible for the behaviour of their dogs: so anyone with a dog that's likely to chase passing cyclists will make sure they have a fence around their homes to keep their dogs from getting into trouble (or rather getting their owners into trouble). In Sicilia there are a lot more dogs out and about. They seem generally well fed so I assumed that their owners allow them to wander. In most cases they cause no problems at all, but I had a couple of occasions when I was chased by a dog.

Polytunnels

Agriculture is a hugely important part of the Sicilian economy. This includes a lot of fruit and veget­ables. Tomatoes, auber­gines, melons are grown in green­houses made of polythene ('polytunnels') in parts of south-west and south-east Sicilia these can dominate the landscape. The veget­ables they produce look great, but the polytunnels themselves don't.

Getting there and back

Trapani is the ideal starting point if you can get a flight there (Ryanair operate out of the airport, but there are no direct flights to the UK). The airport even offer reasonably-priced storage for bike boxes and bags.

While Trapani airport is the ideal starting point, most airlines fly to Palermo. You can get trains from Palermo airport (the station is called Punta Raisi) changing at Piraineto. Alternatively it's a relat­ively easy ride - for more inform­ation see this article.

You could fly to Catania and then take the train to Siracusa.

It's slower than flying obviously, but you could get a ferry to Palermo. The main lines are:

  • Genova-Palermo with Grande Navi Veloci ('Big Fast Ships' - a great name for a shipping line);
  • Napoli-Palermo - there are two companies on this route GNV and Tirrenia
  • Salerno-Palermo with Grimaldi Lines
  • the Cagliari-Palermo route offered by Tirrenia means that you could combine Sicilia and Sardegna (and you don't have to stop there - you could also take in Corsica).

On the subject of ferries there's also a ferry to and from Malta - the route passes right by the terminal at Pozzallo on the southern coast .

'Cycle tourists on the road' - sign on the SIBIT route on the coast of southern Sicilia

'Cycle tourists on the road' - sign on the SIBIT route on the coast of southern Sicilia

Downloads

Maps to print out or view offline

The zip files contain pdf files packaged together for convenience. If you are using a tablet you may find it easier to download the individual sections.

Show map download links for individual sections

 About the maps

sample map page.

Links open in new windows unless you ‘save as’ etc.

The maps are in two versions: A4 portrait format - for printing and maybe also for viewing on an iPad, and A5 for smaller tablets and smart­phones. As far as eReaders are concerned so far I’ve not managed to get them to work on a Nook - but you may have more success with other devices.

GPS files

  •  Southern Sicilian coast gps files
    (.zip file containing 5 gpx track and waypoint files)
  •  Italy Points of Interest

     About POIs

    POIs are like waypoints, but while you can usually only store a limited number of waypoints on a device, you can store thousands of POIs. These files include inform­ation about campsites and hostels, bike shops, train stations, drinking water sources as well as warnings for tunnels and roads where bikes are banned. Please check the ReadMe file for instruc­tions. Updated March 2017.

Sicilia coast near Eraclea Minoa

Sicilia coast near Eraclea Minoa

More information

Places to stay

Resources

The major resource for the route is the website medinbike.eu (it/​en). The SIBIT (Sustainable Interregional Bike Tourism) is an EU-funded project to promote cycle tourism in Sicilia, Malta and Gozo. While the signposted Trapani-Siracusa is the flagship, the project has also put together a number of regional routes (the section of this route via Ragusa, Modica and Scicli also comes from the SIBIT project). Most of these aren't signposted, but you can download gps files as well as pdf leaflets with inform­ation and basic maps. There's are leaflets for the Sicilian province of Agrigento, Caltanisetta, Ragusa, Siracusa and Trapani, as well as Malta and Gozo.

In theory the site has inform­ation about 'bikehotels' and tour operators - but this part of the site wasn't working when I tried it.

SIBIT leaflet showing cycle touring routes in the Ragusa area

SIBIT leaflet showing cycle touring routes in the Ragusa area. Download the full-size version from medinbike.eu. Direct download link: medinbike.eu: Ragusa guide pdf/​

Sicilia - poppies and olive trees

Sicilia - poppies and olive trees

Articles in this series

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