Sicilian Circumference – A Coastal Rail Circuit of the Island

Sicilian Circumference A Coastal Rail Circuit of the Island

Sicily is a cultural melting pot that has been a pawn of empire and conquest over the millennia. Discover the region’s unique landscapes on this 9-day circuit starting in Palermo, its regional capital, and exploring UNESCO-listed baroque destinations.

From Regalbuto, the pyramid of Europe’s largest active volcano looms over Troina, a particular village that from above looks like an inaccessible eyrie.


Corleone is only about 35 miles from Palermo, and is easily reachable by car. There are public buses, but it is best to rent a car and drive. Bus schedules can vary widely depending on how well the local buses are maintained and the drivers’ ability to follow the rules of the road (a minimum speed limit of 130 kmh is observed in most places). If you are unable or unwilling to drive, there are private excursion companies that offer trips to Corleone – but they will certainly cost more.

A major destination within the region is the Bosco di Ficuzza Nature Reserve (Marker 11 on the map). This is a wonderful place to visit if you are in the mood for a hike or just a stroll through a tranquil landscape.

The central Sicilian backbone line is currently being upgraded and accelerated, but there are also other lines with less important commuter function such as the Alcamo-Castelvetrano-Trapani and the southern Syracuse-Ragusa-Gela-Canicatti which, although they pass through key areas of production, appear not to be getting much consideration. In addition, disposals have begun of lines which are deemed too costly in terms of the ratio of income to yield, and this process is likely to continue as long as the Italian government continues to pursue its policies of fiscal austerity.


This column, originally published in the Knickerbocker in February of 1844, is an example of the floridly descriptive writing that was prized in the 1800’s. For a modern reader, it is both tedious and boring. But for those who love to vicariously live through others’ travels, this is an excellent example of how to do it.

It is not easy to imagine that there was ever a time on Sicily when its mountain scenery was wilder and grander. At present, it is almost impossible to believe that the great temples once stood in the midst of such splendor.

The present situation in Sicily is a result of two political transformations that began with the consolidation of eastern Sicily under Hieron II and was followed by the incorporation of that part of the island into the Roman empire. Those changes brought with them the gradual replacement of Syracusan standards of measurement by Roman ones.

The result is that the coastal railway line between Corleone and Castrogiovanni (with its due south bifurcation to Caltagirone) remains wholly unused by the “classically minded” traveler or even by the ordinary tourist. The inland line from Palermo and Termini to the towns of Modica, Ragusa, Licata, and Catania is also not often traversed.


Unlike most Sicilian cities, Castrogiovanni has not lost the sense of its ancient past. The center of the town still has two of its original four gates. A few of the old houses are adorned with frescoes, and the cathedral preserves fragments of a terra-cotta mosaic. A large column, known as “Lu Fuso di La Vecchia,” takes its name from a story that the column was used by ancient ladies to spin wool.

The views from Castrogiovanni are, with the exception of those from Mount Etna, among the grandest in all Sicily. It is a view that looks backward over the city of Palermo, and forward to the vast mountain lands where the Arabs dwelt.

There is no trip in Sicily, unless it be to the deserted highland moors of the Nebrodian and Peloritanitan provinces, that offers so much to the nostalgic mind. If a traveler is strong and can discard the services of a carabiniero, or if he is able to go far afoot and endure rapidly changing climatic conditions, there is nothing that rivals in magnificence the circuit that may be made from Castrogiovanni.


The medieval town of Troina is one of Sicily’s most fascinating. Its historic center is easily navigable on foot, and it’s also easy to rent a car or participate in organized excursions to explore the Madonie.

The village is surrounded by an intense natural heritage. The natural park of Nebrodi is right in front of the town, while Lake Ancipa and Mount Etna offer breathtaking views. It is also home to several important archeological sites.

During World War II, Troina became a symbol of the island’s history. It was here that on 29 July 1943 it was clear to the Allied and German high commands that Sicily had been lost and that 80,000-100,000 US and British troops would break through the ‘Etna Line’ defences.

Troina was the first Norman capital of Sicily after the Muslim conquest and was the site of four Italian-Greek monastic foundations. The ancient district of the town is characterised by a network of narrow alleys, ornate arched passageways and ancient dwellings made with brownish stones. The modern brightly colored houses are a striking contrast to the old ones. The city’s historic charm is augmented by the traditional ceremonies that are celebrated in Troina, such as the Festa dei Rami and the Ddarata, where old Sicilian folk songs are performed in verse.


Located near the inland border of the Sicilian province of Enna, Centuripe is an important agricultural town. The region is renowned for its olive oil, which is among the best in Sicily. Other popular local products include fresh pasta, cured meats, and delicious pastries. Centuripe is also home to several restaurants and trattorias, serving traditional Sicilian cuisine. In the spring, the village hosts the Sagra del Carciofo (Artichoke Festival), where local chefs offer a variety of dishes featuring this tasty vegetable.

Historically, the town was home to many distinguished families who held prominent positions in the community. These included the noble house of Paterno-Castello, which was the most powerful family in Sicily. Today, the town is a comune in the province of Enna, and it offers visitors a glimpse of a typical Sicilian countryside.

In the medieval period, the town of Centuripe was surrounded by walls and towers to protect it from attackers. These ancient fortifications still surround the village today, preserving its unique look. In addition to the castle, tourists can visit the 17th-century Church of the Immaculate Conception, which is known for its ornate facade with twisted columns and floral elements. Visitors can also stroll through the narrow streets of the old town, where they can admire the picturesque houses.


A railway line traverses only a portion of the Sicilian hinterland. Yet, of this comparatively small segment, the six stations on our circuit offer a unique opportunity to see much of the island as it was in its brightest age: Corleone; Salemi; Castrogiovanni; Troina and its lofty forest lands; the “capital” of the north, Bronte; and Roccapalumba in the due south.

The desire to mobilize the island’s agricultural wealth through taxes and trade has a long history on Sicily, as has the need to enforce a standard system of measurement. As far back as the Hellenistic period, when the Syracusan monarch Hieron II attempted to centralize his rule over eastern Sicily and the Romans sought to incorporate the island into their growing administrative empire, efforts were made to achieve metrological uniformity throughout the land.

Judging from Medieval and Early Modern sources, such uniformity proved elusive in Sicily. Even with the Bourbon king Ferdinand III’s dispatching of technicians to impose metric units, adherance to a standard was an ongoing challenge until 1809.


Unlike the comparatively flat landscape of Sicily’s coastal regions, inland reaches of the island are characterized by rugged mountainous terrain with steep hills and peaks. The combination of challenging climbs and stunning views makes this a perfect destination for avid cyclists.

A lively city that sets itself apart from nearby Milan, Novara is also a popular stop for train journeys. It has a monument-filled historic center and a hip city vibe, offering something for everyone to enjoy.

Among the curiosities to be found here is the famous “Castagnu di Centu Cavaddi” chestnut tree, which can be seen in Sant’Alfio, a lovely hamlet on the eastern slope of Etna. It is said that Queen Joanna of Aragon and her entourage, on their way to Naples, found salvation under this enormous tree during a violent storm.

The enchantment of the landscape is at its height in late fall and winter. At this season, every variety of crocus and lily and iris and jonquil, from wild rose to asphodel, blossom in incredible luxuriance across the countryside.

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