Sicily is no stranger to foreign homeowners. Most of them have settled in glitzy Taormina, where nice homes start at ‚400,000 and skyrocket northward from there. Others have moved to Modica, once Sicily’s fourth-largest city, an up-and-coming expat settlement and a beautiful town to visit in the summer, though it is isolated in a valley near Ragusa and, frankly, pretty depressing in the winter. Then there are pockets of U.S. military families living near the Sigonella base, outside Catania. Catania is more maligned for crime and urban blight than any other city in Italy, though it should be pointed out that it has come a long way since its nadir in the 1970s, having cleaned up its black-lavapaved streets and returned culture to its downtown. That may not be enough to lure homeowners, however. Mount Etna has wiped out the city no fewer than seven times, and potential buyers may feel some trepidation about living in the shadow of an active volcano, especially in residential areas to the north.
While these and other sites”such as the Aeolian Islands, the Egadi Islands, the Greek temples of Agrigento, the mosaics of Piazza Armerina, and the ruins of Siracusa”are great places to visit, the most appealing choice for homeowners is likely the northwestern corner around Palermo. After all, any two points in Sicily are an afternoon’s drive away at the most, and day trips are easy from the northwest corner where the island’s two highways meet.
Palermo is Sicily’s capital, and its historical significance is hard to exaggerate. In the Middle Ages, when Arabs enriched the island and the Normans made it their southern stronghold, much of the rest of Italy was in the depths of decay. Yes, the tables have turned on the once great southern cities, but like Naples, Palermo cleaned up its city center for tourists in the 1990s, pouring light into the dark spaces that once sheltered drug dealers, and these days it is a very livable city for those willing to forgo employment for year-round sunshine.
Since those who choose to live in Sicily”or anywhere in the deep South, for that matter” probably aren’t looking for a nine-to-five job, they would get more out of the countryside near Palermo than in the city itself. Some of the nicest spots in rural Sicily lie just to the east of Palermo, near Cefalu, or to the southwest, near Alcamo and Segesta.
Cefalu is a gorgeous beach resort, as well as the home to one of southern Italy’s most impressive cathedrals. The mix of Norman architecture, lively shopping, good seafood dining, and spectacular scenery makes it an excellent choice for anyone looking for a home, especially as it is so wellconnected to the rest and best of Sicily. The inland highway and the one that practically circumnavigates the island (the part from Cefalu to Messina remains mysteriously unfinished) meet here. There is a daily ferry from Cefalu to the Aeolian Islands in the summer. The place is so inviting that many Italians have vacation homes here and on the islands, and finding one for sale takes just a little bit of work. Expect prices of around ‚200,000 for a modern villa. For renters, a nice villa just outside town can go for as little as ‚300 per month.
Alcamo is Tuscany on a budget. Here you can find vineyards of white Catarratto grapes and a lovely whitewashed town, where modest houses sell for around ‚150,000. It sits near the northwestern corner of the island, close to the Zingaro natural park, with its seaside hikes. Also nearby are the elegant hilltop town of Erice, the Greek temple of Segesta, the sweet-wine producers of Marsala, and the red-tuna fisherfolk on the Egadi Islands. You could hardly ask for more within a one-hour radius.