When Andrew and I found out Rick Steves’ book on Sicily–the first ever–wouldn’t come out in time for our BABYMOON, we were dumbfounded. How would we plan our trip? (OK, who am I kidding? Andrew plans the trips.) Should we scrap the Sicily idea in favor of returning to a favorite destination, like Paris or Florence? In our 12 years of traveling, we’ve never gone to Europe without a Rick book, and I’m not about to start now. I furiously emailed Rick’s people and publisher, detailed our plight and even attached the photo of ourselves with Rick when we met him in Civita in 2013. I
begged politely requested an advance copy of the book in exchange for a review on the blog…and within days I had a link to the rough draft in my inbox. All the praise hands!
If you’ve never used a Rick book (that’s what Andrew and I call them) for planning and on your European travels, you are MISSING OUT, my friend. Yet again, Rick and his team have managed to compile everything you need to know about visiting a European locale in one handy guidebook. Sicily 2019 is unique in that it is the first of its kind; up to this point, Sicily hadn’t had its own book, but had been included in the Italy books. With tourism to the region increasing the past decade or so related to a crack-down on the mafia, it was finally time for Rick and his team to pull out the big guns.
Rick ranks Palermo (Sicily’s capital) and Siracusa as ‘must-see destinations’ with three pyramids (his ranking system of choice). ‘Worth-it destinations’ include the Monreale Cathedral, the beach town Cefalù, Trapani and the West Coast, the Greek ruins in Agrigento, Villa Romana del Casale, the picturesque Ragusa and the Southeast, Catania, top tourist site and active volcano Mount Etna and resort-town Taormina. So, basically the rest of the island. We’ll be renting a car and taking a driving tour to hit them all.
What I love about Rick’s books is how all-encompassing they are. Each region of the country has its own chapter, complete with its history, top sites, lodging and dining recommendations, and museum and walking tours (my favorite). When planning your trip, why reinvent the wheel? Rick includes sample itineraries based on how much time you have to spend (i.e. one or two weeks in country), rates top sites by importance, recommends how much time to spend at each site, and even includes budgeting information.
According to my trip-planner husband, the most beneficial parts of Rick’s books are his hotel and restaurant recommendations. Lodging and dining spots are grouped by where they are located in each city, which is perhaps the most important detail. Vicinity to public transportation, recommended sites and restaurants becomes a game-changer in terms of time spent traveling between each activity. Plus, each hotel or restaurant has been thoroughly vetted. Andrew has often planned entire days around specific restaurants based on Rick’s review.
Andrew’s been planning our trips for more than a decade now. While his daily, down-to-the-minute itineraries seem daunting on first glance, they actually allow us to be MORE flexible with our time. Instead of wasting time trying to figure out which museum is open and where it’s located, we have all that information at our fingertips and can easily adjust the day’s plans if we want to sleep in or the weather doesn’t cooperate. Rick recommends writing out a day-by-day itinerary, and we do, too.
All guidebooks on the market include basic information about the region, travel logistics, recommended sites and details such as the price of admission or operating hours. What makes Rick’s books unique is his voice. Reading each page aloud sounds as if your good friend, Rick, were speaking directly to you. He and his team know the hotel and restaurant owners by name, he points out a specific architectural detail in a specific corner of a specific piazza as if he’d grown up there, and adds plenty of cheeky comments throughout. (As he ends the tour of the Capuchin Crypt in Palermo, he says “Now head along the final hall, back to where you entered, and go in peace…for now.” Ahh, classic Rick.)
Perhaps my favorite parts of each city chapter are the “Shopping in…” and “Eating in…” sections. When traveling, I want authentic souvenirs and authentic food, even if it’s not something I’d normally eat. Rick organizes each “Eating in…” section by location, then includes price point, cuisine and sometimes even recommended dishes for each restaurant.
Rick’s books often include ‘self-guided’ tours of the big sites, such as the Monreale Cathedral. Doing a self-guided tour helps travelers avoid extra expenses for audioguides, and wasted time on less-than-stellar group tours. I love walking with Andrew, at our own pace, knowing we’re maximizing our time seeing the highlights in a large museum. And, don’t forget that Rick’s self-guided tours come with his colorful descriptions. At the Genesis Mosaics inside the cathedral, multiple scenes are depicted, including the creation of land animals and man. Rick’s accompanying description reads: “Using a very long straw, God breathes life into Adam, who gestures back at his father and seems to say, ‘Thanks, Dad, now can I have 20 bucks and the keys to the car?'” Rick’s books make historical sites interesting and memorable.
Each chapter is filled with stand-alone pieces about anything specific to that region, such as Marsala wine in Trapani or The Inspector Montalbano Mystery series in Ragusa. These details really add to the experience in each area, and I like to read them as we travel to each one.
Rick ends each book with a section called ‘Practicalities.’ It’s a handy reference guide that includes some basic information applicable to Europe in general, but most is specific to whatever country you’re visiting. It includes transportation information, telephone numbers for local embassies in case of emergency, where to buy stamps, how to get money (including his personal strategies to avoid surcharges and getting bad exchange rates), information about tipping and even a reminder about what to wear to tour some churches (covered shoulders and no shorts or mini-skirts). It also includes a sizable section on dining for more information about regional specialties and basic language skills when ordering at a restaurant. He even includes a short section with recommended books and films that feature the country you’re visiting to add to the experience.
Give Sicily a try and as Rick would say, ‘Keep on traveling!’
Note: I was not compensated for this post, other than being able to access the content of the book before it was widely available. Rick Steves’ Sicily 2019 is available for pre-order via various booksellers, and will be released April 16.