The glittering seaside resorts and popular archaeological parks of Sicily do more than enough to charm tourists, but the more intrepid explorer may wish to turn their attention to the city of Enna, considered by many to be the beating heart of Sicily in terms of both location and spirit.Here, you will find a slice of Sicilian life that has bypassed the hand of mass tourism, a glimpse into the traditional Sicily of the past.
Positioned high on a mountain plateau, Enna is the highest provincial capital in Sicily and offers dazzling panoramic views of the picturesque valleys and countryside of Sicily. Rolling agricultural lands dotted with hill towns and rocky outcrops spread out before you – it is no wonder that Enna has earned itself the nickname ‘Belvedere’ or ‘Beautiful View’.
Surprisingly, considering Sicily’s history of conquest and fallen rulers, Enna was not founded by conquering invaders. In fact, it is the only major city in Sicily that can make this boast. Instead, Enna was founded by one of the three groups of Sicily’s indigenous peoples – the Siculi (the others were the Elami and the Sicani). The date of its founding is up for debate, though it is believed that a major hub existed here from around 1200BC. As the years drifted by, Enna found itself taken and inhabited by the various rulers that came to power on Sicily’s shores, including the Greeks, the Romans, the Byzantines, the Arabs and the Normans.
Enna is an atmospheric place to wander and explore on foot. Comprised of two sections of town, the historic upper regions are remarkably well-preserved whilst the modern, downtown areas perfectly juxtapose the winding, historic streets.
The magnificent Castello di Lombardia on Piazza Mazzini is one of the top attractions in Enna. This mighty architectural triumph was constructed by the Saracens to survey the surrounding countryside and keep an eye out for invaders. The castle was adapted in later times by the Normans, though today only six out of the original 20 towers still stand. Within, visitors can explore a succession of courtyards where, during the summer, theatrical performances take place.
Other key Enna attractions include the Torre do Federico, an impressive example of a defensive tower, stretching 24 metres up into the air, and the majestic Duomo di Enna, a stunning cathedral showcasing a variety of architectural styles, such as Gothic and Baroque.
A vital agricultural centre throughout history, Enna still is one of the key producers of Italian grain – much of the mouth-watering pasta you might sample throughout the island could have come from the fertile lands of this region. Hire a car and take a tour of the countryside where you will discover ancient farmhouses, sleepy villages and a traditional way of life not often seen in the busier tourist hubs of the island. Additionally, some 30 kilometres away, you will find the UNESCO World Heritage site, Villa Romana del Casale, famed for its collection of richly detailed Roman mosaics.
This reverent rock is named after the Roman goddess, Ceres. Also known by the Greeks as Demeter, the goddess of agriculture was worshipped by the Sicels to secure blessings and a fruitful harvest. An Ancient Greek temple stood in this area, erected in her honour and the city itself is steeped in myth and legend. One tale tells the story of nearby Lake Pergusa (a glassy mirror-like spectacle that unfortunately is surrounded by a race-track, obstructing access to this interesting sight) and how Hades, god of the underworld, stole Demeter’s daughter Persephone to become his queen. The rock offers unparalleled 360 degree views out over undulating valleys, sparkling rivers and the lake in the distance.
Surrounded by all that fertile farmland, the specialty dishes of Enna represent the finest examples of Sicilian cuisine. Dishes are largely based on tender meats and fresh, seasonal vegetables – any foodie will be delighted with the restaurants and trattorias on offer in Enna. Don’t forget to save room for the mouth-watering desserts and delicious regional wines.
Topping the charts of the mighty Tripadvisor, Osteria Al Canale is a hidden gem, tucked away in the winding streets of Enna. This friendly and welcoming local restaurant has no menus, but the chef, owner and waiting staff are more than happy to help with your order. Feast on authentic Sicilian antipasti consisting of local cheeses, roasted vegetables, caramelised onions and other traditional specialities.
Another popular option for sampling the local cuisine is the delightful La Rustica. A small, unpretentious trattoria, La Rustica has built its reputation on sumptuous local food at extremely affordable prices.
The summer months can be sweltering in Enna, just like in the rest of Sicily, and July and August are typically a time when tourists flock to the coast. Visit the city in spring or summer when the weather in Enna is warm and mild and the surrounding countryside comes to life with colour.
In terms of getting to Enna, avoiding the tourist trail does come at a price – it can be tricky to travel to the centre of Sicily by public transport, and driving around the island is not for the faint-hearted. Luckily, SAIS Autolinee runs a public bus service from both Palermo and Catania, so should you fly into one of these popular hubs you can make your way to Enna without too much difficulty.
Be aware that the train station for Enna is located a few miles from the city – it is recommended you arrange transport to reach the centre.
If you decide hiring a car is the way forward, this can be arranged at one of the airports. Driving through the Sicilian countryside is one of the best ways to see the surrounding area – just remember to drive defensively and keep a cool head.
Plan your Sicilian stay by browsing our collection of self-catered holiday villas in Sicily. Additionally, see our travel guide for further details on the island as well as more information on the most popular destinations in Sicily.