Wondering how to combine the most stunning landscapes, along with ancient history and cultural highlights, UNESCO World Heritage Sites and local Sicilian culinary delights? Then you need to check out two of the top Sicily small group tours.
If you’re looking for a memorable experience that gets under the skin of a region, hiking in Sicily with a knowledgeable guide or mountain biking Sicily with a group of likeminded people, then undoubtedly, this is the perfect solution.
A range of excursions are offered by Etna Bike Tours (who cover your cycling Sicily needs) and Sicily by Nature (who take care of your walking in Sicily needs). The partnership between the two brings you a range of tours for the more adventurous traveller through extended days of travel throughout the region.
I took part in was a two-day trip taken from their six-day excursion ‘The South Sicily Hike and Bike Tour’ where we got to experience both aspects of the tour, one day on foot, the other by pedal power. On our tour, we also had the benefit to try out the awesome E-Bikes. If you’ve never used an E-Bike, they revolutionised my cycling game.
On a typical biking and cycling Sicily tour, you’ll spend your days alternating between the two activities. A variety of bikes are available including both Mountain Bikes and E-Bikes.
So, what are you waiting for? Grab yourself a brew and let’s find out more about hiking & cycling Sicily, with THE BEST in Sicily Small Group Tours.
Thanks to Etna Bike Tours and Sicily by Nature for hosting me on this trip all views and opinions are my own. This post may contain affiliate links. To find out what this means and more information visit my disclosure page.
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HIKING & CYCLING SICILY - USEFUL INFORMATION
Why do Etna Bike Tours and Sicily by Nature offer the best in Sicily Small Group Tours?
For starters, the tours offered are all-inclusive so the only thing you have to organise is how you’re getting to and from Sicily. And because the excursions are a collaboration between two companies, you can rest assured that you’ll have the best Sicily adventure experience possible with the most knowledgeable staff.
This is one of the best Sicily small group tours as group sizes vary between 4-12 people, and are accompanied by fully qualified, fun-loving and passionate guides who can’t wait to share their love for Sicily with you. On your tour you’ll have a mix of guides, specialising in either the biking or hiking aspect of the trip (sometimes both!). They are fluent in both Italian and English.
Day 1 – Hiking in Sicily
Day Summary: Hiking in the UNESCO World Heritage site of Pantalica Nature Reserve and along the Val d’Anapo (Anapo Valley)
We started the day at our central pickup point near Catania station. Here we were introduced to our guides; Maurizio, Jo & Úna from Etna Bike Tours and Vincenzo from Sicily by Nature. We also met with our fellow bikers and hikers who we’d be spending the next 2 days with.
When I signed up for the tour, it did say ‘experience was required’. With my questionable hiking skills and a big fat zero cycling ability, my adventurous streak got the better of me and I thought ‘why the heck not, it sounds awesome’.
I was expecting seasoned pro cyclers and hikers and has succumbed to the fact that I would be the clown that foolishly signed herself up, the one that would constantly be at the back of the group holding everyone else up.
I was pleasantly reassured to find that the group was not only a mix of ages but also most were in the same ‘minimal experience’ group as I was. We were going to be getting on just fine.
We all excitedly bundled into two vans along with a trailer full of bikes and left the Sicilian capital of Catania, heading out into the Sicilian countryside.
Just over an hour later, we arrived at the location for the hiking part of the excursion; the Pantalica Nature Reserve and the Anapo Valley.
The ‘City of Death’
With Vincenzo from Sicily by Nature as our knowledgeable guide, we headed into the UNESCO listed Pantalica Nature Reserve. The name ‘Pantalica’ translates to ‘city of death’. As gloomy as that title sounds it’s justified by the 5000+ tombs which were cut into the natural limestone rock face in the valley.
The Necropoli di Pantalica (Necropolis of Pantalica) dates from 7th – 13th Century BC and was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2005. All that remains of the burial chambers today are the empty hollows which scatter the steep rock face. The prehistoric burial chambers would once have been sealed with stones or a slab of rock.
The tombs were excavated between 1895 and 1910 although most were looted and repurposed before then. If you are staying in Sicily longer you can see items which were found inside the chambers (mostly bronzeware, pottery and weapons) at nearby Archaeological Museum in Syracuse.
Val d’Anapo (Anapo Valley)
The ruin junkie in me could have spent hours more exploring the tombs in the Pantalica Nature Reserve (if you’re a fellow ancient civilization buff, then check out some of the other ruins I’ve seen).
We continue the hike away from the ‘City of Death’, stopping every few minutes as Vincenzo points out plants native to the region. Sometimes we stop to look at and sniff natural herbs (I highly recommend the sage), other times Vincenzo encourages us to try nibbling at some of them (the wild asparagus is REALLY bitter, so pass on this one!).
A steep scramble down to the bottom of the valley and we find the old train line. Valle dell ‘Anapo. The Anapo valley is a deep limestone gorge created by the Anapo and Calcinara rivers. The word ‘Anapo’ translates to ‘Invisible’ in Greek because during winter the river disappears into the porous rock.
The Anapo Valley follows the remains of where once a train line previously ran. The disused train line used to connect the cities of Catania to Ragusa and was dismantled in 1956 leaving behind a relatively flat and wide path.
Meandering its way through the valley, past abandoned train stations, over bridges and wooded areas, the trail also goes right through the rock – 7 times in fact, so make sure you have the torch on your phone handy for these, they are pitch black inside. Also, while you’re along the trail, don’t forget to look up, often you’ll find the native hawk-like birds circling above the valley.
We stop-off at the old farm worker quarters, which now house the offices which maintain the valley. One memorable thing of the day (because it was so strange) was watching the resident cat suckling off the resident dog. The result was that everyone in our little group each had our cameras fixated on the pair to get footage of the very strange behaviour.
Our walk continues, through tunnels and winding past old remnants from when the path was a train line. Eventually, we’re greeted at the end of the trail by the rest of the crew. We climb into the vans and head to our accommodation for the night.
Overnight stay at Giannavì Farm
Located in the heart of the Iblei Mountains, family-run Farm Giannavì is in the middle of nowhere. The farm stay and restaurant is surrounded by stunning views of the Sicilian countryside and the perfect place for a much-earnt rest.
The restaurant produces most of the food it serves on-site, if it’s not available on-site, then it’s sourced locally, so you can guarantee everything you eat is authentically Sicilian.
I lost count of the number of outstanding dishes we got to try. We were very spoilt. One thing I can vouch for is that they were all mouth-wateringly delicious and that it took quite a bit of self-discipline to not gorge myself.
The Giannavi family certainly know a thing or two about how to host their guests and we certainly felt Sicilian hospitality during our time here. We were treated to a multitude of appetising dishes, all washed down with copious amount of home-made red wine. I was so full, but I couldn’t resist the overindulgence.
Hint, wear your stretchy-waisted pants to dinner!
The rooms at Giannavì’s farm were cosy and comfortable which allowed for a good night’s rest before tomorrow’s 69km cycle ride.
Even if you don’t come to Sicily to for a bike and hike excursion, I would highly recommend at least a night to come and try out this real Sicilian hospitality experience. If you’re passing through the area, it’s also worthwhile calling in at Giannavì’s for lunch or dinner.
Book your overnight reservation at Farm Giannavì here.
Day 2 – Biking in Sicily
Day Summary: Cycling along the scenic routes to visit two UNESCO World Heritage towns of Palazzolo Acreide and Noto finishing off at Vendicare Nature Reserve to watch wild flamingos.
After a delicious and leisurely breakfast, we were ready to head out on the eBikes for the second day of our trip. I had never used an eBike but wow! They’ve revolutionised cycling for me.
I was worried about the distance we were expected to cycle; 69km! and convinced I would quickly fall behind the rest of the group. Admittedly, I hadn’t cycled since my Uni days and that was on an ancient second-hand rickety bike with broken gears. Cycling has been supercharged, literally, since then.
Our group was given a briefing on how to use the bikes. They are ridiculously simple to use, with economy mode (where you have to pedal more) right up to turbo mode (where the battery does more of the work for you). I’ll give you one guess which mode I opted for.
‘Our new e-bikes, the Giant Fathom E+3 Power! Climb with greater ease and comfort, and ride farther—the perfect formula for an enjoyable day on the trail.’ – Etna Bike Tours
Our group set out on the quiet Sicilian country roads meandering around the lower part of the hills. It was a glorious morning, with hardly any clouds in the sky and the springtime sun beaming down.
We came to our first incline. This was when I really felt the power of the eBikes. Normally I would be huffing and puffing to get up a hill, with the power-assisted bikes it took the pain away from cycling which, for a total novice cycler, actually made going up hills an enjoyable experience. From that moment I was in love with eBikes.
Initially, our route took us along the road then onto overgrown bumpy off-road routes on trails that are semi-deserted surrounded by nature in the Sicilian countryside, passing small farms and villages.
We arrived at our first destination, Palazzolo Acreide. Located in the Hyblean Mountains, this UNESCO World Heritage site is famous for its Baroque architecture and is named as one of the most beautiful villages in Italy. It’s situated 43 kilometres west of the Sicilian city of Syracuse.
We stopped off for a short while in the main square opposite the stunning Church of Saint Sebastiano, getting trigger happy with our cameras. The sunlight bounds off the light coloured stone of this very photogenic stop off.
After a short break, our group are back on the bikes meandering through the countryside once again, on a mixture of tarmacked roads and bumpy off-road trails, past farmland and quaint residential areas.
Testa dell'Acqua - Traditional Lunch
We arrived at the small hamlet town of Testa dell’Acqua where we stopped for lunch. We ate at Antico Forno Carnemolla, a small restaurant-come-bakery in the sleepy town. We ate a traditional Sicilian scaccia (pronounced ska-shia).
The Scaccia is a folded and stuffed flatbread, a little bit like the British Cornish Pasty (but much tastier!) with a variety of fillings made using local ingredients. Of course, all washed down with local wine (who said wine and eBikes don’t mix).
The Sicilians love their food, so naturally, there was going to be dessert and coffee. Full up already on the scaccia and wine, we cycled to Paola’s Place just outside of the main town of Testa dell’Acqua. Paola is the one-stop place if you want to try an authentic cannoli.
She gave us a quick tour of her cute farm, where she makes and prepares the cannoli, before giving a demonstration on how they are made.
If you’ve never had one before, a cannoli is an Italian pastry which originated from Sicily. The hard tube-shaped shells are made of fried pastry dough, which is then filled with sweet and creamy ricotta before being dusted with icing sugar. It didn’t take our group much invitation to get stuck in, they were delicious! Naturally, these were washed down with strong Italian coffee.
With full bellies, we were ready to work off lunch as well as set off on the next leg of our journey.
We carried on with our route and onto the most challenging part of the day, it was off-road, uphill and very rocky in parts. The more confident bikers cycled up but if we didn’t feel comfortable doing it, we were given the option to walk the bikes up.
The great thing with the eBikes, there’s even a ‘walk’ mode on them. It would have been hard work pushing a bike up the rocky pathway, but with the eBikes, they pretty much rode themselves up!
Eventually, we arrived at the ancient city of Noto Antica. All the remains are the ruins one a once-grand castle-like complex. The city was destroyed by an earthquake on 11th January 1693.
Noto Antica lies about 10 kilometres north of the baroque city Noto. The ruins are situated next to ravines, with various walkways and recreational areas. IF you have the time you could easily spend a day exploring this area, the ruin junkie in me has totally flag marked this as a place to return to.
The pathway out of the ruins leads down a fairly steep zig-zag path. Parts of the route is shingly. The more confident and experienced cyclers in the group went quite quickly downhill. If you’re not confident on a bike, this was a daunting concept. Putting metaphorical balls before brain, I wish I took my own advice and walked the bike down before I fell off!
Bruised and battered, I walked the rest of the way down.
A few kilometres later, we arrive at the stunning UNESCO World Heritage city of Noto. The city is famous for its Baroque architecture and of course the 18th-century Noto Cathedral.
We entered the city through the 19th-century Porta Reale, the giant archway which resembles a triumphal arch, cycled along the pretty cobbled street until we arrived at the cathedral.
Our group stops here for a quick look inside the cathedral. The cathedral is at the top of steps; lots of steps. My knees certainly felt wobbly going up the steps to the cathedral, however, when you’re at the top of the steps, turn around and look across to the opposite side of the street for a great viewing point of the Palazzo Ducezio, which is now the town hall.
The city is visually impressive in every way, shape and form.
We leave the UNESCO city and continue heading towards the coast and our final stop
Vendicari Nature Reserve
Our route continued mostly along the road, however, our planned route was blocked with a road closure. This meant several kilometres of a detour to get around it. Workmen were digging up a large section of road. Not keen on the idea of having to go all the way around it, Maurizio, our guide somehow managed to sweet-talk them into letting us pass through.
The blockades across the road meant that the bikes had to be lifted over for us to continue along the route and through the building works. With some strange looks from workmen along the road we came out the other end and continued with the journey. Within minutes our journey was halted again, this time by a shepherd and his several hundred sheep in the road!
Finally, we arrived at the Vendicari Nature Reserve, famed for its birdwatching, in particular Flamingos. Both bruised from my earlier fall along with a very sore bottom from 69km of cycling, the minivans, crew and trailer were waiting for us as we handed the eBikes back over for our final stage of the the walking Sicily tour.
Vincenzo, from Sicily by Nature was back as our guide at the reserve. One of the highlights was seeing the semi-resident flamingos along with the various other water birds. The reserve is huge, and there are several trails which stretch along the coast here.
Historically the area was renowned for tuna fishing. What stands today are the relics from the 18th-century buildings with their columns and chimney restored for visitors to wander about. There’s a lot of history surrounding the area which is explained to us.
For more information visit the Vendicari Nature Reserve official site.
And back to Catania
The sun was beginning to set and our two-day experience with Etna Bike Tours and Sicily by Nature were coming to a close. It was time to head back to the vans and Catania.
With the feeling of contented exhaustion of a wonderful two days, Sicily had one more trick up her sleeves. It was a clear evening on the journey back and we could see Mount Etna erupting in the distance. The orangey-red glow with little spurts shooting up from one of Italy’s top natural landmarks was perfectly timed as we headed into Catania.
The one word to describe the overall experience; exceptional! I would 100% recommend taking part in one of the collaboration tours offered by Etna Bike Tours and Sicily by Nature.
Back in Catania, we said goodbye to the hospitality of Maurizio, Jo, Úna and Vincenzo as we all parted ways.
I couldn’t have asked for a better way to see the south of Sicily.