Surrounded by warm, Mediterranean waters, home to magnificent architecture and adored for its dreamlike scenery, it’s no wonder Sicily welcomes millions of tourists each year.
It isn’t only tourists that fall in love with the beautiful island of Sicily, however. The region makes a wonderful home for retirees and expats alike, and with so much to offer, it can be difficult to choose where exactly to settle. To help expats narrow down their options, here are a few top picks for expat arrivals.
Home to ancient Greek ruins, medieval passageways and mind-blowing architecture, Syracuse’s timeless beauty emanates from every honey-hued wall and corner. As a tourist hotspot, Syracuse is slightly more expensive than Sicily’s other coastal cities of Catania and Palermo.
Anita, owner of Italian Connections, has lived in Sicily for the past 15 years and comments that “the most expensive areas in Sicily are probably the tourist hotspots such as Taormina and the Ortygia quarter of Syracuse, while the large cities of Palermo and Catania offer a very wide range of accommodations from cheap & humble to luxurious”. So even though you’re looking to pay a little more to settle in Syracuse, the elegant beauty of the city and the slow-paced lifestyle makes it well worth it.
As a coastal city, Syracuse is home to all kinds of fresh seafood which can be locally sourced from the old market of Ortygia. If you’re a food-lover, you can easily spend hours roaming around the old market, attracted by the delicious aromas of traditional foods. Here you’ll find authentic produce, much of it locally sourced, such as herbs, tomatoes, blood oranges, aubergines, chilli peppers and lemons, as well as cheeses and meats.
Syracuse also benefits from a strong expat community, so you’re sure to find like-minded people you can connect with. Making friends with fellow expats who can relate to your situation can really help you feel more at home, but this doesn’t mean you should limit yourself to expat friends only.
To really get a sense of the city, branch out a little and try to befriend a few locals. Anita adds that “sicilians tend to be curious about foreigners, especially in small towns, and will often ask you personal questions which can be off-putting at first, but it is really quite harmless” says Anita. Don’t let this put you off though. As long as you keep an open mind, and put in the effort, you’re sure to become a social butterfly in no time.
Less than an hour’s drive north from Syracuse, Catania is only a stone's throw away, yet you’ll find a whole world of difference when comparing the two cities. Known for its vibrant nightlife, Catania is buzzing with energy.
Laura Tobin, author of Your Guardian Chef, grew up in Sicily, and has this to share about the nightlife in Catania: “with plenty of theatres, concerts and nightclubs, the nightlife in Catania is very busy. In particular the breathtaking concerts and shows held during the summer in the Greek theatre of Taormina”.
It’s not only the nightlife that excites its inhabitants, but also the amount of outdoor activities available in Catania. “In the same day you go skiing on Mount Etna, Sicily’s only active volcano, you can easily be at the beach by the afternoon” says Laura. Located a mere hour away, the Alcantara Gorges are a must-visit – a great place for sunbathing, swimming and hiking. The canyon features towering walls, made up of cooled lava, a breathtaking example of how beautiful nature is in Sicily.
Catania is also known for its incredible food scene. “The food is outstanding. The combination of sun and the fertile nature of the volcanic soil gives local fruit and vegetables outstanding flavours” says Laura. As another thriving coastal city, fresh fish and seafood are a local favourite, especially swordfish. If you’re a fan of seafood, you’ll not want to miss The Fish Market which can be located behind the Cathedral of Catania.
Home to an international airport (Fontanarossa), Catania is also easy to reach. As the city continues to grow in popularity as a tourist destination, it also offers more and more opportunities for foreign workers in the tourist industry. If you do choose to move to Catania, or any other town or city in Sicily for that matter, you will usually need to be able to speak Italian well in order to be considered for a job.
As Sicily’s capital, Palermo functions as the island’s chief port and centre of government, and emanates a sophisticated, aristocratic air. While there aren’t as many opportunities in the tourism industry here as there are in Catania, the trade industry truly blossoms. Ship repair is another important industry, as is the manufacturing of chemicals, glass, cement, machinery, and processed foods.
While Palermo offers numerous hospitals and medical facilities, it’s good to note that the healthcare quality can vary. In Sicily as a whole, “many hospitals are rather old and appear disorganized. Some expats I know have had bad experiences, while mine have been mostly positive, including a serious operation. Many doctors who work in hospitals also have a private practice, where it is possible to get treated much faster than through public healthcare” says Anita. With that in mind, it can be a good idea for expats to look into the benefits of having a global healthcare package.
Akin to Catani, Palermo is also home to an international airport, making it a very accessible destination. Palermo is also known for its fascinating history, which is reflected in the beautiful, multi-cultural architecture that shapes the city. From Roman to Byzantine to Arab to Norman and ultimately Italian architecture, Palermo is home to a myriad of cultures. In fact it was recently named the Italian Capital of Culture.
The island itself
No matter where you choose to settle in Sicily, you’re never too far away from the next town or coastal retreat. As Laura puts it:
“Sicily is a great place to live for foodies and people who love culture, nature and outdoor activities. If you are familiar with the Ispettore Montalbano series, you already know why. The series may be fictional but not the surroundings and the lifestyle. That is how Sicilians live!”