Sicily is the Mediterranean’s largest island, and it’s been central to the crossroads of the region over the millennia. Located at the very southern tip of Italy, it receives plenty of sunshine, as well as visitors throughout the year. Local and international tourists come for the food, beaches, history and culture, and leave with a sense that they’ve seen a rather unique and different side to Italy.

Only five kilometers may separate Sicily from the mainland, but this rugged island often seems a world apart from the larger nation to which it now belongs. The ancient Greeks, Arabs, Catalans of modern Spain, and Normans of present day France have all occupied this beautiful island at various points in history, and all left their own mark behind.

Even the ancient Sicilian language that many locals speak is completely separate from modern Italian. Fortunately for Sicily’s growing tourism industry, however, most Sicilians can also speak, or at least understand, standard Italian, except in the most isolated hillside villages. Younger Sicilians also learn English in school.

Palermo is both Sicily’s capital and the nucleus of the island’s tourism industry. Most of the finest masterpieces painted by Sicilian artists hang in Palermo’s art galleries, while generations of Palermo residents lie preserved in mummified states beneath the Piazza Cappuccini catacombs. The artefacts displayed in Palermo’s regional archaeological museum date back to the Phoenician, Roman and Saracen eras.

Although most of the Sicilian capital’s attractions are within easy walking distance of one another in the Four Corners and Old Palermo, car rental is the most convenient way to explore the rest of this surprisingly vast island, whose Tyrrhenian Coast is packed with hiking trails in its gigantic Madonie Regional Park and breathtaking beaches along its shoreline.

Ancient Roman and Greek amphitheaters still stand in southeast Sicily’s Syracuse Archaeological Park, but few of the island’s ancient structures can rival the splendor of the centrally located Casale’s imperial Roman villa, a listed World Heritage site. No Sicilian vacation would be complete without venturing south to the Valley of the Temples, which take at least a full afternoon to fully explore.

The Sicilian people may appear outwardly conservative, but it doesn’t take long for most visitors to realize Sicilians also share a love for fun, food, and opportunities to practice their English.