7 Days of Arancini: Bikepacking The Sicily Divide

7 Days of Arancini: Bikepacking The Sicily Divide

Sicily is a land of changes. It’s part of Italy, but uniquely it's own. A cycle on The Sicily Divide across salt flats, through hilltop villages, and up leg-burning mountain climbs shows all sides of this beautiful island. All done at a slower pace, where every drop of the character and charm is fully absorbed. 


The Mediterranean island popped up on my radar on one of those dreary winter Dublin days where it rained constantly and nighttime began shortly after lunch. The thoughts of freewheeling down mountainsides on my bike and stopping for pizza and coffee on a sunny day had me sold on planning a trip.


Cycling and tourism exist in the Sicilian cities of Palermo and Catania, but the further you venture inland, the more these two industries fade away. The heart of inland Sicily is struggling as younger generations leave for more appealing work opportunities, causing some of these towns to be slowly dying. The Sicily Divide, created by two passionate and considerate cyclists, aims to change this. As a cyclist, I found a rich resource of up-to-date maps, partner accommodation with discounts for Dividers, and a route created by local experts linking areas and sights that I definitely would’ve missed otherwise. For the business owners along the route, they get thousands of cyclists passing through each year, bringing vital funds and jobs to the region.


I quickly booked my flight and started dreaming of my seven day cycle across Sicily.


Loading up the bags on my bike on a viciously windy day in the port town of Trapani, I could smell the salt in the air and knew that it would be the last time I’d experience it until I crossed from the northwest of the island to Catania on the southeast coast, over 450km away.

The lowlands surrounding Trapani were some of the softest I encountered, the fields were lush with vegetation and the hills rolled gently as I slowly climbed away from the sea on quiet farming roads. Pedalling deeper and deeper into the countryside, the depopulation was clear to see as villages lay empty and lone cafés acted as the one-stop-shop for the locals.


As an Irishman, I often hear that we’re one of the most hospitable countries in the world, but I think Sicilians may have a claim to the crown.


“If you ask, you get”


is a saying here and even though there was a huge language barrier, another sign of how off the tourist trail these places are, the people couldn’t have been more welcoming. Through a series of gesturing, incredibly broken Italian, and Google Translate, I felt welcomed at every stop.


The remote towns and villages like Enna, perched high in the hills are natural fortresses. With often only one way in and protected on each side by steep slopes and cliffs, these places are a challenge to reach and have been fought over by the Romans, Greeks, and Carthaginians - their impact is still seen today in the architecture and cuisine. Out here in the mountains, the sweeping farmlands are replaced by pockets of olive farms and herds of hardy goats and sheep, protected by the beautiful, white Maremmano-Abruzzese Sheepdogs that bark and nip at your back tire as you cycle by.


This is where the gravel sections get challenging too. Sicily has been shaped by volcanic activity, the landscape here can be aggressive where the shifting earth destroys roads and chews up vast swathes of earth. Picking a line and carrying speed through these sections reminded me of my previous life mountain biking in Canada.

The days on the trail quickly slip into a nice rhythm. Loading up on cornettos and


“un altro cappuccino per favore”


at breakfast the mornings often saw a 40km mix of gravel sections through farms, stretches of seemingly abandoned roads, and long climbs followed by steep descents. Pulling into the nearest town to refuel, the local specialities of arancini (or arancine depending on your exact location), pizza with chips on top, and of course more coffee, were a welcome change from my usual petrol station lunches back in Ireland.


With the day's endpoint firmly in sight after lunch, usually no more than 30km away, the afternoons flew by with stops at ancient ruins, vast lakes, and ghost towns. By the morning of Day 6, my legs were heavy, but thankfully the vast majority of the almost 8,500m climbing of the route was behind me. The last two days had long stretches of sweeping downhills as I caught my first look at the utterly mighty Mt. Etna and a glimpse of the sea in almost a week.

It’s no Champs-Elysse, but the final leg into Catania along a neverending straight road lined with billowing laundry cheered me home to the towering Fountain of The Elephant in Piazza del Duomo marking the end of The Sicily Divide.


Cycling a route that crosses an entire island allowed me to fully experience a place. Instead of choosing the shortest route from A to B, I visited places that tell the story of this beautiful island, witnessed its ancient history, and met the incredibly welcoming Sicilian people. Some of these places may be slowly dying, but with cycling and initiatives like The Sicily Divide, they have a fighting chance of surviving.