Panama Jack Travel Series: Spotlight on Sicily and Sardinia

Cefalù, Italy and La Rocca

For most of us, summertime is synonymous with vacations, whether it be a long-planned trip to a  faraway island or a spontaneous weekend spent at a local beach. At Panama Jack, we exist for the simple pleasures of such escapes. From watching the sun peek above the horizon on a quiet stretch of shoreline in complete solitude, to long days spent sunbathing and surf-chasing with friends and family: At the heart of everything we do, there’s the promise of endless sun-filled adventures like these. 

This summer, we took a few of our beloved Panama Jack products on the road in a new travel series designed to feature our favorite destinations around the world. And where better to start than the breathtaking coasts of Italy’s two largest islands: Sicily and Sardinia. Here, we take you inside these Mediterranean stunners—in particular, Cefalù and San Teodoro—to highlight the beaches, attractions, cuisine and more that make these seaside destinations a must for your travel list. 

Inside Sicily & Sardinia

Crystal clear waters along the coast of Sardinia

Even if you’ve never been to Italy, you’ve likely heard of both Sicily and Sardinia. Tucked within the deep sapphire and cobalt blue waters of the Mediterranean, they are the two  largest of all the Italian islands (and there are actually over 400 islands in total!) at over 9,300 square miles each. Geographically, they share quite a bit in common: sparkling white-sand beaches, rocky cliffs overlooking quiet coves, and crystalline waters that beckon swimmers nearly year-round. But beyond the surface, they actually have distinctly different histories and present-day vibes.

The History of Sicily

One easy way to spot Sicily—the largest Italian region—on a map? Where the Italian Peninsula itself is often characterized as a “boot” thanks to its shape, the island of Sicily is the “ball” that rests just off the mainland’s toe. An appropriate analogy for such avid football fans. 

The island’s proximity to the southern Italian province of Calabria has also given it a rich and unusual history—one involving a number of rulers over many centuries. First known to have been colonized by settlers from ancient Greece around the 8th century B.C., the majority of the island later fell to Roman control around 212 B.C. Later, it would change hands under both Byzantine and Arab rule, a period that accounts for a wealth of ancient art and architecture that still fills much of Sicily today. But its influences didn’t stop there: in the Middle Ages, the island also experienced Norman rule, which lasted around 500 years, eventually falling under Spanish rule in the 18th century. And finally, the island unified with Italy in the 1800s, and became an autonomous region in 1946.

The History of Sardinia

Unlike Sicily, the island of Sardinia rests considerably farther away from the mainland. Its early history is a bit less precise, but there’s some evidence that the island has been inhabited since at least the Neolithic period. At some point after the 9th century B.C., the Phoenicians began to settle on the island, and later in the 6th century B.C., the Carthaginians arrived to stake their own claim to the land, fighting it out for control over many generations.

Much like Sicily—and a large swath of the mainland—Sardinia would go on to change hands between various nations for thousands of years. In Sardinia’s case, this included experiencing everything from Arab to Catalonian rule. In fact, though the Catalonians were in control for a relatively short 400-odd years ending in the 1800s, there are many places within Sardinia where Catalan is still spoken today. 

Sicily and Sardinia have experienced different influences that have shaped everything from their art and architecture to their languages and dialects. For many, Sicily still has many remnants of ancient Greece all around, while Sardinia tends to recall ancient Rome most vividly. In either case, the islands are stunning and historic destinations that feel at once ancient, and existing completely outside of time, all at once.

Where We Went

Cefalù Beach, Sicily

With so much history underfoot, we knew we’d be spoiled with options for what to see and do on the islands of Sicily and Sardinia. To focus our trip, we zeroed in on two remarkable cities where we knew we’d find some of the very best beaches, attractions and culinary experiences that these Italian outposts had to offer. We chose Cefalù, Sicily and San Teodoro, Sardinia—and it’s easy to see why. Here are six of our favorite sights and experiences on the two islands.

Cefalù Beach, Sicily

It doesn’t get much more iconically Italian than this mile-long stretch of buttery, postcard-worthy shoreline in Cefalù. Sure, this picture-perfect beach can get a little crowded in the high season—but even then, you shouldn’t have any trouble finding just the right spot to lay down a beach towel and soak up the spectacular scenery. Rent an umbrella and kick back with your favorite summer beach read, or hit the water and take in the incredible mountain views looking back toward shore. Here, you’ve reached peak Italian island paradise. 

San Teodoro Lagoon, Sardinia

Beyond the beach, this quiet natural pond is known for its variety of rare avian species that flock to its cooling waters each day. In fact, it’s considered one of the best birdwatching spots in all of Sardinia. Book a guided tour to show you around, or pack a local lunch and explore the tranquil grounds at your own pace. Among the abundant Mediterranean scrub, you’re likely to spot a number of pink flamingos, along with a wide variety of other native bird and marine life. 

Piazza Duomo, Sicily

However you may feel about cathedral squares throughout Italy and greater Europe—charming but often crowded as they are—don’t miss the chance to visit this exceptional example in central Cefalù. Lined by rows of gelaterias and osterias and pizzerias galore, this is a must-visit spot on any proper trip to Sicily. And all delectable provisions aside, the Duomo itself is an incredible sight to behold. Built in the 12th century, this Arab-Norman cathedral and its interior Byzantine mosaics predate those of many other cathedrals—not only in Sicily, but throughout Italy. For a fee, you can explore the apse and nave, both towers, and even the treasury and cloisters. 

La Cinta Beach in San Teodoro, Sardinia

While there are other more remote beaches in San Teodoro, a stop at bustling La Cinta is a must. This 3-mile-long stretch of shoreline is an iconic part of the city, stocked with every kind of amenity you could want for a full beach day. It’s also within easy walking distance of the center of town, making it easy to stop by for a few hours in the morning or afternoon if you can’t devote the whole day to it. Pack a towel, a bottle of water and your favorite sunscreen, and leave the rest to the vendors who line this popular beach with provisions. 

La Rocca, Sicily

For a unique vantage point of Cefalù with truly sweeping views, throw on a pair of comfortable shoes and hit the trail to climb up La Rocca. With an elevation gain of 879 feet and an increasingly deteriorating path, this relatively short trail gets a solid moderate rating—and in the summer heat, you’ll have to work for it. But the views at the top, with Capo d’Orlando to the east and Palermo to the west, are simply unmatched. Wear your favorite sunhat and pack plenty of water for this trek, so you can take all the time you like enjoying the sights at the top. 

Capo Coda Cavallo Beach in San Teodoro, Sardinia

Snorkelers will be hard-pressed to find a better wade-in destination than here. As part of the protected Marine Area of Tavolara, this beach enjoys an enviable location that’s entirely protected from the wind and other natural elements. Its unique shape protects its waters from all manner of natural disturbances, leaving them still and calm—and perfect for underwater exploration any time of year. 

Mediterranean State of Mind

The truth is, we could have spent far longer in Cefalù and San Teodoro, and compiled a list of must-see sights that’s even longer. Way longer. But like all great trips, this year’s Mediterranean adventure has come to an end—for now. And next up we’re taking Panama Jack to even more extraordinary locations around the world. Where, you may ask? You’ll have to stay tuned to find out.