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No visit to Sicily is complete without venturing to the sleepy heart of the island and its hilltop towns, which offer spectacular views of the surrounding fertile hills and valleys. The area is also home to one of the island's most impressive archaeological treasures, the Villa Romana del Casale at Piazza Armerina -- the largest and best-preserved collection of Roman mosaics in the world.

Often overlooked by most visitors to Sicily, the rest of the area, comprising four provinces, has a wealth of lesser-known (read: Less crowded) yet fascinating archaeological sites, such as the one discovered at Morgantina. You can explore breathtaking castles and the highest provincial capital in Italy at Enna, and unspoiled bucolic landscapes and fecund fields in the Parco Regionale delle Madonie mountains and Sikanian hills.

It is an area steeped in mythological tales, and is the closest you'll ever get to experiencing island life the way it was 100 years ago, when the main source of income was farming, and when industry thrived on sulfur mining in the area around Caltanissetta. The mines are now closed and the wheat fields on the hills are no longer as vast (during Roman domination the area served as the breadbasket of the Empire, and today they still supply durum wheat to most of Italy). But the centuries-old farmhouses that pop up now and then on hilltops, and the grazing sheep and cattle on them, are testament to how this area has not really changed much -- if it weren't, however, for the wind farms that have unequivocally disfigured the landscape.

The Sikanian hills -- an explosion of colors and rolling hillsides that emulate the Irish countryside on a blustery spring day, yet look like no-man's land during the scorching summer -- are the repository of the oldest traces of civilization on the island, owing to the fact that the Sikanians, the most ancient of the indigenous peoples of Sicily, dwelled among these mountains. Through its mounds, the dairy capital of the west has been carved with the Via dei Formaggi, "the road of the cheeses," where dairy products are still churned according to age-old methods.