I'll start here since this was by far the most unique experience for me of the three (yes, even despite Rome's history). We stayed in this town called Giardini Naxos, which was right near the more popular destination Taormina. Before getting there, I had always heard that the Sicilian landscape was gorgeous, but when I got to see it for the first time, I was absolutely blown away. (Keep in mind that I hadn't really traveled much yet, so this was all pretty new to me). The whole island looked like it was this relaxing, warm seaside paradise, straight out of a movie. The whole town consisted of small buildings, etched into the hillside and descended down into he sea which was clearer and bluer than I ever imagined. It was warm, but not humid, and best of all, it had significantly less tourists than Rome and mainland Italy, so it was much easier to take it all in and appreciate it.
However, what made this trip most interesting, and different from anywhere else I've ever been to, was the fact I actually had family living there. My grandfather on my mother's side is a Sicilian immigrant, and although he grew up and raised a family in the US, many of his relatives stayed behind, and this was the first time in my life I ever got to meet them. And although they hardly knew any English, and we knew no Italian (except for my uncle to an extent), the whole thing was quite an experience.
I had always known that family was important to Sicilians, but just because of our distant bloodline, we were all treated like royalty. I still remember when we first entered their house, they had a huge dinner awaiting us, and the father of the family, this short happy-go-lucky guy Giorgio, already cracked open the limoncello and was instantly ready to share. And for the remainder of our stay, they made sure we got the full-on local, relaxed and enjoyable Sicilian lifestyle.
The next thing we all did together was go to the nearby local beach, which, to be honest, I wasn't looking forward to as much as you would expect. I was never too big of a fan of the beach growing up near the shoreline of Connecticut. There, the water (Long Island Sound) was usually pretty cold and gray looking. The rough sand was filled with rocks and occasional pieces of trash that washed ashore. But then I got to the beach in Sicily and all of that changed. The water was clearer and bluer than I had ever seen before and the sand felt so soft and smooth. And best of all, everyone there seemed happy, relaxed and in good spirits. There were none of the loud, obnoxious families yelling at each other (as I had grown to accustomed to seeing at such settings).
All that aside, however, the thing that struck me the most about Sicily was the pace of life. I would say it was relaxed, but that wouldn't do it justice. It was relaxed and slow enough to make a sloth look like a coked-out New York businessman. Sicily would make The Dude from The Big Lebowski look type-A. For example, you could watch a group of people walk down the street and it would seem like they were standing still. Food would come an hour after you ordered it (granted it would be delicious though), and most places opened an hour behind schedule. But I cannot complain though. People all seemed to be enjoying and savoring life. At least much more so than those of us (and I speak of myself here) in big, fast paced cities.