Sicily is an island of fabulous food, beautiful sunsets, intense colours and classical mythology. It hosts a hugely rich archaeology, a stunning flora, dramatic architecture, and breathtaking views bathed in sunshine. It is a land of warm smiles, alluring women, elegant gentlemen, feisty youths and intense emotions.
At the same time, this magical island has been the object of endless invasions, the theatre of bloody battles in ancient history and the stage for darker events in more recent decades: the Mafia, huge poverty and mass emigration throughout much of the twentieth century and the start of the Allied invasion of Europe during the second World War.
Sicily boasts Europe’s largest volcano (snow-capped for much of the year), wild, rugged mountains, rolling weatfields, aromatic citrus groves, picturesque vineyards and charming historical villas. The shimmering, azure sea cradles swordfish, tuna, sea bass and octopus. The Nebrodi and Peloritani mountains are the densely forested home of wild boar, porcupines and Bonelli’s eagles.
Our “Treasures of Sicily Tour” is a 12-day journey taking in all the main sights of the island, and designed to give you a broad appreciation of Sicilian food and wine, culture and history as well as an understanding of the art, architecture, geography and natural history of the island.
Arrival and onward to Siracusa (Syracuse)
We rendezvous at Catania airport in the afternoon and transfer by minibus on a short drive (1 hour) to our hotel on the island of Ortygia in Siracusa. Siracusa was one of the earliest Ancient Greek colonies of the Magna Graecia (the diaspora of Greek cities founded as trading outposts of their parent cities) but in the 5th century BC, it grew to be the most powerful city in the whole of Mediterranean.
After a welcome aperitif, we eat a fine sea-food dinner in one of Syracusa’s more intriguing trattorie.
Overnight in Ortigia, Siracusa.
We start the day strolling through the streets of Ortygia – enjoying the market, rubbing shoulders with Greek Mythology, contemplating temples and admiring stunning Baroque and Renaissance architecture. We visit the cathedral, once the temple of Athena and which boasts being the oldest building in the world in use for Christian worship. We also have time to admire the splendid painting of the Burial of Saint Lucy by Caravaggio in the church of the Badia di Santa Lucia.
After a picnic lunch we visit one of the largest and best preserved of all Greek theatres in the whole of the Hellenic world and a remarkable cavern known as L’Orecchio di Dionisio – which, according to legend, was used as a prison by the tyrant Dionysius and allowed him to eavesdrop on his captives.
There is free time in the late afternoon – perhaps for visiting the archaeological museum, or the city art gallery or maybe just enjoying an ice-cream in Piazza Duomo.
Pizza evening in a local pizzeria. Overnight in Ortigia, Siracusa.
The Sicilian Baroque and World War II landings
We make an early start, driving to Agrigento through the landscape of the Sicilian Baroque – via Noto and Ragusa Ibla.
Much of the Eastern part of Sicily was completely destroyed in an earthquake in 1693 and the towns and churches were subsequently rebuilt in the highly characteristic Sicilian Baroque style of architecture. Noto, indeed, was even rebuilt as a completely new city 15km from its original site and has a homogeneity unrivalled in Sicilian architecture. We visit the splendid cattedrale of San Nicolò before tasting the ice-cream in one of Sicily’s most famous ice-cream parlours.
After our ice-cream, we continue our journey westwards to Ragusa Ibla. Ragusa was another example of a town rebuilt after the 1693 earthquake, but in this case, it is the old part of the town that we visit. We take a stroll through the winding streets of Ragusa Ibla before continuing our journey.
In the late afternoon, we make a short stop-off at the Ponte Dirillo – the site of one of the fiercest battles in the Allied landings in Sicily. Here, the farmer has excavate the German bunkers and we get a sense of the terror that must have been unleashed on the Allied soldiers on the night of 10th July 1943.
Our accommodation is just a 15 minute drive from the Ponte Dirillo, in one of the wineries of one of Sicily’s most important wine producers. Before dinner, we are treated to a wine tasting and a talk on the background to some of Sicily’s wines.
Evening meal and overnight in a winery near Vittoria.
Greek temples and Roman Mosaics
We depart from the winery and drive on to the Villa del Casale at Piazza Armerina (1 hour) – a hunting lodge from Roman times endowed with the some of the most incredible mosaics left over from the Roman world, quite breathtaking in their scope and in the imagery the portray.
Once we have had our fill of these astonishing mosaics, we drive a short distance (1 hour) to Agrigento where we have lunch within sight of the temples.
After lunch, we venture among some of the finest Greek temples in the whole of the Mediterranean. We walk the whole stretch of the Valle dei Templi, starting with the beautiful Temple of Hera, moving on to the breathtaking Temple of Concordia – perfectly preserved and beautifully sited with fine views over almond groves and the sea and onwards until we reach the Temple of Zeus – the largest Doric temple ever built.
We travel onward (1.5 hours) to a wonderful baglio near Marsala where we stay the night.
Phoenician and Arabic Sicily
We start the morning in Marsala or Marsa Allāh (God’s harbour) as it was known to the Arabs. Marsala has earned its place in Italian history books as being the site where Garibaldi landed with his Thousand when he began his conquest of Sicily in 1860. Its history is also entwined with the stories of Nelson, and a handful of English wine merchants throughout the 19th century who made the name of Marsala synonymous with the wine we know today.
We drive north to visit the the saltpans of Trapani. Started by the Phoenicians, the salt industry of Trapani became one of the most prolific in the mediterranean and was crucial to the preservation of the tuna caught off the west coast of Sicily.
In the afternoon we visit the magical island of Mozia. Lying just a few hundred metres off the shore of Sicily and rising at its highest point to just a few metres above sea level, the island of Mozia was once the Carthaginian capital of Sicily – until its destruction by Dionysius in 379 BC.
Evening meal and overnight in the Baglio
We start the day with a drive to Erice.
Walking through the maze of cobbled streets that make up the medieval town of Erice, we pause to look into some of the most charming churches in Sicily, before arriving at the Castle – once the site of the statue Venus Ericina and home to an ancient fertility cult. From the ramparts of the castle, we enjoy some spectacular views over the west of Sicily – Trapani, the salt pans, Mozia, Marsala.
In the afternoon, we drive to Segesta (1 hour) to visit, arguably, the most beautifully sited Greek temple in the world. After musing on its origins in this Elymian city, we move onward to Palermo.
We stay in Palermo in the old home of Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa author of The Leopard and dine in a nearby restaurant.
The Normans in Sicily
We leave Palermo and drive to the Cathedral of Monreale (30 mins) – one of the greatest extant examples of Norman architecture in the world.
According to legend, in 1174, the Madonna appeared before the young Norman King William II and led him to a spot where his father had buried a considerable treasure. She instructed him to put it to good use and hence William founded this startling religious monument, high above the fertile Conca d’Oro. It was finished in less than ten years and a bustling medieval village soon sprang up around it.
After the cathedral of Monreale, we descend into the city of Palermo.
Palermo is everything you would imagine it to be – chaotic, noisy, exotic, colourful. But the rewards of taking time to explore this incredible city are enormous. Indeed, we would go as far as saying that no visit to Sicily is complete without it. Founded by the Carthaginians, its history is as old as the island – but most of what we are in Palermo to see, dates from the Norman period and later.
We visit the Norman Palace and the Palatine Chapel – surely one of the wonders of Norman architecture anywhere in the world – with its incredible juxtaposition of Byzantine mosaics and beautiful arab paintings in the ceiling.
In the afternoon we visit two other wonders of Norman architecture in Sicily – La Zisa and the church of the Martorana.
Free evening. Overnight in the apartments of the old home of Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa.
We rise early and go shopping to the Capo market with the Duchess, choosing the food we will eat for lunch. Once we have completed our shopping, we join the Duchess in preparing lunch – which we consume in aristocratic Palermitan splendour – in the company of her husband and in dining room once used by the Leopard himself. After lunch we a treated to a tour of Lampedusa’s study and drawing room.
The rest of the afternoon, you are free to either relax or to stroll the streets of Palermo – perhaps visiting the Botanic gardens or the Piazza Marina.
This evening you are free to dine as you wish or join us for a light supper in one of the apartments.
Cefalù, Castelbuono and the Madonie Mountains
In the morning we drive to Cefalù (1 hour) where we visit the splendid Norman cathedral and the beautiful medieval town.
In the late morning we drive into the Madonie mountains for a picnic lunch. After lunch, we drive through the Madonie Mountains to the town of Castelbuono, once home to the Ventimiglia family and where some scenes of the film Cinema Paradiso were shot. There is time to visit the castle, before we travel onward to Milazzo.
We eat in a local restaurant and stay in Milazzo.
Every Italian schoolchild knows the importance of Milazzo in their country’s history. It was the scene of the decisive battle in the Risorgimento which saw Garibaldi’s red-shirts defeat the Bourbons and lead the way to the unification of Italy. Though there little is left of the scene of the battle, the recently-restored castle in Milazzo (one of the largest in Europe) is one of the lesser-known wonders of Sicily. We spend a pleasant couple of hours in the early morning visiting this castle.
After a picnic lunch, we spend the drive to Taormina (1 hour) which is justifiably famous as one of the most splendid locations in Sicily. In the later afternoon you have free time to stroll through the corso of Taormina and enjoy the rest of the afternoon as you wish – perhaps visiting the splendid Greek theatre.
Free evening and overnight in Taormina.
Mt. Etna ~ the largest Volcano in Europe
In the morning, we explore the slopes of Mount Etna, hearing about the fascinating geology of this, the highest volcano in Europe.
In the afternoon, there is free time to enjoy Taormina.
Free evening to eat out in one of Taormina’s splendid restaurants. Overnight in Taormina.
We travel back to Catania airport (1 hour) from whence we say our goodbyes and depart.
For those whose travel is not until the evening, we can enjoy a free day in Taormina – perhaps relaxing by the pooling or strolling the corso until it is time to drive to the airport.
Please note: this is the standard itinerary, but individual tour programmes may differ slightly to take account of local festivals, closing times and availability.