Itinerary & Accommodations: Sicily in Depth
Day 1: Depart U.S. for Palermo, Italy
Day 2: Arrive Palermo We arrive today in Palermo, capital of Italy’s autonomous region of Sicily. This evening we gather at our hotel for a briefing on the journey ahead, followed by a welcome dinner. D
Day 3: Palermo On this morning’s walking tour, we discover 2,700-year-old Palermo’s twin claims to fame: impressive architecture and world-class street food. Highlights include Palermo Cathedral and Palazzo Reale, both part of Arab-Norman Palermo, a UNESCO site comprising nine civil and religious structures dating to Norman rule in Sicily (c. 12th century). We also see the Church of San Cataldo, another of Palermo’s Arab-Norman treasures. Along the way we pass through vibrant markets selling arancini, cannoli, and other Sicilian specialties – which of course, we stop to sample. Following our tour, we enjoy lunch at a local restaurant then return to our hotel in the city center. The remainder of the day is free for independent exploration. With dinner on our own tonight, perhaps a culinary adventure is in order – and thanks to Sicily’s strategic Mediterranean location that lured many invaders, Sicilian food incorporates Italian, Arabic, and African influences into a singular, and delicious, cuisine. B,L
Day 4: Palermo/Erice/Trapani A full day of touring takes us first to the medieval walled town of Erice. Perched atop a mountain nearly 2,500 feet above sea level, Erice offers panoramic views of the valley below, the port town of Trapani, and the Tyrrhenian Sea beyond. We continue to Trapani, where we visit the region’s famed salt pans. Though the area is a designated Nature Reserve, Sicilians still harvest salt here using centuries-old methods; indeed, the oldest of the area’s 60 working windmills dates to the island’s Arabic regime. We tour the museum here then enjoy lunch at a local restaurant before returning to Palermo. B,L
Day 5: Palermo/Monreale/Agrigento En route to Agrigento today, we stop in nearby Monreale. Sitting on the slopes of Monte Caputo, Monreale looks over La Conca d’Oro, or “the Golden Shell,” a richly fertile valley studded with groves of orange, olive, and almond trees. Here we visit the city’s celebrated cathedral, another gem of Arab-Norman Palermo and one of the finest examples of Norman architecture still in existence. The imposing main façade and ornate outer cloister serve to prepare us for the cathedral’s breathtaking main sanctuary, where every inch of wall and ceiling space is covered with painstakingly detailed mosaics. Crafted by artisans from Constantinople (now Istanbul), the dazzling mosaics contain some 4,850 pounds of pure gold. Next we visit a nearby family-owned winery, where we enjoy a wine tasting and lunch. Our journey then continues; late this afternoon we reach Agrigento and our hotel, where we dine together tonight. B,L,D
Day 6: Agrigento This morning we visit the Valley of the Temples, a UNESCO site and archaeological zone whose ruins of fallen Doric temples and sanctuaries date to Greek rule in the 5th century BCE. Known in its heyday as “the most beautiful city of mortals,” Agrigento was one of the leading cities during the Golden Age of ancient Greece. Our tour features both the eastern zone, where we see the beautifully preserved Temple of Concordia (c. 430 BCE), and the western zone, with the massive temple of Olympian Zeus, believed to be the largest Doric temple ever built. From the outdoor sites, we then move on to Agrigento’s archaeological museum, with exhibits and artifacts that tell the story of this outpost of classical Greece. Then we return to our hotel for a cooking lesson and dinner. B,D
Day 7: Agrigento/Piazza Armerina/Syracuse We travel across Sicily’s southern reaches today to Syracuse (Siracusa), stopping along the way in Piazza Armerina to visit Villa Romana del Casale, an elaborate 4th-century CE villa and UNESCO site boasting one of the richest, and largest, collections of mosaics in the Roman world. Thanks to having been buried by landslides, the villa, its vivid frescoes, and the more than 3,200 square feet of mosaics survived the millennia in remarkably good shape. Following our tour here, we continue on to Syracuse, arriving late this afternoon. Once the largest city in the ancient world, Syracuse today is an alluring spot known for its superb archaeological sites and the relaxed seaside ambience of its Baroque old town. B,L,D
Day 8: Syracuse Today we discover what this city is best known for: the Archaeological Park of Neapolis, a UNESCO site that comprises a range of ancient monuments. We begin our explorations at the 5th-century BCE Greek theater, the 16,000-seat amphitheater where the tragedies of Aeschylus were staged – in his presence – and still in use today. Next: Latomia del Paradiso (Paradise Quarry), the now overgrown shaft from which the white limestone used to build Syracuse was cut. Because it has excellent acoustics, the quarry also is known as the Ear of Dionysius. We continue on to the Roman amphitheater, the 1st-century BCE arena that once held gladiator spectacles; today it hosts musicals on its ancient stones. Then we take a walking tour of Ortigia, the “white pearl” of Sicily, the historical center of Syracuse, and a UNESCO site. B,D
Day 9: Syracuse This morning we embark on a cruise along Sicily’s Ionian coast dotted with tiny islands and caves. We see the Spanish Wall, 13th-century Castello Maniace that served as a bulwark against invaders in the Middle Ages, and historic Ortigia Island. We disembark on Ortigia, where we’re free to explore and enjoy lunch on our own. Late afternoon we return to our hotel, where we dine tonight. B,D
Day 10: Syracuse/Mt. Etna/Taormina We depart Syracuse this morning and make our way up the coast to Mt. Etna, one of Europe’s largest active volcanoes. The ancients believed conical snow-topped Etna to be the forge of Vulcan, god of fire; today, modern-day Sicilians have a very personal relationship with the volcano, which frequently erupts but is seldom destructive. Descending from the volcano, we stop at a private farm set amidst acres of lemon and kiwi groves, where we enjoy a small group highlight: a homemade lunch prepared by the family who lives here. To accompany our meal, we sample some excellent Sicilian wines. Then we resume our journey to Taormina, arriving late this afternoon. This evening is at leisure, with dinner tonight on our own. B,L
Day 11: Taormina This morning we embark on a walking tour of this delightful medieval town set on a rocky terrace overlooking the Ionian Sea. Highlights include the 3rd-century BCE Greek theater, where gladiators once battled; the 13th-century fortress-like Duomo; and grand Piazza Vittorio Emanuele, site of the ancient agora and today an inviting plaza. This afternoon is at leisure to enjoy Taormina as we wish; tonight we celebrate our Sicily adventure over a farewell dinner at a local restaurant. B,D
Day 12: Depart for U.S. We transfer today to the Catania airport for our return flight to the U.S. B
Please note: This trip involves considerable walking uphill and on uneven or cobblestone streets, and at sites of ancient ruins. You should be in good physical condition to enjoy the tour to its fullest.
B = Breakfast included L = Lunch included D = Dinner included
Eurostars Centrale Palace, Palermo / Days 2-4 / Superior First Class
Located in the heart of Palermo, within walking distance of the Palermo cathedral and the famed Via Maqueda. The Centrale Palace occupies the old Palazzo Tarallo building, retaining the original structure along with vintage frescoes and furniture. The hotel also forms part of the Arab-Norman route, declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, where the Phoenicians, Romans, Byzantines, and Arabs raised their places of worship. Sample traditional Italian dishes at the panoramic restaurant, The hotel amenities include complimentary Wi-Fi access, fitness center facilities, room service, and laundry-dry cleaning services (for a fee). Air-conditioned guest rooms include private bath with hair dryer, satellite TV, an in-room safe, and a mini bar.
Baia di Ulisse, Agrigento / Days 5-6 / First Class
The only hotel in the area with direct access to a private beach, Baia di Ulisse stands along the southern coast of Sicily, just a short drive from Agrigento. The hotel boasts classical Sicilian décor and offers amenities including a restaurant and bar, full spa with sauna and whirlpool (services available Fri-Sun), and complimentary Wi-Fi internet access in common areas. From June to September, guests can enjoy free bicycle rental and an outdoor swimming pool with views of the Mediterranean. Each air-conditioned guest room has a balcony and features private bath with hair dryer, minibar, TV, and phone.
Hotel Borgo Pantano, Syracuse / Days 7-9 / First Class
The Hotel Borgo Pantano sits on the site of a restored 19th century manor in the rolling green countryside outside Syracuse. This contemporary, family-run property was opened in 2010 and boasts four dining and drinking options (a restaurant, outdoor grill, thatch-roof poolside bar, and lobby bar), sweeping manicured grounds with an array of covered sitting areas, an expansive outdoor swimming pool and lounge area, laundry and dry cleaning service (for a fee), and complimentary Wi-Fi internet access. Each air-conditioned guest room has a unique layout and furnishings, is decorated with art created by local artists, and includes private bath with hair dryer, minibar, tea- and coffee-making facilities, TV, and phone.
Hotel NH Collection Taormina, Taormina / Days 10-11 / Deluxe
The elegant Hotel NH Collection Taormina is nestled high on the rugged wooded hillside along which the city of Taormina is built. The hotel offers a restaurant, café, rooftop swimming pool with poolside bar, fitness center (with spa, sauna, solarium, and steam bath), laundry and dry cleaning service (for a fee), and complimentary Wi-Fi internet service. Air-conditioned guest rooms have private bath with hair dryer, minibar, in-room safe, tea- and coffee-making facilities, TV, and phone.
Ratings are based on the Hotel & Travel Index, the travel industry standard reference.