Aerial view of Siracusa

An aerial view of Siracusa, with the island of Ortygia (or Ortigia), the city’s heart since antiquity, in the foreground. (Image by Agostino Sella)

Siracusa is a city of one name and many names: Syrakousai in ancient Greek, Syracusae in Latin, Syracuse in English, Sarausa or Seragusa in the Sicilian dialect and Siracusa in modern Italian. These variations reflect the city’s long and changing history and they are a pointer towards her fascinating character. In Europe, if a city has so many versions of its name, it is bound to be an interesting place, full of things, people and places to discover  – think of Athinai/Athinae/Atina/Athens, Roma/Rome/Rum or Byzantion/Constantinople/Miklagard/Stamboul/Istanbul.

A very ancient city – una città molto antica

Siracusa cathedral

The medieval and Baroque cathedral, built into and over the Classical Temple of Athena.

Founded in the 8th century BC by settlers from Corinth in Greece, Siracusa has been an important city ever since: those who passed through, attacked or settled there included local Sicilian tribes, Greeks, Carthaginians/Phoenicians, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Normans, Swabians, the Spanish, and so on, up to the travellers of recent centuries. Cultural diversity is part of the city’s very fabric and her very beauty, exemplified by the great Cathedral of the Virgin Mary, where a baroque façade conceals an interior that combines a Greek temple with an Early Christian basilica – and which served as a mosque in between.

There is so much to see in Siracusa: its ancient temples, quarries, theatre and catacombs, one of the most important archaeological museums in Italy, its medieval churches, its baroque streets and squares, all surrounded by the deep blue Mediterranean, are what most casual visitors will see and love – no wonder the city is listed as UNESCO World Heritage. But these sights are just the physical backdrop to a vibrant and dynamic urban scene, to a distinctly Sicilian version of the Italian way of life with all its style and all its spontaneity, expressed in so many ways. The city is also one of the bases of Sicily’s fantastically rich culinary tradition, itself another expression of the diverse cultural influences that have affected the island for so many centuries…

Exploring beautiful Siracusa – esplorando la bella Siracusa

Ancient theatre at Siracusa

A view of the ancient theatre at Siracusa.

Thus, Exploring Siracusa would have been an obvious tour for us to develop. In recent years, we have started to offer a series of very special and very carefully designed week-long “Exploring” city tours, so far including our Istanbul tour, our Athens tour and our Rome tour. We are eager to create more of them, to add to our ever-growing portfolio of “Exploring…” tours.

A few years ago, on this blog, we summarised the concept of those tours as follows: Our “Exploring…” itineraries [are] bespoke land tours that showcase the best of a region’s archaeology, culture and gastronomy. Our aim is for guests at the end of one of our “Exploring…” tours to not just feel that they have been given an introduction to an area, but to really have a sense of intimate knowledge, to have explored it in depth, seeing the main highlights as well as the hidden secrets, having gained a profound sense of the region’s landscape, history and culture.

Piazza Duomo Cathedral Square Siracusa

Piazza Duomo – Cathedral Square – the very centre of Siracusa.

These tours are meant to serve as a perfect introduction to an area not visited before, but also as a splendid way for our guests to deepen and broaden their acquaintance with a region they already know and like – to rediscover it. Our “Exploring” city tours are part of that concept, taking our guests far beyond the kind of insights that the conventional two or three days of city visits can provide, giving them access to a much deeper and much more multi-faceted experience of place and culture.

For Siracusa, we have found a new and very special version of that approach, based – as always – on our tour developers’ profound knowledge of the city and region, on our network of local contacts and on the unique set of experiences Siracusa and its surroundings have to offer. The result is not simply Exploring Siracusa, but Learning Italian: Exploring the Language, Art and Cuisine of La Dolce Vita.

A wonderful language – una lingua meravigliosa

Coast of Ortigia Siracusa

The coast of Ortygia.

Over the years, many of our guests have expressed an interest in learning Italian. That is hardly surprising: the Italian language is melodic, expressive and rich, deeply embedded in Western culture through music and literature, and reasonably accessible to English speakers through its close derivation from Latin: in other words, it is beautiful. Language is one of the most central expressions of any culture. Access to the history, monuments, traditions, lifestyle and cuisine of an area in conjunction with its language is what defines cultural understanding and what enables the traveller to enjoy the experience to the full.

That’s what Learning Italian: Exploring the Language, Art and Cuisine of La Dolce Vita is designed to achieve. Spending a week based on the island of Ortygia (or Ortigia), the heart of Siracusa since ancient times, the tour offers guests a truly unique opportunity to explore and discover the historical and cultural depth of Siracusa in several ways:

  • An intensive course of Italian, organised by our friends from the highly-regarded Italian Academy, a key address since over 30 years ago, is one of the central strands of the experience. Professionally organised and taught, it will teach guests how to deal with everyday situations as a traveller in Italy: from booking a hotel room to ordering a meal or just striking up a polite conversation. The course is designed both for absolute beginners and for those with prior knowledge of any level who are eager to hone their skills.
  • Local cheeses and prosciutto in Ortigia Siracusa

    A casual lunch of local cheese and prosciutto in a street market.

    The second strand is a thorough exploration of the city and surroundings, accompanied by two dyed-in-the-wool connoisseurs of Sicily and Siracusa, Marcello and Lucia. They know the archaeological and architectural heritage like the palms of their hands. From the prehistoric necropolis at Pantalica via the great ancient monuments of Siracusa to her more recent cultural heritage, they will make sure that our guests do not miss any aspect of the long, fascinating and eventful history that has made Siracusa what it is and enabled it to create so many achievements over so many generations.

  • All of this will be embedded in a full enjoyment of the Italian “dolce vita” in its Sicilian form. Our guests will be able to observe daily life in the heart of Siracusa and savour the nightlife if so inclined. A central part of the experience will be Marcello’s profound knowledge of the local culinary offerings: streetmarkets, local trattorias, exquisite restaurants, even a cooking class will add to this aspect of exploring Siracusa – as will the many opportunities to sample Sicily’s fine wines.

A unique opportunity – un’opportunità unica

Learning Italian: Exploring the Language, Art and Cuisine of La Dolce Vita may be a somewhat unconventional tour – but that is exactly what we intend. Using our unique resources and a unique destination, it aims to provide those who are curious to experience Sicily and Siracusa with a new, uniquely profound and immensely enjoyable way to do just that! So, if you are tempted, don’t hesitate to join us in Exploring Siracusa.

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