‘One of the 50 Best Escorted Tours’ (2014) – The Telegraph
Lying at the heart of the Mediterranean and commanding the narrow sea-lanes that connect east to west and north to south, Sicily attracted merchants, seafarers and settlers from every point of the compass.
The passage of time and a host of invaders have bequeathed a wealth of archaeological sites and monuments to the island. Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Normans, Byzantines and Aragonese have all left their enduring legacy on Sicily in the form of rich and diverse cultural and culinary traditions.
This tour provides an unforgettable encounter with the island’s long history and culture. Not only does it take in the wonderfully preserved remains of the Greek, Roman and Phoenician cities that stud its coasts, where honey-coloured ancient temples lie amid orange groves and almond trees, it also explores the baroque towns that hug its steep hills and the great modern metropolis, Palermo.
The temple-crowned cities of Selinunte and Agrigento, and the ancient island-city of Motya, now rest in a serene splendour belying their dramatic and turbulent histories. From the heights of Erice, home to Venus, goddess of love, you will see the majestic sweep of the coast, before travelling east to the vine-clad slopes of Mount Etna. As well as its historical riches, the island is a place of immense natural beauty and diversity. We traverse its many varied landscapes filled with springtime flowers and enjoy a number of pleasant walks to savour the romantic vistas.
Sicily’s picturesque and historic towns are a feast for the senses, and there will be plenty of time to explore their piazzas and meandering streets, or sample their increasingly renowned and varied wines before ending your day in atmospheric hotels or grand rural estates set in the heart of the Sicilian countryside. Our tour is complemented by excellent meals in specially chosen restaurants, wineries and local trattoria, highlighting some of Sicily’s richest gastronomic traditions.
The expert guides who will accompany you on the tour both know Sicily intimately. Their in-depth knowledge and love of the island will be your shortcut to a superb experience of one of Europe’s most celebrated destinations.
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Day 1: Transfer from Catania airport approx. 45 minutes away. Arrival and welcome dinner in Siracusa, ancient Syracuse, one of the most important of all ancient Greek cities.
Day 2: A short journey up the beautiful Anapo valley brings us to the World Heritage Site of Pantalica, an enormous late Bronze Age necropolis, with its many tombs honeycombing the rocky hills. After indulging in a traditional Sicilian country lunch near the town of Palazzolo Acreide, we visit the hill-top site of the Greek colony of Akrai before returning to Siracusa. An early evening tour of the island of Ortygia, the heart of the ancient city, is followed by dinner at a traditional pizzeria.
Day 3: A day in Siracusa. We begin with the Archaeological Park, planted with gloriously scented lemon groves, which contains some of Syracuse’s finest ancient monuments, including a Greek theatre that remains in occasional use today. Syracuse’s darker history can be witnessed at first hand in the extensive quarries, excavated by armies of slaves, where we will enter the famed Ear of Dionysius with its unusual acoustics. After visiting Castello Eurialo (the ancient Euryalus), a powerful fortress built over 2,400 years ago by the tyrant Dionysius to dominate and defend the city, we will enjoy a relaxing lunch before visiting the Paolo Orsi Archaeological Museum. The rest of the afternoon and evening will be free to explore more of the city, sample the local specialities and dine at a restaurant of your choice.
Day 4: A full day of exploration begins with a journey south to the lovely Baroque town of Modica, rising steeply in terraces from the valley floor. Fortified by its unique chocolate, derived from the original Aztec recipe, we carry on to the Greek city of Gela on the south coast, to view its extraordinarily well-preserved city walls and get our first glimpse of the long sandy southern beaches. We finish the day in Agrigento.
Day 5: A free morning to relax in the superb Agriturismo and enjoy its extensive grounds before heading to the medieval and modern centre of Agrigento to enjoy a sumptuous lunch, stroll through its streets, admire its churches and civic architecture, and pause at the Santo Spirito convent to try some of the nuns’ delicious cakes and biscuits.
Day 6: The morning is spent exploring the heart of Agrigento, ancient Akragas, a Greek city famed for its wealth and extravagant spending. The collection of Classical temples here is one of the finest to be seen anywhere in the Mediterranean. In the afternoon, we complete our tour of the ancient city and its renowned museum, and enjoy a relaxing dinner in beautiful surroundings.
Day 7: A drive along the coast through Montalbano country brings us to the breath-taking ancient site of Selinunte and its famous temples, devastated by the Carthaginians in 409 BC. In the afternoon we travel to ancient Lilybaeum to view the well-preserved remains of a Carthaginian ship and the beautiful finds from this ancient multi-cultural city, many of which retain their original painted decoration.
Day 8: We continue to Sicily’s western coast and take a short boat trip to the island site of Motya, a major Phoenician city destroyed by Dionysius of Syracuse in 398 BC. The extensive remains of the city include the Tophet (a cemetery for children sacrificed to their gods) and, in the on-site museum, the Motya Charioteer, one of the most celebrated Classical Greek sculptures. After Motya, we travel to Marsala to enjoy a sumptuous Sunday lunch, and then take a leisurely walk through the ancient quarry of the Cava di Cusa, where column drums still lie unfinished in an attractive landscape of olive groves and vineyards.
Day 9: Our first stop is the ancient city of Segesta, with its fine Doric temple in a tranquil and beautiful setting, and the stunning views from its beautiful little theatre on the adjacent hillside. We continue on to the mediaeval town of Erice where you are free to take lunch at a restaurant of your choice and to take in the sweeping panoramic vistas from its heights and finish the day in Palermo.
Day 10: A free morning in Sicily’s cultural capital. Time to explore the markets, enjoy some street food or find a restaurant for lunch, see a puppet show or visit some of the city’s attractive mediaeval churches and nineteenth century opera houses. In the afternoon we take a short drive to Monreale where we will visit Monreale’s twelfth-century cathedral, one of the finest Norman churches, blessed with a beautiful golden cycle of Byzantine-style mosaics. After absorbing the splendid view of Palermo below, we return for a free evening to explore the city’s sights, aromas and tastes and dine at your leisure.
Day 11: After a morning touring Palermo’s archaeological museum and the refined nineteenth-century Villa Whitaker, residence of the famed English wine merchants and aristocrats, we drive to the Greek city of Himera (site of two enormous battles that changed the history of the entire island) and on to a relaxing late afternoon at our hotel in the rolling hills at the foot of the Madonie Mountains on the north coast.
Day 12: We journey into the interior to visit the lovely archaeological museum of Aidone and have lunch in a renowned local restaurant. In the afternoon we visit the sprawling and opulent Roman villa of Piazza Armerina, with its world-famous mosaics, and then continue on to our final accommodation of the tour, on Mount Etna.
Day 13: Having caught many glimpses of Mount Etna in the distance, we finally visit it for a guided hike on the volcano’s slopes before refreshing ourselves at a nearby winery. Afterwards we visit our final site, the dramatically situated Greek and Roman city of Taormina, perched above a beautiful stretch of coast. A farewell dinner at our beautiful Agriturismo.
Day 14: Transfer to Catania airport, just over an hour’s drive away.
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Arrival and Departure Information
Arrival Airport – Catania (Fontanarossa)
Departure Airport – Catania (Fontanarossa)
Check in time at your hotel in Syracuse is after 14:00 so we recommend choosing a flight that arrives mid to late afternoon. Check out time from your hotel on Mt. Etna is 10:00 am. We will arrange local transfers from Catania Airport and to Catania Airport on the first and last day of the tour.
The cheapest way to book flights to join this tour in Sicily is directly with the airline online.
If you prefer to book with a travel agent, we are happy to recommend specialists in a number of countries around the world, please contact our office for more details.
Travel insurance is a requirement of our booking conditions and we recommend you investigate the options thoroughly to make sure that your trip is properly covered. Please be advised some insurers may require you to take out a policy within 15-20 days of booking your holiday to receive all of their insurance benefits.
Further Details about Exploring Sicily
Our Exploring Sicily tour is a comprehensive introduction to this beautiful and complex island, allowing you to immerse yourself in its history, culture, geography, archaeology, food and wine over a magnificent 14 day journey. You will visit many of the most important sites on the island, seeing the famous monuments of the prehistoric, Greek, Phoenician, Roman, Byzantine and Norman civilizations that made this island their home, as well as some other sites that are further off the beaten track and seldom visited.
There can be no doubt that the sites on the itinerary are unusually fascinating and that the various landscapes travelled through are especially beautiful, but you need to be aware that the trip is an intensive and occasionally physically demanding one. In contrast to our gulet cruises which tend to visit one ancient city per day, and are designed with rest and relaxation as well as history in mind, our Exploring Sicily tour often visits at least two archaeological or historical sites a day. Since the island is a large one, and we aim to introduce you to all aspects of its natural diversity, some days include relatively long driving times, usually through beautiful landscapes. We use a comfortable coach with ample space for all of our group and try, as far as possible, to make sure that we arrive at our evening destinations with time to spare for refreshment and relaxation before dinner. There are also free mornings or afternoons which will allow you to relax or explore at your individual discretion.
With just one exception, we spend two or more nights in each of the hotels/agriturismos on the itinerary. Each of these places has been carefully chosen for their location, style, character and atmosphere. They are complemented by meals at a carefully chosen selection of restaurants reflecting the entire breadth of the Sicilian culinary tradition, as well as by several wine tastings at some of the islands’ best wineries.
The sites themselves often have rough and uneven terrain with loose stones underfoot, so guests must be fit and well to take part in this tour. Some of the site visits, such as at Agrigento, involve up to 3 hours walking within the site itself. In addition, this tour includes a number of long countryside walks, of up to two hours’ duration. They all follow walking tracks, but do involve considerable differences in elevation and fairly broken terrain. With the exception of the site visits themselves, all the major countryside walks lead to key sites on the programme, and alternative means of transport can be provided for guests wishing to skip this hiking.