Sicily, the largest of the Mediterranean islands, was dominated for centuries by a succession of ancient Phoenicians, Greeks, and Romans. Later, the Normans vied for control of the island with Arab forces until a great kingdom was born in Palermo. Today Sicily boasts diverse architecture and archaeological gems that make it a globally unique destination. This cultural diversity is enhanced by the island’s incredible coastline, which is packed with nesting birds, colorful fauna, and the timeless volcanic beauty of Mt. Etna and the nearby Aeolian Islands.
Our outing starts in Palermo, one of Europe’s grandest cities of the 12th century, and ends in Catania, a city constructed from volcanic lava. We will hike through Lo Zingaro coastal reserve and the islands of Lipari and Vulcano, all with panoramic views. Our hikes and walks will be leisurely and cover three to five miles each day, with gains of 1,600 feet at the most — a moderate hiking and walking trip. We will travel by boat to the Aeolian Islands of Lipari and Vulcano.
During our trip we will visit four of Sicily’s UNESCO Heritage sites: the Greek ruins at Agrigento, one of the late Baroque towns in Val di Noto (the town of Noto), Syracuse, and the Aeolian Islands. Our friendly guides will entertain us with their engaging stories. We will stay one to three nights at each small hotel or villa. We will enjoy delicious Sicilian food, including fresh seafood, seasonal fruit and vegetables, and incredible desserts. Perhaps as we explore the ancient history of the island, and the fascinating mix of Islam and Christianity, we will gain insights to better understand the world today.
Our trip starts this morning at our hotel in Palermo. After a group orientation, we'll walk together through Palermo’s narrow streets and alleys to a market packed with produce, fish, and merchandise from all parts of the Mediterranean, and beyond. Then we visit Palermo's great cathedral and the magnificent Palatine Chapel with its luminous mosaics. After lunch, we will stroll to the Piazza Pretoria, where an unforgettable fountain awaits us. We will return to our hotel in central Palermo, our home for the next two nights. We will enjoy our welcome dinner together this evening..
After breakfast at our hotel, we will drive to the Madonie Mountains, where we will enjoy a five-mile hike with a 900-foot elevation gain. These mountains are well-known for their giant holly trees (some more than 300 years old), and the flowering Manna Ash. In the afternoon, we visit Cefalu Cathedral to appreciate some of the best-preserved Byzantine mosaics in the world, as well as the spectacular stonework of Norman and Arab masons. Medieval baron Roger II brought master craftsmen from Constantinople who combined traditional Byzantine decorative art with Northern European cathedral-building techniques for a stunning cultural combination. After dinner in Cefalu, we will return to our Palermo hotel in the evening.
After breakfast at our hotel, we travel to the small hill town of Monreale to behold the mosaics of its Norman cathedral, among the most extraordinary in Italy. This amazing monument is a dazzling mixture of Arab, Byzantine, and Norman artistic styles, a perfect blend of Christian and Muslim art and architecture from the 12th century CE. In the afternoon we drive to Erice, a delightful medieval village perched on a mountaintop. Walking its narrow streets, we enjoy breathtaking views of the Egadi Islands below, where the region's once-famed tuna harvest took place. Our small hotel in the coastal town of San Vito lo Capo will be our home for the next two nights.
Today we explore Lo Zingaro, Sicily’s first nature reserve, established in 1981. We hike four miles of Mediterranean coastline (gaining 400 feet of elevation), perched high above the sea and delighting in wonderful views and carpets of wildflowers. There are more than 40 bird species that nest in this area, including the rare Bonelli's eagle. After our hike we will return to our hotel and dinner in San Vito lo Capo.
Today our bus takes us to breathtaking Selinunte, where we will enjoy one of Europe's largest archaeological parks set against amazing views of the sea. Founded in the 7th century BCE, Selinunte played a fundamental role in the spread of Greek culture. After lunch we will sample Marsala wine made in this region. We will have dinner at our hotel near Agrigento.
This morning we will visit the Valley of the Temples World Heritage site in Agrigento, one of the richest archaeological areas of the world. A passionate and knowledgeable art historian will take us on a tour among the remains of several ancient temples constructed in the Doric style in the 6th and 5th centuries BCE, followed by a visit to the site museum. Now excavated and partially restored, they constitute some of the largest and best-preserved ancient Greek buildings outside of Greece. In the afternoon we will transfer to our beautiful rural villa near Noto, our home for the next three nights.
After breakfast at our hotel, we'll visit the Vendicari Nature Reserve, Europe’s southernmost wetland, where a naturalist will introduce us to the local flora and fauna. This is a resting place for numerous birds on their migratory journey southward to Africa. We will eat lunch in the town of Noto and have time on our own to explore this baroque jewel, built late in the 17th century CE after an earthquake destroyed most of Old Noto.
We will travel to Syracuse, one of modern Sicily’s most beautiful cities, an important colony of ancient Greece, and the birthplace of the mathematician Archimedes. We will explore the picturesque Piazza del Duomo and the poetic Fonte Aretusa in the morning, and in the afternoon we will enjoy the amazing Neapolis Archaeological Park, with its incredible Greek theatre, limestone quarries, and the famous Ear of Dionysus.
Today we will travel north to Milazzo to catch our boat to Lipari -- the most diverse of the Aeolian Islands. Quaint streets wind past fortress walls to Castello, a site that was been continuously occupied since Neolithic times and has enabled archaeologists to date other Mediterranean cultures. After lunch, you'll have free time to explore the fortress and archaeological museum, wander the town's labyrinth of streets, shop, or simply enjoy the view from the main square and harbor. A charming local hotel will be our home for the next two nights.
This morning we catch a boat to the dramatic island of Vulcano, where we hike to the top of the dormant volcano and peer down into its crater (5 miles, +/-1,600 feet). Views from the top are fantastic! After lunch, you'll have time to swim on the black volcanic sand beach or explore the shops before returning to Lipari in the late afternoon.
We will cruise back to mainland Sicily this morning and drive to the village of Taormina, perched on a hillside overlooking the Ionian Sea. We'll walk Taormina's colorful cobblestone streets to its historic Greek theatre with outstanding views of Mt. Aetna, the highest active volcano in Europe. Shopping opportunities abound, and you can refresh yourself with granita, a Sicilian semi-frozen fruit-based dessert. We then travel to Catania, where we will have our farewell dinner and spend the night.
After breakfast, we will say our goodbyes. Our hotel is close to bus transportation to Palermo and a short taxi ride to the Catania airport. You may wish to stay in Catania a little longer to explore the old Baroque section, or take a day tour to Mt. Etna on your own.