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 at 9:00 a.m. in the heart of Palermo. After a brief orientation and meeting our group of travelers, we'll walk together through Palermo’s narrow streets and alleys to a market that is packed with all sorts of produce, fish, and pan-Mediterranean merchandise. We’ll stop in the fish market long enough to learn about the spices used in Sicilian cuisine. Our tour will include Sicily’s great cathedral and the magnificent Palatine Chapel with its luminous mosaics. After a truly Sicilian lunch, we will stroll to the Piazza Pretoria where an unforgettable fountain awaits us. In the afternoon, there will be time on your own in Palermo. Lodging in Palermo.
We will enjoy a five-mile hike in the Madonie Mountains with a 900-foot elevation gain. Fauna includes foxes, hares, numerous birds of prey, and even the occasional wildcat. Native flora includes giant holly trees (some more than 300 years old), the local variety of Sicilian fir, and the flowering Manna Ash. In the afternoon, we will visit Cefalu' and behold the spectacular stonework of Norman and Arab masons at the cathedral, with some of the best preserved Byzantine mosaics in the apse of the building. Roger II brought masters in the technique of mosaic from Constantinople and they adapted their traditional Byzantine decorative art to an architectural structure that was of Northern European origin. After dinner in Cefalu, we will return to our lodging in Palermo in the evening.
Today we will walk through the small hill town of Monreale to behold the Byzantine-inspired mosaics of the Norman cathedral, which are among the most extraordinary in Italy. This amazing monument is a dazzling mixture of Arab, Byzantine, and Norman artistic styles, all framed by traditional Romanesque architecture. The cathedral is a perfect blend of Christian and Muslim art and architecture of the 12th century. In the afternoon we will drive to Erice, a delightful medieval village nestled on a 2,200-foot mountain. Walking through its narrow streets, you may make your way to a traditional pastry shop, where you can sample some of the best almond pastries in Sicily. We can enjoy the breathtaking views over the Egadi Islands below, where the region's once famed tuna harvest took place. Lodging will be near San Vito lo Capo.
Today we will explore Lo Zingaro, Sicily’s first nature reserve established in 1981. We will walk four miles of Mediterranean coastline (gaining 400 feet of elevation), and enjoy many fish-filled coves and unusual indigenous plants (wild carob and Euphorbia) on cliffs overlooking the sea. There are more than 39 nesting bird species in this area, including the rare Bonelli's eagle. The reserve has several small museums and we’ll be able to visit a rocky beach at the end of our hike. You will have the option of swimming in the afternoon. Lodging near San Vito lo Capo.
Today we will make our way 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 that is made in this region. We'll sleep near Agrigento.
This morning we will visit the Ancient 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. 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 countryside villa near Noto, our lodging for the next three nights.
We'll start the day with a visit to the Vendicari Nature Reserve, Europe’s southernmost wetland, where a local naturalist will discuss the local flora and fauna. This is the resting place before several bird species make their final passage to Africa. We will eat lunch in Noto and have time on our own later in the day to explore this baroque jewel of a city. Noto was built at the end of the 17th century after an earthquake destroyed most of Old Noto.
Today we will travel to Syracuse -- the birthplace of Archimedes, the most important colony of ancient Greece, and one of modern Sicily’s most beautiful cities. In the morning, we will explore the picturesque Piazza del Duomo and the poetic Fonte Aretusa, 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, where we will catch a boat to the Aeolian island of Lipari -- the most diverse of the islands -- where we will spend two nights. Streets wind from Lipari Town and past fortress walls to Castello, a site that was been continuously occupied since Neolithic times and has enabled archaeologists to date other Mediterranean cultures. An optional hike with views of the scenic coastlines of Lipari and Vulcano will be offered in the afternoon.
After a leisurely breakfast, we’ll catch a boat to the dramatic island of Vulcano. Here we can hike to the top of a dormant volcano and peer down into its smoking crater. Vulcano’s last major eruption occurred from 1888 to 1890. This is a five-mile hike with a 1,600-foot elevation gain. Later, we’ll have time on our own to explore Lipari’s archaeological museums or walk in the town.
We will cruise back to Sicily this morning and make our way to the village of Taormina, perched on a hillside overlooking the Ionian Sea. We'll walk Taormina's colorful cobblestone streets, which are lined with hanging gardens, to its historic Greek theatre with outstanding views of Mt. Etna. Shopping opportunities abound and you will have an opportunity to try granita, a Sicilian semi-frozen dessert. We'll dine and sleep in Catania.
After breakfast, we will say our goodbyes. Our hotel is close to bus transportation to Palermo; it is also a short taxi ride to the Catania airport. You may wish to stay in Catania for a day or two more and visit the older Baroque town or hike Mt. Etna on your own.