Day 1: Introductory Walk of Palermo - Palazzo Conte Federico - Welcome Dinner
Welcome to Sicily! On arrival at the Palermo airport, you will be met by our chauffeur for your private transfer to the hotel, originally a 16th century convent, it's now a luxury property in the historic center of Palermo. This morning, you can relax, take a nap or a walk, depending on your energy level. In the afternoon, we'll meet the rest of the group for an introductory walk of Palermo and welcome cocktails at Palazzo Conte Federico, one of the oldest and the most important buildings in Palermo. Visiting the palazzo as guests of Contessa Federico is a unique experience, and we'll enjoy traditional Palermitan cocktails, accompanied by the famous Palermitan "street food", wine, water and juices. We'll end the day with a traditional Palermitan dinner at a restaurant featuring extravagant local dishes, distinctly different from other Italian cuisines.
Day 2: Palermo City Tour - Monreale
Today, we'll explore some fascinating sights of Palermo: set amidst the greenery of citrus groves at the foot of the distinctive promontory of Monte Pellegrino, the city is like no other in Italy. We'll set out to discover this mesmerizing mix of European and North African influences, expressed in architecture ranging in style from Arabic to Norman, Baroque to Art Nouveau. We'll pass the city's palazzi, visit the Palermo Cathedral and Chiesa della Martorana, famed for its fantastic mosaics, see the Four Corners and the Spanish Baroque palaces, the magnificent Arab-Norman Palatine Chapel, the ornate Piazza Bellini and the Catacombs of the Capuchins. In the afternoon, we'll continue to nearby Monreale to admire the town's 12th century cathedral built by the Norman King, William II. This ornate structure is a mesmerizing mix of Byzantine, Arabic and Norman architecture with lavishly decorated, mosaic-covered interiors, depicting events from the Old and New Testament. In the evening, we'll enjoy a traditional Sicilian dinner.
Day 3: Segesta - Marsala - Erice
Today, we'll follow a scenic road west from Palermo to the ancient village of Segesta. Here, we'll visit the magnificent Greek Theater and the Doric Temple, both miraculously intact and standing proudly on a remote hillside. The skills and artistry of the ancient Elymian builders of the temple along with the commanding views make this spot one of the highlights of Sicily. From here, we'll travel along the Via del Sale ("the salt way") towards Marsala, stopping to admire the windmills and salt flats which line the local roads. We'll have lunch at a renowned winery near Marsala, where we'll not only learn about the history of making the Marsala fortified wines, but taste several wine varieties along with lunch. In the afternoon, we'll move forward in time, and visit the Norman town of Erice, sitting on top of Mount Erice and overlooking the bay of Castellammare del Golfo. The town's ancient remains are layered with history, from the Elymian and Phoenician walls dating from the 5th century to its twin castles: The Pepoli Castle from the Saracen times and the Venus castle from the Norman period, built on top of an ancient temple of Venus. We'll also explore the town of Erice, with its winding cobblestoned streets lined with examples of Gothic, Baroque and Renaissance architecture. The historic town is also famous for its delicious almond cookies, so of course we'll have to taste some.
Day 4: Castelbuono - Cefalù
After breakfast today, we'll travel to the mountainous Madonie region, pierced with high peaks and dotted with tiny villages, seeming to be lost in reverie. The drive offers an interesting panorama with constantly changing scenery: the mountains, the Tyrrhenian sea, the west coast of Palermo and the Aeolian Islands. Along the way, we'll stop at Castelbuono with its picturesque Ventimiglia Castle and the Palatine Chapel with sacred relics of Saint Anne. We'll sample the local nougat for which the town is famous, then we'll proceed to the pretty fishing village of Cefalù, built on a rock that juts out into the sea and is dominated by one of Sicily's finest Norman cathedrals built by Roger II in the 12th century. According to a legend, Roger built it to fulfill a promise he made when he survived a sea storm and landed at Cefalù. After touring the town, we can enjoy its maze of medieval streets and the waterside promenade, shop or have a drink at an outdoor cafe. We'll return to Palermo in the afternoon and enjoy an evening at leisure.
Day 5: Agrigento - Piazza Armerina - Siracusa
In the morning, we'll check out of our Palermo hotel, and drive south towards Agrigento. Known in its heyday as "the most beautiful city of mortals", Agrigento must have been the gods' favorite town. Our guided tour of the Valley of the Temples, one of the most evocative sites of the sacred classical architecture, will take us through the spectacular ancient temples of this archeological park, situated on a high ridge overlooking the sea. We'll explore the Doric temples and sanctuaries honoring Zeus, Hercules, Pollux and Castor, and the most imposing, the Temple of Concord, famed for its beautifully preserved columns. After free time for lunch, we'll continue to Piazza Armerina, a graceful town where we'll explore the 3rd century Roman Villa del Casale, an imperial hunting lodge, originally home to Maximianus Herculeus, Diocletian's co-emperor. While little remains of the building structure, we'll be able to see some of the most impressive mosaics of the Roman world, depicting scenes of mythology, hunting and domestic life in unparalleled detail. In the afternoon, we'll continue to Siracusa, and arrive in our luxury seaside hotel just in time for dinner.
Day 6: Old Town of Siracusa - Ortygia Island
After the long day yesterday, this morning we can sleep in and enjoy our beautiful hotel overlooking the sea, relax, swim or get a spa treatment. In the afternoon, we'll visit the Old Town of Siracusa. Founded in 734 B.C., Siracusa was one of the great ancient capitals of the Western civilization which Plato considered a model for the ideal city. It is situated in one of the loveliest maritime places of the Mediterranean and is marked by its clean white buildings and the beauty of its medieval and Baroque architecture. We'll start our tour at the Neapolis Archaeological Park where we'll discover some of the treasures that the ancient Greeks and then the Romans left behind, including the most complete Greek theater in existence. Then it's on to the Paradise Quarry and Gardens, featuring the cave that Caravaggio dubbed "The Ear of Dionysius". We'll continue to Ortygia Island, with its Temple of Apollo, the Duomo and the harbor-front Arethusa fountain. After some free time to explore this enchanting town, we'll enjoy a lavish palazzo dinner, accompanied by local wines.
Day 7: Taormina - Pizza Making Class
We'll leave the hotel in the morning and travel to Villa Zuccaro, where we'll join a pizza making class to discover, with a little help from the "pizzaiolo" the secrets of Sicilian pizza dough. Afterwards, we'll enjoy a full lunch accompanied by Sicilian wines, before driving the short distance to Taormina. Widely regarded as Sicily's most picturesque town, Taormina enjoys a spectacular location, perched above the Ionian Sea with beautiful vistas of two sweeping bays and of Mount Etna in the west. Goethe described Taormina as a "patch of paradise," and the Sicels, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Saracens, Arabs, Normans and Spaniards who chose to live here over the centuries left their own stamp on its cityscape and its culture. The highlights of our walking tour of this delightful medieval town will include the ancient Greek theater from the 3rd century B.C., the massive 13th century cathedral, and the grand Piazza Vittorio Emanuele.
Day 8: Noto - Modica
Today, we'll venture out to the area east of Siracusa, known as Baroque Valley. After a cataclysmic earthquake of 1693 which destroyed local villages, the residents decided to move the towns to a safer location and rebuilt them in a style that came to be known as Sicilian Baroque, marked by a unique flamboyance and use of elaborate decorative embellishments. This style contributes much to the architectural soul of Sicily. Our first stop will be the unspoiled Baroque village of Noto, a UNESCO Heritage site, where we'll tour the Basilica di San Salvatore and the Duomo San Niccolo. Due to its ornate architecture this town is described as a garden of stone. We'll then drive to the village of Modica where making chocolate, with a recipe and technique that early Spanish explorers learned from the Aztecs, is a cultural treasure. We'll visit a chocolate shop founded in 1880 and attend a private chocolate-making demonstration and a tasting in the laboratory of an artisan chocolate maker. After returning to the hotel, the afternoon will be free for relaxing at one of the hotel's beaches or enjoying other amenities before dinner.
Meals included: Breakfast, Dinner
Accommodations: Grand Hotel Minareto, Siracusa
Day 9: Mount Etna - Farewell Dinner
This morning, we'll take the adventurous journey to Mount Etna. At 10,922 feet, Mount Etna is Europe's largest and highest volcano and one of the world's most active. To the ancient Greeks, this was the realm of Vulcan, the god of fire, and home to the one-eyed monster known as the Cyclops, and it was believed that beneath Etna lived the hundred-headed, lava-spewing monster Typhon. According to ancient mythology, the volcano is named after Aetna, a goddess and the daughter of Uranus and Gaia. As we drive towards the volcano, we'll pass through charming towns and villages, with vineyards covering the volcano's slopes, stopping to sample products grown in the rich volcanic soil. From the base of Mount Etna, we'll take the cable car, weather permitting, half way up the mountain, and from there a 4 wheel drive vehicle will take us to the very top. Our tour will continue as a local geologist/volcanologist takes us to see old lava flows, lava tunnels and extinct craters. In the evening, we'll celebrate our Sicilian adventure and new travel friends with an elegant farewell dinner.
Day 10: Siracusa - Departures
After breakfast at the hotel, depending on your departure time, you may have some time to enjoy the hotel's amenities, before your private transfer to the airport according to your flight's departure time.