Start in Catania
We begin our Sicilian adventure in Catania, the second-largest city on the island. There are no planned activities today, so take time to settle in and enjoy the hotel facilities. There will be a welcome briefing in the evening.
Excursion on Mount Etna; afternoon wine tasting
After breakfast, we enjoy a spectacular guided walk on Mount Etna, the highest active volcano in Europe. We hike up, past several old lava flows, to be rewarded with a panoramic view of the volcanic landscape (one to two hours’ walking, approximately 3mi/5km). We strongly advise you to take a waterproof/windproof jacket, a warm top and to wear long trousers. In the afternoon, we enjoy a delicious wine and cheese tasting in a wine cellar. We stay overnight in Catania.
Morning sightseeing tour of Catania; afternoon drive to Syracuse and visit archaeological park
This morning, we enjoy a guided tour of eclectic Catania. We start from the historic heart of the city, Piazza Duomo, and wander through the main streets, most of which have several magnificent baroque buildings, such as Palazzo dei Chierici, Palazzo degli Elefanti and the duomo (cathedral). We continue via the central fish market, one of the biggest in Italy, and admire the array of bright colours and peculiar smells, accompanied by the unabashed shouts of fishmongers selling their fresh produce.
In the afternoon, we drive for approximately one hour to the city of Syracuse, once the most powerful city-state in the Greek world and briefly capital of the Byzantine Empire. Here we take a guided tour of Neapolis Archaeological Park accompanied by a local expert guide. The site is northwest Syracuse and home to spectacular ruins, including a Greek theatre that dates to at least the fifth century BCE. The Roman amphitheatre, built in the third century CE is also very impressive: at 460ft (140m) long and 390ft (119m) wide, it is one of the largest in the world. We overnight in Syracuse.
Free day in Syracuse
The day is free to explore the lovely island of Ortygia, the historical heart of Syracuse. We recommend starting from the Piazza del Duomo, a delightful pedestrian square and home to a wonderful cathedral. The island measures just 124 acres (50ha) and can be easily explored on foot. Restaurants, trattorias and bars abound; it is particularly lovely to sit out on the western side, warmed by the sun and with a sea view. The afternoon is free for further independent exploration. We recommend visiting the great archaeological museum Paolo Orsi, which has an extensive collection from the pre-Greek to Roman eras. Close to the museum are the Catacombs of San Giovanni, a maze of tunnels niched with early Christian tombs hidden beneath the flower-filled ruins of a Norman church. We stay overnight in Syracuse.
Visit the Unesco-listed baroque towns of Noto and Ragusa
In the morning, we leave Syracuse and head to the town of Noto (approximately 45 minutes), which has been part of a Unesco World Heritage site, Late Baroque Towns of the Val di Noto, since 2002. The striking architecture is a result of a major earthquake in 1693, in which the old town was almost destroyed. It was reconstructed with a design intended to be functional and harmonious. We explore the small town on foot, wandering around the narrow streets, admiring the golden stone buildings and the fantastical façades and balconies. After lunch, we drive to the town of Ragusa (approximately one hour), a Unesco-listed baroque town and considered one of the most picturesque in Sicily. Ragusa became particularly well-known in recent years as one of the main filming locations for the Sicilian detective drama Inspector Montalbano. The town is split into two parts, and while the upper section offers some noteworthy architectural delights, it is the smaller Ragusa Ibla below that really draws visitors. The historic centre is compact, making it easy to explore on foot in a few hours.
Explore town of Modica; transfer and overnight in Piazza Armerina
We start our day with a visit to Modica, another Unesco-listed baroque town with fine architecture, picturesque views and historic lanes. The chocolate made here is one of the most famous products in Sicily. We have the chance to sample some during a visit to the main chocolate shop in town. In the afternoon, we drive north (approximately two hours) to Piazza Armerina, a historic town in the heart of Sicily, to enjoy a pleasant stroll in its charming centre.
Morning guided visit in Piazza Armerina; see the Unesco-protected mosaics collection of Villa Romana del Casale
Today starts with a guided tour of Piazza Armerina and continues with a visit to the Unesco-listed Villa Romana del Casale, considered the top heritage site in Sicily by many visitors. This is one of the best-preserved villas built during the Roman Empire, with extensive and almost intact mosaics spread over 37,670sqft (3,500sqm). These vivid mosaics, probably produced by North African artisans, portray scenes of daily life, including a well-known tableau of girls exercising in swimwear. We return to Piazza Armerina in the afternoon.
If you wish to explore more, we recommend a visit to the impressive archaeological site of Morgantina, approximately 40 minutes’ drive from the hotel (optional, payable locally). The fascinating ruins of Morgantina, an ancient Greek city which continued to thrive in Roman times, still preserve major Greek structures, including the sanctuary in the agora, the public grain store and the theatre.
Visit the Valley of Temples in Agrigento and archaeological site of Selinunte
Today is one of the longest travel days as we make our way south, first stopping in Agrigento (approximately two hours’ transfer) and then continuing to Selinunte (approximately a 1hr 20min drive) where we stay the night. In Agrigento, we visit the Valley of the Temples. A guided tour will allow us to discover and learn the history of this splendid archaeological park, which consists of eight temples (and various other remains) built between approximately 510 BCE and 430 BCE.
In the afternoon, we explore Selinunte, one of the great Greek archaeological sites in Sicily. In the southwest corner of the island, the park incorporates Greek temples, ancient town walls, the ruins of residential and commercial buildings, countryside paths and zones yet to be excavated. We overnight in Selinunte.
Explore the island of Mozia by ferry and drive to the hilltop town of Erice
An hour’s drive north and a short boat ride bring us to the island of Mozia, an interesting archaeological site in western Sicily, between the towns of Trapani and Marsala. The site was once an important colony of Carthage, the Phoenician-founded city in North Africa, with a small museum and extensive ruins to visit.
In the afternoon, we continue (approximately a one-hour drive) to the picturesque medieval hilltop town of Erice, set in a stunning location approximately 2,625ft (800m) above sea level. Thanks to its strategic position, Erice was occupied by many civilisations, including the Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans, Arabs and the Normans. We enjoy free time to explore the narrow town lanes on foot, and perhaps enjoy down time and a drink in one of the panoramic terraces at sunset. We overnight in the Trapani area.
Half-day walk in Zingaro Nature Reserve; visit Segesta ruins and drive to Palermo
This morning, we take a break from the cultural highlights of the island and head to the coast to explore one of the best examples of idyllic Mediterranean coastline on foot. Stretching along the coast for 4mi (7km) between the lovely village of Scopello in the east to San Vito Lo Capo in the west, the Zingaro Nature Reserve has stunning walking trails with views out to the azure sea, cliffs, coves and pristine beaches. We take a leisurely walk for up to three hours (including stops) along beautiful coastal trails with the opportunity for a quick swim before returning to the bus.
In the afternoon, we head to Palermo, but not before stopping in the ancient city of Segesta (40 minutes’ drive), founded around 1200 BCE by the mysterious Elymians. Here we visit the Greek theatre and the well-preserved fifth-century BCE doric temple, set on top of a hill and surrounded by mountains. We overnight in Palermo.
Morning tour of Monreale and the ‘duomo’; afternoon guided visit to Palermo
We start with a half-day excursion to Monreale (30 minutes’ drive each way) to visit the cathedral, considered the greatest example of Norman architecture in the world. An extensive area of the interior is covered in gleaming gold mosaics and features a fascinatingcombination of Norman, Byzantine and Islamic art. Later in the afternoon, a local expert guide will take us on a walking tour around the historic centre of Palermo, revealing some of the city’s landmarks, including Quattro Canti, Pretoria Square and Marina Square. We overnight in Palermo.
Free day in Palermo for individual sightseeing; drive to the picturesque port town of Cefalù
The day is free for further individual exploration of the historic centre. A great way to spend the morning is by heading to one or two of the main street markets (Ballarò, Capo or Vucciria) where the legacy of Palermo’s past as a commercial port continues to manifest itself. Palermo’s Muslim history has made an imprint on the bazaars of the town: bustling, crowded and full of treasures. A morning at the markets is without doubt the best way to connect with the real lifestyle of the locals. Later in the afternoon, we transfer to the seaside town of Cefalù (approximately 1hr 15min). We overnight in Cefalù.
Free day in Cefalù
Today is free to soak up the charming atmosphere of Cefalù. We recommend starting the day with a visit to the impressive Norman cathedral, home to elaborate Byzantine mosaics, and a restored 12th-century cloister. Continue with a stroll through the winding medieval streets of the historic centre and stop for lunch near the picturesque harbour. In the afternoon, you can relax at the sandy beach, take a walk to the hilltop Rocca to visit the ruins of a Norman castle and enjoy superb views, or visit the town museum, the Museo Mandralisca. We overnight in Cefalù.
Transfer to Taormina, visit Greek theatre and free time
This morning, we drive to Taormina (approximately 2hr 40min). On arrival, we enjoy a short orientation tour through picture-perfect alleys followed by a visit to the third-century BCE Greek theatre, from which you can enjoy splendid coastal views. The remainder of the day is free for optional activities. If you are looking for a break from the crowds, head to the lovely public gardens. You can also take a walk (two-hour round trip) or a bus to the neighbouring hamlet of Castelmola. If you prefer to relax in the sunshine, visit Isola Bella, a tiny island in a small bay just below Taormina. Activities such as cooking classes may be available on request. We stay overnight in Taormina.
The tour ends in Taormina after breakfast. You can begin your return journey home, but if you’d like more time to explore this magnificent island, speak to your sales representative about extending your stay.