Departures from June to November 2019
Captivating Palermo presents a colourful and intoxicating mix of Arabesque archways, Byzantine mosaics and frescoed domes. It nestles at the crossroads of civilisations, where atmospheric markets reminiscent of Arabian souks bustle in the shadow of sweeping cathedrals, and ornate Gothic palaces are fringed by soaring palm trees.
Sicily’s alluring capital started life as a jumble of Phoenician stores on a quiet bay, backed by a fertile plain that attracted everyone, from the Carthaginians, Greeks and Romans to the Moors, Normans, Spanish and French. The city was such an impressive showpiece during Arab rule that the Norman invaders made it the seat of their kingdom. Under the ‘Kingdom in the Sun’, there arose spectacular new churches of unprecedented grandeur and the unmistakable southern Italian Romanesque style. Of course, there are also many other architectural styles, such as Baroque and Art Nouveau, waiting to be discovered.
Monreale, which overlooks Palermo and the sea, is home to one of Sicily’s greatest cultural treasures, the 12th-century Norman cathedral. The beauty of the cathedral’s Byzantine-influenced mosaics cannot be overstated – you must see for yourself the dominating mosaic of Christ in the magnificent central apse.
You can see the intriguing influences of past civilisations everywhere on the island: in churches, palaces, market squares and the cuisine. Thankfully, the agreeable Mediterranean climate has ensured that these landmarks have survived in a remarkable state of preservation.
In character Sicilians like to think they’re different from the rest of Italy, and the dialect spoken by some locals is a fusion of Italian, Arabic, Greek, French and Spanish. The food is wonderful and quite different from the typical cuisine you would find on mainland Italy. Many recipes evolved from peasant kitchens, so the dishes are more rustic and simpler, but today these are enjoyed as specialities served on special occasions.
If you’d like to discover a different side of Italy – the stunning eternal crossroads of the Mediterranean that continues to seduce travellers with its many treasures to discover – our tour of Palermo is set to surprise and captivate.
You will be met by a member of the Riviera Travel team before your flight to Palermo. On arrival we transfer by coach to the four-star Cristal Palace Hotel in the historic centre of Palermo. The hotel is located on Via Roma, one of the city’s main thoroughfares, along with many restaurants, shops and important buildings such as the Politeama theatre.
Settle in before joining your tour manager this evening for an informal welcome drinks reception, followed by a three-course dinner at the hotel’s restaurant, where you will meet your fellow travellers and have the opportunity to get to know them.
After breakfast, an expert local guide takes us on a walking tour through Palermo’s old town to unravel the mysteries of yesteryear and understand what makes this captivating island tick. The capital city of Sicily, Palermo came under the rule of the Saracens and Normans, and grew into one of the most important cities in Europe. There are some incredible monuments here, most from before 1861 when Sicily was an independent kingdom – you’ll love the elaborately decorated churches and tiny timeless squares.
We’ll visit the Norman Palace, undoubtedly the jewel of Palermo and Europe’s most dazzling court during the Middle Ages. A stronghold in later centuries, it is now occupied by the Sicilian government. During our visit we’ll see the large Carthaginian foundations, while the royal church upstairs, which is covered in some of the finest gold mosaics in existence, is Palermo’s undisputed artistic gem.
You are free this afternoon to explore under your own steam. The spectacular upper walls of the Oratory of the Rosary of Santa Cita are filled with beautifully detailed stucco statues of angels and cherubs, all watching over the chapel below. For a closer look at Sicilian history, the archaeological museum boasts one of the richest collections of Greek and Phoenician art in Italy.
Perhaps explore one of Palermo’s bustling street markets. A trip through Il Capo, the main food market, is a treat for the senses: narrow medieval streets are flanked by rows of stalls groaning under the weight of a rainbow array of fresh produce, from tart Sicilian lemons and delicate saffron to prized tuna. Ballarò market is more universal in its offerings and twice as busy – locals say if you can’t find it in Ballarò then you don’t need it! From Sant’Anna Square, follow your nose to Lattarini, the atmospheric old Arab spice market where the local Sicilian language reigns and the modern world seems to have little influence.
This evening, you can dine at leisure at one of the many restaurants near your hotel with some of your travelling companions, or take an optional street food tour to sample the local specialities. See our Personalise Your Holiday box for details.
This morning we visit the hillside town of Monreale nearby for a guided tour of its splendid cathedral. Founded in the 12th century, it’s one of the finest examples of Norman architecture anywhere in the world. The stunning façade features pointed arches, geometric carvings and coloured inlays – a fascinating blend of Norman, Byzantine and Arab styles. But even this intricate exterior cannot prepare you for the brilliance of its interior, which is entirely covered with dazzling glass and gold mosaics. Gaze up in wonder at the biblical scenes immortalised by skilled craftsmen from Constantinople, who used an estimated 2.2 tonnes of pure gold in its construction! The cloisters are another highlight, with elaborately carved columns, each unique and almost Moorish in appearance. If you take the steps up to the roof, you’ll be rewarded with a wonderful panorama of the lovely countryside.
We return to Palermo in the afternoon with free time to relax or further peel away the fascinating layers that make up the city’s past. Why not explore the 9th-century Kalsa quarter, one of the first planned Arab settlements in Europe, and see the 16th-century Spanish-Moorish revival architecture framing the main square. Or admire the royal splendour of Zisa castle and Cuba palace, part of the tremendous hunting resort built for the Norman kings. For more Baroque grandeur, visit Quattro Canti, an octagonal square with outstanding mansions marking the four cardinal directions, each representing one of the four seasons – and more significantly, one of the four Spanish kings of Sicily.
Tonight our group will dine together at a local restaurant, where you can exchange stories of your wonderful holiday with fellow travellers over a glass of sweet Marsala wine.
Transfer to the airport for your flight home.
The price of this holiday is per person based on sole occupancy of a double room. The price includes three nights’ accommodation with breakfast and two dinners, including a welcome dinner and drinks on the first night, all tours as mentioned, airport departure taxes, all local accommodation taxes, transfers and the services of a Riviera Travel tour manager.
Street food tour - from £35 per person
Experience Palermo’s rich culture through its variety of delicious foods, such as creamy arancini risotto balls, thick-crusted sfincione pizza and savoury panelle fritters. Your local guide will help you identify the Mediterranean and Arab influences that make Palermo – and its street food – so delightful.
Contact us to pre-book this experience.
All transfer times listed here are approximate, and dependent on traffic. If you have a question regarding transfer times please don't hesitate to contact us.
|Airport||Hotel location||Transfer time|
|Palermo Airport||Palermo||40 mins|
We want to ensure you make the correct choice before you book your holiday with us. If you have any concerns regarding the suitability of the holiday due to reduced mobility we would encourage you to call us to discuss these concerns. General information on mobility in connection with our tours can be found here.
Occasionally the opening times of the places of interest vary, and if this happens we may have to change the order of events.