It may sit within touching distance, but Sicily is much more than a mere extension of mainland Italy. It's the largest of the Italian islands, but the laidback Sicilians have an identity and a still-thriving language of their own, and life moves at a slower pace. Its position in the middle of the Mediterranean means that Sicily has long attracted settlers from all sides, resulting in an infusion of influences – from the founding ancient Phoenicians to the Greeks, the Romans, the Moors, the Normans, the Spanish, the French and, of course, the Italians. This can be seen in the eclectic collection of historic sites and landmarks, from exceptional Greek temples to a treasure trove of Roman mosaics. Add beautiful Baroque churches and palaces, built after 17th-century earthquakes reduced entire towns to rubble, atmospheric streets and striking modern additions, and you have an island, built on the bones of ancient civilisations, that surprises and delights visitors with its intriguing cultural collage.
Nature has also bestowed Sicily with a generous cache of treasures. Ringed by shimmering blue sea, its coastline dips into sandy bays backed by craggy cliffs, which lead to a largely unspoilt landscape with fragrant citrus and olive groves, colourful wildflower meadows, dense pine forests and soaring mountains – the most impressive of all being the tempestuous Mount Etna, which simmers ominously over the towns in its colossal shadow.
Its incredible natural beauty is matched by an abundance of home-grown produce. Market stalls piled with ripe Mediterranean vegetables, pavement cafes offering a constant stream of orange juice, tiny shops selling olive oil, jam and honey, green ice-cream made with the precious Bronte pistachios… the list goes on. Of course, fresh fish and homemade pasta feature on every menu, but there are a few surprises here too – couscous from Tunisia and the ricotta-filled Cassata cake, a sweet legacy of the 10th-century Arab invasion.
As we travel down the eastern coastline and along southern Sicily, you'll be dazzled by the myriad cultural, natural and historical gems of this island, and charmed by the affable locals who live there.
Fly to Catania, where the mighty Mount Etna waits to greet you, and transfer to Agrigento, where we stay two nights at the four-star Baia di Ulisse Hotel. After settling in we'll enjoy welcome drinks and dinner. An evening drink on the hotel terrace is a wonderful way to relax and take in the air so enticingly scented by jasmine and orange blossom.
After breakfast we see one of the world’s greatest archaeological sites, the ancient Greek Valley of the Temples in Agrigento. Here we find the ruins of seven Doric temples dating back to the 6th-century BC, which remain in excellent condition, thanks to Sicily’s gentle climate. Situated on a rocky ridge overlooking the surrounding valleys and across the sea towards Tunisia, these temples must have dominated the skyline in an incredible show of power. Even thousands of years later the ruins are an impressive sight, especially the almost perfectly preserved Concordia with its tapering columns that bring to mind the Parthenon in Athens. We’ll explore the intriguing ruins among the almond trees with our guide and see the archaeological museum before visiting Agrigento itself.
This morning we drive to Ragusa, a city divided into a historic old town and a ‘new’ town, which sit on adjacent hills. Following the 1693 earthquake that devastated this part of the island, Ragusa Superiore was built. However, many locals simply couldn’t leave Ragusa Ibla behind and decided to rebuild.
As we explore the tangle of sloping streets and winding alleyways of the old town with a local guide, we’ll come to the Piazza Duomo, where faded pastel buildings are overlooked by a beautifully adorned Baroque cathedral. Just beyond sits the San Giuseppe Church, topped with an ornate cupola holding a trio of bells. If you wish to rest over a freshly squeezed orange juice or an ice-cold Sicilian lemonade, you’ll find plenty of pavement cafés offering shade – it’s hard to imagine a more enchanting backdrop than the decorated palazzos dominating this historic centre. As the winding ascent to Ragusa Superiore begins, the streets gradually widen into a leafy grid-system lined with elegant villas housing boutiques, minimarkets and cafés.
We continue to pretty town of Noto, which sits on a hilltop surrounded by olive groves and thick woodland. Almost entirely rebuilt after the earthquake of 1693, Noto is the home of Sicilian Baroque and its cathedral is its centrepiece – the dome was recently rebuilt after its dramatic collapse in 1996. Climb the twisting narrow stairs to the bell tower of the Church of San Carlo for incredible views. Much of Noto's architecture has an ethereal golden glow due to the yellow limestone for which the town is known – the effect is especially magical when illuminated by the sunshine.
Later in the afternoon we drive to Siracusa, where we stay for two nights at the four-star Hotel Mercure Siracusa. The hotel sits between the archaeological park, with its Roman and Greek ruins, and the eerie catacombs that lie beneath the San Giovanni basilica.
During our coach tour of Siracusa this morning, we’re introduced to the city’s striking architecture, notably the columned Art Deco-style Pantheon overlooking manicured gardens, and the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Tears with its towering spire and Madonna statue that is said to have wept in 1953. On exploring the cobbled city streets lined with shuttered villas in faded cream, peach and terracotta, you may be surprised to learn that the historic centre of Siracusa lies just across the water. Passing white fishing boats bobbing on the marina we come to beautiful Ortygia, Siracusa’s island heart jutting out into the Ionian Sea. This tiny island is filled with more than 2,500 years of history encompassing Greek and Roman remains, Norman buildings and fine Baroque landmarks.
We'll explore Ortygia’s charming labyrinth of narrow alleys on a walking tour, pausing at the occasional piazza boasting a fountain, elegant palace or Baroque church. The cathedral is especially interesting as it was originally a Greek Doric temple whose massive columns can still be seen inside. As we reach the tip of the peninsula, the Fountain of Arethusa sits shrouded in myth and mystery. It's unusual to find a freshwater spring so close to the sea, and even more unusual to find the papyrus plants that grow there. A narrow promenade, lined with cafes and trattorias offering sea views, leads to the 13th-century fortress that stands guard against any approaching threat.
After our tour you may choose to take a boat trip around the peninsula. Ortygia's honey-hued stone buildings look especially striking from the water and you may spot local fisherman and egrets competing over the spoils of the sea. Or you may choose to explore further at your own pace. You may find yourself in the thick of the lively street market, where the cries of vendors, bright piles of fruit and vegetables, and the unmistakable smell of the catch of the day merge to overwhelm the senses.
After breakfast, we drive to one of the most extensive and best-preserved collections of Roman mosaics in the world at the Villa Romana del Casale near Piazza Armerina. During our guided tour of this 4th-century Roman villa, we’ll see the Great Hunt mosaic with its leaping lions and roaring tigers, and the famous ‘Bikini Girls’ mosaic depicting ladies playing sports in skimpy togas. Others tell stories of giants and gods, rural hunts and embracing lovers, providing an incredible insight into the life, culture and mythology of the island’s Roman residents. Extraordinary faded frescoes can also be seen adorning this palatial villa, which is so grand that many believe it was the home of one of the Roman co-emperors of the Diocletian era. With columns of pink Egyptian granite, a marble-lined hall and a glorious formal dining room, it’s obvious this villa was the home of someone of exceptional status and wealth.
As we wander the atmospheric maze of rooms we’ll also learn the history of this UNESCO World Heritage site, which owes its incredible preservation to a landslide that covered many of the mosaics, thus protecting them from the island’s earthquakes. The villa lay partially buried for hundreds of years, before its rediscovery and excavations during the 19th and 20th centuries.
This afternoon we transfer to the three-star superior Albatros Hotel in Letojanni, where we stay for three nights. This contemporary hotel is conveniently located just north of Taormina and has direct access to the promenade facing the Ionian Sea.
This morning you may choose to explore Taormina, a town perched on a jutting hilltop some 250 metres above the coastline, with the sea to its front and magnificent Mount Etna to its back. A coastal retreat merging medieval charm with elegance and glamour, its appeal is such that DH Lawrence made it his home for several years. Despite its typically Sicilian buildings in pale stone, colour livens every corner of this town. Streets are festooned with flowerpots and window boxes brimming with blooms, while citrus and almond trees dot the squares. Locals exchange pleasantries at street-side stalls, which groan under the weight of a rainbow of Mediterranean vegetables, from tomatoes to courgettes and aubergines. The result is a feast for the senses, as the mingling scents hang deliciously heavy in the air.
If you'd like to shop for souvenirs then follow the Corso Umberto, Taormina’s pedestrian-friendly thoroughfare. You'll pass an array of tempting window displays featuring designer wear, colourful ceramics and sparkling jewellery, along with gelaterias, pizzerias and patisseries. Peach-hued townhouses give way to the Piazza IX April, which looks down the tree-covered hill to the sea. Why not look for a family-run ‘minimarket’ with tiny tables and sample some Marsala wine?
Today we depart for Sicily's crowning glory, Mount Etna, the highest volcano in Europe. Ascending the winding road, the landscape becomes increasingly eerie and alien, with razor sharp black rocks in contorted formations, and some areas devoid of almost all vegetation. As we near the cable car station itself you can enjoy extensive views over the whole area. We then head to the fertile lower slopes dotted with farms and villages to our destination, an organic family-run winery. The views, in the shadow of Etna with the sea sparkling beyond the green, are truly breathtaking and can be enjoyed from the panoramic terrace. The silence is both soothing and striking, with only birdsong and the occasional sound of a nearby farm to be heard. A tour of the vineyard and winery, which have remained within the same family since 1772, offers a fascinating insight into the advantages of this unique position – here, the volcanic soil and fluctuating temperatures combine to grow a grape unlike any other. We'll also learn how wines aged in chestnut barrels produce a flavour that's different to the more typical oak.
Our tour concludes most fittingly with a final dinner in a wonderful vineyard setting, where local dishes will be paired with the perfect robust reds or fragrant whites. We say farewell to Sicily and new friends, no doubt clinking glasses to toast an unforgettable tour.
Transfer to Catania for your return flight.
The price of this holiday is per person based on one person in a double/twin room for sole occupancy. The price includes:
Included excursions: guided visit to Valley of the Temples in Agrigento, guided visit to Villa Romana del Casale in Piazza Armerina, final evening wine-tasting and pairing dinner.
UK Citizens do not require a visa to enter Italy however must have a valid passport. For the most up-to-date passport and visa information visit https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/italy/entry-requirements
We are unable to accept responsibility if you are unable to travel because you have not complied with any passport/entry/immigration requirements.
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.
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.
|Arrival airport||First hotel location||Transfer time||Final hotel location||Departure airport||Transfer time|
|Catania Airport||Agrigento||2 hrs 30 mins||Letojanni||Catania Airport||1 hr|