Four full days of private garden visits hosted by the owners
Led by renowned local gardener, Rachel Lamb
Stunning botanical variety seen at the best time of the year to visit
One of Sicily’s finest private palaces, in Catania, also included
Antiquity’s four ‘elements’ – earth, fire, air and water – have long been regarded as the mainstays of life’s natural cycle. No-where in the Mediterranean can their contribution to horticulture be seen to such fecund and thrilling effect as on Sicily, particularly around the island’s volcano, Mount Etna. Flowering trees, shrubs and plants, olives, vines and citrus groves have all thrived in Sicily’s balmy climate, emerging from the mineral-laden, lava-based soil which has formed from the earth’s gift which has flowed down these slopes over millions of years.
In times past the luxuriant hunting parks of the Arab emirs and Norman kings, together with eighteenth century aristocratic pleasure gardens all thrived close to the coastal cities of the island. Today, a number of remarkable modern private gardens, principally located on the eastern Ionian Sea side of Sicily, grow rare, exotic plants which thrive due to the fertile slopes and plains in sight of Mount Etna. Our gently-paced visit will explore a selection of these gardens, rich in botanical variety and diverse in layout, all created through the vision of the Sicilian owner-gardeners who will be our hosts.
We shall be based in Taormina, high on a promontory of Mount Tauro, spectacularly overlooking the Gulf of Naxos and Mount Etna. Ionian Greeks left the motherland and settled at Naxos in 734 BC founding Sicily’s first Greek colony. Dionysius I of Syracuse destroyed Naxos in 403 BC and its survivors founded Tauromenion. Given the strategic importance of its location, Byzantine emperors, Arabs emirs and later Spanish viceroys maintained the city. By the end of the nineteenth century Taormina was transformed into a bucolic colony for the ‘gentleman painter’. Artists and intellectuals flocked to its Greek remains, shady terraces and extraordinary views.
We shall stay at the 4* Hotel Villa Schuler situated in the historic centre. This converted fin de siècle villa is the oldest owner-run hotel in Taormina, still in the family of the original owners. The terraced garden overlooks the Gulf of Naxos with the eastern slopes of Mount Eta in the distance. Many restaurants, bars and shops are within a five minute walk of our hotel. Guests should also note that there are many steps and narrow streets in the town, though little or no vehicle traffic.
The tour will be led by Rachel Lamb who is an internationally known expert on the flora of Sicily. She is also the resident Head Gardener at Giardino di San Giuliano which we shall visit. Rachel will co-guide our group with the owner-designers, ensuring a highly personal introduction to these private versions of a Sicilian ‘paradise’.
Day by day
- Day 1: Tuesday 17 April
- We fly from Gatwick to Catania arriving early evening and drive for just under an hour northwards to Taormina, located close to the north-eastern corner of Sicily. After check-in at the 4* Hotel Villa Schuler we have dinner in a local restaurant - wine, water and coffee are included with all group lunches and dinners.
- Day 2: Wednesday 18 April
- We drive southwards to the eastern slopes of Mount Etna and our first visit, Villa Trinita’, a new garden designed by the landscape architect owner of the estate. Carved from a medieval lava flow, the garden is peppered with ornamental elements sourced from local Greco-Roman classical finds and densely planted with citrus plants, grape vines and an array of trees, including the wild oak which once covered Mount Etna. We shall have lunch on site with the owners. We continue the short distance to the coastal town of Acireale. This late nineteenth century town garden, Casa Pennisi, is the area’s oldest and is a rare survival. The attentive owners have maintained its original iron gazebo, fountains and folly following a careful restoration of the garden and some of the adjacent fin de siècle villa which was originally a hotel. Following our visit and afternoon tea on site, we return to Taormina where the evening shall be free.
- Day 3: Thursday 19 April
- Today we drive southwards beyond Catania, along the Ionian coastline of the island to visit two remarkable modern gardens. The Giardino di San Giuliano is owned by the current Marquis of San Giuliano who commissioned three distinct garden spaces: an Arabic room, a tropical room and a scented room all divided by low stone walls and enclosed by the estate’s huge citrus orchard which produces a million kilos of oranges! The estate manager and head gardener, our guide Rachel Lamb, will show us this fascinating garden and impressive citrus estate. We shall also enjoy a private lunch in the garden. In the afternoon we drive the very short distance to Il Biviere, the creation of Princess Maria Carla Borghese who will be our guide. A good water supply and the fecund lava-based soil has helped the Princess fashion a series of green rooms joined by sloping banks, lined with Aleppo palms and an extraordinary array of succulents. We shall also visit her home after which we return to our hotel in Taormina. The evening will be free.
- Day 4: Friday 20 April
- Our morning’s activities are dedicated to two visits in Taormina. We walk to the town’s Greek Theatre dating from the third century BC with later Roman additions. Dug directly from the rock of the promontory, spectators still enjoy quite extraordinary views of the Gulf of Naxos and nearby Mount Etna. After our visit we continue on foot to Casa Cuseni for a private guided visit. The English watercolourist Robert Kitson created his Sicilian home as a base for his Mediterranean travels some one hundred years ago. He quickly established the house as an international art salon. Painters, poets, playwrights and politicians continued to visit when the estate’s second owner, the British author Daphne Phelps, lived in the house. Her paintings and furnishings depict an idyllic Sicilian life well-lived. Sir Frank Brangwyn’s murals survive in the villa as does his garden, designed as a ‘Mount Etna landscape’ with geometric rooms full of flowers and plants tumbling into the pathways. After lunch, not included, the remainder of the afternoon will be free for leisurely explorations of the town. We meet again in the evening for our final dinner in one of Taormina’s more renowned restaurants.
- Day 5: Saturday 21 April
- On our final day we make a leisurely start and drive southwards to the outskirts of Catania. Our morning visit will focus on the garden created by Rossella Pezzino Geronimo. Her Stanze in Fiore di Canalicchio is a sensory journey across a number of floral rooms with rare tropical and subtropical plants inspired by her many travels. A Burmese ‘secret garden’, an Oriental rock garden and a marvellous Arabic irrigation system tie the disparate parts together, a fascinating whole set round the splendid Neo-classical villa which is our hostess’s home. We shall enjoy our final lunch in the garden after which we make our way into central Catania for our last visit - Palazzo Biscari, one of the finest Baroque palaces on the island. A member of the owning family will escort us around some of its astonishing Rococo interiors. After some free time for gentle exploration in Catania, we drive the short distance to Catania airport and our mid-evening return flight to Gatwick.
- Price: £1,890 per person
- Price without flights: £1,730
- Deposit: £275
- Single Supplement: £225 with Sea View (Double Room for Sole Use)
- Tour Manager: James Hill
4 nights with breakfast at the 4* Hotel Villa Schuler, Taormina. Shared rooms all have a Sea View
Outward: BA2594 Departs London Gatwick 1445 arrive Catania 1850
Return: BA2595 Departs Catania 2055 arrive London Gatwick 2310
2 dinners & 3 lunches with wine, water & coffee, all local transfers, City Tax, entry fees & gratuities, services of Rachel Lamb as guide and James Hill as tour manager
Travel to/from Gatwick, 2 dinners & 1 lunch
Weather Conditions for Sicily in April are:
Average Temperature between: 11oC - 20oC / 51oF - 68oF
Rainfall: 49mm / 1.9inches
We do expect a reasonable level of fitness. For full details see our frequently asked questions.