Comprehensive overview of Sicily’s history & its major treasures
Wonderful Greek Temples at Agrigento
The famous Roman Villa at Piazza Armerina with its magnificent mosaics
Major Norman churches & palaces with their sophisticated Byzantine mosaics
Private visits to remarkable Baroque palaces in Palermo, Syracuse & Catania
Sitting in the centre of the Mediterranean, Sicily has always been a strategic resource fought over for millennia. The original settlers were overcome by the Phoenicians from Carthage, followed by the Greeks, both sets of invaders attracted by its natural resources; then the Romans arrived and overran the island. During the so-called ‘Dark Ages’, Sicily continued to prosper, particularly during its period as part of the Byzantine Empire. Subsequently, from the ninth century onwards Arabic or ‘Moorish’ culture added to this heady mix.
The arrival of the Normans initiated a further period of great wealth and sophistication, a golden age when the cultures of east and west fused most felicitously. This heritage is reflected in the fine mosaic cycles made for the Normans under Byzantine influence. Thereafter, a succession of French, Austrian and Spanish dynasties ruled the island with sublime indifference. However, their resident aristocracies have given the island a rich heritage of baroque, rococo and neo-classical monuments of great power and beauty – all waiting to be discovered.
We shall spend four nights in Palermo at the Grand Hotel Piazza Borsa, two nights in Agrigento at the Hotel Foresteria Baglio della Luna and three nights in old Syracuse on the ‘island’ of Ortygia at the comfortable Grand Hotel Ortygia. All three Sicilian hotels are decent, locally rated 4* hotels and that on Ortygia is of architectural interest with many rooms enjoying inner harbour views.
Day by day
- Day 1: Tuesday 12 October
- We fly from Gatwick directly to Palermo, arriving mid-morning. We drive to Monreale to visit the famous Cathedral, with magnificent medieval mosaic cycles, after which there will be time for an early lunch (not included). We continue into Palermo to our hotel, the 4* Grand Hotel Piazza Borsa, for a four-night stay. After some time to rest there will be an early group dinner in a restaurant in the historic Piazza dei Vespri. Wine, water and coffee are included with all group lunches and dinners.
- Day 2: Wednesday 13 October
- The tiny island of Motya lies just off the south-west coast of Sicily and is one of the most exciting archaeological sites in the Mediterranean. Founded as a staging port by Phoenician merchants and then taken over by their Carthaginian successors, recent excavations have revealed much about this hidden phase of Sicily’s history. We shall spend the morning on the island after which we lunch at a local restaurant. En route back to Palermo we stop at the isolated site of Segesta, where there is a monumental, still unfinished, Greek Doric Temple and a dramatically sited Theatre looking out to sea. The evening will be free.
- Day 3: Thursday 14 October
- Palermo’s earliest surviving monuments above ground are mostly from the Arab and Norman periods. The Norman Palace was rebuilt in the eleventh century under Roger II, to whom we owe great thanks for initiating a series of sophisticated mural decorations, in his case the great mosaic cycle in the Cappella Palatina. Other highlights include the Cathedral with its royal tombs, and the lovely church of the Martorana. After some free time for lunch, not included, we visit two of Palermo’s most important Oratories, private devotional chapels renowned for the fine stucco decorations by the Serpotta family. The remainder of the afternoon and evening will be free.
- Day 4: Friday 15 October
- We make a leisurely start and travel the short distance to the Kalsa district of the city to visit the Regional Picture Gallery at Palazzo Albertis. It contains a number of interesting objects and paintings including works by Antonello da Messina. After a coffee break we visit the Oratory of San Lorenzo to view a remarkable and recently installed copy of an altar painting by Caravaggio, famously looted in 1969, probably by the Mafia. Lunch is not included today and the afternoon will be free for private explorations. Our final evening in Palermo is spent in spectacular fashion when we visit privately Palazzo Gangi, containing the finest suite of eighteenth-century interiors in the city, used for the film of Lampedusa’s novel The Leopard, followed by dinner in a local restaurant.
- Day 5: Saturday 16 October
- We spend a gentle day driving through central Sicily en route to Agrigento. First, we follow the coast to Cefalú to visit this small fishing port, dominated by its great Norman Cathedral. This has possibly the finest of all the Sicilian mosaic depictions of Christ Pantocrator. After some free time for lunch, not included, we continue to Agrigento and check into our hotel, the 4* Hotel Foresteria Baglio della Luna - housed in a converted thirteenth Century watchtower - for a two-night stay. We have a group dinner in our hotel.
- Day 6: Sunday 17 October
- Sicily, together with the coastline of southern Italy, was called Magna Graeca or Greater Greece. Founded as trading outposts by the major Greek cities, these ‘daughter’ settlements soon came to rival (and in some cases surpass) the fame and wealth of their founding cities back home. Agrigento is such an example and it preserves a remarkable number of temples and other buildings and we spend the day exploring the site and its archaeological museum. There will be time for a simple, snack lunch (not included) and our dinner will be in a good local restaurant overlooking the Valley of the Temples.
- Day 7: Monday 18 October
- In the centre of Sicily, the great Imperial Roman villa at Piazza Armerina is justly renowned as home to mosaic decorations, the equal of any found in and around Rome and Pompeii. The visit is a morning one and will be followed by lunch in one of the island’s best restaurants. We continue on to Syracuse for a three-night stay at the 4* Grand Hotel Ortygia. The evening will be free.
- Day 8: Tuesday 19 October
- Syracuse was one of the greatest cities of Magna Graeca and this morning we explore its ancient heritage. The Archaeological Park is home to some of the city’s major monuments, particularly a splendid Theatre. Ortygia is the town’s ‘island’ with splendid palaces and churches including the Cathedral (fashioned from a Doric temple!) and Santa Lucia (with a well-known Caravaggio). Our group lunch will be in a famous fish restaurant after which the remainder of the afternoon and evening will be free.
- Day 9: Wednesday 20 October
- Like so much in this part of Sicily, Catania was devastated either by earthquakes and/or the eruption of Mount Etna and almost the entire city was subsequently rebuilt. This morning we shall visit Catania’s Cathedral and then enjoy a private visit to Palazzo Biscari, one of the city’s most important palaces. After lunch, not included, we drive to Noto, deservedly the most famous of all baroque cities on the island. At last, its great Cathedral has reopened after a very long restoration. Later in the evening we shall enjoy a private visit and our final group dinner in Palazzo Beneventano, the finest baroque palace in Syracuse.
- Day 10: Thursday 21 October
- We travel the short distance to Catania for our late morning flight to London.
- Price: £TBC per person
- Single Supplement: £ (Double Room for Sole Use)
- Tour Manager: James Hill
1 night at the Premier Inn London Gatwick North Terminal pre departure on the 11 October (Room Only)
4 nights with breakfast at the 4* Grand Hotel Piazza Borsa, Palermo
2 nights with breakfast at the Hotel Foresteria Baglio della Luna, Agrigento
3 nights with breakfast at the 4* Grand Hotel Ortygia, Syracuse
Easyjet Flights to include: Speedy boarding, allocated seats & 20kg of hold baggage
Outward EZY5243 Departure London Gatwick (North Terminal) 0605 arrive Palermo 0955
Return EZY8568 Departure Catania 1105 arrive London Gatwick (North Terminal) 1325
Weather Conditions for Sicily in October are:
Average Temperature between: 16oC - 25oC / 60oF - 77oF
Rainfall: 77mm / 3inches
We do expect a reasonable level of fitness. For full details see our frequently asked questions.