November 1 to 11 or 12, 2017: Limited availability
Sicily is our most popular destination. A small island at the crossroads of the Mediterranean, it has been settled and/or conquered by Greeks, Phoenicians, Romans, Saracens, Normans, Swabians, Angevins, Aragonese, Spaniards, Bourbons, Republican troops from mainland Italy, and Allied troops during World War II. Today we find there a marvelous stew of different cultures and eras--Doric temples, a Roman amphitheater, medieval mosaics, Spanish Baroque churches—and all of it layered within an island the size of Vermont.
Our trip begins with one night in Rome. (We encourage people to arrive a day or two early to adjust to the time change.) The next morning we fly south, to Reggio Calabria, a city on the toe of the peninsula and home to the Riace Bronzes, a pair of larger-than-life Greek warriors pulled from the sea in 1972 and only recently returned from a lengthy restoration. We cross to Sicily by ferry and circle the island clockwise from Taormina, a famous watering hole since the 19th century, to Palermo. Three-quarters of the island is rich in Greek, Phoenician, and Roman ruins, not to mention charming cities and beautiful seascapes, while Palermo, the jewel of the Middle Ages, is a celebration of light, color, and energy.
This year, because we seem never to have enough time in Palermo, we’re offering an optional fourth night at our hotel and an additional full day of sightseeing. For anyone who wants to go deeper into the culture of this fascinating city. See the itinerary for details.
In our opinion, November is an ideal time to visit Sicily. By this time of year, the cruise ships have sailed to warmer climes, leaving cities, monuments, parking lots and historic sites blissfully empty.
Our Itinerary, in brief:
Wednesday, November 1
Rome: Meet in the afternoon for a walk through Rome’s historic center where we track down works by Caravaggio, an artist we will again encounter in Sicily. Group dinner to follow. (Hotel Santa Chiara or Grand Hotel de la Minerve, Rome, D)
Thursday, November 2
Fly to Reggio Calabria where we see the Riace Bronzes: two larger than life Greek warriors pulled from the sea in the 1970s. Cross the Straits of Messina by ferry, stop briefly in the city of Messina to see a stunning pair of Caravaggios, then continue on to Taormina, one of the prettiest spots in Italy. (San Domenico Hotel; Taormina; L)
Friday, November 3
Catch our breath with a relaxing day in Taormina. Visit to the Roman theater with striking views of Etna and the sea. And an afternoon is free for shopping (ceramics!), strolling through this elegant town, or hiking to a ruined castle. Delicous dinner in our beautiful hotel. (Taormina; D)
Saturday, November 4
Drive to Syracuse, an appealing city surrounded by the sea. Morning tour of historic Palermo, with Greek ruins and Caravaggio’s Burial of Saint Lucy. Optional afternoon excursion to the Castle of Eurialo, a rare example of Greek defensive architecture. And finally, in the early evening, we have organized our own Sicilian puppet show. (Grand Hotel Ortygia, Syracuse; L)
Sunday, November 5
Visit to the catacombs of San Giovanni as well as the archeological park with its well-preserved Greek theater, Roman amphitheater, and fascinating stone quarry. Afternoon visit to Noto, a city “recreated” in the early 18th c. after the original city was leveled by an earthquake. The result is an entire, pure Baroque city. (Syracuse; L)
Monday, November 6
Drive inland to the Villa Romana in Piazza Armerina, a ruined hunting villa with fabulous Roman-era mosaics. After a delicious lunch, we take a short drive to Aidone to visit a museum that today proudly displays antiquities returned to Sicily from the Getty and the Metropolitan museums. (Hotel Villa Athena; Agrigento, L, D)
Tuesday, November 7
The ancient Greeks of Agrigento built as if they would live forever. Predictably, their city was crushed in 406 BC. Morning tour of the Temple Ridge, with three Doric temples, and to the Kolymbetra, a restored ancient garden. Afternoon visit to the archeological museum. (Agrigento; L)
Wednesday, November 8
Depart Agrigento for Palermo. Arrive in time for lunch on the rooftop of of hotel in the heart of the city’s historic center. Afternoon excursion on foot through the old quarter of this fascinating city: Giacomo Serpotta exuberant 18th c. Oratorio of San Lorenzo, the. the Palazzo Abatellis, which houses the city’s art collection, and more. (Centrale Palace Hotel, Palermo, L)
Thursday, November 9
Optional morning tour to Palermo’s bustling Balleró Market and the adjacent Casa Professa, a stunning example of Palermo Baroque architecture. Mid-morning departure for Segesta with its ancient theater and temple Nestled amongst the hills of Western Sicily, this site is a textbook example of architecture perfectly suited to its landscape. Then on to the charming hill town of Erice, a mystical place long associated with the myth of Aphrodite. In Greek times it was the site of a "sacred" prostitution ring that Aeneas was said to have visited after his fling with Dido. The views are spectacular. (Centrale Palace Hotel, Palermo, L)
Friday, November 10
Today we visit other Norman Palermo, starting with the 12th c. Palazzo La Zisa, which can best be described as a Pleasure Palace. Then on to the Duomo of Monreale, with floor-to-ceiling mosaics, and its beautiful 13th c cloister. And the ver best we save for last: the private palace of the Norman kings. One of the very best things to come down to us from the Middle Ages, this jewelbox space is nothing short of astonishing. Farewell dinner at a favorite restaurant. (Palermo; D)
Saturday, November 11
The tour ends with breakfast. We will organize airport transportation.
You have the option of extending your stay in Palermo by one day and night. This will enable you to peer a bit more deeply into this fascinating city: oratorios, markets, and perhaps even visit the archeological museum, which has been under restoration for the past 15 years!
Sunday, November 12
For those who opted for an extra day, the tour ends with breakfast. We will organize airport transportation.
Note on booking flights: you should book your flight into Rome with an arrival no later than the morning of November 2. And you should book your return on either November 11 or 12, out of Palermo. Delta and Alitalia will allow you to book your return on one continuous ticket: Palermo, Rome, home. This is what we recommend. Please contact us if you need help booking your flight.
Throughout Sicily we are staying at what we believe are the best of all possible options: 2 nights at the beautiful old-world Hotel San Domenico in Taormina, 2 nights at the 4-star Grand Hotel Ortigia on Siracusa's waterfront; 2 nights in Agrigento at the beautifully renovated 5-star Villa Athena with views of the Temple Ridge, and finally we end our trip at the 4-star Centrale Palace Hotel in the heart of Palermo's historic center.
The final night of the trip is at the Rome Airport Hilton.
$4900 in Double Occupancy, superior and deluxe accommodations
$5750 in Single Occupancy, superior accommodations in Rome and deluxe accommodations.
Cost of the optional day in Palermo: $240 in double occupancy or $280 in single occupancy.
Included: 10 or 11 nights in hotels. breakfast each morning, one additional meal each day with wine and coffee, private bus transportation throughout the trip, all entrance fees and tips.