Highlights of Sicily

Summer-Autumn Itinerary

Sicily is best toured on a circular route, with Catania as the place to arrive and Siracusa the place to start. History in Sicily began in the east, where the Greeks arrived and, especially in Syracuse, where the first and greatest golden age of Sicily flowered. Then we follow a clockwise circuit of the greatest sights of the island, returning to the east for a restful epilogue at Taormina, before you leave for home from Catania. This is how you might understand Sicily’s story as you enjoy infinite variety, in a relaxed and comprehensible chronological order.

 Day 1, Fri -- Arrive in Catania. We meet you at the airport and take you to a charming hotel in the ancient city centre of Siracusa, Ortigia. When everyone has arrived, we’ll have a welcome meeting. As you will be jet-lagged, the first day will be reserved for settling in and getting oriented. That includes an afternoon walk around the incredible island-peninsula of Ortigia, its palaces, narrow lanes, unique cathedral built within a Greek temple, Jewish Quarter, Arethusa fountain,. Welcome dinner at a favourite Siracusa restaurant (incl.[1]) and overnight at Siracusa. (Hotel Livingston or Royal Maniace or equivalent)

[1] “incl.” = “included”, means you’ve already paid for it, which implies we do it as a group. Of course, you still may opt out of the occasion, as you can any of our activities, so long as you are present for our next minibus departure. Refunds are possible for “incl.” events you have not attended only if they were not prepaid by us.

aerial view of Ortigia, the historic center of Siracusa (ancient Syracuse)

Day 2, Sat – 0830, we begin our grand tour of Siracusa (UNESCO world heritage), for two centuries the greatest of ancient Greek cities, beginning with the world’s only surviving ancient Greek fort and its lovely overlook of the coast. We continue on to one of the world’s finest Greek Theatres, the Ear of Dionysius, and the Roman Amphitheatre. Free afternoon, though you might want to take in our highly praised (UNESCO) Sicilian marionette (pupi) theatre[1]. During May & June, there is an optional opportunity for a performance at the Greek Theatre[2]. Dinner on your own and overnight at Siracusa. (Hotel Livingston or Royal Maniace or equivalent)

Day 3, Sun – Day on your own in Ortigia and Siracusa. Options include the world-class Paolo Orsi Archaeological Museum and the nearby Christian catacombs (world’s 2nd largest), both uptown.  In Ortigia are other museums (incl. medieval art, papyrus, numismatic, etc.), a 13C Frederick II castle (Maniace), two medieval-Norman churches, one Caravaggio, a unique Byzantine-period Jewish miqwe, a sightseeing boat trip, an Archimedes exhibit (two, in fact, one comparing his engineering with his disciple Leonardo da Vinci), an hypogeum under Piazza Duomo, regular exhibits, musical and other artistic events, including in May and June another different play in repertory at the Greek theatre. Of course, you might just sleep late and spend the day swimming in the sea (a few steps from the hotel) and/or sitting in cafés watching street life.  Overnight in Siracusa. (Hotel Livingston or Royal Maniace or equivalent)

[1] theatre performance dates & times highly variable; check with us. Marionette museum nearby usually is open daily.

[2] not included & you must schedule this with us in advance of the tour

Noto Cathedral

Day 4, Mon – 0830, we depart Siracusa to visit Noto, a UNESCO world heritage site of honey-gold baroque, before continuing through the ancient and storied Hyblean Highlands to lunch at a dairy farm where Ornella and her farmer husband Salvo treats us to produce of the farm (incl.). Afternoon visit to a panoramic overview of the charming town of Modica followed by a short walking visit to old Ragusa (Ragusa Ibla). Onto your hotel in Piazza Armerina. Dinner (incl.) and overnight in Piazza Armerina  (Torre di Renda). 

Day 5, Tues0830, morning visit of the Roman Villa del Casale at Piazza Armerina (UNESCO) with the greatest mosaic floors of the ancient world. Then we travel further out across rolling countryside to the remote vineyards of Feudo Principi di Butera for a tasting and elegant light lunch (incl.). Finally we take an afternoon drive on country roads to Agrigento (UNESCO), talking of the WWII allied landings & battles, to visit Greek temples equal to those in Greece itself. Dinner on your own and overnight in Agrigento in a hotel overlooking the temples. (Hotel Colleverde or Baglio della Luna or equivalent).

Day 6, Wed – 0830, we travel west along the less visited south coast to the ruins of the Greek city of Selinunte, the third great city of the Greek west, on its evocative windswept coastal site. There will be an option of salad buffet lunch at a beach place or picnic in the quiet and remote Greek quarry site of Cava di Cusa. Then, we proceed through Marsala, talking of Garibaldi, Carthage, and Marsala wine, to the salt flats and romantic windmills of far western Sicily, including the Carthaginian site of Mozia, to visit perhaps the greatest existing Greek sculpture. Dinner (incl.) and overnight in an old Sicilian fortified estate. (Baglio Oneto) or old town Marsala (Hotel Carmine or equivalent). 

Day 7, Thurs0830, we continue to Erice and tour the ancient mountaintop town founded by Aphrodite, ruled by Hercules, where a cult of sex once flourished. We sample the pastries at Maria Grammatico’s shop, made famous by her (and Mary Simeti’s) book Bitter Almonds. We turn north to visit the incomparably beautiful temple at Segesta, a town Virgil tells us was founded by Aeneas. Dinner at one of the best restaurants for traditional Sicilian cuisine (Altri Tempi, incl.) and overnight in Palermo. (Hotel Piazza Borsa or equivalent)

Monreale Cathedral (12C), nave

Day 8, Fri – 0830, a morning walking tour of the incredible sites of Arabo-Norman Palermo (UNESCO), including matchless gems like the Palatine Chapel and La Martorana. We lunch (not incl) at Focacceria San Francesco, famous for its Slow Food and anti-Mafia virtues. In the afternoon, you are free to pursue your own interests in Palermo (we'll have recommendations). Dinner on your own and overnight in Palermo. (Hotel Piazza Borsa or equivalent)

Day 9, Sat0830, Following a visit to Baroque frenzy of Casa Professa and the culinary frenzy of the Ballarò Market, we go up to visit the Norman cathedral of Monreale, the greatest mosaic cycle in the world. Then we drive along the coast to Cefalù, for a few hours in this charming medieval seacoast town, where you will be on you own to visit another Norman cathedral, shop, lunch (not incl.), climb the great rock, or swim at one of Sicily’s most celebrated beaches. Then we continue into the Madonie mountains to our hotel, Relais Sant’Anastasia, in an ancient abbey where they have been making wines for a thousand years. Organic wine tasting with dinner (incl.). Overnight at Relais Sant’Anastasia. Alternatively, depending on availability at Relais Sant’Anastasia, we could remain in Cefalù for dinner at our favorite seafood restaurant overlooking the sea and overnight in old town Cefalù (La Plumeria Hotel or equivalent). 

Day 10, Sun – 0830, we start our drive along the scenic north coast, with views and stories of the Aeolian Islands. Check into your hotel in Taormina, lunch and walking tour of the antique theatre and town. Farewell dinner (incl.) and overnight. (Villa Fiorita or equivalent).

Day 11, Mon – We will take you to Catania airport for your flight home, unless you have taken the option of remaining longer in Taormina or have other plans (let us know in advance).

Highlights of Sicily

Winter~Spring Itinerary

Day 1 - Arrive in Catania. We meet you at the airport and take you to a charming hotel in the ancient city center of Siracusa, Ortigia. When everyone has arrived, we’ll have a welcome meeting. As you will be jet-lagged, the first day will be reserved for settling in and getting oriented. That includes an afternoon walk around the incredible island-peninsula of Ortigia, its palaces, narrow lanes, unique cathedral built within a Greek temple, Jewish Quarter, Arethusa fountain, and perhaps an optional puppet show[1]. Welcome dinner at a favorite Siracusa restaurant (incl) and overnight at Siracusa (Royal Maniace or equivalent).

Caltagirone, Sicily's ceramics center

Day 2 – Today is our grand tour of Siracusa, for two centuries the greatest of ancient Greek cities, beginning with the world’s only surviving ancient Greek fort and its lovely overlook of the coast. We continue on to one of the world’s two finest Greek Theatres, the Ear of Dionysius, and the Roman Amphitheatre. Time off for lunch, a midday nap, whatever you like, then we'll have a cocktail hour, leading to a free evening and overnight at Siracusa (Royal Maniace or equivalent).  During May & June, there is an optional opportunity for a performance at the Greek Theatre of Siracusa (not incl. & you must schedule this with us in advance of the tour).

Day 3 -- We leave Siracusa visiting the Archeological museum for a quick unguided tour. Then we drive to Noto, a Unesco world heritage site of honey-gold baroque. After thiswe drive out into the country for a lunch at a dairy farm where Ornella and her farmer husband Salvo treat us to produce of the farm (incl). Then onto the charming town of Modica where chocolate is made in the traditional Aztec way brought to us by the Spaniards. Onto Ragusa Ibla and overnight. (Hotel Barocco or San Giorgio Palace)

 Day 4 - After leaving the hotel , we walk around the charming small town of Ragusa Ibla. Then we drive to Caltagirone, the ceramics capital of Sicily. After lunch on your own we drive onto Piazza Armerina and a charming country hotel with views over to the city. Dinner (incl) and overnight. (Torre di Renda or similar)

Temple E (to Hera?) at Selinunte

Day 5  – Visit of the amazing Roman villa at Piazza Armerina with the greatest mosaic floors of the ancient world. Then we travel further out across rolling countryside to the remote vineyards of Feudo Principi di Butera for a tasting and elegant light lunch (incl)[1]. Finally we take an afternoon drive on country roads to Agrigento. We arrive in Agrigento, walking a row of temples the equal to those in Greece itself. Dinner, on your own, and overnight in Agrigento in a hotel overlooking the temples. (Hotel Colleverde or similar).

 Day 6  –We travel west along the less visited south coast to the ruins of the Greek city of Selinunte, the third great city of the Greek west, on its evocative windswept coastal site. We proceed through Marsala to the salt flats and romantic windmills of far western Sicily. Dinner (incl) and overnight in the old quarter of Marsala or in a restored nobleman’s estate in the countryside. (Hotel Carmine or Baglio Oneto).

Day 7 – We continue to Erice and tour the ancient mountaintop town founded by Aphrodite, ruled by Hercules, where a cult of sex once flourished. We sample the pastries at Maria Grammatico’s shop, made famous by Mary Simeti’s book Bitter Almonds. We turn north to visit the incomparably beautiful temple at Segesta, a town Virgil tells us was founded by Aeneas. Then we visit the Norman cathedral of Monreale, one of the greatest buildings in the world. Dinner at one of the best restaurants for traditional Sicilian cuisine (Altri Tempi, incl) and overnight in Palermo. (Hotel Piazza Borsa or similar)

Erice, looking down from the Sanctuary of Astarte/Venus

Day 8 – A morning walking tour of the incredible sites of old Palermo, including matchless gems like the Palatine Chapel and La Martorana. In the afternoon, you are free to pursue your own interests in Palermo (we'll have recommendations). Dinner on your own and overnight in Palermo. (Hotel Piazza Borsa or similar)

Day 9 – In the morning, we drive along the coast to the charming seacoast town of Cefalù, before continuing into the Madonie mountains to our hotel, Relais Sant’Anastasia, in an ancient abbey where they have been making wines for a thousand years. A relaxed day. Organic wine tasting with dinner (incl), and overnight. (Relais Sant’Anastasia or a quality hotel in Cefalù)

Day 10 – We drive to Taormina for a walking tour of the town, focusing on the Roman theatre with its famous view of the coastline and Etna. Check into our wonderful hotel with views of Munt Etna and the sea from the gardens, pool and main building. We finish your tour with our “Arrivederci“ pizza dinner at a favourite local restaurant (incl). (Hotel Villa Fiorita or similar)

 Day 11 – We will take you to Catania airport for your flight home. (incl)

 

[1] if performing on this day, not included.

[2] if our tour is less than half full, we might substitute an al fresco lunch in a favourite Slow Food restaurant in Piazza Armerina.

Optional additions:

1. Taormina Extension Option (days before or after our tour)

Mount Etna from Taormina, Thomas Cole, 1844

After we have said goodbye and Sicily Tour’s responsibility for you has concluded (except for transfer to the airport), some people like to linger a few days in Taormina. It is, after all, Sicily’s focus for high-end shopping and elegant eating, for concerts, festivals, and visits to attractions like Daphne Phelps’ house,  and for excursions around eastern Sicily as far as the Aeolian Islands.

 If this appeals to you, let us know. With advance notice, we can arrange for you to stay over at the hotel for as many days as you like, and then still take you to Catania airport for your flight.

 Cost: € 390 per couple per day (includes only the hotel & the difference in cost of a taxi just for you over the discounted rate we get for the usual Day 11 group transfer to Catania airport).

 Just let us know if you are interested when first you sign on with us.

Cost: Ask us about the price per couple per day, which will depend on the cost options for the level of hotel you would like to use. Includes only the hotel and airport transportation. Unlimited number of days.

2. Mount Etna, by cable car and 4WD drive (day trip before or after our tour)

 Etna is the world’s most storied mountain, one of its most resonant and mythic places.  It is also Europe’s most active volcano and Sicily’s beloved grandfather (or grandmother depending on his/her mood).

lava flows 2/3rds up Mt. Etna

 We depart Taormina, ascending two-thirds up the slopes of Etna to the Rifugio Sapienza area. At this point, there will be a cable-car and 4WD service ( incl) up another 4000 feet to see up close the smoking vents in the company of an official Etna alpine guide. Later we proceed down the east slopes of Etna. Wine-tasting and outdoor light lunch (incl) at a small boutique winery with views over the Mediterranean. Finally, we take you to your hotel in Taormina.

 Please ask for a quote for this option. The cost of which is dependent on whether you have booked your own hotel or whether you wish to prolong your stay at your current hotel.

(Alternatively, you can just hike the untouristed parts of Etna on your own, following local trails, even to the very summit.  For this, all you need is transport to and from the north side (Piano Provenzano area) and your own picnic lunch.  Hiking to the top is strenuous, but not rugged and would take up to 7~8 hours to the summit and back from Piano Provenzano. Etna Guide association also offers 4WD excursions)

3. Montalbano extension option  (one day before or after our tour)

This day-trip is for fans of Inspector Montalbano, and we mean the TV series that is taking the English-speaking world by storm, not so much the novellas by Andrea Camellieri that inspired the series.  Most of the onsite filming occurs in the Iblei area of Ragusa Province and much of the delight of the series comes from the amazing ruggedly beautiful countryside.

 Already on the Highlights Tour, we’ll be visiting some of the film sites in Modica, but there are iconic filming locations, and some lovely towns and countryside, that we are not going to see on the Highlights Tour.  

 This Montalbano extension is a one-day driving tour of some of the most beautiful Montalbano sites—to include Ragusa Ibla, Scicli (a Unesco World Heritage town that stands in for the Commissariat), Donnalucata (where several episodes were filmed), and Punta Secca (site of his beachfront home)—will happen on the day before Day 1 of the Highlights Tour itinerary. We will leave from and return to Siracusa.

 Cost: € 270 / person, 2-person minimum (price includes one preliminary night extra in the Siracusa hotel, one of us as host/guide, and cost of car and petrol)

 Just let us know if you are interested when first you sign on with us.

.Cost: 270 Euro per person, 2 person-minimum. (Includes one night in a Siracusa hotel, your guide, and the cost of car and petrol).

 

HIGHLIGHTS of Sicily

cost details:

Cost: € 2790 (euros) per person. 

Cost Includes:

Ornella with one of her DOP cheeses, on our farm visit

Ornella with one of her DOP cheeses, on our farm visit

  • Accommodation on couple sharing basis. All accommodation will be three-star or higher standard, specifically selected by us for quality, ambiance, and the friendliness of staff. All hotels have websites for your inspection.

  • Ten breakfasts and and eight other meals as indicated in the itinerary.

  • A cooking class and two wine tastings at wineries.

  • Entrance fees for all activities mentioned in the itinerary, and only these.

  • Native English-speaking Sicily Tour host/guide to accompany you during all activities mentioning in the itinerary and responsible for you and available 24/7 during the tour. (All presentations will be in English or an interpreter will be present.)

  • Air conditioned chauffeur-driven bus or mini-van throughout the tour.

  • Ground transport to and from Catania airport and the beginning and end of tour, within announced arrival and departure windows. See our policies and conditions for details.

  • All applicable government taxes, services charges, and paperwork.

Cost does NOT include:

  • Airfare to and from Catania Fontanarossa Airport

  • Passport applications and fees. Passports are required for entrance into Italy and citizens of some countries may need a visa.

  • Travel or health insurance. We recommend both.

  • Single supplement charge equaling 30% of the full tour cost. Hotels charge us 80-90% of the price of a double room for a single room, so if you're traveling alone this supplementary fee will apply. Best to bring someone you're comfortable sharing a room with or ask us if there are other singles on the tour looking to avoid the single supplement.

  • Any activities described as "optional"

  • Any meals or beverages not specified as "included"

  • Any personal expenses, shopping, etc.