Palermo and the Best of Sicily

13 days, Tuesday, November 24, to Sunday, December 6, 2020

A leisurely and ‘upscale’ exploration of the biggest and most beautiful island in the Mediterranean, a part of Italy, of course, but in many ways a different planet! Based in a deluxe hotel in the wonderful capital, Palermo, we will enjoy many local treasures, including superb Byzantine churches and mosaics, and also explore the major attractions of the island’s western part, including the Greek temples of Segesta, Selinunte, and Agrigento; the seaports of Trapani and Marsala, and picturesque towns such as Erice and Cefalu. Afterwards we head east via the Canadian War Cemetery at Agira to explore the island’s second city, Catania, and nearby Mount Etna, Europe’s biggest volcano! The tour will feature fine food and wine and be hosted by historian Jacques R. Pauwels, PhD, author of ‘Beneath the Dust of Time: A History of the Names of Peoples and Places’ (London, 2009), who will lecture about the history of the island from the time of the prehistoric Siculi people, who gave their name to the island, to Sicily’s liberation at the end of WW II by Allied, including Canadian, forces.

BOOKING INFORMATION

November 24 - December 06, 2020

$3,950 from Toronto based on double occupancy

Land only: $3.010. Single supplement: $550.

BOOK TOUR

DOWNLOAD PDF OF ITINERARY

*If the tour is SOLD OUT, please contact us to be added to the waitlist.


ITINERARY

Day 1 - Tuesday, November 24: Departure from Toronto

Evening departure from Toronto to Frankfurt with Lufthansa. Dinner and a light breakfast will be served on board.

Day 2 - Wednesday, November 25: Arrival in Palermo

Morning arrival in Frankfurt, and connecting flight to Catania, Sicily. Arrival and transfer by private coach to Palermo, with en route visit to Agira Canadian War Cemetery, an opportunity for your tour guide to tell you about the Canadian army’s role in the liberation of the island in 1943.
Arrival in Palermo and check into the centrally-located five-star/deluxe Grand Hotel Wagner (https://www.grandhotelwagner.it/en). Free time to settle in. Welcome dinner in the hotel or in a nearby restaurant.

Day 3 - Thursday, November 26: Palermo

Full-day sightseeing tour of Palermo, with highlights such as the Palace of the Norman kings of Medieval Sicily and the adjoining Palatine Chapel, whose interior is entirely covered in mosaics; the superb Cathedral and its tombs of Sicilian Kings, including Norman king Roger II and Frederick II, who was also German emperor; the wonderful Byzantine and/or Norman churches of San Cattaldo and La Martorana; the impressive Baroque sculptures of the Quattro Canti; Piazza Pretoria, etc. 

Day 4 - Friday, November 27: Monreale and Mondello

Morning sidetrip to Monreale, a picturesque hilltop town overlooking the fertile valley known as Conca d’Oro or “golden shell,” as well as Palermo and the Mediterranean Sea. Visits to the fabulous Cathedral with its outstanding mosaics, a splendid example of “Sicilian-Norman” art, and the adjoining cloisters, inspired by Islamic architecture and featuring wonderful Romanesque pillars and capitals. On to the seaside resort of Mondello, situated on a beautiful inlet of the Tyrrhenian Sea, where we break for lunch. In the afternoon, return to Palermo via the Monte Pellegrino mountain road, offering spectacular views of the coast, with a stop briefly to inspect the immensely popular shrine of St. Rosalia, patron saint of the city. Today, lunch or dinner in a typical ristorante.

Day 5 - Saturday, November 28: Palermo

This morning we check out Palermo’s famous Vucciria market (https://wearepalermo.com/news/palermos-famous-marketplace-vucciria-day-night), then explore the surrounding old harbour district, the city’s historical cradle, dating back to the time of the Phoenicians, with sights such as Piazza Marina, Garibaldi Gardens, the monumental city gate knows as Porta Felice, and churches such as Santa Maria della Catena and San Domenico. The rest of the day is free to shop and/or explore the city on your own. Free evening, and perhaps it will be possible to enjoy a classical music concert, ballet or opera in the magnificent Teatro Massimo, the equally imposing Teatro Politeama, or another venue.

Day 6 - Sunday, November 29: Palermo

After a leisurely late breakfast, visit to the National Archaeological Museum, famous for its rare Phoenician and outstanding Greco-Roman antiquities (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Regional_Archeological_Museum_Antonio_Salinas). The rest of the day is free. You may want to visit another local museum or art gallery, perhaps the Regional Art Gallery of Sicily, housed within the Palazzo Abatellis, a 15th-century Gothic palace (http://www.bestofsicily.com/mag/art172.htm) or enjoy a stroll through the Botanical Gardens. Another option - but not for the faint-hearted! - is to accompany your guide to the Capuchin Catacombs, where approximately 8,000 mummified corpses are on display, described as “the place where the living meet the dead”! (http://www.palermocatacombs.com)

Day 7 - Monday, November 30: Cefalu

Excursion along Sicily’s northern coast to the very picturesque town of Cefalu, tucked between a huge rock and the blue Mediterranean, nicknamed the “Sicilian Gibraltar.” The highlight of our visit will be the fabulous cathedral and its mosaics, featuring a superb ‘Christ Pantocrator’. On the way back to Palermo, we will stop to inspect the ruins of the Greek temple of Himera, site of a famous victory of the Greeks against the Carthaginians in 480 BC. This evening, dinner in a popular trattoria near our hotel. 

Day 8 - Tuesday, December 01: Trapani and Erice

Today we explore the extreme western region of Sicily, a fascinating landscape of windmills, salt pans, vineyards, and fascinating old towns, some founded by the Phoenicians about 3,000 years ago! We begin with a tour of the old town, harbour, and picturesque fish market of Trapani. Travel along a coastline sprinkled with salt flats and windmills to the seaport of Marsala. Here we visit historical Cape Lilibeo as well as an excellent museum, featuring the “Marsala Ship|” the earliest warship known from archeological evidence, a Carthaginian warship discovered in 1971 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marsala_Ship). Marsala produces a sweet wine, made famous by English merchants in the 19th century, so we dutifully drop into a local cantina to taste this delicious product! In the afternoon, visit to Erice, a small medieval town situated atop a cliff rising abruptly 750 meters above sea level. We enjoy breathtaking views, possibly as far as the coast of |North Africa, from the ruins of the castle, built on the foundations of a temple dedicated to Astarte, the Phoenician Aphrodite, allegedly associated with ‘sacred prostitution’. Erice is the perfect place to enjoy a mid-afternoon gelato or cappucino break and to try some pastries in the famous shop of Maria Grammatico. Return to our hotel in the early evening.

Day 9 - Wednesday, December 02: Segesta

After breakfast, we board our coach and motor to Segesta, where a superb lone Greek temple dominates a grandiose landscape of rugged mountains, a peaceful valley, and the Mediterranean in the distance. On to the southern coast of the island for visits to the fascinating ancient quarries at Cusa and the impressive ruins of the temples on the site of the Greek city of Selinunte. Opportunity to enjoy a seafood lunch in a restaurant on the beach. Return to Palermo in late afternoon.

Day 10 - Thursday, December 03: Day at leisure with option to Isole Egadi

Our last full day in Palermo is entirely at leisure. An optional full-day excursion will be available to the Aegadian Islands (Italian: Isole Egadi), a mini-archipelago of three islands rising from crystal-clear blue waters off the western tip of Sicily. The Romans defeated the Carthaginians in a naval battle fought here in 241BC, as a result of which Sicily became a Roman possession (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aegadian_Islands). Our visit will focus on the island of Favignana, epicenter of the historic tuna fisheries, known as the mattanza or “slaughter.” 

Day 11 - Friday, December 04: Agrigento and Catania

Friday, December 4: Departure from Palermo after breakfast. We motor to Agrigento, a town on the south coast of Sicily, for a guided tour of the spectacular collection of very well-preserved Greek temples and the excellent local archaeological museum.
In the afternoon we continue to Villa del Casale to admire the superb mosaics in a 4th-century AD Roman villa, another UNESCO World Heritage Site. On to Sicily’s second city, Catania, a bustling seaport situated on Sicily’s eastern coast at the foot of 3,330-meter high Mount Etna, the island’s huge volcano. Accommodation in the first-class Hotel Parco degli Aragonesi, situated in a garden near the shores of the Ionian Sea. Dinner in the hotel’s restaurant (http://nh-catania-parco-degli-aragonesi.catania.hotels-sicily.net/en).


Day 12 - Saturday, December 05: Catania

After breakfast we visit Catania’s famous fish market, the Cathedral with the tomb of a famous naïve son, the composer Bellini, and the famous main street, the Via Etnea, as well as the ruins of Roman monuments that survived the major historical eruptions of Mount Etna. Then we tour the slopes of Mount Etna, Europe’s highest volcano, classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site (https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1427). This excursion features desolate lunar landscapes of molten lava sprinkled with ruins of homes abandoned during recent eruptions, but also prosperous villages whose inhabitants rely on the rich volcanic soil to produce wonderful products such as wine, honey, cheese, and fruit. We will pause at the Sapienza Research Station, situated at an altitude of almost 2,000 meters, to inspect the Monti Silvestri, cones formed by eruptions during the 1980s. Group lunch of delicious Sicilian specialties in a winery on the slopes of Mt Etna, with great views (weather permitting) of the coast and the Ionian Sea below! Time permitting, there will be an opportunity for some shopping in Catania before we return to the hotel for a free evening.

Day 13 - Sunday, December 06: Retur flight to Toronto

After a leisurely breakfast, short transfer to nearby Catania Airport in time for the departure, around noon, of our return Lufthansa flight to Toronto, via Frankfurt. 

ITINERARY PDF

EXPLORE THE AREA

INCLUDED

- Return flight on Lufthansa and/or partner airlines, including all airport taxes, security fees and fuel surcharges; - Accommodation for 9 nights in a deluxe hotel in Palermo and 2 nights in a first-class hotel in Catania, based on double occupancy - the single occupancy supplement is $550; - Breakfast daily, four dinners, some with wine/water, and one full winery lunch, also including wine; - Airport transfers, sightseeing, and visits as outlined in the itinerary; - Services of our tour escort and gratuities for drivers and local guides.

NOT INCLUDED

- Beverages with meals; meals other than those shown above; - Items of a personal nature; - Travel insurance: rates are available upon request.

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