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.
Evening departure from Toronto to Frankfurt with Lufthansa. Dinner and a light breakfast will be served on board.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.”
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.
- 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.
- Beverages with meals; meals other than those shown above; - Items of a personal nature; - Travel insurance: rates are available upon request.
September 06 - 21, 2020
$6,595 including all taxes and fees from Toronto based on double occupancy
September 06 - 20, 2020
$7,795.00 from Toronto based on double occupancy.
September 28 - October 02, 2020
$1,495 including HST based on double occupancy. Single supplement: $435 including HST. Given the circumstances, all payments will be fully refundable until the Labour Day weekend or if the trip can't go because of COVID issues.