Enjoy la dolce vita in one of the finest resorts in southern Europe, situated on the coast of Sicily, the biggest island in the Mediterranean! Perched spectacularly on a steep hill, Taormina features ancient Greco-Roman, Byzantine and medieval monuments, lush vegetation, and a fabulous view of the coast and of Sicily’s huge volcano, Mount Etna. You will stay in a first-class hotel and enjoy excursions to wonderful towns and monuments, including the Greek temples of Agrigento, the historical cities of Catania and Syracuse, the slopes of Mt Etna, and the Canadian War Cemetery at Agira. The tour host is 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 Sicily 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 Munich with Air Canada. Dinner and a light breakfast will be served on board.
Morning arrival in Munich, and connecting flight to Catania, Sicily. Transfer by private coach to Taormina, where we check into the fine 4-star/first-class Hotel Excelsior Palace, our home for the next nine nights. The hotel is located in a Mediterranean park with superb views of the sea and Mount Etna, and very close to the Porta Catania, entrance to the old town (https://www.excelsiorpalacetaormina.it). We will be staying in superior rooms with a lateral view of the sea. Please note that single participants will be accommodated in “doubles for single use,” i.e. rooms featuring the same size and sea view as the double and twin rooms. Time to settle in and relax before dinner in our hotel.
After breakfast, we visit Taormina’s major historical monument, the superb hilltop Greco-Roman theatre, with spectacular views of Mt Etna and the coast. The we explore the picturesque old town itself, featuring remains of Roman and Byzantine monuments, such as the Naumachia, a Roman cistern, the medieval Duomo (Cathedral), churches, castles, palaces; and let’s not forget the fine shops and lively cafés along Corso Umberto, the vibrant pedestrian main street, a former Roman road, which bisects the centre of the town between the two ancient city gates, Porta Messina and Porta Catania, via the charming PiazzaPiazza IX Aprile, the town’s main square, dominated by the Clock Tower or Porta di Mezzo. The afternoon is free to explore beautiful Taormina on your own. Dinner again in the hotel.
This morning we tour the slopes of Mount Etna, the massive 3,330-meter high volcano – Europe’s highest! – That dominates the entire island of Sicily; the mountain is now 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 also 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!
Morning excursion along the scenic ‘Coast of the Cyclops,’ associated with the mythological adventures of Ulysses, to the seaport of Catania, the island’s biggest city (after the capital, Palermo); as the birthplace of composer Vincenzo Bellini, it is also considered to be Sicily’s cultural hub. Visits to Cathedral Square with the baroque Fountain of the Elephant, emblem of the city, and the amazing fish market. Also some time to shop along the elegant main street, Via Etnea. If time permits, we may briefly visit the village of Savoca, where some memorable scenes of The Godfather were filmed. Return to Taormina in the afternoon.
After breakfast, we take a city bus for a short ride to Castel Mola, a picturesque village perched on top of a steep hill even higher than the promontory of Taormina! We explore its narrow alleys and quaint piazzas, and from the ancient town walls we will enjoy fabulous views of Taormina, the coast, and of course Mt Etna! A local specialty is almond wine, to be tasted in one of the local bars. Castel Mola also features many trattorias and ristorantes where you may want to linger for lunch. Afterwards, you can take the bus back down to Taormina, or perhaps walk the scenic distance of just about 3 km.
Full-day excursion to Agrigento, a town on the south coast of Sicily, featuring a spectacular collection of very well-preserved Greek temples. This amazing site alone justifies coming to Sicily! Time permitting, we may also visit the excellent local archaeological museum. En route back to Taormina, visit to the Canadian War Cemetery at Agira, an opportunity for your tour guide to tell you about the Canadian army’s role in the liberation of the island in 1943.
Full-day excursion to the magnificent historical seaport of Syracuse, founded by the ancient Greeks, who turned it into their metropolis on Sicily, rivalling even Athens. Thorough visit to this UNESCO World Heritage Site (http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1200), starting with the wonderful Archaeological Zone, featuring a Greek theatre, a Roman amphitheatre, and the “Ear of Dionysios,” a cave set in a lush garden known as the Latomia of Paradise. Then we explore Ortygia, the original Greek settlement, with as highlights the ruins of the Temple of Apollo, the romantic Fountain of Arethusa, featuring papyrus reeds, and the Cathedral, a fascinating former temple dedicated to the goddess Athena. Return to Taormina in late afternoon.
After breakfast, we visit the Villa Communale a wonderful park bursting with lush vegetation, including palm trees, cacti and many flowers, and sprinkled with Victorian follies; its focal point is a villa originally owned by Lady Florence Trevelyan, a British noblewoman who was forced by Queen Victoria to leave Britain after an affair with the heir to the throne, Edward VII, settled in Taormina in 1884, married the mayor, and lived happily ever after – or did she? To learn more about her, you may want to walk down to Taormina’s scenic coastal and beach district for a visit to, or at least a view of, Isola Bella, a wonderful little offshore island, also owned for some time by Lady Trevelyan, who had a villa constructed there; the island is now a museum and should be open to visitors in spite of the late season. It is recommended to return to Taormina and the hotel via cable car.
Your last full day in Taormina is entirely at leisure. If there is sufficient interest, an optional excursion may be offered to Reggio de Calabria, a town just across the Strait of Messina, for a visit to the Archaeological Museum, home of the world-famous Riace Bronzes, possibly the finest surviving ancient Greek bronze statues (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Riace_bronzes). This evening, final group dinner in the restaurant of our hotel.
After breakfast, transfer to Catania Airport in time for the departure, around noon, of our return flight to Toronto, via Frankfurt.
- Return flight on Air Canada including all airport taxes, security fees and fuel surcharges; - Accommodation in a four-star/first-class hotel, based on double occupancy; - Breakfast daily, three dinners in the hotel, and one full winery lunch; - Airport transfers, sightseeing, and visits as outlined in the itinerary; - Services of our tour escort.
- Beverages with meals; meals other than those shown above; items of a personal nature; and travel insurance, rates available upon request.
March 02 - 19, 2021
$4,995 from Toronto based on double occupancy
March 05 - 18, 2021
Land only: $3,010
April 13 - 26, 2021
$4,895 from Toronto, including air, based on double occupancy