Day 1

Depart USA


Day 2


We arrive today in Palermo, capital of Italy’s autonomous region of Sicily. This evening we gather at our hotel for a briefing on the journey ahead, followed by a welcome dinner at a local restaurant.


Day 3


On this morning’s walking tour, we discover 2,700-year-old Palermo’s twin claims to fame: impressive architecture and world-class street food. Highlights include Palermo Cathedral and Palatine chapel, both parts of an expansive UNESCO site. Officially named Arab-Norman Palermo and the Cathedral Churches of Cefalú and Monreale, this site dates from the era when the Norman kings ruled Sicily in the 12th century and comprises nine awe-inspiring civil and religious structures. We then discover the Baroque city center with its famous 4 corners, Fontana Pretoria and piazza Bellini. We also pass by Vittorio Emanuele Theater, Europe’s third largest opera house which is famed for its perfect acoustics. During our leisurely stroll we pass through vibrant markets selling arancini, cannoli, and other Sicilian specialties. Following our tour, we enjoy lunch at a local restaurant featuring typical Sicilian food, then return to our hotel in the city center. The remainder of the day is free to further explore Palermo, relax at our hotel, or find a nearby café and take in the sights and sounds of the town. Also, you may wish to attend a performance at the Teatro Massimo, located a short walk from our hotel.  Visit for more details. With dinner on our own tonight, perhaps a culinary adventure is in order – and thanks to Sicily’s strategic Mediterranean location that lured many invaders, Sicilian food incorporates Italian, Arabic, and African influences into a singular, and delicious, cuisine.


Day 4


A full day of touring takes us to Sicily’s northwest corner, where we first visit the medieval walled town of Erice. Perched atop a mountain nearly 2,500 feet above sea level, Erice offers panoramic views of the valley below, the port town of Trapani, and the Tyrrhenian Sea beyond. The village’s jaw-dropping vistas and closely clustered stone streets make it the perfect place to start our day of exploration. We continue to Trapani, a port city of 70,000 spread along the island’s northwestern coast, where we visit the region’s famed salt pans, which have been in use since the time of the Phoenicians some 2,700 years ago. These broad, segmented troughs are filled with seawater during the spring, then left to endure the hot and windy summer months. Come autumn, the water has evaporated, and gleaming salt deposits remain. Though the area is a designated Nature Reserve, Sicilians still harvest salt here using these centuries-old methods; indeed, the oldest of the area’s 60 working windmills dates to the island’s 11th-century Arabic regime. After seeing the salt pans themselves, we tour the museum here, which is housed in an old mill and contains authentic salt-making tools. We enjoy lunch at a local restaurant before returning to Palermo, where we are at leisure for the remainder of the day and have dinner on our own tonight.


Day 5


En route to Agrigento today, we stop in nearby Monreale. Sitting on the slopes of Monte Caputo, Monreale looks over La Conca d’Oro, or “the Golden Shell,” a richly fertile valley studded with groves of orange, olive, and almond trees. And just as yesterday’s visit to Erice offered views over Trapani, Monreale also affords wonderful long-range vistas of coastal Palermo. Here we visit the city’s celebrated cathedral, another piece of the Arab-Norman Palermo UNESCO site and one of the finest examples of Norman architecture still in existence. The imposing main façade and ornate outer cloister serve to prepare us for the cathedral’s breathtaking main sanctuary, where every inch of wall and ceiling space is covered with painstakingly detailed mosaics. Crafted by artisans from Constantinople (now Istanbul), the dazzling mosaics contain some 4,850 pounds of pure gold. We have time to explore the cathedral and properly appreciate this glittering spectacle, then our journey continues as we visit a nearby family-owned winery, where we enjoy a wine tasting and lunch. We drive south through Sicily’s verdant interior to our hotel near Agrigento, another postcard-worthy city set on a hill beside the Mediterranean. We dine together tonight at our hotel.


Day 6


This morning we visit the “Valley of the Temples” at Agrigento, an important and impressive archaeological zone (and UNESCO site) whose ruined Doric temples and sanctuaries date to Greek rule in the 5th century BCE. A leading urban spot during the Golden Age of ancient Greece, Agrigento was called “the most beautiful city of mortals” during its heyday – and though much of it now is in ruins, we can still see why. The valley’s eastern zone contains the ruins of several sanctuaries, including the Temple of Ercole, among the oldest of the temples (nearby we see the deep ruts from ancient carriages), and also the beautifully preserved Temple of Concordia, built in 430 BCE and converted to a Christian church two centuries later – thus accounting for its surprising state of preservation. In Agrigento’s western zone lie the remains of the massive Temple of Olympian Zeus, the largest known Doric temple to have ever been built. A visit to Agrigento’s archaeological museum with its regional exhibits lends context to our explorations. After our touring here enjoy lunch together.  This evening, we reconvene for a cooking lesson and dinner together.


Day 7

Agrigento/Piazza Armerina/Syracuse

Leaving Agrigento this morning, we travel across Sicily’s southern reaches to Syracuse (Siracusa). Along the way we stop in the small town of Piazza Armerina to visit Villa Romana del Casale, an elaborate 4th century CE villa and UNESCO site boasting one of the richest, and largest, collections of mosaics in the Roman world. Thanks to having been buried by landslides, the villa, its vivid frescoes, and the more than 3,200 square feet of mosaics survived the millennia in remarkably good shape. The scale and detail of these designs is remarkable – nearly every floor and wall surface is decorated with fabulously colored patterns or lifelike scenes of hunts, sporting contests, and scenes of pastoral life. Following our tour here, we enjoy lunch, then continue on to Syracuse. Once the largest city in the ancient world, Syracuse today is an alluring spot known for its superb archaeological sites and the relaxed seaside ambience of its Baroque old town. Dinner tonight is at our hotel.


Day 8


Syracuse sits along Sicily’s southeastern coast, placing it almost directly in the center of the Mediterranean Sea. This ideal location made it a powerful player during the Hellenistic period; Roman orator Cicero described Syracuse as “the greatest Greek city and the most beautiful of them all.” Today we discover what this city is best known for: the Archaeological Park of Neapolis, a UNESCO site that comprises a range of ancient monuments. We begin our explorations at the 5th-century BCE Greek theater, the 16,000-seat amphitheater where the tragedies of Aeschylus were staged – in his presence – and still in use today. The theater’s white limestone seats are hewn from the rocky hillside, lending the site an unmatched air of naturalness. Next: Latomia del Paradiso (Paradise Quarry), the wide, shallow basin from which the white limestone used to build Syracuse was cut. The quarry is now filled with citrus and magnolia trees, and its walls are laced with tunnels and catacombs, including a tall, narrow cavern called the Ear of Dionysius. The canyon’s smooth walls and serpentine shape give it excellent acoustics and, according to legend, the tyrant Dionysius I of Syracuse kept captives in the cave and used its sonic properties to eavesdrop on their plans. We continue on to the Roman amphitheater, the 1st-century BCE arena that once held gladiator spectacles; today it hosts musicals on its ancient stones. We have time for lunch on our own, then we take a walking tour of Ortigia, giving us an in-depth look at this neighborhood consisting of shops, restaurants, and some highly prized residential real estate.  Tonight we dine at our hotel.


Day 9


We are at leisure this morning to relax at our hotel, which boasts sweeping manicured grounds with an array of covered sitting areas and an expansive outdoor swimming pool and lounge area. This afternoon, we take to the water for a boat cruise along Sicily’s Ionian coast, where we soak in the beauty of this region dotted with tiny islands and seaside caves. We also get a waterborne perspective on Ortigia Island, Syracuse’s oldest district set at the mouth of the harbor and connected to the city by two stone bridges. At the very tip of the island sits Castello Maniace, the medieval fortification that has gone through numerous uses over the years, from defensive fortress to prison to residence for the kings and queens of Sicily. After our cruise, we have some time at leisure in Ortigia before we enjoy dinner at a neighborhood restaurant.


Day 10

Syracuse/Mount Etna/Taormina

We depart Syracuse this morning and make our way up the coast to Taormina. Along the way, we stop at a private farm set amidst acres of lemon and kiwi groves where the fertile soil has been enriched by centuries of lava flows. Surrounded by the aromas of fresh fruit, we enjoy a small group highlight – a hearty lunch prepared by the family who lives here. Along with lunch we sample some excellent Sicilian wines made from grapes grown in conditions similar to those at California’s best vineyards: warm temperatures; rich, hilly terrain; and soft sea breezes. After lunch, we visit one of Europe’s largest active volcanoes: Mount Etna. The ancients believed Etna to be the forge of Vulcan, god of fire; today, modern-day Sicilians still have a very personal relationship with the volcano, which frequently erupts but is seldom destructive – more than six centuries have passed since the lava actually reached the sea. Still, the sight of the dried lava is enough to give pause – great molten mounds of it lie in massive folds, looking almost alive; depending on its age, the lava is red, gray, or black. After we descend from the volcano, we return to Taormina mid-afternoon, with the remainder of the afternoon and evening at leisure. During dinner on our own tonight, be sure to leave room for gelato, the delicious Italian twist on ice cream, which is said to have derived from locals flavoring snow found on Mount Etna.


Day 11


This morning we embark on a walking tour of this delightful medieval town set on a rocky terrace overlooking the Ionian Sea. A popular resort since the 19th century, Taormina in the early 20th century attracted a Bohemian crowd of intellectuals, artists, and such literary lights as D.H. Lawrence, Evelyn Waugh, and Truman Capote. Our tour includes the 3rd-century BCE Greek theater, where gladiators and animals fought to the death; the 13th-century Duomo, an interesting fortress-like structure; and the grand Piazza Vittorio Emanuele, site of the ancient agora and later the seat of the Roman Forum. The afternoon is free to enjoy as we wish; options include visiting one of the lovely beaches near town or taking a leisurely stroll down the Corso Umberto, Taormina’s main street lined with shops, restaurants, and cafés. Next to Taormina’s centrally located tourist office sits a Roman ruin with a restored 12th-century tower that offers marvelous views of Mount Etna and surroundings. This evening we gather for a farewell dinner to bid arrivederci to Sicily at a local restaurant.


Day 11

Depart for U.S.