Western Sicily, Palermo and the Aeolian Islands
Selected departures up to October 2014
Like so many other potential visitors, you could be forgiven for ignoring Sicily, yet here lies some of Italy’s and indeed Europe’s most fascinating historic towns, most beautiful and unspoilt scenery and most delightful people, plus some of its finest food and wine. Ruled by every Mediterranean power since records began, the Phoenicians were probably the first visitors. Next came the Carthaginians, followed by the Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, the Moors, Normans, the Spanish, Bourbons and eventually the Italians. Lack of large scale modern development and a mild climate has maintained what can only be described as one of Europe’s most staggering cultural legacies but which remarkably is still largely off the tourist map. This astonishing blend, probably unmatched anywhere is truly fascinating, with every day of the tour revealing more wonders. In architectural style, the towns and villages are revelations. From the almost souk-like markets to church spires displaying distinct signs of classic Moorish arches and calligraphy, the variety of influences are written in the very fabric of the buildings, some featuring Norman gold leaf mosaics yet carrying unmistakeably Byzantine inscriptions. Amazingly preserved classical Greco-Roman architectural styles and flamboyant baroque churches are all to be discovered in this plethora of historic monuments. Equally sumptuous mixes of culinary traditions abound, from classic Mediterranean staples like grilled fish, to cous-cous betraying Sicily’s proximity to Europe’s southernmost edge.
At Sicily’s heart, the island’s capital, Palermo is a true maze of tiny streets and alleys and a melting pot of race and culture from across the Mediterranean and beyond, whilst its teeming markets overflow with colourful fresh produce, reflecting the omnipresent Mediterranean lifestyle. Elsewhere, the towns are relatively small and easily explored whilst countless villages, often impossibly perched atop strategically significant hilltops, lie peaceful and unspoilt yet brimming with medieval character and history. Staying first in the westernmost port of Trapani, you could be forgiven for thinking you are not in Europe at all. Probably founded by refugees from Troy, it came to prominence during Carthaginian times, and now thrives as a beautiful fishing port with everyday life lived on the streets. Everyone walks everywhere, stopping to greet each other, with whole family groups walking arm-in-arm late into the warm evening. Explore Erice - a former capital wonderfully perched on a huge hill - founded as a temple to Venus but subsequently conquered by all the great civilizations, the invaders respecting the sanctity of this exceptional location. You will also see Segesta, a hugely important archaeological site renowned for its Greek Temple. With just its roof missing, this is one of the world’s finest preserved buildings from antiquity. Then there are the wonders of Marsala: some of the world’s most outstanding dessert wines emanate from here - you’ll learn about this fabulous creation and of course taste its legendary result. Marvel at the Monreale’s extraordinary cathedral, home of the world’s finest medieval mosaics, incredibly detailed they explode in a riot of gold, reds and yellows so vividly you could believe they were finished only yesterday not 800 years ago. The second half of your stay is based in the beautifully situated and stunningly picturesque small town of Cefalù tucked in on the northern coast, itself worthy of a full day’s exploration and ideally located for exploring the delights of the still volcanic Aeolian islands, the wild and stunningly beautiful hills of the Madione Natural Park and the secret gem that is Castelbuono, a stunningly attractive medieval village and home to some of Sicily’s finest foods and wines.
- Seven nights four-star accommodation with breakfast and dinner
- Stay three nights in undiscovered Trapani, once Phoenician, now a beautifully atmospheric ancient walled port
- New Inclusion Day 2: Visit the amazing Grotta Mangiapane cave dwelling in Trapani
- Visit Marsala renowned for its outstanding dessert wine, touring a winery with tastings
- Guided tour of the medieval hill-top village Erice, once a capital, now frozen in time with its incredible churches and monasteries
- Visit to Segesta, one of the ancient world’s most perfectly preserved Greek temples and theatre
- Tour of Palermo, gorgeously medieval and baroque, plus its stunning Norman Palace
- Visit to Monreale’s cathedral displaying the world’s finest medieval mosaics
- Stay four nights in charming Cefalù, once Arabic, now one of Sicily’s most attractive coastal villages
- Scenic drive through the mountainous and completely unspoilt Madonie National Park, studded with remote hill-top villages
- Visit stunning Lipari the most attractive of the beautiful Aeolian islands
- Escorted by our experienced tour manager
- Return flights to Palermo
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