Sicily

Sicily

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Sicily - that beautiful island off the southern-most tip of Italy is one of the few places in Europe that genuinely can be called unspoilt! Its scenery has a natural and varied beauty that is truly breathtaking. Rugged, sometimes snow-capped mountains reaching for the sky are interspaced with rich meadows, adorned with wild flowers: during spring and autumn, spectacularly green and lush, yet during the sun-scorched summer, transformed into pastel shades of greens, yellows and browns. Citrus and olive groves stretch into the distance and abundant pine forests lend the air that unmistakeable Mediterranean aroma. Punctuated by the occasional farmhouse and Tuscan-like hilltop village the countryside is remarkably empty. The island has a spectacularly indented coastline, with sweeping bays and blood-red volcanic rocks plunging into the deep blue sea, and snow-capped Mount Etna providing a magnificent backdrop. At the crossroads of almost every Mediterranean civilisation, home to the richest cities in the Greek Empire, Sicily was conquered by Rome, the Moors, Normans, Spanish, French and finally the Italians. Their magnificent relics include temples, amphitheatres, churches, monasteries, villas and atmospheric old towns, with many being the most outstanding of their type in the world. With an enviable climate, a fabulous cuisine plus some of the most accommodating and friendly people you will find anywhere, Sicily is an excellent destination to discover and you will be made welcome on this beautiful island.

Highlights

  • Return flights
  • Seven nights in four-star hotels with breakfast and dinner
  • Guided tour of Agrigento's Valley of the Temples
  • Guided tour of Monreale's medieval cathedral and cloisters
  • Visit to Palermo, Sicily’s capital with its medieval and baroque centre
  • Visit to Taormina – one of Italy’s most beautiful and stylish hilltop villages
  • Visit to Siracusa - city of Archimedes
  • Visit to Mount Etna - Europe's largest active volcano
  • Escorted by our experienced tour manager

Inclusions

  • The price of this holiday is per person, based on two people sharing a twin room. Single and Sea Viewrooms are subject to availability atthe relevant supplement. The price includes return flights as indicated, seven nights dinner, bed and breakfast, all coach tours as mentioned, air conditioned coach travel in Italy, guided tours of Valley of the Temples, Villa at Piazza Armerina and Monreale; visits to Palermo, Siracusa and Etna, services of a Riviera tour manager. Where hotels feature a swimming pool, pools are open in the summer months weather permitting.
  • Not included: Mount Etna exploration: cable car only €30, or cable car, jeep and compulsory guide €60, Ortygia boat trip €10, approximate costs, payable locally.
  • Ocassionally the opening times of the places of interest vary, and if this happens we may have to change the order of events.

Itinerary

Day 1

You should arrive at the airport to take your flight to Catania. On arrival a coach will take us to our hotel. The Hotel Kaos, located approximately three miles from Agrigento, where we stay on a dinner, bed and breakfast basis for three nights is situated in a quiet location with extensive views over the surrounding countryside and sea. The public rooms are beautifully decorated in a typically Sicilian style. There is a pretty courtyard where you can enjoy a refreshing drink in this hotel’s calm and tranquil ambience. The hotel is set in its own extensive landscaped gardens, has its own tennis courts and a large swimming pool. Dinner may be served al fresco in the gardens if the weather allows. Some departures will stay at the Hotel Della Valle in Agrigento, situated close to the historic centre with panoramic views over the Valley of the Temples. Set in its own gardens of palm and olive trees, this stylish hotel boasts a wellness centre, outdoor swimming pool and bar, restaurant serving international and Sicilian cuisine, lobby bar and terrace, perfect for unwinding with a drink after a day’s sightseeing. All air-conditioned rooms are comfortably furnished and have a mini-bar, safe and hairdryer. The Dioscuri Bay Palace is situated overlooking the picturesque harbour in San Leone, just eight kilometers from Agrigento, right on the coast. Set on the seafront the hotel boast a beautiful pool and expansive terrace looking out over the sparkling sea, American bar and lounge and restaurant serving traditional local food. All rooms boast either a balcony or terrace, are air-conditioned and have safe, minibar and satellite TV.

Day 2

This morning we visit what can truly be described as one of the wonders of the ancient world: the amazing Greek remains in the Valley of the Temples. There are nine of them in total, situated largely on a ridge looking out to sea. Visible for miles and standing proud as they do, they must have made a statement of sheer absolute power and confidence to any passing mariner or shepherd, leaving none in doubt as to who were the masters. The best of them, Concordia, similar in design to the Parthenon in Athens, is almost perfectly preserved, with just the roof missing. With its wonderful tapering columns and beautiful light golden colour it is absolutely captivating. One can only wonder as to what was going through the builders’ minds thousands of years ago, toiling under a hot sun whilst creating a masterpiece. We enjoy a guided tour of the site and a visit to the excellent museum, displaying finds from both the temples and surrounding area, including a unique collection of vases. We also visit Agrigento itself, awash with medieval atmosphere, swimming in tiny stepped streets and quiet shady piazzas overlooking the blue Mediterranean in the distance. We return to our hotel during the afternoon to relax.

Day 3

Today we visit the north coast of the island and during our journey we will experience some wonderful scenery. A rugged wild landscape, scorched by the sun and remarkably empty of both man and beast. Firstly we visit the magnificent Benedictine Abbey at Monreale, founded in the 12th century. Still used today, it boasts outstanding medieval mosaics covering almost the entire interior, depicting stories from the Old Testament. If you can manage the steps to the roof you will have a superb panoramic view of Palermo below, the surrounding countryside and onwards to the sea. The cloisters are another highlight, surrounded by columns, no two of which are alike, almost Moorish in appearance. During the afternoon we visit Sicily’s capital, Palermo, which under Saracen and Norman rule became one of the most important cities in Europe, famous for the wealth of its court and as a great centre of learning. Today it has more of a 17th century appearance and during our visit we see the Norman Palace, a gorgeous former Royal residence, now the seat of the regional government and the Cathedral dating from the 10th century. We return to our hotel for dinner.

Day 4

We leave Agrigento and take the drive to the small town of Piazza Armerina, where one of the most amazing archaeological discoveries of the last century was made: a 4th century Roman villa, possibly owned by one of the joint Emperors, which explains its size and richness of decoration. Buried for centuries, you can still see the remains of pastel-coloured frescoes on the walls, but the mosaics, showing animals and hunting scenes, are simply the finest we have from Roman antiquity. This palatial building, complete with its baths, illustrates with great clarity the evident high standard of living of the Roman elite. We have a guided tour of the villa before continuing our drive to Taormina. Taormina is one of the most beautiful towns on the island towering 250 metres above the sweeping coastline below, where we have a choice of three hotels in three different locations, staying for four nights with dinner, bed and breakfast. Neighbouring Taormina is Giardini Naxos, a charming typically Sicilian town with a seashore lined by quaint seafood restaurants and fishing boats drawn up onto the beach and the beautiful family run four-star Hotel Sant’Alphio Garden, situated just a few minutes’ walk from the sea itself. This hotel sits in a very picturesque spot with views of nearby Taormina and Mount Etna. It has a host of fantastic facilities including a restaurant serving local and international cuisine, bar, outdoor pool surrounded by shady palm trees and beautiful bougainvillaea with poolside bar where you can relax and soak up the sun after a hard day’s sightseeing. The hotel also boasts a private beach just a short walk away and spa with indoor pool, Jacuzzi, sauna and gym (available at extra cost). Rooms are modern, air-conditioned and equipped with private facilities, mini-bar, safe and all have a terrace or balcony affording views over the surrounding area. All in all this is an extremely comfortable and stylish hotel. In Taormina itself, you can choose the four-star Hotel Excelsior Palace, a classic building, over a hundred years old, which during its long history has welcomed guests as diverse as the King of Italy to Antonio Banderas! It is superbly situated on a promontory with panoramic views of the sea to one side and Mount Etna on the other, set in its own lush, extensive landscape gardens and yet centrally located in the old town. The restaurant focuses on local cuisine and the sophisticated bar/terrace enjoys amazing views of Etna. The large swimming pool, set in the terraced gardens on the end of the promontory, enjoys the same breathtaking views as the hotel itself and has its own bar. All rooms are air-conditioned, elegantly styled, in keeping with the rest of the hotel and very tastefully decorated. Finally, just eight kilometres north of Taormina, built in Sicilian style and set into the coastal cliff itself, overlooking the stunning Bay of Taormina, is the luxurious, four-star Hotel Baia Taormina. It is a member of ‘Charming Hotels – Independent Luxury Hotels of the World’ one of the world’s most stylish hotel chains and has also received the following comment from one of the world’s most prestigious hotel guides, Johansens: ‘Four stars does not do it justice; every member of staff, every detail shines with courtesy and excellence. It is an honour to have you in our guide book.’ This superb hotel with its stone-faced walls, terracotta tiles and wide arches has a wonderful welcoming atmosphere. There are two swimming pools, an excellent restaurant specialising in local cuisine with a stylish and romantic ambience (there may also be the opportunity to take dinner on the terrace during your stay); a relaxing bar and lounge and a coffee shop, all set into the hillside making excellent use of the topography. The rooms themselves are extremely well-appointed, tastefully decorated and all face the sea. Should you wish to visit Taormina, there is a free shuttle bus and to avoid the walk, you can take this to the beach too, which takes approximately two minutes. In short, your comfort is assured whichever hotel you choose. Outdoor pools are open summer months, weather permitting.

Day 5

This morning we are free in Taormina, one of the smartest and most exclusive small towns in Italy – it has everything! Retaining much of its medieval charm, wonderfully situated on a high balcony, facing Etna and overlooking the sea, it is renowned for its beautiful gardens and charming atmosphere. Today, its main street is lined by smart, designer boutiques and exclusive jewellers, with the tiny side streets, some of which are so narrow you can touch both sides at once, leading to intimate piazzas, lined with atmospheric family-run restaurants. As you would expect in a country so famous for its cuisine, speciality food shops are everywhere, selling fresh pasta, olives, Sicilian wine and the local Marsala. Street stalls groan under the weight of ripe Mediterranean vegetables, tomatoes, courgettes, peppers and aubergines, with flowers and window boxes everywhere, adding a splash of colour, with the stylish locals stopping to exchange a few words in the streets completing the picture. Taormina’s greatest claim to fame is its amazing theatre, a legacy of the ancient Greeks and still in use today. Wonderfully preserved with its panoramic view of Etna in the background; to attend one of the occasional classical music concerts in this most special of venues must rank as one of life’s more pleasurable moments. This afternoon you are free to explore as you wish.

Day 6

Today we take the drive to Siracusa, once one of the richest and most beautiful cities in the ancient world, even rivalling Athens. Its most famous resident was Archimedes, that genius of a man who, whilst in the bath discovered the principle of displacement, ran through the streets naked, exclaiming “Eureka” (I’ve found it!) in a story that has entered folklore. Today the city is one of Sicily’s most attractive, a wonderful collection of limestone buildings, dating mainly from the 17th and 18th centuries. There is an extraordinary Baroque Cathedral incorporating an ancient temple, with a lovely interior, and just opposite is the Bosco Palace. The old port area is extremely attractive; full of small fishing boats unloading their catch. You will be free to explore the old town at the eastern end of the city, called Ortygia; actually an island, connected to the mainland by three bridges. We will have time during the day to take in a panoramic view of the archaeological park and you will have the option to take a boat trip around the bay before returning to our hotel.

Day 7

Dominating eastern Sicily is Europe’s highest volcano, Etna, and this morning we take the drive to as near to the snow-capped summit as possible. Ascending the winding road, the landscape becomes increasingly eerie and alien, with razor sharp black rocks in contorted formations, and some areas devoid of almost all vegetation. As we near the cable car station itself you can enjoy extensive views over the whole area. Subject to certain regulations you will have the opportunity to take the cable car, jeep and guide to explore even higher levels. We return to our hotel during the afternoon.

Day 8

At the appropriate time a coach will return us to the airport to take our return flight home after a very varied tour.

Accommodation

Hotel Excelsior Palace

In Taormina itself, you can choose the four-star Hotel Excelsior Palace (www.excelsiorpalacetaormina.it), a classic building, over a hundred years old, which during its long history has welcomed...

Kaos Hotel

Kaos Hotel - (www.hotelkaos.com) four-star rated, located approximately three miles from Agrigento, where we stay on a dinner, bed and breakfast basis for three nights is situated in a quiet location...

Hotel Della Valle

Hotel Della Valle - (www.hoteldellavalle.ag.it) four-star rated situated close to the historic centre with panoramic views over the Valley of the Temples. Set in its own gardens of palm and olive...

Sant’Alphio Garden

Neighbouring Taormina is Giardini Naxos, a charming typically Sicilian town with a seashore lined by quaint seafood restaurants and fishing boats drawn up onto the beach and the beautiful family run...

Hotel Baia Taormina

Finally, just eight kilometres north of Taormina, built in Sicilian style and set into the coastal cliff itself, overlooking the stunning Bay of Taormina, is the luxurious, four-star Hotel Baia...

Dioscuri Bay Palace

The Dioscuri Bay Palace is situated overlooking the picturesque harbour in San Leone, just eight kilometers from Agrigento, right on the coast. Set on the seafront the hotel boast a beautiful pool and...
  Cost per person: €1,229pp
  Number of nights: 7
  Dates available from: Jun 2017

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