Open a door to the ancient world and step out onto a sun drenched island rich in history and natural wonders. Sicily is a cornucopia of cultural riches set amidst beautiful surroundings. Experience this journey with Ramblers Walking Holidays.
The largest island in the Mediterranean, it has been of strategic importance for centuries. Walk in the footsteps of the ancients; Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Normans, Germans, French and Spanish have all left their mark. There are Greek temples, Roman amphitheatres and beautiful Baroque cathedrals to explore. Palermo, the capital, has one of the largest historic centres in Europe with over 500 palaces, beautiful churches, monasteries, theatres and gardens – a treasure chest in itself. As Goethe said, "To have seen Italy without having seen Sicily is to not have seen Italy at all, for Sicily is the clue to everything."
This tour gives you an unforgettable experience of the island’s history and culture. As well as its historical riches, Sicily has a natural beauty and diversity of scenery. We travel by road around the whole island and also enjoy a number of short pleasant walks. Sicily’s picturesque and historic towns and cities are a feast for the senses, and there will be plenty of time to explore.
Your journey begins in a remote corner of the coast of southwest Sicily where we visit the most impressive classical site on the island, Selinunte. It’s a quiet, peaceful place, where spring flowers grow and sheep graze amidst the ruins. We soon gather pace to uncover many of the country’s highlights including the Valley of the Temples in Agrigento and the Greek and Roman sites of Syracuse, which once rivalled Athens in the Greek world and from where Archimedes rose to fame. Our last centre is the exciting capital city of Palermo, where there is so much to see, including a visit to the cathedral in Monreale, one of the greatest examples of Norman architecture in the world.
We fly to the bustling city of Palermo and transfer by road to Selinunte.
We walk about 3km to the Selinunte temples, one of the most important archaeological sites in Europe. On the eastern site you can still ascend the worn steps into the remains of one of the Greek temples. Nearby are the ruins of the fourth largest Greek temple in the world where you can clamber happily amongst the ruins. Crossing the valley which used to be the harbour we explore the western temples, the streets and especially the citadel built to defend against invading Carthaginians. After some hours we leave the site pausing for an ice cream on the sea front, before walking back to the hotel via the Belice nature reserve (approximately 2hrs) along a sandy beach where the Loggerhead turtles return to lay eggs.
On the way to Agrigento we visit Sciacca, a former spa resort for the Greeks of Selinunte and a testament to the eclectic cultures that have influenced the city over time. Here you'll find narrow streets, blind alleys and covered courtyards that date from Arab times, a cathedral with Norman apses and a Baroque façade and city gates that date from the Spanish period. We also stop at Eraclea Minoa, established by Spartan colonists and fought over by the larger Greek cities of Selinunte and Agrigento. It has a small Greek theatre and significant remains of two Greek houses. The small museum is well worth visiting and there are excellent views along the coast on a good day. As we approach Agrigento we catch a tantalising glimpse of the Temples on a ridge towering over the coastal plain below. They were intended to make a statement about the power and authority of Akragas – the Greek city. We arrive at our hotel in time for dinner.
We walk from the hotel to the E gate of the UNESCO World Heritage Valley of the Temples. There we meet our local guide who has so much knowledge to impart about the six temples as we walk through this fascinating site. A highlight is The Temple of Concordia, one of the most complete Greek temples in the world with only the roof missing. We'll have a picnic lunch and make our way down to the Kolymbetra gardens (an ancient orchard and fishing lake of the ancient Greek city). We then make our way by a country lane to the Archaeological Museum. The museum has an outstanding collection of ancient vases and an almost complete Telamon from the Temple of Zeus Olympian which helps us to appreciate its huge scale. We can then walk or take the bus up the hill to our hotel to rest a short while before dinner. Our total walking distance today is around 6km.
We walk up the hill or take the bus to the modern centre of Agrigento. We'll see a statue of the black saint Calogero outside his church and then pass through the Porta Ponte to enter the old town. The church of San Lorenzo (Il Purgatorio) has statues and stucco work by Serpotta inside and out as well as fine paintings. The convent of Santo Spirito has more examples of Serpotta’s stucco work. Serpotta was the absolute master of Stucco – it looks just like marble sculptures. He was based in Palermo and one of his best known works is the Battle of Lepanto in the Rosario di Santa Citta not far from our Palermo Hotel. We climb many steep steps today to get to the Cathedral which shows several architectural influences and even has a Hapsburg two headed eagle on part of the ceiling. You can ascend the tower for a view over the town. A further flight of steep steps gives a close up view of the intricate craftsmanship of the Arab Norman ceiling. Nearby is the small church of St Maria dei Greci. You can still see the columns of the original Greek Temple within its walls. We then descend many steep steps and arrive at the Town Hall which houses the theatre named after the Nobel prize winning author Pirandello who lived in Agrigento. Our total walking distance today is around 3km.
Today we transfer to Syracuse with a couple of stops en route. The coach takes us to Enna, the highest regional capital in Italy at 931m. Enna was a natural stronghold and the Castello di Lombardia is one of the largest and most important of Sicily’s medieval castles. After 20 years under siege, the Arabs resorted to climbing through the sewers to conquer it. The story of Persephone being seized and taken into the underworld is said to have happened on a lakeshore near Enna. We also visit Villa Romana del Casale, which has the best preserved and most extensive set of Roman mosaics in the world. They give an unforgettable insight into all aspects of Roman life.
We spend the day exploring Syracuse old and modern. We'll visit the Neopolis archaeological site and the Catacombs of San Giovanni, second only in size to those near Rome. Its Greek theatre is one of the largest and finest in the world and is still used for productions today. You can ascend to the top level for some great views. After lunch we'll explore the island of Ortigia where possible visits include the cathedral(a converted Greek temple that has the columns incorporated into its walls) and the Church of St Lucia, housing a Caravaggio. There is also the Fonte Aretusa, a fresh water spring right next to the sea with papyrus growing in it and a hands on museum dedicated to the inventions of Archimedes and Leonardo Da Vinci.
We visit the UNESCO listed Noto, one of the best examples of Baroque Architecture. The town was completely rebuilt on a new site after the earthquake of 1693 destroyed much of eastern Sicily. We take the train to Noto and walk 30 minutes steeply uphill to the main street. The Cathedral, Town Hall, Opera House, Palazzo Nicolaci Villadorata, and several churches are all well worth exploring. You will not see more decorative balconies anywhere else!
This morning we transfer to Palermo by road. In the afternoon we walk (total 3km) to the opposite side of the Historic Centre via Quattro Canti and the “Square of Shame” to the World Heritage listed Cappella Palatina – Palermo’s most popular wedding venue. This private chapel of the Norman Kings is a glittering jewel with all surfaces decorated - Islamic mosaics at the lower level and golden Byzantine mosaics representing scenes from the bible above. The intricate coffered ceiling was made by Arab craftsmen. On the way back we can visit the Cathedral. It has an unusual astronomical time line set in the floor and has the ornate tombs of the Norman Kings decorated with mosaics.
Today we visit Monreale with its UNESCO listed Cathedral situated on a hill which we climb partway from the bus stop. It is the climax of Arab Norman art and has the biggest expanse of gold mosaics showing scenes from the new and old testaments in Sicily, if not in the whole of Europe. The cloisters are outstanding and the decorative stonework in different colours outside the cathedral is a testament to its craftsmen. Climbing to the roof terrace we get close up views of the cathedral and views over the Concha d’Oro Valley. On returning to Palermo there is the possibility of visiting the Sicilian Art or Modern Art Galleries, the puppet museum or perhaps attending a puppet show. The shows recount the battles of the Crusaders against the Saracens with furious and violent fights between the puppets. There are also three chapels with outstanding examples of Stucco work by Serpotta quite close to the hotel and other churches ranging from ornate Baroque, Eastern Orthodox or to the very simple with red Arabic domes.
Today is a free day for personal exploration. The sea side resort of Cefalu is easily accessible by train either as a relaxing break or a chance to see another Norman cathedral, an ancient Arab washing area and an ancient hill fort. La Zisa and La Cuba (both small palaces of the Norman Kings), the Casina Cinese and Monte Pelligrino all can be reached by bus. In town there are several Palazzi with interiors preserved from the 19th century as well as guided tours of the Teatro Massimo, the biggest opera house in Italy and third largest in Europe. The Botanical Gardens is of international importance. Its well labelled collection of 12,000 species is a peaceful oasis in the midst of a bustling city in which to see some unusual plants. An unusual visit (but not for the fainthearted) is to the Capuchin Catacombs with its clothed mummified monks and important citizens. As you can see, there is no shortage of things to choose from for your last day on Sicily.
We transfer to Palermo Airport for the return flight to the UK.
See where this holiday travels to.
The Hotel is situated a short distance from the archaeological sites and city centre. The hotel has two restaurants, large outdoor swimming pool, tennis courts, laundry facilities and room service. Room facilities include TV, hair dryer, air conditioning, direct dial telephone, mini bar, safety deposit box and free Wi-Fi.
The Hotel Della Valle is situated in the main town of Agrigento, near to the Temple sites. The hotel has a restaurant, bar, spa and an outdoor swimming pool surrounded by a lush Mediterranean garden. Room facilities include air conditioning, mini bar, desk, flat screen TV, hairdryer and direct dial telephone, and free Wi-Fi.
The four star Hotel Palazzo Sitano was built in the 18th century but inside has a contemporary feel. It is centrally located in downtown Palermo, close to the station and within walking distance of all the major city sights. Room facilities include air conditioning, safety deposit box, hairdryer, direct dial telephone, radio and TV. Wi-Fi is available throughout and is free for one hour and chargeable thereafter. The restaurant that serves a continental breakfast is one of the most pleasant surprises for guests. It is characterised by the loggia with lofty ceilings. Glass-topped arcades define interior corridors while the windows of the Franciscan Library can be seen from below. The spa offers health and beauty treatments, plus a sauna and a Turkish bath. There's also an upscale cocktail bar.