The meeting point between Africa and Europe, East and West - there’s so much more to the Sicily you think you know. The classically beautiful heart of the Mediterranean has been praised by poets and became the prize of countless cultures – Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans and more. The sun-soaked island is home to wonderfully-preserved Greek temples, Roman villas and Norman cathedrals - many filled with glorious mosaics. Its bountiful seas and fertile lands were once the sites of fierce ancient battles; but Sicily was also a creative centre of philosophy, art and learning.
This tour will leave memories of beautiful bays and ruinous ancient cities; and honey coloured columns against a clear blue sky.
- Island at the centre of the Mediterranean, a multicultural nucleus packed with spectacular monuments
- Exceptionally fine mosaics at Piazza Armerina, a palatial Roman villa, re-opened after extensive refurbishment
- From columns to cathedrals - explore honey-coloured Greek temples and gleaming gold-in-glass Norman mosaics
- Historic Churches
- Cultural Excursion
- Ancient Greek
- Special Access
- All Inclusive
We fly to Palermo and drive to the hotel.
Our journey begins with the famous unfinished Doric temple at Segesta, set amongst rolling hills. There is also a fine theatre on the hilltop above. We continue to the magnificent Norman cathedral and abbey founded by William II in 1174 at Monreale.
We spend all day in Palermo.
We have a specially arranged early evening visit to the Cappella Palatina of Roger II, a glittering jewel of Norman architecture, with cosmatesque inlays in the lower walls, gold-in-glass mosaics above, and an exquisite stalactite ceiling of wood.
We also visit the Archaeological Museum, the Church of La Martorana, and Palermo Cathedral.
Today we take a boat across the shallow salt lagoon to the Phoenician island stronghold of Motya – bought and excavated in the 19th century by a family whose fortune was based on Marsala wine. We continue to the important port town of Marsala, ancient Lilybaeum.
In Marsala we see the remains of a Punic warship, sunk on its maiden voyage during the First Punic War. We continue on to the ancient quarries at Cave di Cusa, from which came the stone for the temples at Selinunte – unfinished column drums still lie abandoned here. We head to the site of Selinunte, dramatically situated overlooking the sea and strewn with wild flowers and celery.
We spend all day among the magnificent Greek temples of Agrigento, imposingly ranked along the southern ridge of the ancient city - built to impress all those approaching.
We start the day in opulent Roman style, at the palatial Roman villa with exceptionally fine mosaics at Piazza Armerina. These have been left in situ and can be viewed from raised walkways. Continue to the ancient settlement of Morgantina.
We spend all day discovering the ancient city of Syracuse. We see the exquisite artefacts in the Archaeological Museum; the Greek theatre, still often used for performances; and the ancient quarries, where many prisoners of the Peloponnesian War met their end.
Free time to explore lovely Baroque Ortygia. We then drive south to see Noto and its Sicilian Baroque Cathedral, followed by the late Roman villa at Tellaro with its amazing mosaics, some of which depict scenes from the Fall of Troy.
Our final full day is spent at Euryalus fort, constructed at the beginning of the 4th century BC by Dionysius the Elder, and one of the few Greek fortifications surviving from this date. We then drive right out of the city to the unspoilt interior of the island. We explore the prehistoric tombs at Pantalica with stunning views over the hills.
Before we return home, we have some free time in Syracuse followed by a visit to the Greco-Roman Archaeological Park in Catania.
We fly to Catania on Sicily’s east coast and take a scenic drive across the centre of the island to Palermo, where the first of our luxurious hotels is based.
After a comfortable night’s sleep and a filling breakfast, we drive out to the rolling hills, where we find the ancient Greek city of Segesta, home to an elegant but unfinished 5th century BC Doric temple – considered by many to be the finest of its type – and the remains of an impressive hilltop theatre.
This afternoon we make our way to Monreale, the former hunting ground of the Norman kings of Sicily. Here we discover an opulent Norman-Byzantine cathedral and abbey founded by the King William II in 1174. The site recently achieved UNESCO World Heritage status thanks to its stunning construction and mosaic work: a brilliant testament to the former might of Norman rule.
Today is ours to experience the wonders of Palermo. Our encounter begins at the newly reopened Archaeological Museum, which houses the most significant collection of Punic and Ancient Greek art in all of Italy. Here we find carvings from many of the temples we will visit later on our trip, as well as a fascinating array of artefacts discovered underwater. Don’t miss the Phoenician sarcophagi, thought to date from the 5th century BC.
Later we visit the beautifully-decorated church of La Martorana, built by the admiral of the Norman King George of Antioch, and the extraordinary edifice of Palermo Cathedral, a 12th-century construction that replaced a Saracen mosque.
This evening we enjoy a special private visit to the Cappella Palatina, an extravagant chapel erected for the Norman kings, glittering with mosaics and gold leaf.
This morning we drive to the western side of Sicily, crossing by boat to the island of Motya, a stronghold of the Phoenicians, and, later, the Carthaginians. Founded in the 8th century BC, and surrounded by the Stagnone Lagoon, this once flourishing city earned its wealth as a commercial centre with a thriving trade in salt.
While on Motya we visit the Archaeological Museum, taking time to admire its world-renowned statue of the charioteer, a powerful likeness dating from the 5th century BC. We also look at the ruins of the walls, once dramatically stormed by the Greeks of Syracuse, before taking in the temples of Baal and Astarte and the trophet of Tanit.
We return to the mainland, ending our day in the stately town of Marsala, a former Carthaginian settlement now famous for its eponymous dessert wine.
Driving eastwards we stop at the verdant quarries of the Cave di Cusa, where the Greeks of Selinunte carved out stone for their titanic temples. Their heavy work was abandoned in 409 BC when an attacking Carthaginian fleet sailed into view. We can still see the remnants of columns on site, sadly destined to remain both unfinished and in situ.
We then travel on to Selinunte itself to see the temples of the mighty eastern sanctuary, some of the few buildings which survived the ten-day siege of Carthage’s 100,000-strong army in the 5th century BC, not to mention the subsequent destruction of the city some 100 years later.
We finish the day at the ancient acropolis, dramatically positioned on plains overlooking the Mediterranean sea.
We spend a whole day exploring the magnificent remains of Agrigento today, at the site of the ancient Greek city of Akragas. It is estimated that between 200,000 to 800,000 citizens resided here at the height of the city’s power, and extensive remains attest to a vast and mighty settlement.
We take in the Valley of the Temples, a World Heritage site of seven Doric sanctuaries, including the remarkably well-preserved Temple of Concordia, with its elegant walls and columns. We also view the remains of the Temple of Olympian Zeus, characterised by the atlases which once bore the weight of its roof.
Our journey takes us through central Sicily, stopping at the magnificent Villa Romana del Casale in Piazza Armerina. This Late-Roman country house is noted for its superb collection of lavish mosaics – the largest in the world – which can now be viewed from a newly installed network of raised walkways. Here we find the famous depiction of the “Bikini Girls”, as well as intricate images of hunting and deities. An unparalleled example of 4th century Roman art.
We proceed to Morgantina, an ancient city of the interior, inhabited since 1000 BC. The last of the Sicilian towns to succumb to Roman rule, the city was later captured by besieging slaves. Morgantina has been the focus of intensive excavations in recent decades, and research here is still ongoing. We find an exciting collection of remains including a bouleuterion – an ancient Greek political chamber – a theatre, sanctuaries and baths.
Today is all about Syracuse, the ancient capital of the island. This splendid World Heritage site is famed for its rich Greek heritage, as well as being the birthplace of Archimedes. Cicero described Syracuse as “the greatest Greek city and the most beautiful of them all”. In terms of power and scale, it is widely believed to have exceeded both Athens and Corinth at its zenith.
We discover traces of Syracuse’s glorious past at the fine Paolo Orsi Archaeological Museum, where we find the stunning Sarcophagus of Adelphia. Later we head to the Neapolis Archaeological Park, home to an incredible amphitheatre where the tragedies of Aeschylus were once performed in the playwright’s presence. We also find an ancient quarry dotted with catacombs and a huge grotto carved into the cliffs.
In the afternoon we walk around the small island of Ortygia, site of the heart of the ancient city, to look at the gorgeous Piazza del Duomo and the remains of the Temple of Athena.
Continuing our immersion into the classical world, this morning is free for us to explore the rest of Syracuse at our leisure.
We then drive to Noto, a Baroque fantasy of a town, created after the terrible earthquake of 1693 and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Prepare to be blown away by this incredible treasure trove of elaborate churches and palaces.
This afternoon we visit the Roman villa at Tellaro. Discovered beneath a traditional farmhouse, and surrounded by luscious vineyards, the villa contains exceptionally fine mosaics depicting vibrant scenes such as the ransom of the body of Hector, and a banquet attended by lady Africa.
The morning of our final day kicks off with a trip to Euryalus Castle, the lynchpin of Syracuse’s defences, against which successive waves of invaders dashed themselves in vain. Perched high on the cliffs overlooking the sea, the site offers magnificent views of Syracuse and its surroundings. We explore the towers and tunnels of this formidable fortress, hearing the thrilling tales that are harboured in its walls.
After lunch we visit the enigmatic early settlement of Pantalica, with its Bronze Age shrine and vast rock-hewn necropolis, where thousands of tombs remain etched into the landscape.
We finish the day with a delicious meal of Sicilian cuisine. The perfect way to celebrate our last night in the region.
After a relaxing breakfast we transfer to Catania for our return flight home.
- Expert Guide Lecturer
- Tour Manager
- Local Travel - Private a/c coach
- Meals - All meals included with wine at dinner
- Entries & Tips - Entry to all sites in programme; tips included
- Field Notes
3 nights in Palermo, staying in an elegantly restored palazzo
1 night in the centre of Marsala
2 nights in a hotel overlooking the temples in Agrigento
4 nights in elegant minimalistic hotel Ortygia, close to the Duomo
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