With a history stretching back almost 3000 years, the city of Syracuse has the rare accolade of being classed as a World Heritage Site in its entirety. At the heart of the ancient city is Ortygia, painstakingly and dazzlingly restored.
We follow in the footsteps of the Greeks, Romans and much later civilisations who landed upon these shores. More than two thousand years later, we can still gaze out over the same harbour and imagine the cool blue waters heaving with triremes, Athenian arrows singing through the air. Discover not only Ortygia, but surrounding sites including the Greek Castle of Euryalus, the Roman Villa at Tellaro and the lovely Pantalica hills, honeycombed with ancient tombs.
- Historic Ortygia, with its glorious piazzas and sea views
- Verdant Pantalica, wonderfully alive with native bird and plant life
- A relaxed approach to discovering Syracuse, with ample time to explore
- All based in a charming hotel in Ortygia - a beautifully restored and chic area of Siracusa, across a causeway from the main part of the city
- Historic Churches
- Ancient Greek
- Special Access
- Small Group
- Just One Hotel
- All Inclusive
We fly to Catania and drive to our hotel in Ortygia, Siracusa.
We spend the morning exploring historic Ortygia on foot - walking from our hotel to the Temple of Athena, which has been assimilated, remarkably, within the fabric of the Cathedral. We also see the Temple of Apollo; the Fountain of Arethusa; and the Great Harbour, where we consider the sea battle fought between Syracusan and Athenian forces in 413BC, vividly described by Thucidydes. After lunch in one of the many chic restaurants in Ortygia, the rest of the afternoon is free to enjoy the piazzas, cafés and sea views. You could choose to visit the Church of Sta Lucia to see the Caravaggio on display, or visit the museum devoted to Archimides and his inventions.
Enjoy a free morning to either explore the markets and sites of Ortygia or perhaps take a boat journey, sailing out of the Great Harbour where the decisive 5th century BC sea battle took place. After lunch we drive south out of the city to visit the hilltop city of Noto, famous for its Baroque architecture. Substantial rebuilding followed a severe earthquake at the end of the 17th century, when this flamboyant style was at its height. Known as the ‘Stone Garden’ because of the abundant carved foliage, the city is now a World Heritage Site.
We travel to the palatial Roman villa with exceptionally fine mosaics at Piazza Armerina. More than 50 rooms have vivid scenes from mythology and real life, including the famous ‘bikini girls’ keeping fit! We spend all day exploring the complex here, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site, described as a ‘supreme example of a luxury Roman villa’.
We further explore the city of Siracusa, crossing to the mainland to visit the very fine Paolo Orsi Museum. We also visit the archaeological area surrounding the theatre and the vast stone quarries where prisoners of war were incarcerated after the Peloponnesian War; the amphitheatre and the Altar of Zeus.
After lunch we have special access to the Catacombs of San Giovanni – truly a necropolis (‘city of the dead’) since whole streets of tombs run off under the city above.
We drive inland to the hills of Pantalica, honeycombed with ancient Sikel tombs and alive with wonderful plant and bird life - an opportunity to sample the wild side of Sicily. We continue to the town of Belvedere for a wonderful agriturismo lunch of local produce. We then visit the ancient Greek castle of Euryalus, a complex vital to the outer defences of the city and perched on a high ridge above it.
Fly home from Catania.
We fly to Catania and drive to our hotel on the island of Ortygia, in Siracusa's historical centre.
This morning we explore historic Siracusa on foot – walking straight from our hotel to the Temple of Athena, which has been remarkably assimilated into the fabric of the Christian Cathedral. We also take in the Temple of Apollo, the fresh-water Fountain of Arethusa, and the Great Harbour, where we consider the sea battle fought between Siracusan and Athenian forces in 413 BC, as vividly described by Thucydides.
After lunch in one of the many excellent restaurants of Siracusa, the rest of the afternoon is free for us to enjoy the local piazzas, cafés and sea views. You may wish to see the Church of Santa Lucia, in which Caravaggio's own “Burial of Saint Lucy” is displayed, or visit the Museo del Papiro, which takes a fascinating look at the history of writing and papyrus.
We enjoy a free morning to either explore the markets and sites of Siracusa, or perhaps take a boat trip around the historical harbour itself.
After lunch, we drive south in order to visit the hilltop city of Noto, famed for its exceedingly well-preserved Baroque architecture. Substantial rebuilding here followed a severe earthquake at the end of the 17th century, when this flamboyant style was at its height. Known as the “Stone Garden” thanks to its abundant carved foliage, the city is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Today we travel to the palatial Villa Romana del Casale in Piazza Armerina, for a chance to see its exceptionally fine and famous mosaics first-hand. More than 50 of the villa's rooms depict vivid scenes from mythology and real life, including the extraordinary scene of “Bikini Girls” keeping fit! Other highlights include the “Great Hunt” mosaic, featuring detailed illustrations of many animals, including a captured tiger.
The complex here, another UNESCO World Heritage site, is both unusual and well worth exploring – a “supreme example of a luxury Roman villa”. As such it easily merits a whole day of discovery, and we tour its rooms at the pace they deserve.
We further explore the city of Siracusa today, crossing to the mainland to visit the fine Paolo Orsi Museum. Inaugurated in the late 19th century, the Paolo Orsi has become one of Europe's principle archaeological museums, and houses a variety of significant collections from the Greco-Roman era and beyond. One of its main attractions is the Sarcophagus of Adelphia, a beautiful piece covered with animated figures, discovered in the Catacombs of San Giovanni.
Following this we visit the spectacular archaeological area which surrounds the theatre, as well as the vast stone quarries where prisoners were incarcerated after the Peloponnesian War. Other stops this morning include the amphitheatre and the Altar of Zeus.
After lunch, we enjoy privileged access to the Catacombs of San Giovanni themselves – truly a necropolis (“city of the dead”), with whole streets of tombs running off beneath the city of the living – in total over 20,000 early Christian tombs lie here.
For our last full day on Ortygia, we head inland to the hills of Pantalica, honey-combed with another vast and ancient necropolis: the rock-cut Sikel tombs. Our journey to this region gives us the opportunity to see Sicily's wild side, via a landscape teeming with all manner of plant and bird life. Be sure to listen to the chattering songbirds, and inhale that fresh country air.
We continue on to the picturesque town of Belvedere next, where we indulge in a fantastic lunch of local agriturismo produce – a real foodie highlight. Fully replete, we head to the ancient Greek fortress of Euryalus, constructed between 402 and 397 BC. This complex was once a vital part of Siracusa's outer defences, and is perched on a high ridge above the city. We take in the stories, and the views, enjoying its magnificent location.
Fully sated by the Ortygian sun, sights, and gastronomic delights, we say our goodbyes and make our way home from Catania.
- 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
6 nights within a historic hotel overlooking the great harbour on the island of Ortygia. It has a rooftop restaurant, swimming pool and spa facilities
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