Feature / Europe / Italy / Sicily
Sicily: An 11-night odyssey
With so much on the Globalista site recently about Sicily, one thing that we felt was missing was an itinerary which would enable first time visitors to create a journey though the island.
Accordingly, set out below is "an odyssey" around the island, travelling from East to West.
Travel - Depart from home to reach Palermo
ERICE - Travel from Palermo airport straight to Erice, only one hour to the West. This picturesque hill town is dramatically situated in the clouds above the sea. Stay at the family-run Hotel Moderno (Via Vittorio Emanuele, 67 - 91016 Erice; +39 0923 869300; www.hotelmodernoerice.it), located in the heart of town with a great restaurant. In the afternoon, enjoy a leisurely stroll and return in time for welcome drinks and dinner at the hotel.
ERICE - Erice is a great base for exploring; in the morning, enjoy an excursion to Sellinunte, where the toppled columns of three temples make a picturesque ruin by the sea. Temple G is the second largest temple in Sicily. Follow this with a visit to Marsala, and the museum of tapestries, home to a collection of 16th century Flemish tapestries. On your return to Erice, stop at the Florio distillery for a tour and a taste of their Marsala. After a long day, have dinner at the hotel.
ERICE - Not far South lies Segesta, a dramatically isolated site with an unfinished Doric temple and theatre offering panoramic views. Visit in the morning, and in the afternoon, visit Gibellina, a fascinating town which was destroyed by an earthquake in 1968. Its remains have been immortalised by the Tuscan artist Alberto Burn; his work Il Cretto is a huge concrete mat where the town once stood. The rebuilt town acts as a showcase for contemporary works of art.
PALERMO - On your way to the city’s capital, stop at Monreale, located at the top of a valley above Palermo where the Normans built a cathedral, abbey and a palace. The architecture is a blend of Norman and Arabic styles completely unique to Sicily. Have lunch at the nearby Trattoria del Pavone. As you descend to Palermo, you will discover its magnificent setting; flanked by mountains on both sides and in the centre of a giant crescent bay. Your first stop in the city is the Capella dei Normani (below), whose highlight is the Palatine Chapel. Nearby is the San Giovanni degli Eremiti, also built in the 12th Century. Retire to your small central hotel, the Principe di Villafranca (Via G.Turrisi Colonna, 4; +39 091 6118523; www.principedivillafranca.it), and sample a restaurant nearby.
PALERMO - In the morning, view some of Palermo’s great urban sites; the Piazza Vigliena leads to the Piazza Pretoria (see image) with its spectacular Baroque fountain. See San Cataldo, the seat of the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre, and in the afternoon arrange a private visit of the grand apartments at the Baroque Palazzo Butera. Further afield are the Oratorio del Rosario di Santa Cecilia and the Archaeological Museum. In the evening, have dinner at the restaurant Bellotero, located not far from the hotel.
REGALEALI - Leave Palermo and head along the Northern coast to Bagheria and Cefalu. Bagheria was once the summer coastal resort for wealthy Palermitani to escape the city, and many fanciful 17th Century Baroque villas remain. The Villa Palagonia (see image) is the most bizarre, with an unusual butterfly plan and figures carved from tufa. Continue on to Cefalu and visit its Duomo; dated back to 1131, it sits majestically against a rock escarpment above the sea. Have lunch at a local seafood restaurant before you head inland to the mountainous centre of the island. It is here we find Regaleali, the agricultural estate of the Tasca a’Almerita, one of Sicily’s most distinguished wine producers. There is the opportunity for a private wine tasting or even a Sicilian cookery lesson. Spend the night in one of the newly restored rooms of the villa.
AGRIGENTO, en route to RAGUSA - Ensure you leave early to spend the morning in Agrigento; the drive through the dramatic countryside is slow paced. Explore the ‘Valley of the Temples’: four Doric temples prominently sited on a ridge and not actually a valley, as it happens. The city was founded in 580BC and was later burnt by the Carthaginians, though was repaired by the Romans in the 1st Century BC. The Temple of Concord is best preserved due to its conversion to a church. Have lunch at the site and then continue east to Ragusa, where two nights await at the Palazzo degli Archi (C.so Don Minzoni 6, 97100 Ragusa; +39 0932686021).
RAGUSA - Ragusa actually comprises of two towns, the new town and the Ragusa Ibla (see image), which are built along a ridge and separated by a deep ravine. The Palazzo degli Archi is located in Ragusa Ibla, which comprises of hilly topography and quaint narrow streets leading to a number of Baroque churches and palazzi. Today take an excursion to Piazza Armerina to see the late Roman Villa Imperiale del Casale, renowned for its grandeur and beautiful mosaics. On your return, take a stop at Caltagirone, which is famous for its brightly coloured pottery. Spend the evening in Ragusa and have your pick of distinguished restaurants.
SIRACUSA - Depart Ragusa for Siracusa, stopping en route at Noto, an impressive ensemble of baroque buildings. Siracusa was occupied by the Greeks from the 8th Century BC, and in the 5th Century it vied for domination over Athens. Its oldest part is the Island of Ortigia, where you can stay at the Grand Hotel Ortigia (Viale Mazzini 12; +39 0931 464600 ; www.grandhotelsr.it (see below)). For dinner, visit the restaurant Don Camillo (Via Maestranza 96, 96100 Siracusa; +39 0931 67133; www.ristorantedoncamillosiracusa.it).
SIRACUSA - Begin your day on foot exploring Ortigia, where a cathedral incorporates a 6th century BC Doric temple. Further afield on the mainland is the Neapolis, featuring numerous well-preserved classical monuments, including a Greek theatre, Roman amphitheatre, imposing limestone caves and a large altar.
CATANIA - For the closing stage of your journey, you move towards the slopes of Mt. Etna. It’s best to base yourself in Catania, a city of gritty Sicilian authenticity, where you can visit the Piazza del Duomo and the surrounding palazzi, along with the Teatro Bellini. Only an hour north away is Taormina, an enchanting town dominated by Mt Etna and home to a Greek Theatre with breathtaking views.
Travel back from Catania, or alternatively continue your trip to the Bay of Naples.