An exciting tour of this volcanic island
Free standard class return tickets to London from your local station, on selected 2019 European holidays by rail when you book between 15th February 2019 and the 10th May 2019.
Set just off the 'toe' of Italy, Sicily boasts an enthralling combination of historic cities, alluring coastline, glorious landscapes and the wonderful remains of the ancient kingdoms that shaped the island. Our excursion-rich adventure is crowned with a thrilling journey to Mount Etna.
We depart from London on our short flight to Palermo Airport before transferring to our hotel in Palermo. We enjoy a guided tour of Palermo on Day 2 which introduces us to the main sights of the area.
During our discovery to Sicily's capital, we discover both the medieval quarter and the 'new' city, which dates back to the 17th century. With a long history of invasion, Palermo features a number of different architectural styles vying for attention, each revealing a little of the city's past by its age and design.
Following lunch in a local restaurant, our excursion continues to nearby Monreale. This hilltop town has a charming centre of winding lanes and alleys, with fine views out to sea.
However, its main attraction is undoubtedly its unrivalled cathedral, which legend says was inspired by a vision of the Virgin Mary - a point of interest on our tour. The finest craftsmen were assembled to create this masterpiece - a fusion of Byzantine, Norman, and even Arabic styles.
The interior is incredibly lavish, its lofty columns encrusted with glittering golden mosaics depicting Biblical scenes. We enjoy time to admire the gleaming artworks and the cloisters before returning to Palermo.
We travel to Agrigento today, situated close to Sicily's southern shores. Once known as Akragas under Greek rule, the town is famous for its outstanding Valley of the Temples - an incredible complex of Greek Doric structures built in the 5th century BC.
On arrival, we enjoy a guided tour of the valley, which enjoys UNESCO World Heritage status, and its array of striking remains. Some of the temples are in remarkable condition, and during our tour we see the Temple of the Concord, which is the best preserved Doric temple in Sicily, and one of the best examples of Doric architecture generally. The temple dates back to the 4th century BC, which adds to its impressive stature. Over its many years, it has served both as a pagan and a renovated Christian space, with walls installed between the columns in the 6th century to create a more typical church structure. In the late 18th century these were removed, restoring the temple to its original layout, and allowing visitors to appreciate the architecture as intended during its ancient inception.
Following a tour, you have time to explore this archaeological site at your own pace. Perhaps explore the exhibits at the Agrigento Archaeological Museum, for which entrance is included.
Established in the 1960s, the museum today contains almost 6,000 artefacts relating to the Valley of the Temples and the surrounding area. Ranging from prehistoric relics to remnants of the Greco-Roman period, the collection includes samples of ancient pottery and sculpture, statues from the Temple of Zeus, and coins from Agrigento's long-forgotten history. Dinner this evening is in a local restaurant.
Leaving Palermo behind, today we take the wonderfully scenic journey by rail to Messina. The route hugs Sicily's northern coast, weaving in and out of coves and around promontories overlooking the sparkling Mediterranean, as it passes through the towns and villages by the shoreline.
After checking in to our hotel, we travel by coach to Taormina and enjoy a guided tour of the city's many highlights including of course the Teatro Greco. This grand theatre was built during Roman times in a Greek style, and is immaculately preserved. From the top of the auditorium,there are views of Mount Etna in one direction, and the peaks of Calabria in another. We also take in the narrow alleyways around the gateway to the oldest part of Taormina's historic heart.
Today we visit Mount Etna, Europe's largest and most active volcano. With its striking lava fields reaching out almost to the sea, Etna is one of Sicily's most compelling sights. We ascend the mountain, passing through the increasingly rugged rock formations and lava plains that line the higher slopes. We arrive at the Silvestri Craters, where the ash has created a depression in the mountain's flank making an awe-inspiring sight. From here, you are free to take in the view, or perhaps take the cable car or a jeep to the top (payable locally), where the summit's active crater is clearly visible - often casting out smoke, accompanied by lumps of tiny red and grey lava, an incredible phenomenon to behold.
We enjoy lunch in a local winery, with an included tasting. Later, we take the Circumetnea train (Standard Class) around the mountain's base, taking in the delightful surrounding villages as well as the breathtaking landscape. This narrow-gauge railway was opened in 1898, and offers spectacular views of Mount Etna, one of the world's most active volcanoes, and a prominent feature in much of Greek mythology, as it was thought to be where Vulcan, the god of fire, kept his smithy. This is one of the best ways to view the volcano, providing excellent panoramas and a comfortable seat from which to watch them roll by. It is advisable to keep a camera on hand to capture the moment.
Today is entirely free for you to relax in the hotel and enjoy the coastal views. Giardini Naxos has a laid-back feel, with many bars and restaurants lining the beach - perfect for a free day of simply unwinding and enjoying the atmosphere. Alternatively, you could revisit Taormina, and explore the many attractions of this lovely, ancient town.
This morning we visit the enchanting city of Syracuse, which in antiquity was the supreme power in Europe. As a result, this prestigious port city boasts a broad diversity of monuments spanning several different eras.
Here, we enjoy a guided tour of the Neapolis Park - which was once the 'New Town', but is now an important archaeological park with many of the city's centuries-old public buildings. Considered one of Sicily's greatest archaeological sites, the park includes a number of ancient sites, including a Greek amphitheatre dating back to 500 BC, that once staged performances for up to 16,000 guests, and an ancient limestone quarry from which the building materials for Syracuse were extracted. The 'Latomia del Paradiso' is somewhat of a puzzle, its deep caves home to catacombs, magnolia trees, and, once, some 7,000 people who made it through the war between Syracuse and Athens in 413 BC, only to be imprisoned here.
Later, we continue to Ortigia, a tiny island connected to Syracuse by a bridge, to visit its superb cathedral. Built from a former Pagan temple, it is reputedly Europe's oldest Christian church. We also see the majestic Fountain of Arethusa, on Ortigia's seafront. This freshwater spring has been celebrated by poets from Virgil to Milton and is fascinating to see. We then return to Taormina after a memorable day, to enjoy a farewell dinner together in our hotel this evening.
Today we transfer to Palermo, for our flight back to the UK. On arrival, your tour concludes.
Please note that while every departure of this tour features the same excursions, they may not necessarily be in the order listed above.
Provisional departure and return times, where available, can be found together with our dates and prices by clicking on the 'Prices & Availability' button. We write to all booked customers approximately 10 weeks prior to the start of their tour to advise the exact departure and return time for their particular group.
An escorted experience and all travel arrangements
Comfortable accommodation in your destination
Delicious meals included
Exciting excursions and free time to explore
Please note: This tour may be suitable for reduced mobility passengers, please call for further information.
An exciting tour of this volcanic island