By: Amalia Marin, CTA and Senior Travel Consultant
History, culture, architecture, and gastronomy; Sicily has it all condensed in one beautiful island. These were some of the biggest reasons why we chose to take The Sicilian with Globus tour. When I told others that we were taking this tour, they asked, “didn’t you already go to Italy (referring to the mainland)?” Italians from all different regions of the country have a strong sense of identity and any of them will tell you that Sicily is not the same as the other regions. If you’ve already experienced the mainland, Sicily is still a must.
I was also asked why we were spending all ten days entirely in Sicily. With so much to see and experience, we felt that even 10 days would not be enough. At 10,000 square miles and a population of over 5 million, it is the largest island in the Mediterranean. Sicily has been conquered by many nations. Its capital city, Palermo, is known to be the most conquered city in the world. Each foreign influence had a part in sculpting the culture and identity of Sicily.
Day 1: Palermo
After a long and exhausting flight from Houston, I expected to nap during the hour-long transfer from the Palermo airport to our first hotel. Instead, the drive from the airport was so captivating that I no longer wanted to rest. I wanted to take in all the sights of rolling hills and sunny skies. Since we arrived at our hotel in the late afternoon, we only had a short amount of time to rest up before the Welcome Dinner where we met our group and our awesome travel director, Sue.
Day 2: Palermo
Although we saw several cathedrals throughout our trip, I thought the first one we visited in Monreale, was the most strikingly beautiful. Built in the 12th century, with mosaics made from 2200 kilograms of pure gold, this glimmering Norman church is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Because this church is such a big attraction, there are several souvenir shops setup nearby where you can buy all kinds of gifts.
We then headed to the hustle and bustle of Capo Market where we enjoyed many sights, sounds, and smells. We walked by stalls of fresh fruit, spices, and seafood. After seeing all this food, we were ready for lunch. Antica Focacceria San Francesco welcomed us with delicious bites prepared with many different types of breads. After lunch, everyone had time on their own so we decided to spend the rest of the day enjoying the sun, sand, and waves at nearby Mondello beach.
Day 3: Erice and Motya
The drive to Erice was a winding uphill journey with amazing views. This hilltop town is gorgeous and overlooks the city of Trapani at 2,464 feet above sea level.
The air here was cooler and there was a fog that floated throughout the medieval village and its cobblestone streets. The group stopped in Sicily’s most famous pastry shop, Pasticceria Maria Grammatico, for some yummy treats. This lovely little shop is renowned for its delicious cakes, marzipan, cannoli, genovesi and other pastries. When it was time for us to explore on our own, we took some of the smaller paths.
The desolate streets and low-hanging clouds gave the town a mysterious aura.
After departing Erice, we made a stop at the salt mill of Trapani before taking a boat tour to the island of Motya. Here, we enjoyed a visit to the museum which houses the Motya Charioteer, a beautiful Greek marble sculpture made around 460-450 BC. This was followed by a family-style dinner which included couscous, olives, cheeses, eggplant salad, and of course, wine!
Day 4: Sciacca and Agrigento
Sciacca is a historic fishing port with a beautiful landscape of white sand beaches and cliffs. We stopped at a nice viewpoint where we had panoramic views of the coastline and the harbor. After enjoying some time walking around the town, we went on to Agrigento to visit Valley of the Temples. This archaeological park is a UNESCO World Heritage site containing some of the world’s most fascinating ancient Greek ruins. It consists of eight temples constructed around 510 BC and 430 BC. One of the best preserved temples is the Temple of Concordia. It is believed to have survived at a time when many other temples were being destroyed because it was repurposed to serve as a Christian church.
Directly in front of the Temple of Concordia, you will come across a bronze sculpture of Icarus. In Greek mythology, Icarus attempted to escape Crete with wings his father built of feathers and wax. Against the advice of his father, Icarus flew too close to the sun causing the wings to melt. He fell from the sky and drowned in the ocean. This sculpture was first revealed in 2011 by Polish sculptor Igor Mitoraj.
Day 5: Piazza Armerina and Caltagirone
We drove to Piazza Armerina to visit Villa Romana del Casale, a large and intricately built Roman villa constructed in the 4th century AD. This is one of the largest sites of ancient Roman mosaics in the world. Its floors and walls are decorated with elaborate mosaics. The different rooms in the Villa reveal mosaics depicting various scenes of hunting, fishing, chariot racing, mythological tales, and more. The most famous of the mosaics here are of the “bikini girls.” The girls are shown participating in various sports and athletic competitions.
After our tour of the villa, we were given free time to check out the Piazza which had many shops to explore. After that, it was on to Caltagirone where a tourist train was waiting for us. We were taken on a ride which took us through the town. We eventually stopped at Iudici Ceramiche, a ceramic shop, where the owner gave us a demonstration of how some of the ceramic items in the store were made. We then came to the Scalinata di Santa Maria del Monte, a staircase with 142 steps, each one beautifully decorated with handmade ceramic tiles. After taking the tourist train back to our bus, we traveled to Ragusa and had a wonderful dinner of seafood, pasta, and cannoli for dessert.
Day 6: Ragusa and Modica
On the morning of day 6 of our Sicilian with Globus tour, we left our hotel and made our way to Ragusa Ibla, the oldest district of Ragusa. A local guide took us on a walking tour through different parts of this historic town and showed us many examples of Baroque-style architecture. We arrived at the Cathedral of Saint George. We took several pictures attempting to capture the beauty of this cathedral but pictures simply don’t do it justice.
Just as our tour with the local guide ended, it began to rain. We took cover from the rain under some tables with umbrellas. As we waited, hoping for the rain to quickly pass, we found ourselves getting hungry. We were lucky enough to be sitting in front of a restaurant so we decided to have lunch there, at Al Borgo cafe, and I don’t think we could have chosen a better place. By the time we finished lunch, the rain had passed so we took a stroll through the town and tried to take in as much of it as possible before it was time to go.
After getting back to our bus, we were off to Antica Dolceria Bonajuto in Modica, the oldest chocolate factory in Sicily. After tasting some of their amazing confectionery creations and seeing firsthand how some of them were made, it was time for dinner. We headed to Osteria dei Sapori Perduti with our group and enjoyed course after course brought out by our excellent server.
Day 7: Noto and Syracuse
We arrived in Noto the next day and met with our local guide who took us to see a few sights along Corso Vittorio Emanuele. He took us to the San Nicolo Cathedral which is a beautiful example of Sicilian Baroque architecture. Right across from this cathedral is the Palazzo Ducezio, which is where you will find the Noto town hall. The design for this impressive structure lined with arches and columns was inspired by French architecture. We had some free time before heading back to the bus, so we went over to the Marpessa restaurant and had a wonderful lunch.
Our next stop with the group was at the Greek Theatre in Syracuse which was built in the 5th Century BC. This ancient theatre is still used today for performances and festivals. We were able to see some really impressive and historic sites near the Greek Theatre such as the Ear of Dionysius, which was used as a prison during the war with Athens, and the Roman Amphitheatre where Roman Gladiators battled to the death. Syracuse has a deep-rooted Greek history and was once the most powerful city in Sicily. Some of the stories attached to these historic sites will leave you in awe.
Day 8: Catania and Savoca
We explored Catania with Piazza del Duomo as the starting point. This baroque square is the center of Catania, and here you will find the symbol of the town, an elephant monument made from lava stone dating back to 1736. Another very notable aspect of the square is its imposing church, St. Agatha Cathedral, named after the virgin and martyr of Catania whose tomb rests here. We had time on our own so the first thing we did was enjoy an espresso at Comis Ice Cafe. We had a glimpse of the tempting gelatos on display but decided to stick to espressos. Thirty minutes later, we made our way back to the same cafe, unable to resist the temptation of the gelato. We ordered it the Sicilian way ̶ on a large brioche bun.
Our group then drove to Savoca where we visited Bar Vitelli and had a lemon granita. Bar Vitelli is the setting for The Godfather scene where Michael Corleone inadvertently meets the father of the girl he wants to pursue. The bar has remained famous for its connection to the film. This evening we decided to search for a restaurant where we could dine on our own. We chose Trattoria I Limoni and words cannot describe how delicious our meal was. We enjoyed grilled squid, pan-seared swordfish, and linguine al limone. Everything was amazing, including the outdoor dining area and its fantastic view of the ocean with the reflection of the full moon on the water.
Day 9: Taormina
This morning, the group had an optional excursion to Mount Etna but we decided to opt out and instead enjoy the morning at our own leisure. Because we weren’t rushing to be ready at a specific time, we were able to enjoy the hotel’s amazing breakfast buffet. Most of our included breakfasts have been great, but this hotel, The Hotel Diamond Resort Naxos Taormina, had one of my favorite selections of breads, jams, meats, cheeses, eggs, fruit, yogurt, juices, coffee, and pastries. We then decided to walk to the beach to enjoy some sunshine, listen to the crashing of the waves and collect a few of the beautiful rocks as souvenirs.
Later, we joined our group for a drive to the charming touristic resort of Taormina. The charm was a bit dampened by the amount of tourists, but the crowds are to be expected in such a beautiful town. After walking past lots of cafes, restaurants, and shops, we reached the ancient Greek theatre ruins of Taormina, constructed around the 3rd century BC. The line to pay for entry was very long, but of course since we were on a Globus tour, we were able to skip this line! As you enter the theatre, the first thing you’re surprised by is the size. Once you reach higher ground, you’ll be amazed by the fantastic views of the blue sea and of Mount Etna. This evening we said our final farewell to our group and to our director at Ristorante Villa Antonio.
Day 10: Taormina
Our flight out of Sicily was at 7am and because it was an hour ride to the airport, we had to be ready to leave no later than 4am. We were very thankful to have the included transfers setup by Globus, especially considering we had such an early departure. Our entire Sicilian with Globus trip was amazing and our experience in Sicily far exceeded our expectations. We were sad to say goodbye to this lovely island that stole our hearts but we know we will be back someday!
Amalia Marin, CTA
Senior Travel Consultant
Email: [email protected]
Toll Free: 1-800-935-2620 Ext: 176