Day 1 Siracusa
Our journey starts when we rendezvous in Catania, either at your pre-trip hotel, train station or airport. A short transfer along the Ionian Sea takes us into Siracusa, the most powerful & spectacular city in Italy before the age of the Roman Empire. According to legend, Greek settlers from Corinth founded Siracusa in 734 BC. It was here where the legendary genius Archimedes used an array of mirrors to set a Roman fleet on fire. Today Siracusa is a pleasant mix of late-Baroque and ancient classical architecture where colorful fishing boats lie in a little harbor as they have for thousands of years. The charm is endless; we enjoy the lively cafés within the ancient cobblestone piazzas and engage the exceptionally nice people for a stay to be remembered.
After settling in at our charming hotel, we invite you for an espresso to introduce your tour and answer any questions, then tour of the archeological park, which features a Roman sacrificial altar, a fantastic Greek Theater and an Amphitheater carved from the rock. Before dinner, we stroll through the island on which the ancient town was built and the site of the earliest Greek settlement. We take you on a city walking tour through the pleasant labyrinth of alleyways past treasures from BC to the 18th century.
Lodgings: 2 nights in a small and cozy 3-star inn situated in the ancient part of Siracusa along the Ionian Sea and what was once the “Mastrarua”, the main street of the Middle Ages Spanish Siracusa.
Dinner: at a trattoria serving specialties from Siracusa, such as pasta with winter melon, a dish that the poor peasants would eat, or cannelloni stuffed with whey cheese, a favorite of the cultivated aristocracy.
Day 2 Baroque Haven & the Art of Making Gelato
The Oasi Naturale di Vendicari nature reserve consists of a narrow strip of marshy coastline and provides a rare completely protected habitat for migratory species as well as a large array of Mediterranean flora and fauna. This large stretch of swamp has evolved into a very unusual ecosystem, which continues to attract vast numbers of birds passing through the area during migration. Along our paths we find cushions of thyme and thorny burnet, prickly juniper and rosemary. We might also see grey heron, little egret, white and black stork; the greater flamingo might already be here as well.
After a delicious picnic lunch on the beach we transfer to the tiny baroque jewel of Noto. Depending on the light, Noto’s takes on a honey or pink powder tint. Some call it a garden of stone, because the baroque opulence is blooming everywhere. It is the result of a single, tragic event: the earthquake of 1693. The earthquake swallowed 45 towns and killed 60,000 people, yet also sparked a huge effort to rebuild. Nowadays most inhabitants of Noto make a living restoring churches and crumbling palaces. You could spend all day photographing the artistic walls of naked women flying through the air, fish tales spewing from the surface and dwarfs riding by on horseback.
One balcony is the seated bearded angels above the Pasticceria Costanzo. Only the insiders know what secrets these angels keep; such as jasmine blossom gelato, an ancient, Arabic specialty. As wonderful as this delicacy is we have to save room for the neighboring Café Sicilia of Corrado Assenza. He gave up a university teaching career in order to carry on the tradition of the Café. Just like Senore Costanzo, he too is internationally renowned as a gelato artist; honor his creamy creation which combines lemon and cinnamon. Or close your eyes for a moment over a fig granita.
Lodgings: Same as previous night.
Dinner: At our friend Cinzia’s favorite local trattoria, we sample fresh antipasti and then try the catch of the day.
Day 3 Anapo Canyon Nature Reserve and Prehistoric Dwellings
After cream filled croissants and cappuccini we transfer to the Anapo Valley. Small roads wind through countryside villages that seem forgotten by time. We arrive above the Anapo Canyon inhabited in prehistoric times until the middle ages. The burial grounds here were carved in steep rock walls and are the largest such complex of its kind in Sicily with over 5,000 tombs dating as far back as the second millennium BC. We follow a single-track trail past the tombs as well as the ancient homes at the base of the canyon. Accompanied by the fragrance of countless herbs, beautiful wildflowers and the murmur of the Anapo River we enjoy our walk within this seldom-explored reserve. The wilderness, peace and charm are sure to make you wonder why not.
In the afternoon we transfer to Nicolosi, the ideal staging post and last town from where to explore Etna. From here the road winds up to Rifugio Sapienza, the end of paved roads and the start of our expedition up towards the crater.
Hotel: Friendly B&B at the base of Mt Etna
Dinner: fantastic homemade food like caponata, a local sweet & sour specialty made of eggplant.
Day 4 Mt Etna and Sicilian Wines
We rise fairly early to climb to the top of Europe's largest volcano, Etna. Some called it "the column which supports the sky" while others thought of it as "the Eye of the Cyclopes." A four-wheel drive & cable tram takes us through a moon-like landscape up to 9,388'. The enthusiast can walk up to this point, but the day is less tiring by driving it. The views are something else from up here.
Depending on the conditions we may be able to walk up to 10,965' and the spectacular view point of the gentle hills of Sicily's interior, the deep blue Ionic coast, the Aeolian islands with Stromboli Volcano fuming in the sea with the shores of mainland Calabria & Campania in the background. On an extremely clear day, one can even catch a glimpse of Africa. Our guide for this hike uncover themany mysteries of Etna and are able to answer any question regarding volcanoes. We leave Etna's summit via a panoramic trail of a surrealistic landscape along it's eastern face.
After lunch atop Etna a short transfer along the base of Etna takes us through the terraced hills of lemon groves that are sold in the Northern European markets and offers us the opportunity to stop at one of Sicily's fine wine producers for a tour and tasting. Then onward to Taormina, said to be the most beautiful city of Sicily where legend tells of how Neptune sunk a ship of Greek sailors. Only one man survived and could not believe how beautiful it was, so he decided to stay to establish the town.
Before dinner we tour the impressive archeological site where the Greek Theater, set on the edge of town above the Sea and with Etna as a backdrop, was almost completely remodeled by the Romans. The afternoon is very flexible from a day on the beach or in the gardens, to shop or to take a walk with us through the small streets and stairways past houses boasting flower-filled balconies (there is a contest each year on who best decorates the fašade with flowers), exploring the many Romanesque and Gothic treasures, then up to the castle for a magnificent view of the acropolis.
Lodgings: 17th century palace (Moorish style) in the historic center of town; overlooking the semitropical hills and the turquoise waters. There is a beautiful private garden full of lemon trees, palms and bougainvillea. The antique-furnished living room is the spot to relax. All rooms are large, simple and charming. Each has either a wrought iron balcony or a private little patio. The owner and his family give this inn a very warm, family atmosphere.
Dinner: Free night out.
Day 5 The Home of Aeolus, God of the Winds
A short drive brings us to the port of Milazzo, from where we board a boat to the island of Vulcano. This is the first of seven islands, which together form the Aeolian Islands (also called Lipari Islands). It was on this island that Ancient Greek mythology placed the forge of Hephaestus, the God of Fire, who worked as a blacksmith with the assistance of the Cyclops. But it was the Roman name of the god Vulcan that became synonymous with the island and with vulcanology, the scientific study of volcanoes.
We offer the option to hike up to the main crater of Vulcano for the unforgettable views extending over to the neighboring islands and the sea (the last eruption occurred in 1890, we should be fine J). The rocks we stand on are stained yellow ochre and red created by the fumes that condense into the most delicate crystals while still hot. Ancients believed Vulcano was the entrance to Hades, the kingdom of the dead. Christians also believed that the volcano was the entrance to Hell and was inhabited by demons (even Dante mentions it). In the last century Vulcano was frequented daily by prisoners who were forced by armed guards to mine sulfur as part of their sentence.
After the descent back down to the harbor, you might like to take advantage of the mud baths, a specialty of Vulcano and quite relaxing, and renowned to relieve rheumatic ailments …
Lodgings: On the island of Salina, at a place you immediately will fall in love with.
Day 6 Movie set of Il Postino
Salina is a very green, fertile island, thanks to the abundance of water. Hundreds of different types of plants inhabit the island, thus forests preserve and bird sanctuaries were founded. It is a quiet and simple way of life people led here, as nature sets the rhythm; the harvest of capers and grapes, waiting for the fish swarm… Salina is a double-coned, extinct volcano. We climb nearly 3,000 ft. from sea-level to the top of the main cone, which is often in or above the clouds. Monte Fossa delle Felci is famous for its incomparable forest consisting of trees such as oak, chestnut, cherry and pine. Through fields of ferns and later rosemary, juniper, scrub pine, oak and other southern essences, we descend to the wild beach where the postman (il postino) was filmed.
Lodgings: same as previous night
Dinner: seafood, olives, capers, home made bread…
Day 7-8 Blue Transparent Seas
Lipari is the largest island of the archipelago and the most densely populated. We explore the wild, uninhabited west side of Lipari Island. Our walk takes us through whitewashed villages to the hot springs called Stufe di San Calogero. Its waters have been famous for their therapeutic properties since Antiquity. Of special interest among the ancient ruins is a domed chamber. A recent study has revealed it to be from the Mycenaean period, and is now considered the oldest thermal complex of its era. We pass vineyards that produce Malvasia, a sweet moscato wine also known as "Ambrosia of the Gods", on our way to Quattropani, a viewpoint over the ever cobalt blue transparency of the waters to Salina and its two extinct volcanoes, Monte dei Porri and Monte Fossa delle Felci, which we climbed on the previous day.
Lodgings: same as previous night.
Dinner: farewell dinner
*Meeting your tour:
Ideally you would fly into Catania and we would be there to meet you at airport. (We can suggest many options low cost airlines that fly into Catania from various cities in Europe.)
Overnight train to Catania (tour start) from Rome: ~11 hours
(you would need to order a sleeper car no later than one day in advance)
Trains from Rome (Roma) Catania (tour start): ~11 hours
#793-Conca d’Oro-- Roma Termini -23:00--à arrival Catania Centrale ---09:07
* Departure times and track are known to change on a moments notice, thus verify before boarding