Palermo Cathedral
Palermo Cathedral

Sicily & Southern Italy: Classical Crossroads of the Mediterranean


15 days From $7,750

October 13 2019

Between them the island of Sicily, just 190 miles north of Africa, and mainland Southern Italy are home to some of the Old World’s grandest, most beautiful and certainly best-preserved Classical archaeological sites. Their wealth of historic monuments, many built on a colossal scale, commemorate the turbulent sequences of discovery, conquest, colonization and decline that successive invaders brought to an area that is today one of the Mediterranean’s most fascinating cultural melting-pots.

Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Saracens and Normans each left their mark in turn amid a legacy of columned temples, villas, aqueducts, theatres, castles and cathedrals. To this unique heritage later periods of French, Spanish and Austrian control have each added cultural influences of their own.

Under the guidance of our specialist leader the many world-class sites we will explore on our tour span Agrigento’s Greek temples, the Roman amphitheatre at Syracuse, Casale’s late-Roman mosaics and (on the mainland) Paestum’s Doric temples, the especially compelling ruins of Pompeii – and many more. Our journey adds the enjoyment of travel through sunlit Mediterranean landscapes where vines and olives flourish, and enriched by the many pleasures of today’s Italy, its welcoming lifestyle and irresistible cuisine.

What's included?

  •  Expert Scholar & Tour Manager
  •  Accommodation
  •  Meals - as per the itinerary
  •  Local Transport
  •  Entries & Tips

Led by...

Dr Dirk Booms

Dr Dirk Booms

Dr Dirk Booms is curator of Roman archaeology at the British Museum, whose areas of specialty are Roman architecture, sculpture, glass, and inscriptions.

Book Now $7,750
Includes deposit: $1,250 Single supplement: $1,650

Tour highlights:

  • Gain many intriguing insights into some of the Mediterranean’s most imposing Classical archaeological sites as well as others lesser-known but no less memorable
  • Wander the haunting ruins of Pompeii & Herculaneum – destroyed by Mount Vesuvius 2,000 years ago and still eerily intact
  • Relax amid the beautiful waterside settings of medieval Taormina and charming Cefalù
  • Marvel at Reggio Calabria’s Riace Warriors – iconic life-sized Greek bronze statues rescued from the sea
  • Enjoy scenic drives through some of Sicily’s most spectacular hill and massif scenery

Tour details

Dates October 13 2019 - October 27 2019
Duration 15 days
Cost $7,750
Single supplement: $1,650
Deposit: $1,250 , balance due by July 21 2019
Activity Level Moderate
Tour code B19SIC

Book Now or call 866-740-5130 if you have any questions

October 13 2019: Itinerary

On arrival at Sicily’s Palermo airport we are transferred to our hotel. This evening we meet up to enjoy our first dinner together as a group.

Meals include: Dinner

Hotel: Piazza Borsa Hotel, Palermo

Our tour opens on an introductory archaeological note as we make a first morning stop at Palermo’s Phoenician necropolis, where numerous graves have been found in rock-cut chambers and pits. A 50-mile drive along Sicily’s northern shore then brings us to the delightful port and beach resort of Cefalù, whose medieval old town and glorious mosaic-rich Norman cathedral offer rewarding exploration before a delicious seaside lunch. Later, on our return to Palermo, we stop at the hillside town of Monreale, home to Sicily’s single most important Norman religious and cultural landmark: the 12th century cathedral acclaimed for its dazzling gold mosaics and serene Moorish-style cloisters. We drive back to Palermo to enjoy dinner independently in one of the city’s tempting trattorias.

Meals include: Breakfast, Lunch

Hotel: Piazza Borsa Hotel, Palermo

Here in Palermo our day is dedicated to the key locations of cultural interest in Sicily’s lively, colorful and - above all – ancient island capital. Our morning calls begin at La Zisa, a compact 12th century Norman-Arab palace housing the Museum of Islamic Art’s vibrant collection of Arabic art and artifacts. We continue to the grand cathedral, towering high above the terracotta rooftops of Palermo’s old quarter. It’s one of the island’s most striking buildings, with a feast of architectural styles producing an eye-boggling exterior of domes, towers and battlements. We relax over lunch at a local restaurant before visiting the Cappella Palatina, once the royal chapel of Sicily’s Norman kings. A complex cultural heritage is on magnificent display here, with superb Byzantine gold mosaics complimented by inlaid marble floors and a wooden ceiling in Arabic-style honeycomb carving. Our final call is at the Archaeological Museum, located in a Renaissance monastery and with a collection containing some of Sicily’s most interesting Greek and Roman artifacts – including beautiful decorative architectural sculpture from the Greek temples of the Archaic period.

Meals include: Breakfast, Lunch

Hotel: Piazza Borsa Hotel, Palermo

A pleasant 50-mile drive westwards through the Sicilian countryside brings us to the significant archaeological site of Segesta, where the golden stones of an exceptionally pretty Doric temple (5th century BCE and probably part-Etymian and part-Greek in origin) rise out of the Mediterranean “maquis” landscape. Although unfinished - and always roofless - it is one of the best-preserved examples of its kind, with 36 columns, entablature and pediment all remaining intact. Higher up is a Greek (and subsequently Roman) open amphitheater, still in use today. In the afternoon we take the ferry to the tiny island of San Pantaleo to see the excavated ruins of the ancient Phoenician colony of Motya. The museum houses an outstanding statue in Greek charioteer dress dating from the 5th century BCE. Back on “mainland” Sicily we drive to historic Marsala (of wine fame), our attractive overnight base, visiting the archaeological museum, renowned for its reconstructed Carthaginian galley warship, over 100ft in length.

All meals included

Hotel: Grand Hotel Palace, Marsala

Shortly after leaving Marsala this morning we pause at Mazara del Vallo to visit the Museo del Satiro in the church of Sant’Egidio to view the Greek bronze statue known as the Dancing Satyr of Mazara del Vallo, rescued from beneath the sea by local fisherman in the 1990s. It is thought to date to the 3rd or 2nd century BCE - although some attribute it to the earlier Attic sculptor Praxiteles. We continue to Cusa, location of the stone quarries used in the construction of nearby Selinunte, our next stop. Westernmost of Sicily’s Hellenic colonies, Selinunte was founded in the 7th century BCE; sacked by the Carthaginians in 409 BCE; and later almost totally destroyed by earthquakes. Today it survives as without doubt one of Sicily’s most impressive Greek archaeological sites. Graceful Doric temples remain magnificent in their sunlit coast setting - while ancient town walls and the ruins of residential buildings can also be seen amid the excavations. After lunch we complete our exploration of the western Acropolis before continuing to Agrigento, important to archaeologists as the site of Akragas, an ancient Graeco-Roman city founded in about 50 BCE by colonists originally from Crete and Rhodes.

All meals included

Hotel: Hotel Kore, Agrigento

A fulfilling day of discovery awaits in Agrigento, opening with a visit to the city’s Archaeological Museum, notable for its reconstruction of the great Atlas-like Telamones and a precious collection of Greek vases and artifacts from the nearby Valley of the Temples, all collectively telling the history of the original Greek city of Akragas. We see the temple-like Oratory of Phalaris and the excavated ruins of the Hellenistic and Roman Quarters before exploring the main archaeological area of the Valley of the Temples – deservedly designated as an Italian national monument and UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here the great temples on our calling-list include Hercules (the oldest), Concordia (the best-preserved) and Hera (in a dramatic ridge-edge setting) – and in the western zone the remains of the Temple of Olympian Zeus, largest-known Doric temple of antiquity.

Meals include: Breakfast, Lunch

Hotel: Hotel Kore, Agrigento

Today introduces us to two r contrasted archaeological sites of note as we make our way towards Sicily’s eastern coast. A scenic drive into the island’s rolling hills takes us firstly to the remains of the Greek city of Morgantina, where the excavations (conducted by Princeton University in 1955) allow us to trace the settlement’s story from prehistory to the Roman era. After lunch a brief drive brings us to the heritage-listed Villa Romana del Casale, a beautiful late-Roman villa and summer home of an important public figure - possibly Maximianus Herculius, co-emperor with Diocletian. The finest features of its many rooms are the amazingly intact 4th century mosaic floors of the Roman-African school, depicting an exotic hunting scene, ten maidens in “bikinis” enjoying gymnastics and an array of mythological scenes. From here we continue to the historic east coast city of Syracuse.

All meals included

Hotel: Algilà Ortigia Charme Hotel, Syracuse

Settled by Corinthian colonists in 733 BCE, Syracuse was for two centuries the most powerful city-state of Sicily (larger even than Corinth or Athens) until ultimately defeated by the Romans in 215 BCE. Home to one of the island’s greatest archaeological sites, the city also preserves the flavor of a colorful more recent past in the timeless charm of its old quarter on adjoining Ortygia island. Our first day here begins at the Regional Archaeological Museum to admire the major collection of Greek pottery and artifacts from the area. We then enjoy leisurely viewing of the nearby Neapolis Archaeological Park, a splendid setting for the city’s greatest concentration of ruins. The Park’s many features include a 3rd century Roman amphitheater; the enormous Hellenistic Altar of Hieron II; the 65ft-high “Ear of Dionysius” carved rock arch; and a 5th century Greek theater once holding audiences of 15,000. Our day ends on Syracuse’s Ortygia island, where we wander through the atmospheric old quarter embellished by beautifully-restored baroque buildings – among them the resplendent cathedral (incorporating the still-visible remains of an ancient Temple of Athena) and the freshwater Fountain of Arethusa, famed in Greek mythology.

Meals include: Breakfast, Lunch

Hotel: Algilà Ortigia Charme Hotel, Syracuse

After breakfast we visit the picturesque ruins of Euryalus Castle, the Greek World’s largest military stronghold, built around 400 BCE and featured in the tale of Archimedes, who positioned a burning mirror here to set fire to the sails of an attacking Roman fleet. We then enjoy the coastal drive to the vivacious medieval town of Taormina, our base for two nights. After lunch we tour, Taormina’s most important cultural feature - the stately remains of its 3rd century BCE Greek theater, constructed after the removal by hand of over 130,000 cubic yards of rock – to which the Romans added columns, statues and ingenious covers. It comes with its own ready-made backdrop of dazzling views over the Mediterranean and snow-capped Mt. Etna.

All meals included

Hotel: Hotel Excelsior Palace, Taormina

The day is ours to enjoy at leisure in picturesque Taormina. Relax by the beach and then explore more of this popular resort town – or take a full or half-day excursion to the top of Mt. Etna.

Meals include: Breakfast

Hotel: Hotel Excelsior Palace, Taormina

We leave early for Messina and the ferry-crossing to Reggio Calabria on the Italian mainland. Here a high point of our journey is a visit to the National Museum to view the world-famous “Riace Warriors”, the life-size bronze statues rescued from the Ionian Sea in 1972 and considered the finest of their kind from the ancient Greek world. We then embark on a spectacular drive through the high plateau landscapes of the Sila Massif, carpeted with Italy’s most extensive forest of pine, evergreen, oak and beech. Later in the day we reach Paestum for an overnight stay.

Meals include: Breakfast, Dinner

Hotel: Savoy Beach Hotel, Paestum

This morning we explore the extensive ruins of ancient Paestum, founded here on the coast of the Tyrrhenian Sea in 600 BCE. Its well-preserved Doric temples are among the only Greek ruins remaining on mainland Italy. Though Paestum was later conquered by the Romans the site’s most spectacular ruins remain Greek. We also visit the excellent site museum, whose significant Greek and Etruscan finds include the mural paintings from the important “Tomb of the Diver”. After lunch we follow the coast north to Herculaneum, the ancient Roman sister-city to Pompeii, buried by the devastating eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 CE. Herculaneum still preserves many largely intact public and private buildings, in some of which splendid frescoes and mosaics can still be admired. We continue to our next hotel in Naples.

Meals include: Breakfast, Lunch

Hotel: Renaissance Naples Hotel Mediterraneo

We leave Naples to spend the day at Pompeii, one of Italy’s most compelling archaeological sites, the sprawling 170-acre coastal setting of a once-thriving and now ruined Roman “lost city”. Vast and haunting, Pompeii features excavated ruins of streets and buildings of all kinds, some still with contents offering tantalizing glimpses into daily life of the period whose 11,000 inhabitants were engulfed by volcanic ash and lava after the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius nearly 2,000 years ago. This evening we gather for a farewell group dinner at our hotel.

Meals include: Breakfast, Dinner

Hotel: Renaissance Naples Hotel Mediterraneo

Our touring concludes this morning with a visit to Naples’ world-class National Archaeological Museum. Founded in the 18th century by the Bourbon king Charles VII, this houses the many antiquities inherited by Charles from his mother, Elisabetta Farnese. Notable among the superb collections of Graeco-Roman artifacts are the imperial-era “Toro Farnese” (Farnese Bull) sculpture; the Farnese Hercules from the Baths of Caracalla in Rome; and well-preserved wall paintings and mosaics from Pompeii and Herculaneum. The remainder of our day is free for relaxation or further independent sightseeing.

 

Meals include: Breakfast

Hotel: Renaissance Naples Hotel Mediterraneo

We transfer to the airport for our individual flights home or onward travel.

Meals include: Breakfast

October 13 2019: Additional Info

October 13 2019: Accommodation

This hotel used to be a palace and it still feels like one! Step into the atrium-style lobby, once you’ve checked in you’ll feel the rooms are spacious and well equipped. You’ll be able to grab a drink and lounge in the large courtyard before exploring the historical gem of Palermo, and the waterfront is within easy walking distance. Don’t miss the hotel’s breakfast pastries which are highly recommended!

Situated on the seafront in Marsala, New Hotel Palace offers an outdoor swimming pool, a sea-view terrace, and Sicilian cuisine. 

The Palace Hotel features air-conditioned rooms with a private bathroom and flat-screen TV. Some rooms overlook the garden and some enjoy full sea views. Breakfast is buffet style.

The elegant restaurant serves a wide range of local and international specialties. The cellar has a selection of local and national wines, and the bar serves drinks and snacks all day.

Close to the Valley of the Temples, this 4-star hotel lies in the Villaggio Mosè business district, a 10-minute drive from Agrigento. It offers modern rooms with air conditioning. WiFi is free at reception.

Rooms at Hotel Kore have simple furnishings and tiled floors. Each includes a private bathroom with hairdryer and toiletry set.

Traditional Sicilian cuisine is served at the restaurant, along with classic Italian dishes. Breakfast is continental-style, with croissants, eggs, cold meats and cheeses.

Set on Ortigia Island overlooking the Ionian Sea, Algilà Ortigia Charme is right on the seafront. It features elegant, air-conditioned rooms equipped with antique furnishings from the 1700s. WiFi here is free.

It is housed in 3 buildings dating from 1700 decorated with antique furniture and decorations.

Each room comes with antique furniture and a private bathroom with decorated tiles. Some rooms boast wood-beamed ceilings or a four-poster bed.

Breakfast is buffet style, and includes Sicilian specialties such as organic marmalade's. The restaurant serves Mediterranean cuisine with seafood specialties and a choice of gluten-free meals.

This property is 7 minutes walk from the beach. Excelsior Palace Hotel is a Moorish-style building, 10 minutes' walk from the Greek Amphitheater. It offers free WiFi throughout and an outdoor pool with panoramic views of Mount Etna and the hillside village of Castelmola.

Each room at Excelsior Palace Hotel has elegant wood furnishings and parquet floors. They feature air conditioning, satellite TV, and some have a balcony with sea views.

The hotel’s restaurant specializes in international favorites and Mediterranean cuisine. The buffet breakfast includes pastries, fresh fruit, eggs and traditional Italian coffee, it can be served directly into your room on request.

After exploring the ancient ruins on the tour, we arrive at this modern temple, built for statement & elegance. The gold, precious gem and glass chandelier fills the lobby with glittering light. The attention to detail continues throughout the hotel. The rooms are spacious with exquisitely carved furniture and stunning mountain views. Take advantage of the pool, tropical gardens and terrace, this hotel is a highlight of the trip.

Admire the view across Naples city centro from the rooftop terrace of Renaissance Naples Hotel Mediterraneo. This renovated, historic building is located in the city center and boasts a fantastic location in the main shopping area and business district.

Retreat from the bustle of Naples's historical centre by relaxing in the hotel lobby, or in the comfort of the contemporary guest rooms. Each room is en suite and offers air conditioning, a minibar and a 42-inch flat-screen TV.

You can enjoy an American breakfast on the terrace with views of the mount Vesuvius. The restaurant and bar serve international and local cuisine from Naples.

October 13 2019: Enquiries

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