Sicily Signature Tour, October 1–11, 2012
A fertile volcanic island, Sicily has been one of the most coveted prizes in the Mediterranean since the Greeks first colonized it in the eighth century B.C. The Greeks were followed by the Romans, who developed the island as a granary to feed their empire. Subsequently, Sicily was pounced on by (among others) the Byzantines, Arabs, Normans and Spanish, which explains why its 10,000 square miles contain some of the most spectacular archaeological sites in Europe. The Greek ruins at Agrigento and the classical theater at Taormina, with its views of the snowcapped and often smoking Mount Etna, were mandatory stops on the European Grand Tour during the 19th century, and among the highlights of ours.
From Sicily’s Catania on the Ionian Sea , we’ll fly by private jet to Naples, perhaps catching a glimpse of Mount Vesuvius en route. South of Naples lies the famed Amalfi Coast, where the jagged Lattari Mountains plunge into the Mediterranean, providing some of the world’s most dramatic scenery. Surrounded by terraced lemon groves, picturesque whitewashed villages cling to precipitous slopes, while beneath forbidding cliffs the resort towns of Amalfi and Positano cluster at the edge of the sea. A narrow corniche road traces the indentations of the coastline from Sorrento east to the magical hill town of Ravello, a romantic airie with lovely gardens and unsurpassed views.
Monday, October 1, 2012 Board your overnight flight to Palermo
Tuesday, October 2, 2012 Arrive Palermo
On arrival in Palermo, you will be met and transferred to your grand hotel, located on the harbor, built as a private villa in the 1800s in an art nouveau style with its own ancient Greek temple ruins in the grounds. The new rooms are spacious and well-appointed with lovely hardwood floors and marble baths. The hotel offers a sense of Old World elegance near the city center. Relax on your own before meeting fellow Andrew Harper travelers for drinks at the Terrace Bar, followed by a welcome dinner in the private room, the Cuvée du Jour.
Villa Igiea Hilton Palermo (Junior Suite) D
Wednesday, October 3, 2012 Palermo
Palermo, nestled in the protective flank of Monte Pellegrino with Monte Alfano to the east, lies in a natural amphitheater nicknamed the Conca d’Oro (Golden Basin) and is the ideal introduction to all things Sicilian.
This morning you'll explore some of the city’s highlights: the Quattro Canti (four canted corners) in the heart of old Palermo; the 12th-century Church of San Cataldo, with its Moorish-style architecture; the beautiful mosaics of La Martorana; and the Zisa castle, once the summer residence of Norman kings and still a marvelous example of Arab architecture. Experience the bustling Ballaró market, where each day locals bargain over an array of fish, fruit and vegetables on display. As we wander through, sample some of the local delicacies such as granita, brioche or ice cream—often eaten for breakfast.
After lunch at Casa del Brodo, a renowned seafood restaurant that has been part of the Catanese family for generations, we’ll journey to the village of Monreale and visit its splendid cathedral and cloisters, boasting 68,220 square feet of golden mosaics designed by Sicilian and Byzantine artists.
This evening you are guests of Conte Federico and Contessa Alwine in their working palace, the Palazzo Conte Federico. Over the centuries, the palace has undergone many reconstructions in various architectural styles, as evidenced by its medieval wooden boxed ceilings, its baroque frescoes by Vito D’Anna and Gaspare Serenario, and its 17th-century grand stairway. Enjoy drinks and a talk about modern Sicily, the evolution of the Mafia and its role in society today, with our special guest speaker, Fabio Licata, Sicilian judge, professor and author. Dinner will be served in the palace’s 12th-century Arab-Norman tower.
Villa Igiea Hilton Palermo (Junior Suite) B,L,D
Thursday, October 4, 2012 Palermo
Today we’ll take an easy drive across the island toward the south coast and Castelvetrano, where we’ll visit an olive oil-producing estate owned by Gianfranco and Gabriella Becchina, who produce prized “Olio Verde” lemon olive oil. We’ll be introduced to the art of making extra-virgin olive oil and participate in tasting. Gabriella Becchina, our hostess for lunch, will conduct a hands-on cooking class that highlights regional Sicilian cuisine.
Afterwards we make our way to Sciacca and the recently opened Verdura Golf & Spa Resort nearby, part of the Rocco Forte Collection. With just 203 rooms and suites on 568 acres of stunning landscape and a mile of private coastline, the resort offers space and privacy.
Dinner is at the sophisticated La Zagara, overlooking the sea, one of the four restaurants on the property supervised by the Michelin-starred chef Fulvio Pierangelini.
Verdura Golf & Spa Resort (Junior Suite) B,L,D
Friday, October 5, 2012 Sciacca-Agrigento-Montallegro - Sciacca
Today, choose one of two options, depending upon your interests:
Verdura Golf & Spa Resort
Enjoy your entire day relaxing, inclusive of lunch, at the Verdura Golf & Spa Resort, taking advantage of its location and extensive spa facility covering 4,000 square feet, including 11 treatment rooms. Attend a yoga class, use the four thalassotherapy pools, walk or cycle around the estate, enjoy a round of golf, play tennis on one of the six floodlit clay courts, or just sunbath by the pool or beach. Dine on your own at one of the resort’s four restaurants, such as the intimate Amare by the beach.
Agrigento with Claudio Castiglione
Travel east to Agrigento and the Valley of the Temples, one of the island's most important archaeological sites, with wonderful sea views beyond. The temples of Hercules, Concord, and Juno are considered by many to be the most well-preserved collection of buildings from classical Greece in existence today. The oldest, the Temple of Hercules, dates to the 6th century BC. Enjoy a guided tour, followed by lunch at the Capitolo Primo in Montallegro, part of an ancient palace courtyard. Here chef Damiano Ferraro will welcome you with a special appetizer.
After lunch return to the Verdura Golf & Spa Resort, practice your chipping and putting, or form a foursome and go around the 9-hole course designed by leading architect Kyle Phillips, or simply read a book and admire the view. Dine on your own at any of resort’s four restaurants; Liolá, a colorful trattoria located beside the 15th-century watch tower, serves a light supper.
Verdura Golf & Spa Resort (Junior Suite) B,L
Saturday, October 6, 2012 Sciacca-Marsala-Sciacca
After a leisurely start, we travel along the coast to the western seaport of Marsala—a name synonymous with the fortified wine commercialized by John Woodhouse in the late 18th century when he began exporting it to England. In the early 19th century, Vincenzo Florio, a shipping owner, purchased large tracts of land, refining his product and eventually acquired Woodhouse’s company and others. Today Florio is a leading producer.
After our cellar tour, we’ll lunch at a rustic trattoria and travel along the “Via del Sale” (the salt way) to see the salt-covered pans and windmills once used in the evaporation process, where sea salt—exported since Phoenician times—is harvested to this day.
Dinner is your own at Verdura Golf & Spa Resort at any one of its restaurants.
Verdura Golf & Spa Resort (Junior Suite) B, L
Sunday, October 7, 2012 Sciacca – Piazza Armerina – Taormina
On our way to Piazza Armerina, we'll visit the magnificent Imperial Roman Villa of Casale, believed to have been the hunting lodge of Emperor Maximianus Heraclius. Here are 12,000 square feet of mosaics that some say are more impressive than those at Pompeii, since each room’s use is revealed by the mosaic. There are examples of a rather rotund man receiving a massage, another man being dried off with a large towel, women clad in two piece swimsuits exercising with barbells and in the frigidarium, or cold bath room, cupids as fishermen.
After a light lunch, our destination will be Taormina, set on a bluff above the Ionian Sea at the foot of Mount Tauro, dominating two grand bays below, and on the southern side, the top of Mount Etna. Immersed in luxuriant subtropical vegetation, Taormina was a favorite stop for those on the Grand Tour and the preferred summer residence of aristocrats and celebrities from the Rothschilds to Truman Capote and Gustav Klimt.
Arrive at the Hotel Grand Timeo, an Andrew Harper recommended property, in time to relax before dinner. As Taormina's first hotel dating from 1873, the Timeo is without doubt one of the most glamorous hotels in Italy. The sumptuous rooms include antique furnishings and either a panoramic balcony or terrace.
Tonight’s guest speaker, journalist Wendy Mazza will talk about Sicilian traditions and their development through the ages. Dinner is a’ la carte at Oliviero in the Villa Sant’Andrea, overlooking the idyllic Bay of Mazzarò.
Grand Hotel Timeo (Junior Suite) B, L, D
Monday, October 8, 2012 Taormina-Castelmola-Taormina
We may choose from any one of the following four options or combinations depending upon your interests:
Grand Hotel Timeo and Villa Sant’Andrea
Spend the day on your own, using the amenities at the hotel or the Villa Sant’Andrea, including visiting their private beach and enjoying water sports. You may visit the Oasi Benessre, a wellness area for a massage or a Turkish bath, or just sit on the terrace soaking up the atmosphere and reading.
Sightseeing with Diana Mazza
This morning take an early walking tour of Taormina. Visit the Greek amphitheater, later rebuilt by the Romans and used for contests; the cathedral with its Gothic façade; the clock tower and the 15th century Palazzo Corvaja with its black lava and white limestone inlays. The afternoon is on your own, with the amenities at the hotel and Villa Sant’Andrea yours to enjoy.
Tailor-made shopping with Diana Mazza
This afternoon your personal shopper, Diana Mazza, will accompany you around the most famous streets of Taormina for shopping, ranging from designer clothes to handicrafts, local pottery and antiques.
Hiking with your Andrew Harper Representative
Alternatively, you may hike towards Saraceno and Castelmola for rewarding views of Taormina, Mount Etna, the north coast and beyond. You will hike to about 1,700 feet above sea level, along the way passing the Good Friday vigil points for the Stations of the Cross, and wandering past summer homes and out of the way places.
Dine on your own this afternoon or this evening at the hotel restaurants or nearby in the town center.
Grand Hotel Timeo (Junior Suite) B
Tuesday, October 9, 2012 Taormina-Lentini-Syracuse
After a leisurely start to the morning, depart for the Borghese Gardens for a private tour with the elegant Princess Maria Carla Borghese before lunch in her beautiful home. The 205-acre Borghese Estate, “Il Biviere,” was granted to the family in 1392 by King Martino. The gardens were established in 1968 under the auspices of the Princess. The gardens border a lake and feature a variety of Mediterranean species, as well as exotic and rare plants from different parts of the world. The gardens have attracted many illustrious visitors, including the British Royal Family.
Later this afternoon, you will continue to Syracuse, one of the most important cities in the western world for over a thousand years. This is the city that overcame Athens in the Peloponnesian War and put an end to its imperial dream. Visit the renowned archaeological park with its remarkable Greek and Roman ruins, featuring contrasting styles—the Greek amphitheater carved out of rock, semi-circular and open; the Roman one, oval and enclosed. You’ll also see the extraordinary Paradise Quarry, which served as a prison for the Athenians after their calamitous defeat in 413 B.C., and the Ear of Dionysius cave, so named because Dionysius, the tyrant ruler of Siracusa, legend says, eavesdropped on his incarcerated prisoners from a small opening in the top.
Your seafront hotel on the island of Ortygia—the historic center of Syracuse—is reached by bridge. Originally built in 1896, the hotel offers tastefully furnished guest rooms and recent additions such as a new wellness center with a Turkish bath and cloud and massage rooms.
Dine a la carte this evening at Osteria da Mariano, a local trattoria on the island specializing in cuisine from the nearby Iblei Mountain towns and villages.
Hotel Des EtrangersEt Miramare (Junior Suite with Sea View) B, L, D
Wednesday, October 10, 2012 Syracuse-Noto-Syracuse
A walking tour of the narrow streets of Ortygia includes its remarkable cathedral. In the 5th century B.C., the Greeks built a temple to Athena here, and in the 7th century, Syracuse’s first Christian cathedral was built around the Greek structure. The original columns of the Greek temple are still visible in the cathedral’s outer wall, as well as inside where they form chapels connected by wrought-iron gates.
After lunch at Don Camillo, known for its Sicilian cuisine under chef Giovanni Guaneri’s masterful hand, you may wander back through the enchanting narrow streets along the waterfront to your hotel. Or you may continue on to the Sicilian baroque-style town of Noto, built after the town was destroyed by the great earthquake of 1693. The main street is lined with honey-colored buildings with ornate balconies and elaborately carved façades.
Dine on your own at the hotel’s Medusa restaurant with its wonderful terrace for outdoor dining, or at any of the recommended restaurants on the island.
Hotel Des Etrangers Et Miramare (Junior Suite with Sea View) B, L
Thursday, October 11, 2012 Syracuse – Catania – Naples – Ravello
After breakfast you are transferred to the nearby Catania airport for your home bound flights.
Amalfi Extension, October 11–13, 2012
For those taking the extension fly independently from Sicily's Catania on the Ionian Sea to Naples, perhaps catching a glimpse of Mount Vesuvius en route. South of Naples lies the famed Amalfi Coast, where the jagged Lattari Mountains plunge into the Mediterranean, providing some of the world's most dramatic scenery. Surrounded by terraced lemon groves, picturesque whitewashed villages cling to precipitous slopes, while beneath forbidding cliffs the resort towns of Amalfi and Positano cluster at the edge of the sea. A narrow corniche road traces the indentations of the coastline from Sorrento east to the magical hill town of Ravello, a romantic aerie with lovely gardens and unsurpassed views.
Thursday, October 11, 2012 Syracuse – Catania – Naples – Ravello
You are transferred by private vehicle to the nearby Catania airport for your commercial flight to Naples.
Upon arriving in Naples, you are driven to your hotel in Ravello, perhaps catching a glimpse of Mount Vesuvius en route, weather permitting. The drive traverses narrow, mountain roads and passes through tiny villages before reaching Ravello. Perched on a cliff overlooking the deep blue sea of the Amalfi coast, Ravello offers dramatic views, as if suspended between the sea and the sky. Its alleys, stairways and roof passages hint of unhurried lives. Its aristocratic restraint has beguiled artists, musicians and writers, including Virginia and Leonard Woolf, D.H. Lawrence, Graham Green, Gore Vidal, Hans Escher, Wagner and Joan Mirò.
The recently reopened and renovated Hotel Caruso, a Harper-recommended property, sits in an 11th-century palazzo that became a small pension in 1893. Adventurous travelers from Europe and America were beguiled, and its fame quickly spread. Recently remodeled, its 50 spacious rooms and suites each have a unique style and most provide sea views and terraces.
This evening dine on your own at one the Hotel Caruso's two main restaurants specializing in traditional Neapolitan and regional dishes under the watchful eye of Executive Chef Mimmo di Raffaele.
Hotel Caruso (Junior Suite with Sea View) B
Friday, October 12, 2012 Ravello – Scala – Furore – Positano – Ravello
Visit nearby Scala, a pretty town dating to Roman times, perched on the hills overlooking Amalfi. Enjoy a private tour of a local vineyard that has won numerous awards for both its red and white wines. After tasting some of the best vintages, continue onto Positano with its white cubic houses revealing a strong Moorish influence and a venue for past artists and intellectuals such as Picasso, Cocteau, Steinbeck, Moravia, Nureyev, and the trend-setters of La Dolce Vita.
For dinner maybe travel independently to nearby Amalfi, and the Andrew Harper-recommended La Caravella, which first opened in 1959 and has become one of the most important restaurants in southern Italy. Located in an ancient building that was the archive of the Duchy of Amalfi, it specializes in regional fish and seafood dishes, reflecting its historical maritime traditions.
Hotel Caruso (Junior Suite with Sea View) B
Saturday, October 13, 2012 Ravello – Naples – United States
In the morning, transfer to the Naples airport for your homebound flight.