For centuries, Italy’s southern capitals of Naples and Palermo have seduced travellers through their mix of ancient and modern cultures, a blend that is both sophisticated and exhilarating. From the inspiring ruins of ancient Greek temples to the fusion of east and west in art and architecture and even in the sheer chaos of the traffic, one feels alive in the South.
Our 14-day tour of Palermo, Naples and surrounding attractions will appeal to travellers looking for an in-depth treatment of Mediterranean history, art and architecture. Background talks and a carefully thought-out program of walking tours, archaeological site visits, museums and galleries will help you gain a more meaningful understanding of what Palermo and Naples have to offer. Along with the structured part of the tour, you’ll enjoy free time to relax, observe the everyday life of the locals and explore independently. Performances at major opera houses and some excellent dining round out the experience.
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Vaccination requirements Academy Travel requires all participants on its tours to be fully vaccinated against Covid-19. We reserve the right to inspect your digital vaccination certificate.
Visit key sites of the network of colonies and trading ports established by the ancient Greeks up and down the coast, including the well-preserved settlements Paestum and Herculaneum.
Marvel at Monreale’s splendid cathedral and abbey. Lavishly decorated with colourful mosaics depicting events from the Old and New Testaments, it’s widely regarded as the finest example of Norman architecture in Sicily.
Explore Capodimonte, a former royal hunting lodge turned world-class art gallery. View paintings by Raphael, Titian, El Greco and Botticelli along with fine examples of Neapolitan silver and majolica ceramics.
Tour the home of Prince Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, author of the masterpiece The Leopard, which traces the rise and fall of Sicily’s aristocracy. Meet the writer’s nephew and adopted son and his wife, the current Duchess of Palma.
Day 1: Group flight from Rome to Palermo.
Days 2–6:Explore Palermo, including its World Heritage-listed Arab-Norman mosaics. Visit the home of author Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa (The Leopard); Greek temples and Byzantine mosaics on day trips to Segesta and Cefalù.
Days 7–13: Travel to Naples, explore the exceptional collections at the National Archaeological Museum and Capodimonte. Visit Roman Herculaneum and travel along the spectacular Amalfi coast to Greek Paestum. Get to know Caravaggio and enjoy a
performance at the historic Teatro San Carlo.
Start: ca3.30pm, January 10, at Rome Fiumicino airport to take the group Alitalia flight, to Palermo. Finish: ca12.00pm, January 23, at Rome Fiumicino airport, following our coach transfer from Naples.
Tuesday 10 January – Arrive Palermo
Meet your tour leader at Rome Fiumicino airport to commence the tour. There is a group flight to Palermo, then transfer by coach to our hotel in Palermo. In the early evening we meet for a light dinner at the hotel. Overnight Palermo (D)
Wednesday 11 January – Old Palermo
After an introductory talk we stroll through some of Palermo’s most ancient districts, dating back to the Phoenician period, c.700BCE. We begin with the mosaic-filled Martorana church from the Norman period and continue to the lively Ballaró market. The nearby Kalsa district was Arab Sicily’s administrative centre from 83, and is brimming with historic buildings. Lunch is at the elegant Ottava Nota restaurant, one of Palermo’s best. This afternoon, we visit the Stanze al Genio museum, a remarkable collection of majolica tiles from Sicily and Naples, spanning 500 years and housed in an elegant private apartment. Overnight Palermo (B, L)
Thursday 12 January – Sicily’s Ancient Heritage
One of the most important sites of ancient Greek colonisation, the island preserves some of the best Greek art and architecture to be found. After a morning talk, we travel by coach to Segesta, the home of the ancient Elymian people, who built a beautiful temple in the Greek style. The theatre here, oriented towards the sea, and the atmospheric ruins have inspired generations of travellers and artists. After a simple lunch at the site café, we return to Palermo via the belle epoque beach resort of Mondello, and Monte Pellegrino, where we visit the cave-shrine of the local patron saint, Santa Rosalia. Our final stop is Palermo’s excellent archaeological museum, not far from our hotel. Overnight Palermo (B, L)
Friday 13 January – Meet the Normans
After a morning talk on the sophisticated rule of the Arab-Norman dynasty of Sicily, we begin our survey of Palermo’s Norman sites at La Zisa, the Norman’s summer palace, completed during the reign of William II. It now holds a small but excellent museum of the Arab period. After a stop at the ruins of La Cuba, an elegant park-pavilion that was once part of a vast hunting estate, we head up the hills which ring Palermo to the town of Monreale. Here William II created an overwhelming visual metaphor for his power in Monreale’s massive cathedral, with its kilos and kilos of gold mosaics telling the story of the king’s divine right to rule. The cathedral’s exquisite carved cloister is an unrivalled masterpiece of medieval art and architecture, well deserving of its World Heritage status. Overnight Palermo (B)
Saturday 14 January – Medieval & Renaissance Fine Art
While Monreale overwhelms us with its scale, Norman king Roger II’s Palatine Chapel, which we visit this morning after a talk, is remarkable for its exquisite detail and beauty. Located within the Norman Palace, still functioning as Sicily’s regional parliament, its Byzantine mosaics glitter amongst ceiling paintings and stone carvings that reflect the Arabic style of its Muslim craftsmen. Nearby is the charming ruined Norman church of San Giovanni degli eremiti, built over a pre-existing mosque. We stroll back to our hotel via Palermo Cathedral, a remarkable structure built over a period of centuries and containing the monumental tombs of the Norman kings. This afternoon there is a special private visit to the last home of Prince Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, author of the celebrated novel TheLeopard – a bittersweet elegy to Sicily’s feudal past. We tour the palace today to meet with the writer’s nephew and adopted son, Gioacchino Lanza Tomasi (reputedly the inspiration for The Leopard’s Tancredi) and his wife Nicoletta, the current Duchess of Palma. The family home conserves an important collection of Tomasi di Lampedusa memorabilia, including manuscripts of his works – most of which were only published posthumously. Overnight Palermo (B)
Sunday 15 January – After the Normans
Sicily’s excellent regional art gallery is located within the 14th-century Palazzo Abatellis. The fine collection includes the magnificent Triumph of Death fresco, once adorning a private palace, and Antonello da Messina’s Virgin Annunciate, one of the finest works of the Italian renaissance. After a morning talk and a tour of the Palazzo Abatellis, we visit the Palazzo Chairamonti Steri, built by the family which ruled Sicily on behalf of the Aragonese. Today the palace is the seat of the regional university. It contains a fine magna aula, once the medieval banqueting hall and the prisons of the Holy inquisition, with fascinating prisoner graffiti. Tonight, we attend a piano recital in a deconsecrated church just near our hotel. Overnight Palermo (B)
Monday 16 January – Cefalù – Ferry to Naples
This morning there is the option of visiting the fine 18th-century stucco interiors of the Santa Cita oratory and other nearby sites. We then check out of the hotel and head to Cefalù, about 60km east of Palermo. Here we visit the cathedral built by Norman king Roger II in 1132 to give thanks for a miraculous escape from shipwreck. The giant mosaic here of Christ the Pantocrator, both judge and compassionate ruler, is one of Roger’s most powerful commissions. After a visit to the Museo Mandralisca, a quirky museum that preserves an important portrait by Antonello da Messina, we return to Palermo. We farewell the city with drinks at the Grand Hotel Villa Igiea, an elegant art nouveau-style hotel overlooking the port. We depart Palermo by ferry this evening for an overnight voyage to Naples, with a light dinner onboard. Overnight Ferry to Naples (B, D)
Tuesday 17 January – Naples’ Ancient Roots
Upon arrival to Naples, we have breakfast at our hotel with fine views over the Bay of Naples. We then stroll through the old town of Naples, along the ancient and atmospheric ‘spaccanapoli’ thoroughfare. We call in at Napoli Sotteranea – a Roman market excavated under the foundations of the medieval church of San Lorenzo. Finally, we then take a leisurely walk back to the hotel via the Via Toledo, now the main pedestrian thoroughfare of the old town. The later afternoon and evening are free. Overnight Naples (B, L)
Wednesday 18 January – Roman Heritage
After a morning talk, we head to the ruins of Herculaneum, a Roman seaside town on the Bay of Naples, which, like the better-known Pompeii, was destroyed in a volcanic eruption in 79CE. Our local guide takes us on a tour of the well-preserved houses, shops and public buildings, many of them with their wall-paintings and even wooden elements intact. The afternoon is spent at Naples’ magnificent National Archaeological Museum, a treasure trove of staggering wall-paintings, mosaics, statuary and everyday household objects dug up at various ancient sites. The museum was built in the 18th century during the first period of the Bourbon kings. It is as much propaganda for their claims to enlightened reign as it is a commemoration of ancient Rome. Overnight Naples (B, L)
Thursday 19 January – The Angevin Renaissance
Today, after a talk, we visit San Giovanni a Carbonara, an Augustinian church built just outside the city walls in the 14th century. Its medieval chapels preserve wonderful Gothic sculpture. We continue to San Martino, a spectacularly sited Carthusian monastery from the Renaissance period, now a museum. We stroll around the grandiose complex, with its eccentric collection of objects – from Bourbon carriages to a fine collection of presepi, traditional Nativity scenes. We take the funicular back down to the centre, where we visit San Domenico Maggiore, the intellectual heart of the Angevin Renaissance. There is an option of continuing to the Maschio Angioino, an imposing medieval fortress. Overnight Naples (B)
Friday 20 January – Amalfi, Paestum and Mozzarella
Today’s excursion takes us south to the ancient Greek colony of Paestum, via the Amalfi Coast. Our journey south from Sorrento provides an unforgettable experience, as spectacular limestone cliffs meet a crystal-clear sea, with ancient villages clinging to the coast. Lunch is at a buffalo mozzarella farm, where we get to sample buffalo mozzarella in its many forms. Paestum was an important colony for the Greeks in southern Italy, but the local Lucanians and the Roman settlers also made an impact here and the site’s Archaeological Museum has a wonderful collection of paintings, jewellery and sarcophagi. We return to Naples in the evening. Overnight Naples (B, L)
Saturday 21 January – Painting in Naples, 1200-1700
We spend this morning at Capodimonte, located in the vast former hunting lodge of the Bourbon King Charles VII. Capodimonte now houses Naples’ most important fine arts museum, with masterpieces by Tuscans Simone Martini, Masaccio and Botticelli, alongside works by Mantegna, Bellini, Titian and Raphael. The strongly Hispano-Flemish taste of the Spanish viceroys is also reflected in works by Caravaggio, De Ribera (known in Naples as the “Spagnoletto”) and El Greco. There is ample time to wander in the extensive park – with a beautiful view over Naples – visit the lavish royal apartments, or spend more time in the magnificent art collection. Overnight Naples (B)
Sunday 22 January – In Spaccanopoli with Caravaggio
We continue our examination of Naples’ fine art culture with a day dedicated to Caravaggio and his milieu. The “bad boy” of the High Renaissance fled here after legal run-ins in Rome and Genoa. Our first stop is the baroque Farmacia degli incurabili, a beautifully preserved historic pharmacy that was at the forefront of women’s health and the treatment of sexually transmitted diseases in Caravaggio’s day. At the Pio Monte della Misericordia, we admire Caravaggio’s The Seven Works of Mercy, one of his most complex and powerful works. After a break for lunch we visit the Cappella Sansevero, which preserves Giuseppe Sanmartino’s awe-inspiring Veiled Christ, a tour-de-force of the tactile possibilities of hard marble. Our final stop is the Palazzo Zevallos Stigliano, where the highlight is one of Caravaggio’s last works, The Martyrdom of Saint Ursula. Our farewell dinner is at an excellent local restaurant. Overnight Naples (B, D)
Monday 20 January – Departure
After breakfast, there is a morning coach transfer to Fiumicino airport for those on flights departing after 3.00pm. Depending on participants’ onward travel plans, the coach may continue into central Rome. (B)
A cultural historian and founding director of Academy Travel, with a strong interest in visual arts, architecture and music.
Robert Veel is a cultural historian with over 20 years’ experience leading tours to Italy, the USA, Scandinavia and Turkey. He has a strong personal interest in the visual arts, architecture and music, and is a founding director of Academy Travel.
Robert holds a BA, Dip. Ed and M.Ed, all from the University of Sydney. He worked as a lecturer at the University of Sydney before a long stint at the University’s Centre for Continuing Education, lecturing in Italian history and culture and working as Assistant Director. Robert continues to teach occasionally in Continuing Education courses.
Robert’s historical and artistic knowledge stretches from the Middle Ages through the early 20th century. In Italy he has led many tours focusing on the Medieval and Renaissance periods. In the United States he likes to focus on the founding of the Republic and the Gilded Age of the early 20th century. In Scandinavia he is particularly interested in national identity and its role in Scandinavian literature, design and architecture. Robert speaks fluent Italian.
Robert led his first tour to Italy in 1990 and has not looked back! He has led more than 50 tours and designed many of Academy Travel’s most popular tours, including Sicily, New York, Rome and Venice residential tours, and our Scandinavia tours. More recently Robert led the first offering of Academy Travel’s tours to Tasmania and New Zealand.
We asked Robert, what do you enjoy most about leading tours?
“I really enjoy travelling with like-minded, interested travellers who are up for a bit of an intellectual adventure. It’s often the unexpected things that create the ‘shared joy’ of group travel”, says Robert “a wonderful, but little-known painting, a great performance or a fabulous meal. These are the things we travel for.”
“Over the years travellers have commented on my seemingly boundless enthusiasm. It’s true that I am curious about most things – people, places, history and artistic expression. There’s a kind of alchemy when this enthusiasm rubs off on others – hopefully with a bit of useful information as well!”
Unless otherwise stated in the itinerary, our tours include the following:
All accommodation at properties mentioned in the itinerary
Land travel by private air-conditioned coach. Taxis may also be used for short trips on some tours. Some city stay tours may involve local transport
Lunches and dinners indicated with the letters L and D in the itinerary
Beer, wine and soft drinks at sit-down lunches and dinners. Picnic and light lunches may not include alcoholic drinks
Services of tour leader throughout tour
All entrance fees to sites mentioned in the itinerary
Local guides at some sites
All tips for drivers, local guides and restaurants for included meals
On international tours only
Costs involved in obtaining visas for countries visited, where required, and when stated as included
Background talks on tour, site notes and online resources
Any flights mentioned in the itinerary that take place during a tour
Some trips may be made by public transport such as high-speed train and subway
What is not included in the tour price?
Our tours do not include the following:
Air or land travel from your home city to the tour start/end points
Local taxes and airport levies that we are not able to prepay on your behalf. We will advise you of these charges (if any) before you depart
Lunches and dinners not specifically indicated with the letters L or D in the itinerary
Personal expenses such as passports, laundry and phone calls
Costs associated with any activity mentioned as “optional” in the itinerary, or any suggested free time activity
Airport Transfers on international tours
Tours may begin at either the arrival airport or the first hotel. If you have booked your international flights with Academy Travel, and arrive before the tour commences, we will provide airport to hotel transfers to the closest main city on your arrival, and to the closest airport at the end of the tour. These may be either individual or group transfers
Tours begin either at the arrival airport or the first hotel, depending on the itinerary. If you have booked your international flights with Academy Travel, we will provide airport to hotel transfers to the closest main city on your arrival, and to the closest airport at the end of the tour. These may be either individual or group transfers.
We require all tour participants to have adequate insurance coverage.
For domestic tours, Medicare and your private medical insurance should be used to cover any medical expenses.
Domestic travel insurance is available and strongly recommended to cover non-medical expenses such as cancellation.
For international tours, we require you to have comprehensive travel insurance. Prices vary according to your age, your pre-existing medical conditions, the countries you are visiting and the length of your journey abroad.