Explore the extraordinary art and culture of Palermo and Naples on this 14-day tour, from their Greek origins to the Normans and Bourbons. The tour begins in Palermo, a capital whose vibrance is evident everywhere from the fusion of Greek, Arabic, Norman, Italian and Spanish cultures to its wonderful cuisine, and includes day trips to Segesta and Cefalù. The tour then explores the art and archaeology of the Bay of Naples, visiting Herculaneum and Paestum, the stunning Amalfi Coast and the impressive collections at Capodimonte Museum and the National Archaeological Museum. A feast for the senses!
Well-preserved ancient sites: Segesta, Paestum and Herculaneum
Impressive Arab-Norman mosaics, including Monreale’s splendid cathedral and abbey
Little-visited but world-famous artworks in Caravaggio’s Naples and the Capodimonte Museum
Private visit to Palazzo Lanza Tomasi, home of Prince Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, author of the Sicilian literary masterpiece The Leopard
Palermo and Naples’ delightful cuisines, including tastings of regional specialties and excellent local wines
Long stays in each city, with day trips exploring their regions
Off-season travel: low visitor numbers and mild weather
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.
Day 14: Transfer to Rome airport for flights home.
The tour begins and ends at Rome Fiumicino airport. Emirates, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways offer direct flights to Rome for our continuing group flight to Palermo, and return coach from Naples. Contact us for quotes and bookings.
Included meals are shown with the letters B, L and D.
Tuesday January 7: 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 a local restaurant. Overnight Palermo (D)
Wednesday January 8: 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 Kalsa district was Arab Sicily’s administrative centre from 831 to the Norman conquest in 1072, and it is brimming with historic buildings. Welcome lunch is at the elegant Ottava Nota restaurant, one of Palermo’s best. This afternoon, there is an optional visit to the Empedocle Restivo art gallery, housed in a beautifully restored palace just near our hotel. The gallery surveys Sicilian painting and sculpture since the mid-1800s, and contains some interesting works. Overnight Palermo (B, L)
Thursday January 9: Sicily’s Ancient Heritage
As 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 January 10: Meet the Normans
The Arab-Norman dynasty of Sicily, cousins of the Normans in England, were among the most sophisticated rulers of medieval Europe. In Palermo they created a tolerant and sophisticated society that was a marvel of Christendom and Islamic territories alike. After a morning talk, we begin our survey of Palermo’s Norman sites at La Zisa, the Norman’s summer palace, completed during the reign of William II. The palace has a thoroughly Moorish feel to it, and was surrounded by extensive gardens. It now holds a small but excellent museum of the Arab period. We then call into the ruins of La Cuba, an elegant park-pavilion that was once part of a vast hunting estate. We then 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 January 11: 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. It is considered by many to be the most refined work of the Sicilian-Norman period. 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 January 12: After the Normans
Sicily’s excellent regional art gallery is located within the 14th-century Palazzo Abatellis, built when the Kings of Aragon ruled Sicily and much of the western Mediterranean. 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. Schedules permitting, this afternoon we head to Palermo’s impressive Teatro Massimo for an afternoon operatic performance. The theatre has excellent acoustics and is home to one of Italy’s better regional opera companies. Overnight Palermo (B)
Monday January 13: 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 January 14: Naples’ Ancient Roots
Upon arrival to Naples, we have breakfast at a hotel with fine views over the Bay of Naples. We then head to the ruins of Herculaneum, a Roman seaside town, 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. Herculaneum is in many ways a more attractive site than Pompeii, and visited by far fewer people. After a light lunch, a coach tour to Lake Avernus and the Roman amphitheatre at Pozzuoli will provide a general orientation to the Bay of Naples region and its history. On arrival at our hotel, the rest of the afternoon and evening are free. Overnight Naples (B, L)
Wednesday January 15: Celebrating Roman heritage
After a morning talk, we spend the morning in Naples’s magnificent National Archaeological Museum, a treasure trove of staggering artefacts, such as wall-paintings, mosaics, statuary and everyday household objects dug up at various ancient sites on the Bay of Naples. The museum was built in the 18th century during the first period of the Bourbon kings, and is as much propaganda for their claims to enlightened reign as it is a commemoration of ancient Rome. We then head to central Naples and the famed ‘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 stroll back to the hotel via the Via Toledo. Overnight Naples (B, L)
Thursday January 16: The Angevin Renaissance
Naples’ strategic importance for the Italian peninsula and the Mediterranean Sea made it a constant target for invaders. The Anjou rulers, originally from France, based themselves in Naples after they were forced out of Sicily in the Sicilian Vespers uprising of 1282. A number of Angevin monarchs left a strong mark on the city and encouraged a cultural flourishing: Boccaccio and Giotto both worked here, for example. 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. Its grim exterior is now relieved by an elaborate Renaissance portal. Overnight Naples (B)
Friday January 17: 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 (or Magna Graecia, “Greater Greece”), and its temples are better preserved than those in mainland Greece. 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. The celebrated Tomb of the Diver may be our only surviving example of Greek fresco painting, and it is a wonderful meditation on the possibility of life beyond death. We return to Naples in the evening. Overnight Naples (B, L)
Saturday January 18: 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. This evening, schedules permitting, we attend a performance at the Teatro San Carlo, built by the Bourbons and one of Italy’s most important opera houses. Overnight Naples (B)
Sunday January 19: In Spaccanapoli 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. His upper-class patrons respected the dramatic impact of his finely polished paintings as much as they fretted over his friendships with criminals and prostitutes! At the Pio Monte della Misericordia, we admire Caravaggio’s The Seven Works of Mercy, one of his most complex and powerful works. It is still displayed alongside works commissioned at the same time, giving us an insight into his reception by Neapolitan contemporaries. 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 January 20: 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!”
Hotels have been selected principally for their central location. Both hotels are excellent 4-star properties that are renovated palazzi.
Palermo, Grand Hotel Piazza Borsa (6 nights)
Set in central Palermo, just 400 metres from the Baroque square of Quattro Canti. The hotel features an ancient cloister that is used as a venue for concerts and other events. www.piazzaborsa.it
Overnight Ferry, Palermo to Naples (1 night)
Cabins have private bathrooms and are basic, but comfortable. The journey takes 12 hours.
Naples, Renaissance Mediterraneo (6 nights)
Located in the heart of Naples, this renovated historic building is a short walk from shops of Galleria Umberto I and Via Toledo. www.marriott.com.au
What is included in the tour price?
Unless otherwise stated in the itinerary, our tours include the following:
Any flights mentioned in the itinerary that take place during a tour
Land travel by private air-conditioned coach. Where appropriate public transport is also used for short distance travel on some tours
All accommodation in hotels or apartments as stated in the itinerary
Breakfasts, lunches and dinners specifically stated as included in the itinerary
Drinks at welcome and farewell meals. Other meals may not have drinks included
Background talks on tour, site notes and online resources
Services of tour leader throughout tour
All entrance fees to sites mentioned in the itinerary
Local guides at some sites
Tips for drivers, local guides and restaurants for included meals
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 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.
What is not included in the tour price?
Open-age tours do not include the following:
Return international/domestic air travel unless those flights take place during the tour
Special taxes and airport levies that can only be paid in cash at the destination. We will advise you of these charges (if any) before you depart
Costs involved in obtaining visas for countries visited, where required
Travel insurance. We require all participants to have comprehensive travel insurance. A typical policy for one of our tours will cost from $160 upwards, depending on your age, pre-existing medical conditions, the countries you are visiting and the overall length of your trip
Lunches and dinners not specifically mentioned as included in the itinerary
Personal expenses such as laundry and phone calls
Costs associated with any activity mentioned as “optional” in the itinerary, or any suggested free time activity
You will be asked to sign an acknowledgement of these conditions when you book a place on a tour.
A deposit of $500 per person is required to confirm your booking on a tour. Final payment of the tour fee, insurance and any additional travel will be due 60 days before departure.
If you decide to cancel your booking the following charges apply:
More than 60 days before departure: $500*
60-45 days before tour start: 25% of total amount due
44-15 days before tour start: 75% of total amount due
14 days or less before departure: 100% of total amount due
*This amount may be credited to another Academy Travel tour within 12 months of the original tour you booked.
Unused Portions of the tour
We regret that refunds will not be given for any unused portions of the tour, such as meals, entry fees, accommodation, flights or transfers.
Academy Travel requires all participants to obtain comprehensive travel insurance. We offer a comprehensive policy with a reputable insurer if required.
Passport and Visa
A valid passport is required for all international travel. If you do not hold an Australian passport you may require a re-entry permit. Some countries require a visa to be issued before you depart Australia. We will advise you of all passport and visa requirements, but it is your responsibility to ensure that you meet passport and visa requirements before you depart.
Will the tour price change?
If the number of participants in a tour is significantly less than budgeted, or if there is a significant change in exchange rates Academy Travel reserves the right to amend the advertised price. If this occurs you will be given the option of cancelling your booking and obtaining a full refund. If an Academy Travel tour is forced to cancel you will get a full refund of all monies paid.
Will the itinerary change?
Occasionally circumstances beyond the control of Academy Travel make it necessary to change airline, hotel or to make slight amendments to daily itineraries. We will inform you of any changes as soon as they occur.
Full and final payment for the tour, airfare travel, insurance and any additional travel you book is due 60 days before departure. Payment may be made by bank deposit, cheque, cash or credit card. Please note there is a surcharge for payments made by credit card.
Academy Travel reserves the right to decline the booking or terminate the holiday of any traveller.