Sicily and the Aeolian Islands have a remarkable history and culture that is a blend of Mediterranean civilisations. From the well-preserved remains of Greek and Roman cities and temples, to Norman cathedrals with fine Byzantine mosaics and Arab-influenced cuisine, the island’s unique and varied history is tangible. This 17-day tour has been designed to give the first-time visitor an overview of Sicily’s diverse and fascinating past, its art and traditions, and shows how the extraordinary landscape – volcanoes, rugged coastlines and the jewel-like sea – has shaped the island’s vibrant history and culture.
A scenic private boat trip of the Aeolian Islands, from Lipari to Stromboli and Panarea
Outstanding archaeological museums in Siracusa, Agrigento and Lipari
The Sicilian Baroque architecture of Noto and Ragusa that evolved in the 17th and 18th centuries
The exceptionally well-preserved 4th-century mosaics in the imperial Roman villa at Piazza Armerina
The UNESCO World Heritage-listed mosaics in the cathedral of Monreale and Palatine Chapel in Palermo, undertaken by Byzantine masters for their Norman rulers
An excursion to the summit of Mt Etna
Days 1–4: Group flight from Rome. Arrive in Siracusa, tour archaeological sites and the old town. Day trip to Noto and Ragusa.
Days 5–6: Travel to the Greek temples at Agrigento via the Roman villa at Piazza Armerina.
Days 7–10: Explore the capital Palermo, including Monreale, the Norman Palace and Palatine Chapel. Visit the tiny island of Mozia.
Days 11–13: Continue on to Cefalu en route to the Aeolian Islands. Take a private boat trip from Lipari to Stromboli and Panarea.
Days 14–17: From Taormina visit the Greco- Roman theatre and Mount Etna, before taking a group flight to Rome.
The tour begins and ends at Rome Fiumicino airport. Emirates, Etihad, Qatar and Singapore Airlines all offer suitable connections to Rome for our continuing group flight to and from Catania. Contact us for quotes and bookings.
Included meals are shown with the letters B, L and D.
Friday October 8: Arrive Siracusa
Meet your tour leader at Rome Fiumicino airport to commence the tour. There is a group flight to Catania, then transfer by coach to our hotel in Siracusa. Passengers coming from the Malta pre-tour extension arrive in Catania a short while later. This evening meet for a light dinner at a local restaurant. Overnight Siracusa (D)
Saturday October 9: Ancient Siracusa
After a talk in the hotel we visit the main archaeological site of the town. Highlights of our visit include the famed theatre of Siracusa, the altar of Hieron II, and the ancient quarries where thousands of Greek prisoners were held during the Peloponnesian War. In the later afternoon we’ll visit the Museo Aretuseo dei Pupi, housing a collection of traditional Sicilian puppets, followed by a performance of traditional puppetry at the adjoining theatre. This evening we have our welcome dinner at a local restaurant. Overnight Siracusa (B, D)
Sunday October 10: Paolo Orsi Archaeological Museum
This morning we make our way to the excellent Paolo Orsi Regional Archaeological Museum. Extensively renovated in recent years, the Paolo Orsi is one of the most important archaeological museums in southern Italy. Its artefacts, found throughout Sicily, survey the Greek, Roman, and early Christian epochs. In the afternoon we’ll visit the Byzantine-era Jewish baths which are over 1,500 years old. Overnight Siracusa (B)
Monday October 11: Sicilian Baroque in Noto and Ragusa
Today we take a round trip of the south-east tip of Sicily, visiting the towns of Noto and Ragusa. These towns are famed for their exuberant ‘Sicilian Baroque’ architecture, created after a devastating earthquake of 1693 destroyed the earlier towns. Overnight Siracusa (B)
Tuesday October 12: The Villa Romana
We depart Siracusa this morning, heading westward through the geographic centre of Sicily. Today’s highlight is the Villa Romana del Casale at Piazza Armerina, featuring a series of intact floor mosaics from the 4th century AD, created by North African artisans. After lunch we continue to Agrigento, located on the south coast of Sicily, arriving in the late afternoon. Dinner tonight is at a local restaurant. Overnight Agrigento (B, D)
Wednesday October 13: Agrigento Temples and Museum
Agrigento – ancient ‘Akragas’ — was founded in the 6th century BC and enjoyed a reputation as one of the wealthiest colonies of the Greek world. The extensive and well-preserved sacred area is testament to these riches, comprising four major temples in excellent preservation as well as a number of smaller structures. Today we tour the temple site with a local guide and visit the nearby archaeological museum. The afternoon is free to relax. Tonight, we have dinner in a local restaurant. Overnight Agrigento (B, D)
Thursday October 14: Romanticism at Selinunte
Our first stop is to see the over life-size Dancing Satyr of Mazara del Vallo, a Greek bronze statue that was found by a Sicilian fisherman in 1998, in the waters of the Mediterranean. We continue to Selinunte (ancient Selinus), the last of the important Greek cities on our itinerary. At its peak, Selinus had a population of 25,000 but it was comprehensively sacked and its ruins inspired generations of Romantic poets and artists, such as Goethe. Dinner tonight is in a local restaurant. Overnight Palermo (B, D)
Friday October 15: Palermo
Palermo is a colourful city, with the atmosphere of North Africa or perhaps Asia rather than of Europe. Its heritage as a meeting point between European civilisation and the Arab and Byzantine worlds is borne out in the splendid medieval buildings of the Norman kingdoms. Today we tour some of the main historic sites of the old city, including the Norman Palace and Palatine Chapel with its gold mosaics, and the Byzantine-influenced church of La Martorana. After lunch we visit the 12th-century retreat of La Zisa, inspired by Moorish pleasure palaces, and stroll through some of the markets and characteristic back streets of the old city. Overnight Palermo (B)
Saturday October 16: Glittering Monreale
The cathedral and abbey of Monreale, in the hills overlooking Palermo, were founded by the Norman King William II in the 12th century to demonstrate the power of the Norman Kingdom of Sicily. There are more than 6,000 square metres of mosaics here, using 2,200 kg of real gold. We spend the morning visiting the cathedral and enjoying the surrounding medieval hill town. After returning to Palermo, the afternoon is at leisure. Overnight Palermo (B)
Sunday October 17: Segesta & Mozia
Today we take a ferry to Mozia where, among the salt pans, we explore the ruins of the former Carthaginian settlement. The island also houses a small museum with some unique pieces. Continue to Segesta, an evocative ruin in a hilltop location. The theatre and temple here are truly memorable, and have inspired artists and writers for centuries. In the late afternoon we head back to Palermo. Overnight Palermo (B, L)
Monday October 18: Cefalù and the Aeolian Islands
We depart Palermo this morning, heading along the north coast. We spend the greater part of the day in Cefalù, a fishing town dominated by a splendid Norman cathedral, reputedly built after King Roger II survived a shipwreck near the town. There is also a Greek sanctuary above the town (steep walk) and an idiosyncratic art gallery with some fine works. These include a wonderful portrait by Antonello da Messina. After lunch we travel to Milazzo where we take a ferry to the island of Lipari, our base on the Aeolian Islands for the next three nights. Dinner is served in our hotel. Overnight Lipari (B, D)
Tuesday October 19: Lipari
This morning a local guide shows us the main archaeological site of Lipari, an island inhabited since at least 5,000 BC. The middle of the day is free to explore the town or relax in our hotel. Later in the afternoon we take a trip around the island by coach, enjoying the landscape and views to the other islands. Overnight Lipari (B)
Wednesday October 20: Boat trip to Panarea and Stromboli
Weather permitting, today we take an afternoon boat excursion to the islands of Panarea and Stromboli, 20km from Lipari, enjoying the natural beauty and unspoilt traditional lifestyle of these islands. A highlight of the excursion is the chance to view the volcano of Stromboli. We have a light dinner on Stromboli before returning to Lipari early evening. (Alternative plans, such as a visit to the nearby island of Vulcano, or to Milazzo, will be made if the weather is too rough for the excursion) Overnight Lipari (B, D)
Thursday October 21: Messina
Returning to the mainland, we travel to the city of Messina to visit the fine Norman cathedral and the Regional Museum of Messina, housing paintings by Caravaggio and Antonello da Messina. We continue on to Taormina on the west coast of Sicily. After checking into our hotel, we have a welcome drink on the terrace. Overnight Taormina (B)
Friday October 22: Taormina
Sitting above the sea with superb views to Mount Etna, Taormina is a memorable final destination for our journey. We spend this morning visiting the Graeco-Roman theatre and other highlights of the town. This afternoon and evening are at leisure. Overnight Taormina (B)
Saturday October 23: With the Gods on Mount Etna
Today we join our coach for an excursion to the summit of Mount Etna itself. Europe’s largest and most spectacular volcano Mt Etna is still very active. Assuming conditions are safe we will explore the south side of the volcano, travelling by coach, cable car and finally jeep to a height of 2,900 metres. The landscape and the views are unforgettable. (Please note that the last part of the excursion involves walking over uneven surfaces. It may not be possible for all passengers to undertake this segment.) Returning to Taormina there is time for a stroll around the town before we meet for our farewell dinner at a local restaurant. Overnight Taormina (B, D)
Sunday October 24: Departure
Our flight departs mid-afternoon for Rome, arriving in time to meet the late evening departing Emirates flight for Australia. (B)
Dr Kathleen Olive
A literary and cultural historian with a PhD from the University of Sydney, with particular expertise in Italy, Spain and Japan.
Dr Kathleen Olive is a literary and cultural historian with close to 15 years’ experience leading tours to Italy, Spain, France, Turkey, Japan and the United States. She has a strong personal interest in the visual arts, interior design, fashion history and contemporary fiction.
Kathleen holds a BA with first class Honours and a PhD, both from the Department of Italian Studies at the University of Sydney. For a number of years she worked as a lecturer at the University of Sydney and the University of Technology, Sydney, teaching Italian language, literature and history. Kathleen continues to teach, as a national lecturer for the Australian Decorative and Fine Arts Society (ADFAS), and in adult education courses in Sydney. In 2015, her edition of the Codex Rustici (a 15th-century commonplace book that Kathleen worked on with Nerida Newbigin, for her doctoral studies and for publication) was presented to Pope Francis on his first official visit to Florence.
Kathleen’s historical and artistic knowledge stretches from the Middle Ages through to the early 20th century. In Italy she has led numerous tours focusing on the medieval and Renaissance periods. In Spain she has a particular concentration on the “Convivencia” of Islamic, Christian and Jewish cultures in the south, and on the medieval pilgrimage routes of the north. Her tours of the USA’s north-east have focused on American collectors and their Gilded Age reinventions of European glory days, and in Japan she is particularly interested in contemporary design, from fashion to architecture. Kathleen speaks fluent Italian, is conversant in Spanish and understands French.
Kathleen was first involved on a tour to Italy in 2003 and it sparked her passion for on-the-spot communication of art and history. Since 2010 she has worked exclusively for Academy Travel, leading 6 tours a year. She has designed a number of our popular tours, from the Florence residential, to surveys of the courts of Renaissance Italy and of central Italy’s villas and gardens, as well as “twin city” tours to Palermo and Naples and to Florence and Rome. Closer to home, Kathleen is leading Academy Travel’s inaugural tour to Japan and our popular tours to Tasmania.
We asked Kathleen, what do you enjoy most about leading a group tour?
“I really enjoy travelling with groups who share interests in the history, culture and even food of a destination. It means that those personal connections are there right from the beginning, just waiting to be made.”
“There’s nothing I enjoy more than finding out the particular interests of my fellow travellers – an artist, a dish they love eating, their memories of a particular place – and finding a way to make an experience happen for them. That might mean recommending a particular wine bar, directing them to a museum that features artists they already like, or suggesting the best time of day for a view over a town. It’s so satisfying to be involved in making these kinds of memories for people.”
“Many of the people I travel with comment on my passion for the places I visit. It’s not just that I know my names and dates – it’s that I really enjoy bringing out the connections between history and art, for example, or between landscape and food. I never grow tired of injecting this kind of life into ‘dry’ academic knowledge.”
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, taxis or public transport are 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
Costs involved in obtaining visas for countries visited, where required and when stated as included
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?
Our 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
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