Travel consultant focused on cultural travel in the Middle East & Mediterranean
A 14-day tour for U3A members and their friends
As you may know, I spent some time in Italy in the last couple of years, so I’m delighted to announce our next project – a two-week tour of Sicily in September-October 2017. As usual, group size will be small, the pace will be unhurried, and the tour will be escorted by me.
The enchanted island of Sicily is not like the rest of Italy – the culture and language are different, it’s much less crowded, and the atmosphere is more relaxed. Sicily has been invaded and occupied by many others – the ancient Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Normans, Spaniards, French and mainland Italians. They all left their mark, and the resulting rich mix of cultures lies very close to the surface of modern Sicily.
We start our tour in the capital Palermo, rich in culture and history. Highlights here include the wonderful 12th century Byzantine mosaics in two city churches and in the nearby cathedral of Monreale – this last church is regarded as Sicily’s single most important treasure.
Near Palermo, we find the atmospheric old stone-built town of Erice, perched 750 metres above the sea – on a clear day, you can see the coast of Tunisia to the west and the peak of Mount Etna to the east.
The ancient Greeks settled in Sicily very early, and left behind a magnificent legacy in the form of several groups of 8th century BC temples in Agrigento and Selinunte. These early temples are as important and well-preserved as any on the Greek mainland. Ancient Rome is also well represented in the form of a huge villa at Piazza Armerina, with the most extensive group of in situ ancient floor mosaics to be seen anywhere in the world.
The south-east corner of the island was devastated by a major earthquake in 1693, a period of prosperity under Spanish rule. Several small cities were rebuilt in an exuberant Baroque style –Modica, Noto and Ragusa Ibla are the most picturesque and most important, and we’ll spend several days exploring these charming places.
In ancient days, Syracuse was a place that rivalled Athens in wealth, power and sophistication. The ancient Greek city of Neapolis still maintains an important theatre, while the nearby island of Ortygia is now a charming mix of faded Baroque buildings, artists’ studios, little restaurants and quiet seaside promenades.
Mount Etna is Europe’s biggest and most active volcano – a drive though the eerie and desolate landscape is an experience never to be forgotten.
Our last stop is the resort town of Taormina, perched high above the sea with a wonderful view of Etna. It boasts a Greek theatre (also added to by the Romans), but its main attraction is in wandering the elegant streets and maybe sipping a glass of wine while watching the passing parade.
Apart from myself as tour escort, we will have the services of a dedicated coach and driver, and local guides at the major sites.
Accommodation will be in hotels of a good standard, all centrally located. Meals will include breakfast daily, a welcome dinner inPalermo, a farewell dinner in Taormina, and a couple of other meals. I haven’t included most lunches or dinners for two reasons. Firstly, most travellers don’t want to sit down to a major production in the middle of the day. And more importantly, Sicilian cuisine is great in its variety and quality, so leaving most meals ‘at liberty’ gives us a chance to explore this.
Most travellers want to go on to other destinations, either befor or after the tour – Sicily is very well connected to mainland Italy and to the rest of Europe, so this is easily arranged.
For a detailed itinerary with costs, email email@example.com or phone 02 4464 1289
A 17-day tour of the Greek mainland and a Cycladic island
The itinerary will be unhurried (we spend a minimum of two nights in all stops except one), and of course we’ll get to see all the major classical sites. The Acropolis in Athens, the ancient theatre of Epidaurus, the Homeric capital of Mycenae, the sanctuary of Zeus at Olympia, and the incomparable mountain complex of Delphi.
In addition to the must-see places, we’ll get out into the countryside to some less-visited sites. This includes the mountain town of Metsovo with its enduring craft tradition; the village of Tsepevolo in the spectacular mountain region of Zagoria; and the charming lake-side city of Ioannina.
Greece is justly famous for its classical heritage, but we will also be looking at its wonderful medieval heritage, in the form of some spectacular monasteries – the ancient monastery of Ossias Lukas, and in particular the complex of Meteora. This is a group of medieval buildings perched on giant rocky outcrops, still inhabited by nuns and monks and still going strong.
A visit to Greece is incomplete without the islands, and of course, we’ll be no exception. The magical Cycladic island of Santorini, with its ancient Minoan site of Akrotiri, its spectacular volcanic caldera, and its dazzling light, is generally regarded as the most beautiful of Mediterranean islands; and we’ll have three nights there to make up our own minds.
A feature of this tour will be four visits to wineries – as you may know, Greece’s wine industry has undergone a major revival, and these visits (on the mainland and Santorini) will give us an opportunity to sample some fine wines, as well as giving us a great excuse for lunch in the spring sunshine.
One of the great pleasures of travel is interaction with the locals; and our last trip there showed us that the Greeks’ economic problems have not affected their welcoming attitude to visitors or their obvious pride in their culture.
Group size will be small and accommodation will be of a good standard, with the emphasis on centrally located hotels that feel Greek rather than big bland ‘international’ hotels.
The group will be escorted by me throughout, and we will have the services of a professional English-fluent guide throughout the tour. We will also have a single driver for our coach on the mainland.