Treasures of Sicily, Italy

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 14575A, International

Highlights

  • Explore the ancient civilizations of Sicily
  • Visit the Aeolian Islands -- named after Aeolus who, according to Homer, hosted Odysseus
  • Learn about the age-old collision of diverse cultures, spirituality, and religion

Includes

  • All transportation to archaeological sites, natural parks, islands
  • Double lodging
  • All meals except one dinner (accommodates vegetarians and vegans)
  • All gratuities

Details

DatesApr 5–16, 2014
Price$4,375 (11–14)
$4,995 (or fewer)
Deposit$200
Capacity15
StaffMary Menconi

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Trip Overview

The Trip

Sicily, the greatest of all Mediterranean islands, was dominated for centuries by the ancient Phoenicians, Greeks and Romans. Later, the Normans vied for control of the island with Arab forces until a great kingdom was born in Palermo. Today Sicily boasts diverse architecture and archaeological gems that make it a globally unique destination. This cultural diversity is enhanced by the island's incredible coastline, which is packed with nesting birds, colorful fauna, and the timeless volcanic beauty of the nearby Aeolian Islands.

Our outing starts in Palermo, Europe's grandest city of the 12th century, and ends in Catania, a city constructed from volcanic lava. We will walk through the Lo Zingaro coastal reserve and the castle of Venus next to the Norman Gardens in Erice, both with panoramic views. Our hikes will be leisurely and cover three to five miles each day, with gains of 1,200 feet at the most -- a moderately easy trip. A boat trip will take us to the Aeolian Islands of Lipari and Vulcano.

During our trip we will behold the artistic stonework of Cefalu and the island's finest Norman Cathedral in Monreale. Our guides will entertain us with their friendly manner and engaging stories. We will stay one to three nights at each small hotel and enjoy delicious Sicilian food, including the incredible desserts of ricotta and cream and the famed "cous cous" of San Vito lo Capo. Perhaps as we explore the ancient history of the island and the fascinating mix of Islam and Christianity, we can begin to fathom a way to create peace in the modern world.

Itinerary

Day 1: Our trip starts this morning at 10:00 a.m. in the heart of Palermo. After stowing our bags at our hotel, we'll walk together through Palermo’s narrow streets and alleys to a market that is packed with all sorts of produce, fish, and pan-Mediterranean merchandise. We’ll stop in the fish market long enough to learn about the spices used in Sicilian cuisine, then make our way to Sicily’s great Cathedral. After a truly Sicilian lunch we will stroll to the Piazza Pretoria, where an unforgettable fountain awaits you, and then on to the magnificent Palatine Chapel with its luminous mosaics. If we’re lucky, our guide will tell us the truth about the mafia in Palermo. Lodging in Palermo.

Day 2: We will enjoy a hike in the Madonie Mountains that is five miles and has a 900-foot elevation gain. Fauna includes foxes, hares, numerous birds of prey, and even the occasional wildcat. Native flora includes giant holly trees (some more than 300 years old), the local variety of Sicilian fir, and the flowering Manna Ash. In the afternoon, we will behold the spectacular stonework of Norman and Arab masons at the cathedral and Arab baths of Cefalu along the seashore. Lodging near Palermo.

Day 3: Today we will walk through the small hill town of Monreale to behold the mosaics of the Norman cathedral, which are among the most extraordinary in Italy. This amazing monument is a dazzling mixture of Arab, Byzantine, and Norman artistic styles, all framed by traditional Romanesque architecture. Nowhere else on the planet can one find such a perfect blend of the Christian and Muslim artistic worlds of the 12th century. In the afternoon we will drive to Erice, a delightful medieval village nestled on a 2,200-foot mountain. Walking through its narrow streets, you can make your way to a traditional pastry shop, where you will sample some of the best almond pastries in Sicily. These delicious treats will augment the breathtaking views over the Egadi Islands below, where the region's famed tuna harvest used to take place. Lodging will be near San Vito lo Capo.

Day 4: Today is our day to explore Lo Zingaro, Italy's first marine reserve. The park is currently recovering from a wild fire in 2012 that destroyed much of its flora and fauna. Fortunately, a few areas survived. We will walk four miles of Mediterranean coastline (gaining 400 feet of elevation), and enjoy many fish-filled coves and unusual indigenous plants (wild carob and bright yellow Euphorbia) on cliffs overlooking the sea. There are also more than 40 nesting bird species in this area, including the rare Bonelli's eagle. After lunch we will have the option of swimming in the turquoise waters of San Vito lo Capo. Lodging near San Vito lo Capo.

Day 5: Today we will make our way to breathtaking Selinunte, where we will enjoy one of Europe's largest archaeological parks set against amazing views of the sea. Founded in the 7th century B.C., Selinunte played a fundamental role in the spread of Greek culture, and viewing its glorious restored columns will transport you back to this ancient civilization. After lunch we will try the sweet and smooth Marsala wine, while sampling some of the best desserts of the region. We'll sleep near Agrigento.

Day 6: This morning we will visit the Ancient Valley of the Temples World Heritage site in Agrigento, one of the richest archaeological areas of the world. A passionate and knowledgeable art historian will take us on a tour among the remains of several ancient temples constructed in the Doric style in the 6th and 5th centuries B.C. Now excavated and partially restored, they constitute some of the largest and best-preserved ancient Greek buildings outside of Greece itself. In the afternoon we will transfer to our countryside villa. We'll sleep near Noto.

Day 7: We'll start the day with a visit to the Vendicari Nature Reserve where a local naturalist will introduce the local flora and fauna to us. This is the resting place before several bird species make their final passage to Africa. Next, we’ll enjoy an unforgettable tasting of fresh ricotta and other local products at a local farm near Ragusa. After lunch we’ll explore the attractive Sicilian hill town of Modica to enjoy its folklore and incredible chocolate-making traditions. If you have any energy left in the late afternoon you can walk through the baroque jewel of Noto, a sophisticated city built at the end of the 17th century after an earthquake almost entirely destroyed Old Noto. We'll sleep near Noto.

Day 8: We will travel to Siracusa today, the birthplace of Archimedes, the most important colony of ancient Greece and arguably modern Sicily’s most beautiful city today. You will explore the picturesque Piazza del Duomo and the poetic Fonte Arethusa in the morning, and in the afternoon you will enjoy the amazing archaeological park of Neapolis, with its incredible Greek theatre, limestone quarries, and the famous Ear of Dionysus. We'll sleep near Noto.

Day 9: Today we will travel back across the island to Milazzo, where we will catch a boat to the Aeolian island of Lipari -- the most diverse of the islands -- where we will spend two nights. Streets wind from Lipari Town and past fortress walls to Castello, a site that was been continuously occupied since Neolithic times and has enabled archaeologists to date other Mediterranean cultures. An optional stroll will be offered today. We'll sleep in Lipari.

Day 10: After a leisurely breakfast we’ll catch another boat to the dramatic island of Vulcano. Here we can hike to the top of a spent volcano and peer down into its smoking crater. This is a five-mile hike with a 1,200-foot elevation gain. Later, after our walk, we can enjoy a refreshing and therapeutic mud bath in Vulcano's sulphur hot springs or a swim from its black sand beaches. We'll sleep in Lipari.

Day 11: We will cruise back to Sicily this morning and make our way to the village of Taormina, perched on a hillside overlooking the Ionian sea. Taormina is considered one of the pearls of the Mediterranean Sea. We'll walk Taormina's colorful cobblestone streets, which are lined with hanging gardens, to its historic Greek theatre. Shopping opportunities abound. We can end the day with a true Sicilian classic: iced coffee with cream. We'll sleep in Catania.

Day 12: After breakfast, we will make a morning transfer to Catania airport.

Photos

Details

Getting There

This trip begins at 10:00 a.m. in Palermo (at our hotel) and ends in Catania. You can catch a flight back to the States or you can spend more time on your own in such lovely places as Syracusa and Ragusa. There are no direct flights from Catania to the U.S., so you must make an easy connection through Rome or another gateway.

Accommodations and Food

We will be staying in small inns and small hotels. The lodging is double-occupancy, with bathrooms in each room. Singles will be assigned roommates. A single supplement will be $400, assuming space is available. All meals are included except one dinner, when you will have the choice of exploring various restaurants.

Trip Difficulty

This is a moderately easy trip with two relatively steep hikes. Daily hikes will be 3-5 miles, with elevation changes of up to 1,200 feet. As with all trips, the better shape you are in, the more you will enjoy it.

Equipment and Clothing

A detailed equipment list will be sent to each participant. Plan to bring summer/fall clothes for hiking, a day pack (with water bottle, first-aid kit, sunscreen), raingear, and perhaps walking sticks.

References

Books:

  • Richards, Charles, The New Italians.
  • Di Lampedusa, Giuseppe, The Leopard.
  • Benjamin, Sandra, Sicily: 3,000 Years of Human History.
  • Guido, Margaret, Sicily: An Archaeological Guide.

Conservation

We will visit an organic farm and have a chance to taste some of the delicious food created with the organic ingredients. At another stop, an ornithologist will tell us about raptors and the migratory patterns of the birds that fly from Africa to the Alps. Sicily is an important Mediterranean stopover for a wide variety of birds, including the Black Stork. The guides for our trip are ardent conservationists and cultural preservationists in Italy. They are eager to talk with Sierra Club members about their efforts to develop sustainable eco-tourism and educate the locals in the value of preserving both the natural and cultural heritage.

Staff

Leader:

Mary Menconi has led Sierra Club trips to a variety of destinations, including Italy, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Everglades National Park, and the Sierra Nevada mountains. She enjoys exploring new places to learn about their natural and human history. Mary's interest in travel was sparked in her late teens when she spent a year in a small town in Germany. Since then she has lived in Arizona, Utah, and New Hampshire and now resides in her native California. Italy is the land of her grandparents and she grew up eating ravioli and minestrone prepared by her nonna. An amateur botanist and avid gardener, she has a special interest in wild plants and locally produced foods.

Associate Leader:

Vivian Wolfe has been a volunteer with Sierra Club since 2011 and has participated on Sierra Club hikes since the 1990s. She is an avid hiker who has traveled and hiked on five continents. She is trained in Wilderness First Aid and CPR. She lives on a sustainable ranch with solar and wind energy, a rainwater collection system, a wildlife management plan, an orchard, garden and extensive hiking trails. Her career included positions in software and organizational development in the UK and US. She enjoys traveling with others, hiking, spending time with her grandchildren, and volunteering with Sierra Club.

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