Spring In Sicily 2019

The Society first visited Sicily in May 2004. A second small group wine and culture tour t00k place in May 2019

 

 

May and September probably are the best months to visit Sicily. EasyJet fly to Catania from Manchester thrice a week (flight time 3hrs. and 20 mts.). One could travel all the way to Sicily by train, experiencing one of Europe’s last train ferries where the train is physically shunted onto a ship for the short sea voyage across the Straits of Messina to Sicily, or you can use an overnight cruise ferry to Sicily from either Genoa or Naples. (Click here to see details.) Sicily is full of interesting things to see and do. A full-time tour guide however is not essential as local English speaking guides are freely available.

Of the 24 HMWS members who first registered interest in the tour, only 10 made it at the end. They were: John Armstrong & Gail Bent , Tony Lee & Renna Benson, Robert & Pauline Buckley, Bernard & Ramani Dias  and Ivan & Ross Hanney. The cost of the tour was Euros 3150 pp excluding airfares. The ground agent was Palermo based “Tour of Sicily.”

Itinerary – Wednesday 15 to Sunday 26 May (11 nights)

 

 

ITINERARY AT A GLANCE

  • May 15 (Wednesday) Catania airport.  > Syracusa.
  • May 16 (Thursday) Syracusa AM. PM relax in Syracusa
  • May 17 (Friday) Syracusa > Vittoria > Agrigento
  • May 18 (Saturday) Agrigento AM. PM relax in Agrigento
  • May 19 (Sunday) Agrigento > Sambuca di Sicilia with lunch > Menfi
  • May 20 (Monday) Menfi and Selinunte
  • May 21 (Tuesday) Menfi > Marsala, Salt Way Road and Erice > Palermo
  • May 22 (Wednesday) Palermo, Street Food Walking Tour and Monreale
  • May 23 (Thursday) Palermo > Sclafani Bagni
  • May 24 (Friday) Sclafani Bagni > Piazza Armerina and Taormina
  • May 25 (Saturday) Taormina > Etna Experience and Winery > Taormina
  • May 26 (Sunday) Taormina > Catania airport 

Day 1 – Arrival (Wednesday 15)

We flew to Catania with EasyJet from Manchester. This was a direct flight and the flying time was 3 hrs. 20 mts. Departure was at 07.05 and arrival  in Catania – 11.25. We drove to Siracusa via E45 and SS114. (68 km ~ one hour) in two Mercedes people carriers driven by black suited drivers and checked in to Royal Maniace Hotel  (superior rooms) on Ortigia island. The evening was free to relax and dine at one of the local restaurants.

Day 2 – Siracusa (Thursday 16)

It rained so heavily in the morning the streets were flooded. After an hour or so, the rain stopped and we took taxis to the Archaeological Park with our guide to visit the Greek Theatre, the Roman Amphitheatre and the Paradise Quarry. Taxis took us to the Temple of Apollo in Ortigia and we strolled through the streets of heart of the city center, to visit the Dome, the delightful pedestrian square that is home to the Cathedral built on the site of an ancient Temple of Athena. On another side of the square is the Baroque Palazzo Beneventano and the church of Santa Lucia, the town’s patron saint.

Day 3 – Vittoria (Friday 17)

We drove to Vittoria (110 km. 2 hrs.) to taste at Ariana Occhipinti. We walked in the biodynamic vineyards, met Arianna working in the cellars and tasted four of her wines. On the way to Agrigento after the tasting, we had lunch at a little wayside cafe suggested by Vittorio who was our host at Arianna’s winery. We checked into the elegant Alba Palace Hotel in Favara, strolled through the historic little town in the evening and had an excellent dinner at the hotel restaurant which is rated the best in town.

Day 4 – Agrigento (Saturday 18)

(Included meals: Breakfast)

Day 5 – Menfi (Sunday 19)

  • Breakfast at the hotel
  • 9.00 am: Drive to Menfi (83 km. 90 mts)
  • 11.00 am: Tasting and lunch at Ulmo winery
  • Overnight at 4-star La Foresteria belonging to Planeta Estate
  • Optional dinner at La Foresteria

(Included meals: Breakfast & Lunch)

(Private Vehicle and Italian Speaking Driver will be available from 9am. Breakfast & Ulmo Winery visit, tasting & lunch are included)

 

Today we travel to the small village of Sambuca di Sicilia to visit one of the Planeta Winery. Upon arrival transfer at the Ulmo Estate, a few metres from Lake Arancio and the 16th century farmhouse which has been in the family for seventeen generations. This is where Planeta have welcomed guests for the last twenty years, inviting them to discover where their favourite wines originate, to taste them together with a traditional Planeta family lunch, and accompanying them along the footpaths of La Segreta woods or to explore the remains of the ancient Phoenician wine press. Then, during the afternoon we continue to Menfi and check in at La Foresteria Planeta for a two nights stay on B&B basis.)

Visit, tasting and lunch at Ulmo winery “Viaggio in Sicilia Grand Tour”:

  • Visit to the Planeta winery and vineyard
  • The visit is followed by a tasting of 4 wines, accompanied by bread sticks
  • Planeta extra-virgin olive oiltasting
  • Light lunch featuring local specialties, fruit, water, coffee and two selected wines

 

OPTIONAL SERVICES AVAILABLE AT LA FORESTERIA

  • Aperitif including a glass of Planeta wine with a taste of typical Sicilian appetizers –complimentary by Planeta
  • Dinner at La Foresteria of 4 courses “Casa Planeta” menu including water and coffee – € 50p.p. (wines excluded)
    (starter, first course, main course fish or meat, dessert),
  • Dinner with tasting Menu “The best created by the Chef” in four courses including water and coffee – € 55 p.p. (wines excluded)
  • Dinner with tasting Menu “The best created by the Chef” in eight courses including waterand coffee – € 78 p.p. (wines excluded)
  • Wine Route at La Foresteria “The Sommelier’ s choice‛ in combination with dinner – € 24 p.p. 4 perfectly chosen glasses to match the food route
  • Wine Route at La Foresteria ‚From the heart to the vineyard‛in combination with dinner – € 30p.p. 3 chosen glasses to match the food route, plus 2 extra glasses to explain different varieties and territories
  • Hands-on cooking lesson ‘ Planeta’s recipes’ with Chef Angelo Pumilia – € 120 per person
    3 hours lesson from 9:30 am to 12:30 pm. The course consists of a theoretical part to explain the use of ingredients, their availability, the history of the recipes and a practical part during which five recipes are prepared directly by the participants under the supervision of the chef. The lesson is followed by lunch with recipes prepared during the lesson, including 2 selected wines. The participants will receive a brochure with recipes and an apron.
    NOTE: the lesson takes place for a minimum of 4 participants, maximum 18 participants
  • Wine tasting at La Foresteria – € 25 per person
    Presentation of Planeta Company Planeta with audiovisual support followed by a guided wine tasting of 5 wines accompanied by breadsticks

OPTIONAL PROGRAMME AT LA FORESTERIA SUGGESTED BY PLANETA:

  • 09.30 – 11.00: Departure from Agrigento
  • 11.00: Arrival at ULMO winery in Sambuca di Sicilia (30 kilometres far away from La Foresteria) Tour of the winery, 5 wines tasting, 3 olive oil tasting, aperitif followed by lunch.
  • From 14.00: Arrival at “La Foresteria”/In-room porterage
  • Check in at La Foresteria Planeta Estate in Menfi with welcome drink: water with lemon and mint
  • 15.00 – 19.00: Time to relax
  • 19.00: Aperitif with a glass of Planeta wine with a taste of typical Sicilian appetizers –complimentary by Planeta
  • 19.30: Dinner at the restaurant
  • Overnight La Foresteria

DAY 2

  • 07.30 – 09.00: Breakfast
  • 9.30 – 12.30: Free time
  • 13.00: Lunch at La Foresteria Planeta
  • Afternoon: Relax by the pool/Visit Selinunte
  • 18.00: Wine tasting at La Foresteria Planeta leaded by our sommelier
  • 20.00: Dinner at La Foresteria restaurant; with Gala set up in the convivial table
  • Overnight La Foresteria

DAY 3

  • 07.30 – 10.00: Breakfast & checkout

Day 6 -Menfi (Monday 20)

  • Breakfast at the hotel
  • Optional tasting and lunch at Planeta
  • 4.00 pm: Visit to the Greek ruins of Selinunte in the afternoon. with English speaking guide (“Enjoy the sunset which is amazing!)
  • Overnight La Foresteria
  • Optional dinner at La Foresteria

 

(Private vehicle and Italian speaking Driver will be available from 4pm. The afternoon departure for Selinunte, which is located on the south west coast of Sicily not far from Menfi, is the largest archaeological site in Europe on a par with pretty much anything found in Greece itself, Selinunte has lain abandoned for nearly 2,500 years, its numerous temples, its acropolis and its agora in dignified ruins. Selinunte (Admission fee: included) is beautifully located, sitting on a high plain and overlooking the sea. It is flanked on either side by golden beaches and, being almost 1km wide, is an excellent excuse for a good walk waiting for the sunset.)

Day 7 – Marsala & Erice (Tuesday 21)

 

After breakfast at La Foresteria, we drove to Marsala to visit the cellars and taste the wines of Donnagata. A short drive took us to the Salt Pans at Stagnone, a designated marine nature reserve covering some 2,000 hectares and home not only to the ancient tradition of sea-salt production but also to a flourishing variety of wildlife, and a fascinating archipelago consisting of four mostly uninhabited islands: San Pantaleo, home to ancient Mothya and one of the Phoenicians’ original settlements in Sicily, Isola Longa,Santa Maria and Schola. Windmills, first introduced during mediaeval times, dot the horizon – a testament to how things were once done, though one or two continue to function, pumping water through the sluice gates into or out of the various basins. Piles of harvested salt, neatly covered with terracotta tiles, lie between the road and the basins waiting to be despatched. Midway between Marsala and Trapani, on the banks of the lagoon is a fascinating salt museum giving visitors an explanation as to how the salt pans developed and functioned over the years.

We then drove to Erice which was an important religious site associated with the goddess Venus. We wandered through its ancient streets and visited some of the pastry shops – famous for marzipan candies and other delicacies like almond and pistachio pastries. Towering over the west of Sicily at 751m above sea level and often covered in its own personal cloud, Erice is a wonderfully preserved Mediaeval town offering the most breathtaking views and a palpable sense of history. Originally an Elymian city, (the Elymians were around before the Greeks ever set foot in Sicily) Erice, or Eryx as it was first called, was a town of no little importance and renown and is said to have attracted the likes Hercules and Aeneas. Like so many Sicilian towns, it passed from one invader to another as all the usual suspects came and went, leaving their architectural calling cards and their cultural footprints. The name changed from Eryx, to Erice to Gebel Hamed and Monte San Giuliano but its essential character remained, obstinately repelling any attempt to change its real identity. Amongst the most visited sites are the two castles –  Pepoli and Venus. The former was built by the Arabs while the latter was a Norman construction with imposing towers that derived its name from the fact that it was built on the site of the ancient Temple of Venus, allegedly founded by Aeneas.

Later we drove to Palermo, the Capital of Sicily and checked in to our hotel for a two-nights stay.

Day 8 – Palermo (Wednesday 22)

We went on morning guided Walking Street Food Tour of Palermo. The  extraordinary cuisine of the city explores 2,000 years of history: from the landing of Phoenicians to that of Americans! The itinerary included several stops at bakeries, street vendors and old inns. It also included stops at the main historical squares. We then continued onto the Four Corners which is effectively the centre point of the four areas of the old town. We observed the sculptures commissioned by the Spanish Viceroy in 1611. The sculptures on each of the four corners depict a variety of themes, including the four seasons, four Spanish kings and the four patron saints of the old town areas. Going south-east down Via Maqueda we came to Piazza Pretoria which is home not only to a splendid fountain but several other impressive buildings including the City Hall. The fountain, known as the “Fountain of Shame” has an interesting history. It was originally built in 1555 by the Florentine sculpture Francesco Camiliani for a Tuscan villa owned by the Viceroy Pedro de Toledo. His son, on inheriting the villa in 1574, thought it a little too risqué for his tastes and sold it to the City of Palermo. The city fathers erected it where it now stands. As the large central fountain is the focal point for sixteen nude statues of nymphs, humans, mermaids and satyrs which shocked nuns who lived across the square, it was named the “Fountain of Shame.”

 

That  afternoon we drove to Monreale to see where Arab-Norman art and architecture reached its pinnacle in the Duomo. Launched in 1174 by William II, it represents scenes from the Old and New Testaments all in golden mosaics. The story of how this splendid cathedral came into being starts when the Arabs took control of Palermo in 831. They transformed the cathedral into a mosque and banished the Bishop of Palermo from town. Not wishing to venture too far from his beloved cathedral, the Bishop settled in a small village in the hills overlooking Palermo, the site of modern-day Monreale. There, he built a modest church to keep the flame of local Christian worship alive. Some 240 year later, in 1072, the Normans drove the Arabs from Sicily, establishing Palermo as their capital and re- consecrating the Cathedral. In 1174, in an act of piety, thanksgiving and commemoration of the exiled Bishop, King William II ordered the construction of a new church in Monreale, dedicated to the Virgin Mary (one of the mosaics depicts King William II presenting the church to the Madonna). On its completion in 1182, Pope Lucius III elevated the splendid church to the status of metropolitan Cathedral. Enlightened, tolerant and appreciative of many aspects of North African and middle-eastern culture and art, William II employed the very best Arabic and Byzantine (as well as Norman) craftsmen to work on the cathedral. The result is a fabulous and fascinating fusion of architectural styles, artistic traditions and religious symbolism.

 

Day 9 – Tasca (Thursday 23)

  • Breakfast at the hotel
  • 09.00: Drive to Sclafani bagni (111 km, 2 hrs)
  • Aperitif and lunch at Tasca d’Almarita  (Regaleali)
  • Free time
  • 16.30: Winery visit & tasting at Regaleali
  • Aperitif & dinner at Regaleali
  • Overnight Tasca d’Almarita (Regaleali)

(Included meals: Breakfast, lunch & dinner)

Day 10 – Taormina (Friday 24)

(Included meals: Breakfast)

(Private Vehicle and Italian Speaking Driver Disposal: full day from h 8.30 am.
Piazza Armerina: English Speaking Local Guide Included to visit the Roman Villa. Taormina: English Speaking Local Guide Included to visit the Greek Roman Theatre.

 

Today we leave Tasca after breakfast and drive to Piazza Armerina situated deep in the Sicilian hinterland, at 721 metres above sea level, one of Sicily’s most frequented tourist spots. Upon arrival we visit the famous Villa Romana del Casale (Admission fee: included). Built in the middle of the 4th Century AD as a hunting lodge by a Roman noble (it is not known for sure who the owner was) the Villa is home to some of the best preserved and extensive examples of Roman mosaics spread over around 3500mt. The villa is one of the most luxurious of its kind. It is especially noteworthy for the richness and quality of the mosaics which decorate almost every room; they are the finest mosaics in situ anywhere in the Roman world. These extraordinarily vivid mosaics, probably produced by North African artisans, deal with numerous subjects, ranging from Homeric escapades and mythological scenes to portrayals of daily life, includingthe famous tableau of girls exercising in their “bikinis”.

We then continue onto Taormina, the world-famous resort town of Sicily. Enjoy a drink at the tables of Caffè Wunderbar (or similar) in Piazza IX Aprile may set you back a few euros, but you’ll be basking where Tennessee Williams and Elizabeth Taylor basked before you. As well as the famed Greek- Roman Theatre (Admission fee: included), there are several minor sites to be discovered around Taormina. The attractive principal thoroughfare, Corso Umberto is pedestrian and ideal for strolling and window- shopping. Picturesque lanes above and below the Corso are interesting to explore, while if you want to stretch your legs further there are attractive walks up into the hills, or down to the sea. Given its compact size, Taormina has a huge range of bars, cafes and restaurants where you can while away pleasant hours while admiring the views.)

Day 11 – Etna (Saturday 25)

We drove up the north face of Etna in 4X4 SUVs through a winding dirt road surrounded by chestnut and oak forests and stopped at the 2002 lava flow. The 2002 eruption lasted from October 27th to January 29th 2003 and it is considered one of the most explosive eruptions of the past one hundred years. We drove to the Ragabo pine forest where hidden among pines and brooms is the cave of Corruccio (1350 meters above sea level), a cave formed by flowing lava. Driving up along the Mareneve road we reached Piano Provenzana (1800 meters above sea level), a ski resort, theater of the great eruption of 2002 and walked to the ruins of the hotel Le Betulle destroyed by a molten lava flow.

Later we drove through the Etna D.O.C vineyards to Barone di Villafronte Estate for an excellent tasting of Etna wines with lunch.

That final evening in Sicily we had dinner at Gambero Rosso and walked up and down the crowded and festive Corso Umberto eating gelato and sipping beer late into the night.

 

Day 12 – Back to Harrogate (Sunday 26)

We drove to Catania airport (66 kms 1 hr)  with its disgusting long queues at passport control and caught the 12.30 EasyJet flight to Manchester.

Comments

  • “It was a great trip and very much enjoyed. It was your personal input and your knowledge of the people involved that made it such a special experience. The mixture of classical history and wine tasting was inspired.
    Thank you very much.”
    John Armstrong
  • “What a marvellous trip you organized for us! With such a diverse and fascinating itinerary, it’s difficult to choose highlights but for me the luxurious stays at the Planta and Tasca estates were memorable; we received such a warm welcome, thanks to your connections, and were treated to exceptional wine tastings and meals. Sicilian food and wines available, even in the small local restaurants in Syracuse and Taormina were a revelation to me. I do hope we have an HMWS Sicilian wines tasting sometime in the future!
    While the visit to the Villa Armerina, with its wonderful mosaic interiors was outstanding for me, the guides at every ancient site we visited were excellent and the spectacular ride and walk up Etna in the 4x4s was certainly a fitting climax to our trip.
    With great thanks,”
    Gail (Bent)
  • “I would like to thank you for organising yet another outstanding tour. Both Pauline and I had high expectations for this trip and they met or exceeded in all aspects.
    When I reflect on how many things we have seen and wines that we have tasted it is scarcely credible that we were able to squeeze it all into 11 days and still have some down time. We managed to do a circuit of most of the largest island in the Mediterranean. The combination of historical sites with great vineyard visits certainly delighted this wine loving historian – and I am sure this was true for every member of the group. The mix of Ancient Greek temples, and amphitheatres, Roman palaces and mosaics, Byzantine/Islamic/Norman cathedrals was almost as intoxicating as the 60 – 70 wines that were tasted (I lost count)!
    As a novice to Sicily I should add that the beauty of the mountains, coastline and the wonderful and vivid wild flowers were also a joy to the eye. Having tasted the wines of Etna  at a HMWS tasting last year, it was a memorable and dramatic experience to witness the beautiful and darkly menacing landscape from which those wines are born. Those massive lava flows and the associated devastated hotels and village will live long in the memory.
    It would not be a HMWS trip without reference to vineyards. The accommodation throughout was of a very high standard. The two nights at the vineyards of  La Planeta and in particular the day at beautiful La Tasca d’Almerita were certainly the highlight for Pauline and me.
    While inevitably not every wine that was tasted was a winner, the overall standard was very impressive. There were some outstanding wines made from international grapes, particularly Chardonnay, but the most enriching dimension for me was to learn the very individual, and often attractive, qualities of the myriad of Sicilian grape varieties which had been previously unknown to me.
    The pleasure of these tours is always compounded by the enjoyment borne out of the friendship within the group and we would like to thank all group members for their companionship and conviviality – none more so than that of yourself and Ramini.
    I don’t think that I have ever found education to be this enjoyable. Thanks again Bernard – having organised a lot of overseas educational trips for teenagers I appreciate the time, effort and sheer stress that comes with it – but we think that it was worth it!”
    Rob  and Pauline Buckley
  • “Thank you for arranging the Sicily 2019 wine tour. Ros and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The excellent quality of the food and wine and the fascinating archaeology and history was easily matched by the conviviality of the participating couples. A wonderful blend! Salute.” – Ivan (Hanney)”

***

Pantelleria

Further Reading

Train To Sicily

 

 

Advertisements