Sicily – that beautiful island off the southern-most tip of Italy is one of the few places in Europe that genuinely can be called unspoilt! Its scenery possesses a natural and varied beauty that is truly breathtaking. Rugged, sometimes snow-capped mountains reaching for the sky are interspaced with rich meadows, adorned with wild flowers: during spring and autumn, spectacularly green and lush, yet during the sun-scorched summer, transformed into pastel shades of greens, yellows and browns. Citrus and olive groves stretch into the distance and abundant pine forests lend the air that unmistakeable Mediterranean aroma. Punctuated by the occasional farmhouse and Tuscan-like hilltop village the countryside is remarkably empty. The island has a spectacularly indented coastline, with sweeping bays and blood-red volcanic rocks plunging into the deep blue sea, and snow-capped Mount Etna providing a magnificent backdrop.
Although very much Italian today, Sicily has been at the crossroads of almost every Mediterranean civilisation for thousands of years and still retains traces of them all. Founded by the Phoenicians, home to the richest cities in the Greek Empire, Sicily was then over the centuries conquered by the Romans, the Moors, Normans, Spanish, French and finally the Italians. Their magnificent relics include temples, ancient amphitheatres, churches, monasteries, villas and atmospheric old towns, with many being the most outstanding of their type in the world and, due to the climate, in a truly remarkable state of preservation. In character, Sicilians are noticeably different from the rest of Italy with their Sicilian language still in evidence. The food is wonderful but, again, sometimes a little different from the rest of the country, with nearby African influences present in dishes like couscous. Fish is obviously abundant; especially sea bass, swordfish and tuna, often combined with delicious fresh pasta. Plump and ripe Mediterranean vegetables, including tomatoes, peppers, courgettes and aubergines complete mouth-watering menus. Our tour visits the finest this remarkable island has to offer. We start in Agrigento, founded by the ancient Greeks, and famous for its remarkable Valley of the Temples - nine of them, some in phenomenal condition and all the more impressive when you consider they are almost 2,500 years old. It never ceases to amaze us - our present-day civilisation believes it is so sophisticated and supposedly at the cutting edge of technology, but we wonder how many of our buildings will last as long!
Next we visit Palermo, chaotic and vibrant capital of the island, and in a beautiful setting with an atmosphere of both Europe and the Orient. The architecture ranges in style from Arabic to Norman, Baroque to Art Nouveau. The pretty little town of Piazza Amerina possesses one of the true archaeological gems of the ancient world: the Casale villa dating from Roman times, covering a huge area, decorated with the largest expanse of ancient mosaics ever discovered and, having been covered by a mud slide many centuries ago, their condition belies their age. We also visit Taormina, one of Sicily’s most beautiful towns. Select and tasteful, Taormina retains its medieval charm, with its main street a lovely collection of 15th to 19th century townhouses, small and intimate piazzas and twisting alleyways. Taormina’s greatest claim to fame is its Greek theatre dating from the 3rd century BC, with its breathtaking views of the bay and Mount Etna.