Day 1: Segesta Archaeological Park and Erice
Your guide will meet you at 2:00 p.m. at the Palermo Airport and you’ll transfer to Erice, stopping along the way to visit Segesta Archaeological Park. If you are arriving the day before the tour starts, we recommend that you meet the group at the airport. (We will provide joining instructions, as well as suggestions for booking flights, in the Trip Planner, which will be sent out after you sign up for the tour.) The Tempio (Temple) of Segesta is one of the world's most perfectly preserved temples surviving from the days of antiquity. This is a full temple with relatively intact columns. It stands on a 997 foot (304 meters) hill, on the edge of a deep ravine carved by the Pispisa River. The site is made all the more majestic by the deep valley that envelops it. You can stand here and absorb the magnificent view, the setting framed by the distant peaks of Monte Barbaro and Monte Bernardo.
Erice was the sacred city to the Elimis in ancient times, a cult devoted to the fertility goddess, Astarte, later identified with Venus and worshipped by the Romans. With its delightful medieval ambience and splendid location, Erice is an interesting town. There are ancient Elimi and Phoenician walls around the northeastern side of the city. There are also two castles, Pepoli Castle, with foundations dating from Saracen times, and Venus Castle, dating from the Norman era but built on ruins of the ancient Temple of Venus. Surrounded by a lush park, the hilltop castles alone are worth a visit in Erice, which offers charming old stone streets and medieval churches. After checking in to your hotel, you’ll visit the walls, the castle and the historic town center. And, lest we forget, Erice is famous throughout Sicily for its pastries so we won’t want to miss stopping in a café and enjoying the “cultural” experience of some fresh pastry. This evening you’ll have a trip orientation and welcome drink, followed by dinner in one of Erice’s charming restaurants. Your Erice hotel is a friendly family-run hotel perched on top of Mount Gulianni and provides magnificent views and attentive service by Antonio, the owner, with his family by his side. The hotel is a converted 18th century estate and is in an ideal location from which to explore this perfectly preserved village. Hike: 3.5 hours; 4 miles; easy (country roads and trails). Overnight: Erice. Meals: D
Day 2: Zingaro Nature Preserve or Monte Cofano
Today’s excursion brings you to Zingaro Nature Reserve, pristine coastline set against steep mountains. You’ll enjoy one of the most beautiful coastal hikes in Sicily as you walk above crystal clear sapphire waters and idyllic white sand and pebble coves. This was Sicily’s first protected area and you’ll reap the benefit of that protection on today’s hike. The area is edged by lush Mediterranean vegetation and overshadowed by stunning limestone cliffs. You’ll explore the coastline on foot, visit some interesting museums during the walk, and if the weather cooperates, swim in the Tyrrhenian Sea. Note: a fire seriously damaged the Zingaro Preserve this past summer. As a result we will likely substitute an equally beautiful hike on Monte Cofano, a monolithic, impressive mountain, built up by limestone, standing directly at the north coast in the western part of Sicily. You’ll hike on a lovely coastal trail, starting at Tonnara, which leads with some ups and downs around the northern part of Monte Cofano. You will experience a ragged and savage coastline and a little chapel, named "Crocifisso,” and you’ll pass many European dwarf palm trees. After a while, you’ll ascend onto the platform of an old Spanish watchtower, Torre di San Giovanni di Cofano. Today’s beautiful hike will be capped off with a picnic with local specialties in this beautiful setting. Dinner will be in the hotel or in another of Erice’s wonderful restaurants. Hike: 4-6 hours; approximately 4 miles; moderate; 984 – 2133 feet (300-650 meters) elevation gain/loss. Overnight: Erice. Meals: B, L, D
Day 3: Madonie Mountains and Castelbuono
Today you’ll transfer from Sicily’s western coast to the beautiful Madonie Mountains, which cover a 30 mile stretch of central Sicily. The northern border of this range drops down to the Tyrrhenian Sea. With the exception of an untamed core frequented by itinerant shepherds, the Madonies are dotted with quiet little towns and farming communities. These mountains are part of a rugged chain extending through Italy across Calabria and Sicily and into Tunisia. Many of the towns nestled into the Madonies are of Saracen Arab origin, dating from around the ninth century, and they were subsequently developed further into larger villages under the conquering Normans. Several are ancient, built upon the remains of Sicanian, Greek and Roman settlements. Narrow winding alley ways, medieval churches and the occasional crumbling castle are remnants of Arab and Norman times. The uplands are covered with wonderful woods and an incredible diversity of plant species, with sheer limestone cliffs towering above.
You’ll spend most of today in the Madonie Nature Reserve, which encompasses Pizzo Carbonara (Carbonara Peak), Sicily’s second highest peak after Mount Etna. You’ll walk through a monumental giant holly grove, whose age is estimated at about 350 years. The hike starts at a height of 4593 feet (1400 meters) and goes up to about 6234 feet (1900 meters) where you’ll savour the view during a picnic lunch before hiking back. The hike is about four and a half to eight miles, with a longer option possible. You’ll settle into your charming hotel, a restored abbey and agricultural property with its own winery. Before dinner in the hotel, you can take a dip in the pool (added post monks!) and enjoy views that reach from the surrounding vineyards all the way to the sea. The hotel is a short distance from Castelbuono, a town famous for the castle from which its name derives, and around which the city formed in the 14th century. Hike: 3 – 6 hours; 4.5 – 8 miles; moderate; 1640 feet (500 meters) elevation gain/loss. Overnight: Castelbuono. Meals: B, L, D
Day 4: Cefalù
You’ll travel to the city of Cefalù, anchored between the sea and a craggy limestone promontory. Cefalù is a town of narrow medieval streets, small squares, and historic sights. Towering 912 feet (278 meters) above the town is La Rocca, a massive and much-photographed crag. The Greeks thought it evoked a head, so they named the village Kephalos, which in time became Cefalù. Movie buffs may recognize the town from the Oscar-winning film Cinema Paradiso. Today’s hike will take you up to the top of La Rocca. Near the top you’ll reach the splendid ruins of the 'Tempio di Diana' (temple of Diana)' an ancient megalithic stone structure. Around the summit are superb views, various bits of old fortifications, and a perfect picnic place. After exploring Cefalù, you’ll return to your hotel for a wine-tasting, a stroll around the grounds and another swim if you wish, and a relaxed dinner. Hike (town walk and Rocca ascent): 3 hours; 3.4 miles; 820 feet (250 meters) elevation gain/loss. Overnight: Castelbuono. Meals: B, L,D
Day 5: Taormina and Castelmola
Today you’ll transfer to Taormina for the third port of call on your Sicily hiking adventure. Considered by many the most beautiful town in Sicily, Taormina sits on a hill at the foot of Monte Tauro Mountain, dominating two grand, sweeping bays and offering dramatic views over miles of Mediterranean Sea. The town, which is rich in history and culture, is home to the Ancient Theatre, the Roman Naumachiae, the 13th-century Cathedral of Saint Nicolo and other structures that reflect a golden past. It has a maze of narrow streets and beautiful squares.
After checking in to your elegant and beautifully sited boutique hotel in the historic center of Taormina, you’ll visit the Greco-Roman Theater and explore the sights of Taormina. You’ll head out late afternoon for a hike to Castelmola, a village perched high on crags above Taormina, and its ruined castle. Castelmola is an interesting and picturesque settlement with wonderful views, which you can perhaps enjoy over an espresso, followed by a walk or bus ride back to Taormina. Those wishing to trade ancient culture for an afternoon at the beach can take the cable car down to Taormina’s beaches. Dinner tonight will be in Castelmola or in one of Taormina’s many restaurants. Hike: 2 hours; 2.6 miles; 932 feet (284 meters) elevation gain/loss. Overnight: Taormina. Meals: B, L, D
Day 6: Mount Etna and Taormina
After breakfast on the hotel’s rooftop terrace with its stunning view you’ll head to Mount Etna for a hike at this exciting volcano. Looming more than 10,000 feet (3048 meters) feet menacingly over the coast of eastern Sicily, Mount Etna is the highest and largest active volcano in Europe. To the ancient Greeks, Vulcan also made himself at home on Mount Etna, accompanied as well by the Cyclops. Depending upon the weather and the volcano you may take one of the many beautiful hiking options, walking on recent lava flows and around craters, and experiencing fumaroles. You may climb to the Monte Nero craters and the Bottoniera. Another choice is a hike through the Linguaglossa pine forest and crossing a stretch of lava flow. Your celebratory final dinner tonight will be at another one of Taomina’s restaurants. If you wish, you can take a stroll after dinner to the charming small square Piazza IX Aprile to watch the evening promenade from any one of a number of outdoor cafes. Hike: 3 – 5 hours; 4.5 – 6 miles; 600 feet (183 meters) elevation gain/loss. Overnight: Taormina. Meals: B, L, D
Day 7: Depart
After breakfast we’ll provide a mid-morning group transfer to the Catania Airport for the return flight to the U.S. or for other adventures within Sicily or Italy. Those guests departing at other times are responsible for their own transfers, though we will of course assist with making those arrangements. Meals: B
Please bear in mind that this is a typical itinerary, and the actual walks and sites may vary due to season, special events or weather. We reserve the right to alter the itinerary since tour arrangements are made up to a year in advance, and unforeseen circumstances that mandate change may arise. Itinerary changes are made to improve the tour and your experience. We are always on the look-out for fun surprises to add to the itinerary.