“To have seen Italy without having seen Sicily is not to have seen Italy at all, for Sicily is the clue to everything.” — J.W. von Goethe, 1817
Less than two miles away across a wisp of sea from mainland Italy, Sicilyremains somewhat of a world apart. This sun-drenched island of dramatic volcanoes and fabulous coastlines boasts an awesome historical legacy (including some of the world’s finest sites of antiquity) and a vibrant traditional culture. Home to some of Italy’s friendliest small villages, Sicily in many ways offers intrepid explorers an unmatched experience of “old Italy.” Add to this the alluring island of Malta— the European Capital of Culture in 2018. Long a crossroads between Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East, Malta is diminutive in size yet at the core of many of history’s major events and home to a beguiling mix of cultures that have stewed together over centuries.
We start out in Sicily’s buzzing capital of Palermo in the northwest where we take in some of the highlights of the city center and the impressive cathedral in Monrealenearby with its outstanding mosaics as well as a day-trip out to the sublime site of the ancient isolated Greek temple of Segesta.
Moving to the south coast we come to Agrigento,home of the Valley of the Temples— an extraordinary group of structures that some would argue are the best ancient Greek ruins anywhere, including Greece. We’ll stay a couple of nights at an upscale country inn not far from Agrigento.
Moving inland we stop to see the UNESCO-listed Villa Romana del Casalein the center of the island. Discovered in the late 1800s this was the 3rd-century estate thought to have been a country retreat for Marcus Aurelius and contains the finest Roman floor mosaics in existence.
Next it’s on to the northeast corner of Sicily where we enjoy two nights in the utterly beautiful and chic hilltown of Taormina,its premier site being the Greek Theater, suspended between sea and sky and offering a fantastic view of Mt. Etnain the distance. There are great restaurants and shopping here, and it’s fun just to get off the main drag and explore the little alley-stairways.
Our last stop in Sicily is the captivating city of Siracusa (Syracuse), specifically its island city-center known as Ortigia.This was the greatest city of Magna Graecia and in its heyday was the largest city in the ancient world. Layers of history unravel themselves here. It’s a delight to wander around Ortigia, and its main piazzais a masterpiece, one of the most impressive in Italy, in our opinion.
To close out the tour a ferry whisks us down to Malta,which holds the European Capital of Culture title for 2018. Our 3-night base is Valletta,the charming capital city. During our time on the island we’ll explore the highlights of the capital along with excursions further afield, such as Mdina— a golden-stone Arabic walled hilltown with excellent views over the hills and out to sea.