SICILY & MALTA

Crossroads of the Mediterranean

April 28-May 12, 2022

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THU, APRIL 28 — DEPART NEW YORK/JFK

 

Malta and Sicily, with an amazing 16 UNESCO World Heritage Sites between them, and just 50 miles from one another, promise to be a photographer’s delight and an enlightening journey into the past. Our Mediterranean odyssey begins this afternoon as we depart New York on Lufthansa, bound for Frankfurt.

 

FRI, APRIL 29 — FRANKFURT-VALLETTA, MALTA

 

We connect with a flight to Valletta, arriving about mid-day, and transfer to our hotel. The geographical location of the Malta archipelago in the center of the Mediterranean made it an alluring and much-fought-over prize, and its three islands (Malta, Gozo, and Comino) are full of majestic above- and below-ground defenses. The capital, Valletta, built by the Knights of St. John, is a harmonious grid. The afternoon is at leisure before our welcome dinner this evening in the hotel restaurant.

 

Grand Hotel Excelsior (D)

 

SAT, APRIL 30 — VALLETTA

 

We enjoy an orientation walking tour of Valletta this morning before driving to nearby Sliema. After a little free time for photography along the promenade, we board a Captain Morgan catamaran to relive Malta’s gallant history, cruising around the two natural harbors on either side of Valletta — Marsamxetto Harbour and the Grand Harbour — to experience the past and see the magnificent forts, battlements, and creeks situated in Valletta and the Three Cities (Vittoriosa, Senglea, and Cospicua). Afterward, the remainder of the day is at leisure in Valletta’s city center to explore, photograph, and dine on your own.

 

Grand Hotel Excelsior (B)

 

SUN, MAY 1 — VALLETTA

 

We depart early this morning for a full-day excursion. First stop, the Sunday Market at Marasaxlokk, a beautiful fishing town famous for its colorful luzzu boats and popular fish market that also includes stalls offering souvenirs and local produce. We see the Blue Grotto from the cliffs above, framed by a majestic arch, then visit the megalithic temples of Hagar Qim and Mnajdra standing atop a hill on the southern edge of the island. After enjoying a delicious lunch at Diar il-Bniet in Dingli, we visit St. Paul’s Catacombs, a complex of interconnected underground cemeteries dating back to Punic and Roman times. We end the day exploring the ancient old capital city of Mdina, with its fortified walls, Baroque and medieval architecture along narrow cobbled streets, majestic palaces, and wonderfully adorned and preserved churches.

 

Grand Hotel Excelsior (BL)

 

MON, MAY 2 — VALLETTA-SYRACUSE, SICILY

 

This morning we take a short ferry ride across the Grand Harbour to spend some time in Vittoriosa (also called Birgu). Only half a mile long and 1/4 mile at its widest, it's a sheer pleasure to wander aimlessly through its flower-bedecked alleys. There are several interesting sights (including the Inquisitor’s Palace and Fort St. Angelo) and stunning views across to Valletta. Packed with super-yachts and harborside restaurants, the promenade stretching along Cottonera Waterfront makes for a gorgeous amble. Afterward, we visit the neolithic Tarxien Temples with some fine examples of prehistoric art, then explore and photograph San Anton Gardens and the Three Villages of Balzan, Attard, and Lija. Walking the streets of these villages, one gets the impression of going back in time, with their well-kept alleys, restored noble palaces, and beautiful parish churches. We return to Valletta to catch the evening ferry to Pozzallo, Sicily. Transfer to our hotel in Syracuse (Siracusa) on arrival.

 

Antico Hotel Roma 1880 (B)

 

TUE, MAY 3 — SYRACUSE

 

Seductively beautiful and perfectly placed in the heart of the Mediterranean, Sicily has been luring passersby with its dazzling diversity of landscapes and cultural treasures since the time of legends. Reminders of bygone civilizations are everywhere. Today’s full-day excursion takes us to the Val di Noto, home to eight UNESCO World Heritage hillside towns including Noto, Ispica, Ragusa, Scicli, Modica, and Ragusa — full of romantic Sicilian Baroque architecture and some of the island’s best places to eat. There’s plenty of time to explore and photograph before returning to Syracuse and dinner in a local restaurant.

 

Antico Hotel Roma 1880 (BD)

 

WED, MAY 4 — SYRACUSE-TAORMINA

 

We begin the day with a walk on historic Ortigia Island, packed with over 2,500 years of history, then visit the Neapolis archaeological site northwest of Syracuse, home to a staggering number of well-preserved ruins, including the Greek theatre and Roman amphitheatre. Driving north along the coast, we stop at Brucoli for a long view of Mount Etna across the village, then continue on to Catania, Sicily’s second largest city after Palermo. Its historic city center features beautifully restored Baroque palaces, attractive piazzas, opulent churches, picturesque alleys, old workshops, and ancient Greek and Roman monuments. Continue on to Taormina, our home for the next two nights.

 

Hotel Continental (BL)

 

THU, MAY 5 — TAORMINA

 

We visit Teatro Greco with its gorgeous view of Mount Etna in the background before heading to the hill villages of Randazzo, Roccella Valdemone, and Montalbano Elicona; the latter is recognized as one of the most beautiful medieval villages in Sicily. Walk through the alleys and see the Aragonese Castle and its famous chapel built in Byzantine style; it’s like going back to the Middle Ages. Time for exploration and photography before returning to world-famous Taormina, situated high on a plateau on the slopes of Monte Tauro and dominating the Ionian coast. The remainder of the day is at leisure to explore this delightful medieval town on your own.

 

Hotel Continental (B)

 

FRI, MAY 6 — TAORMINA-AGRIGENTO

 

This morning we visit the historic center of beautiful Acireale, perched on a hill overlooking the Ionian Sea, before turning inland toward Caltagirone, known for its wonderful ceramics and the dramatic 142-step tiled stairway leading up to Santa Maria del Monte Church. We stop in Piazza Armerina for a visit to the Roman Villa del Casale, with its splendid Roman floor mosaics, and enjoy lunch at Agriturismo Trinacria, before continuing west to Agrigento. Here, we photograph the beautiful white cliffs at Scala dei Turchi at sunset.

 

Colleverde Park Hotel (BL)

 

SAT, MAY 7 — AGRIGENTO-MARSALA

 

Transport yourself back to the 6th century BC and the time of the ancient Greeks when we visit the Valley of the Temples today. This incredibly well preserved series of temples and buildings is one of Italy’s most famous archaeological sites and, in fact, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Afterward, we drive north along the coast to Mazara del Vallo, whose kasbah still has the feel of a North African souk, even after the end of Arab dominance more than 900 years ago; its harbor buzzes with all kinds of activities to photograph. A little farther on, we check into our hotel in Marsala, have free time to explore the historic city center, then drive to Stagnone to photograph picturesque salt pans and windmills until sunset.

 

BW Hotel Stella d’Italia (BL)

 

SUN, MAY 8 — MARSALA-PALERMO

 

This morning we take a cablecar from Trapani to Erice, a medieval walled town perched atop a mountain nearly 2,500 feet above sea level and offering panoramic views of the valley below and the Tyrrhenian Sea beyond. Then it’s on to Scopello for a walk in the medieval borgo and photo ops of Tonnara di Scopello, a picturesque old tuna processing plant in a stunningly beautiful location. At Segesta, the 2,700-year-old Greek temple is one of the best preserved in the world; the nearby Greek theatre is marvelous in its own right. Castellammare del Golfo has a beautiful seafront; we enjoy a city walk here before continuing on to Palermo, the capital of Italy’s autonomous region of Sicily.

 

Hotel Plaza Opera (BD)

 

MON, MAY 9 — PALERMO

 

Palermo has two claims to fame: impressive architecture and world-class food. This morning we enjoy a walking tour of some of the highlights, including Byzantine churches, medieval palaces, Renaissance fountains, and artisan workshops, as well as Palermo Cathedral and Palazzo Reale, both part of Arab-Norman Palermo, a UNESCO site comprising structures dating back to the 12th century. We see Massimo Vittorio Emanuele Theater, one of Europe’s largest opera houses, and pass through vibrant markets selling Sicilian food specialties. The afternoon is free for independent exploration. Dinner tonight is on your own to find somewhere special — due to Sicily’s strategic Mediterranean location, the food incorporates Italian, Arabic, and African influences into a delicious cuisine.

 

Hotel Plaza Opera (BL)

 

TUE, MAY 10 — PALERMO

 

We begin our full-day excursion with the sleepy little seaside town of Cefalu and its Norman-Arab-Byzantine masterpiece of a cathedral, then continue on to Castelbuono, a small medieval town known as the gateway to the Madonie Mountains. It’s full of quaint little corners, alleys, and steps. After lunch, we drive farther inland to Petralia Soprana, voted the most beautiful village in Italy in 2018. It’s a perfect combination of chic and shabby, with beautifrul palaces and dilapidated old buildings. Later this afternoon, a city walk in Polizzi Generosa, one more picture-perfect town with some photographic jewels, before returning to Palermo.

 

Hotel Plaza Opera (BL)

 

WED, MAY 11 — PALERMO

 

This morning we travel to Monreale, situated on the slopes of Monte Caputo, to visit its celebrated cathedral, a gem of Arab-Norman Palermo dating back to the late 1100s and one of the finest examples of Norman architecture still in existence. The breathtaking main sanctuary is covered with an abundance of painstakingly detailed mosaic images, 4,850 pounds of pure gold, crafted by artisans from Constantinople (now Istanbul). Later, on our way back to Palermo, we stop in Bagheria to visit Villa Palagonia, a photogenic 18th-century aristocratic villa known for its statues of monsters and mythological figures dotting the gardens. Nearby, Porticello and Punta Santa Nicolicchia feature colorful boats with fishermen selling their catch and mending their nets. The remainder of the day is at leisure in Palermo before our farewell dinner in a local restaurant.

 

Hotel Plaza Opera (BD)

 

THU, MAY 12 — PALERMO-NEW YORK

 

Arrivederci! Sadly, our Mediterranean sojourn ends this morning as we board a flight to Zurich and connect with a flight to New York, arriving the afternoon of the same day.

 

(B)

 

 

Note: Included meals are indicated by B, L, and D for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.


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