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The Magic of Sicily

(Tour code: PTJ6)Operated by Great Rail Journeys | An exciting tour of this volcanic island

Operated by Great Rail Journeys | Set just off the 'toe' of Italy, Sicily boasts an enthralling combination of historic cities, alluring coastline, glorious landscapes and the wonderful remains of the ancient kingdoms that shaped the island. Our excursion-rich adventure takes us to each of these incredible attractions, and is crowned with a thrilling journey to Mount Etna, Europe's largest volcano.

Tour Highlights
  • Guided tour of the Sicilian capital, Palermo
  • Monreale and its cathedral
  • Agrigento Valley of the Temples
  • Sightseeing in Taormina with a local guide
  • Mount Etna and the Silvestri Craters
  • Journey on the Circumetnea train
  • Syracuse including a tour of Neapolis
  • Ortigia’s beautiful cathedral
  • The Valley of the Temples
What’s Included (Full details)
  • Heritage Rail Excursion
  • Breakfast Every Day
    Selected Evening Meals
    7 Nights' Accommodation
  • Return Scheduled Flights
    Upgrades Available

Itinerary & Map

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Departure Times

Provisional departure and return times, where available, can be found together with dates and prices by clicking on the 'Prices & Availability' button. We will write to you around 10 weeks before your departure date with the precise meeting times for your tour group.

Day 1

London to Palermo

We depart from London on our short flight to Palermo, the capital of Sicily. Set in a magnificent sprawling bay, the city of Palermo boasts the towering bulk of Monte Pellegrino as its impressive backdrop. With a long history as the capital city, Palermo has a rich and diverse heritage that is fascinating to explore. Originally the hub of a 9th century Arab kingdom, many of the monarchies and superpowers of Europe had a part in Palermo's development over the following centuries - decorating it with a scattering of striking cathedrals, glittering palaces and lovely Baroque buildings on its network of haphazard streets. On arrival we transfer to the Centrale Palace Hotel, our base for three nights. This evening we enjoy dinner together.

  • Dinner
  • Scheduled Flights
Day 2

Exploring Palermo and Monreale

This morning we enjoy a guided coach tour of Palermo, which introduces us to the main sights of the area. We see the busy port and attractive medieval quarter, along with the 'newer' section of the city, where much of the grand architecture dates from the 17th century. Many of these buildings were badly damaged during the Second World War; whilst most have since been carefully restored, some still bear bullet marks, serving as a poignant reminder of the conflict. During the morning we also pass the colourful markets in lively piazzas, watched over by some of the dazzling churches and public buildings that dominate the skyline. Following lunch in a local restaurant, our excursion continues to nearby Monreale. This hilltop town has a charming centre of winding lanes and alleys, with fine views out to sea. However, its main attraction is undoubtedly its unrivalled cathedral, which we visit on our tour. The finest craftsmen were assembled to create this masterpiece - a fusion of Byzantine, Norman and even Arabic styles. The interior is incredibly lavish, its lofty columns encrusted with glittering golden mosaics depicting Biblical scenes. We enjoy time to admire the gleaming artworks and the cloisters before returning to Palermo.

  • Breakfast, Lunch
  • Tour of Palermo
  • Tour of Monreale
  • Monreale Cathedral
Day 3

Agrigento and the Valley of the Temples

We travel to Agrigento today, situated close to Sicily's southern shores. Once known as Akragas under Greek rule, the town is famous for its outstanding Valley of the Temples - an incredible complex of Greek Doric structures built in the 5th century BC. On arrival we enjoy a guided tour of the valley, which enjoys UNESCO World Heritage status, and its array of striking remains. Some of the temples are in remarkable condition, and during our tour we see the Temple of the Concord, which is the best preserved Doric temple in the Greek world. Following the tour, you have time to explore the archaeological site at your own pace. Dinner this evening is in a local restaurant.

  • Breakfast, Dinner
  • Agrigento tour
Greco Teatre, Taormina
Day 4

To the Eastern Coast

Leaving Palermo behind, today we take the wonderfully scenic journey by rail to Messina. The route hugs Sicily's northern coast, weaving in and out of coves and around promontories overlooking the sparkling Mediterranean, as it passes through the towns and villages by the shoreline. In Messina we continue south by coach and spend four nights on the coast near Taormina at the Main Palace Hotel Roccalumera. After settling in, we travel by coach to Taormina and enjoy a guided tour of the city's many highlights including of course the Teatro Greco. This grand theatre was built during Roman times in a Greek style, and is immaculately preserved. From the top of the auditorium, there are views of Mount Etna in one direction, and the peaks of Calabria in another. We also take in the narrow alleyways around the gateway to the oldest part of Taormina's historic heart.

  • Breakfast, Dinner
  • Tour of Taormina
Silvestri Craters, Mt Etna
Day 5

Mount Etna

Today we visit Mount Etna, Europe's largest and most active volcano. With its striking lava fields reaching out almost to the sea, Etna is one of Sicily's most compelling sights. We ascend the mountain, passing through the increasingly rugged rock formations and lava plains that line the higher slopes. We arrive at the Silvestri Craters, where the ash has created a depression in the mountain's flank - making an awe-inspiring sight. From here, you are free to take in the view, or perhaps take the cable car to the top, where the summit's active crater is clearly visible - often casting out smoke, accompanied by lumps of tiny red and grey lava, an incredible phenomenon to behold. We enjoy lunch in a local winery, with an included tasting. Later, we take the Circumetnea train around the mountain's base, taking in the delightful surrounding villages as well as the breathtaking landscape.

  • Breakfast, Lunch
  • Circumetnea Train
  • Wine-tasting
  • Silvestri Craters excursion
Day 6

At leisure

Your entire day is free for you to relax in the hotel and enjoy the coastal views, or revisit Taormina, to explore the many attractions of this lovely town. Among the highlights is the Villa Comunale, Taormina's attractive public gardens. Here gorgeous blooms line the paths, which are shaded by magnolia trees. Otherwise you could shop for souvenirs in the glamorous shops along the Corso Umberto and the side alleys surrounding it. Should you wish to venture a little further afield, you could take the bus - or walk if you're feeling energetic - up to Castelmola. The remains of a ruined Saracen castle overlook this pretty hill village, which offers some of the finest views in all of Sicily. From here you can relax in one of the cafés or restaurants, and take in the views of the glittering ocean. Alternatively, you may prefer to simply relax on one of the beaches below Taormina. A popular option is to take the cable car down to Mazzarò; here you can unwind amongst the pebbled coves, or take a short stroll to the beautiful Isola Bella, a small island which is now a nature reserve.

  • Breakfast, Dinner
  • Free Day
Day 7

Syracuse and Ortigia

This morning we visit the enchanting city of Syracuse, which in antiquity was the supreme power in Europe. As a result, this prestigious port city boasts a broad diversity of monuments spanning several different eras. Here we enjoy a guided tour of Neapolis - which was once the 'New Town', but is now an important archaeological park with many of the city's centuries-old public buildings. Later we continue to Ortigia, a tiny island connected to Syracuse by a bridge, to visit its superb cathedral. Built from a former Pagan temple, it is reputedly Europe's oldest Christian church. We also see the majestic Fountain of Arethusa, on Ortigia's seafront. This freshwater spring has been celebrated by poets from Virgil to Milton, and is fascinating to see. We then return to Taormina after a memorable day.

  • Breakfast, Dinner
Return to London
Day 8

Return to London

Today we transfer to Catania, for our flight back to London.

  • Breakfast
  • Scheduled Flights
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