We fly from Gatwick to Catania where we will be met by a coach and our tour manager to transfer to our hotel in Modica.
Today we visit two of the most stunning Baroque towns the area is famed for - Scicli & Noto, both destroyed in the fateful earthquake of 1693 and totally rebuilt in pure Sicilian Baroque style. Less well-known than its prestigious neighbours but just as fascinating and beautiful, Scicli sits in a gorge and is overlooked by a towering rocky mass on which the Church of San Matteo sits. There are a number of lovely churches and palazzi with characterful gargoyles, elegant swirls and decorative façades.
Noto is, quite simply, the apotheosis of Baroque town planning and architecture. All the buildings have their own unique fascinating design as the architects seem to have been given free reign. Highlights include The Monastero del Santissimo Salvatore with its graceful tower, the Church of San Francesco and Palazzo Nicolaci di Villadorata. A UNESCO World Heritage site, Noto is not to be missed.
After breakfast we head to Piazza Armerina, home to the majestic Roman Villa de Casale, for its captivating mosaics from the 3rdC and 4thC A.D, considered the most beautiful and best-preserved of their kind. We return south and stop for lunch and a visit to the aristocratic town of Caltagirone, which is brimming with splendid palaces and churches but is most known for many of its buildings being decorated with ceramic tiles. The highlight is undoubtedly the 142 steps of the Scalinata di Santa Maria del Monte that connect the lower town with the older upper town. The upright of each step is decorated with ceramic tiles, offering a colourful alternative to the grey lava stone of the horizontal parts.
Today we have the day in Modica to enjoy at our leisure. Modica is an attractive historic town, one of the area’s UNESCO-listed Baroque towns. Important in Medieval times, Modica was rebuilt after the earthquake of 1693 and now boasts fine late-Baroque architecture as well as a medieval old town. Corso Umberto, Modica’s elegant high street, is lined with buildings from the 18th & 19th centuries, and is the location for the town museum, its chocolate shops and a good proportion of its restaurants and cafes. Modica has a remarkable number of impressive churches, including two grand Baroque cathedrals.
Full day excursion to Siracusa & Ortygia. Once home to Archimedes, the city is divided into two parts: an archaeological site and the peninsula of Ortygia. The archaeological site contains a great number of Greek and Roman remains including a Greek theatre from the 5thC BC. Ortygia is home to over 2,500 years of history, from the Greeks and Romans to the Normans and Baroque. The historical highlights include the fountain of Arethusa; the remains of the Temple of Apollo which, being built in the 7thC BC, was supposedly the first great Doric temple of its kind in Sicily; Piazza Archimede and the delightful pedestrian square of Piazza del Duomo, home to the wonderful Cathedral. There will be a guided tour of the highlights of the towns and entrance to the archaeological area is included.
This morning we visit Ragusa & Ragusa Ibla (home to & setting for the fictional Detective Montalbano). Approaching the town, the sight of the jumbled buildings piled on top of each other, clinging to the walls of the gorge, is quite breath-taking. The town is part of the Val di Noto UNESCO World Heritage site and 18 of its buildings are protected by UNESCO patronage. Gems to look for include the Basilica di San Giorgio, Chiesa di Maria delle Scale and The Cathedral of San Giovanni Battista. Later this afternoon we visit one of Sicily’s prettiest seaside villages, Marzamemi, with a fleet of colourful wooden boats and charming buildings. Put on the map and named by the Arabs in the 10thC, they also built the original tonnara (tuna processing plant) which became one of the most important on the island. Although the tonnara itself is no longer in operation, Marzamemi continues producing all manner of seafood delicacies.
We check out of our hotel and head back to Catania, via the Church of St Anthony at Buccheri. In Catania we will visit the Palazzo Biscari. Palazzo Biscari, the most magnificent private building in Catania, is unique in terms of structure, outlay and decoration and the ornate interior is decorated in the rococo style. The grand rooms house a collection of paintings, vases, coins and many other antique exhibits. Return to Catania airport for your return flight to Gatwick.
The exact order of the itinerary is subject to change.
Flight times are currently unknown so days 1 and 7 may alter depending on final flight times.
The Hotel Principe d’Aragona boasts a fantastic location, in the historical centre of the beautiful town of Modica, within easy walking distance of the stunning architecture, restaurants and shops. All rooms are comfortable and simply furnished with en-suite facilities. It has an outdoor pool and a bar / lounge area that serves breakfast, lunch and snacks.
What you will see:-
Scicli is one of the UNESCO-listed Baroque towns of south-east Sicily, but it is rather off-the-beaten-track compared with its more visited neighbours Noto, Ragusa and Modica. This overlooked town has a scenic location and charm that at least matches its rivals, though, along with an enjoyable sense of discovery for the visitors who explore its streets. It does have an up-and-coming feel about it, so future visitors may find more tourist development, though hopefully that will not detract from its pleasant aura of exclusivity. Scicli shares its architectural heritage with other towns in the area, but it also has some unique attractions of its own, including a neatly-kept centre, fine clean stonework, and a dramatic situation in a basin overhung by churches and monasteries on high crags.
Scicli is one of the filming locations for popular Sicilian detective drama Il Commissario Montalbano, which is exported to several other countries, and viewers will enjoy spotting familiar scenes.
Noto is a pleasant and attractive little town, with a historic centre that is composed almost entirely of crumbling Baroque palaces, churches and houses. The town's striking architectural coherence is due to the major earthquake that struck Sicily in 1693. The old town of Noto was almost completely destroyed, and it was decided to to reconstruct a splendid new town several miles away. Thus Noto was rebuilt on its present site, carefully designed for functionality and architectural harmony.
Villa Romana de Casale
The Villa Romana del Casale is a Roman villa built in the first quarter of the 4th century and located outside the town of Piazza Armerina. It contains the richest, largest and most complex collection of Roman mosaics in the world, and has been designated as one of 49 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Italy.
Siracuse and Ortygia
Siracusa (Syracuse) is a window into the ancient history of the Mediterranean and Europe. Its vast archeological site, on the edge of the modern city, is a rare treasure of temples, amphitheatres and an ancient castle. The island of Ortygia - a labyrinth of charming ancient and medieval streets. This was a center of Greek, Byzantine and Judaic civilization. Physical evidence of these three cultures can still be seen today, making Ortygia a fascinating place to visit for anybody curious about the historic patrimony we have inherited from classical mythology, early Christianity and medieval Judaism.
Located near the southeastern corner of Sicily on the Ionian coast, Siracusa is built on an ancient Greek settlement founded by Corinthians in 734 BC (BCE), amalgamating with the Sicels (Sikels) who had displaced the indigenous Sicanians. More than any other modern city in Sicily, Syracuse manifests a visible continuity from its ancient Greek past, both historical and mythological.
Ragusa is one of the most picturesque towns in Sicily. The view from the upper town over Ragusa Ibla on its own separate hilltop is quite breathtaking. One of the UNESCO-listed Baroque towns of south-eastern Sicily, Ragusa is also one of the principal filming locations for the Sicilian detective drama Il Commissario Montalbano (Inspector Montalbano), a series which has done wonders for publicising the beauty of this area.