David and Rose Woodhill went on the Classical Sicily Tour in September 2012.
The three highlights of the holiday for us were: Sicily as a country, the wonderful archaeological sites and the amazing food. We stayed in four different towns, Syracuse, Agrigento, Palermo and Taormina and visited a large number of beautiful archaeological sites. Our guide Linda was lively, well informed and passionate about her country.
What struck us about Sicily was how beautiful it is, how large the island is and how empty it is. Each day we covered many miles on our way to the next site. The autostrada were generally car free and were all amazing feats of engineering using tunnel after tunnel to cut through the hills or sweeping viaducts to cut across the valleys. On our journey from Syracuse to Piazza Armerina there were miles of steeply undulating cultivated countryside, but no villages or traffic. We wondered where the tractors came from to cultivate the land. It was very dry and we saw very few rivers or lakes. The beautiful long sandy beaches seemed to be empty. Then we would come to the towns, which were very busy and full of people and traffic. I found the trip up Mount Etna very scary.
It is difficult to do justice to all the archaeological sites that we visited. We began the holiday with a visit to the Greek theatre in Syracuse and ended with the spectacular theatre in Taormina. All the theatres are vast and situated in stunning positions.
The valley of the Temples in Agrigento are the most well-known Greek temples, but the temple at Selinunte is dramatic as one of the temples was reconstructed (controversially) in the 1950s, but next to it are two temples that were knocked down by warring groups. What remains of the ruins are some huge stones and a couple of parts of the enormous columns. The temple at Segesta is at the top of a very long and steep set of steps that were very challenging, although we were quite out of breath at the top of the steps, the temple was another wonderful sight.
For a number of our group, the Villa Romana del Casale with its wonderfully preserved mosaics was the highlight of the holiday, but the incredible Norman mosaics on the walls of the Palatine chapel in Palermo and the cathedral in Monreale compete with Romana del Casale. The colours of the mosaics are breathtaking.
We went to two sites, Eracle Minoa and Solunto, which are both Hellenic Roman sites in dramatic settings overlooking the sea and we were the only group there. Solunto was especially interesting with a red spiral mosaic. Sicily has so many archaeological sites, which are world leaders, but not enough tourists or financial resources to maintain them. This is very sad.
The sites are wonderful, but the food is out of this world. We had one of the best sandwiches that we have ever had in a small enotecca in Selinunte, freshly made with local bread, olive oil, tomatoes and anchovies followed by generous tastings of marsala wine from the owner. Eating at different restaurants in the evening allowed us to try all sorts of local specialities, including sea bass in almonds, mixed grilled fish, wide ranging antipasti and local strong Sicilian wines. Apart from in Taormina, the food was not expensive.
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