For the inquisitive traveller looking for the depth and authenticity that’s missing from so many organised itineraries, the Prestige Holidays ‘Sicily Off the Beaten Track’ tour is an outstanding opportunity to gain just that. Under the expert guidance of the marvellous Paul Stratton, the tour offers a rich and rare insight into the history, culture, cuisine and architecture of the island.
To say I’m excited to recommend this excellent tour is an understatement because I relish every opportunity to share my abiding passion for Sicily. This Italian island is an absolute powerhouse of history, so to be able to peel back the centuries and get to its authentic heart is a truly wonderful cultural experience. You couldn’t be in better hands than with Paul Stratton; he’s just the man to take you off the beaten track in Sicily.
Historical Highlights of Sicily
Rather than staying right in the centre of Palermo, the first three nights are spent at the beautiful nearby seaside town of Castellammare del Golfo. Aside from being a truly delightful typical Sicilian town, it also affords the opportunity to dine out in a local trattoria. (I should add that gastronomists will be in their element, with the diverse range of venues Paul has selected throughout the tour.)
Culture at Your Fingertips
The itinerary has been carefully designed to immerse participants in the layers of history and influence that make up the island. You’ll travel through time to the days of the Moors, Romans, Normans and Greeks, as you visit sites that display the tangible legacies of their presence.
In the fortified medieval hilltop town of Erice, for instance, you’ll see definitive Arabic characteristics, while not far away at Segesta, the magnificent temple and amphitheatre are a visual reminder of the equal might and innovation of the Greeks. I truly believe it’s this magical maelstrom of cultures that makes Sicily such a unique and fascinating destination.
Secrets of Selinunte
As one of the island’s most impressive archaeological sites, Selinunte is actually no secret. But exploring the ruins of the Greek temples and acropolis with Paul Stratton provides an intriguing and very in-depth insight into their history, which can only be conveyed by somebody with deep passion and knowledge. For history aficionados, this is one of the most important sites you can visit, Paul will take you beyond the well-trodden path (both physically and metaphorically) to discover what many people never see.
Agrigento and Beyond
After visiting the famous Greek Valley of the Temples (because, sometimes the beaten track is well-worn for very good reason, and this is a real must-see), the tour gives you a taste of a very different kind of culture by visiting Mandranova, to experience the machinations (and tastings) of a working olive oil farm.
You can read more about the highlights of Classical Sicily in this blog post.
The itinerary then takes a sharp turn further off the beaten track to the medieval hilltop town of Naro. This former stronghold still displays the remnants of several Roman villas and is today renowned for its local artisan woodcraftsmen. With a castle, a Baroque church and one of the most ancient chapels on the island at the Sanctuary of San Calogero, this small, out of the way town is a delightful cultural gift. (And the spectacular views are the icing on the cannoli.)
Villa del Casale
You’ll visit the UNESCO-protected Villa del Casale and enjoy a guided tour of this remarkably well-preserved Roman villa. While the villa is, in itself, a truly magnificent architectural feat, the undeniable highlight is the spectacular corridor of the Great Hunt, a huge continuous mosaic depicting exotic scenes of wild animals being captured for transportation to Rome.
The Baroque South East
For the next few days you’ll experience the legendary Baroque beauty of Sicily’s south east, with an intimacy afforded few others besides the locals. Paul’s knowledge of the local architecture means not only does he take you to some more out of the way sites, he’s also able to contextualise the styles and their place in the history of the island.
The tour takes in the elegant town of Modica in its dramatic setting of the Monti Iblei. While there’s much to see in the medieval Modica Alta as well as the busier lower reaches of the town, history can wait for just a while as you sample the town’s most famous product – the chocolate.
Scicli and Ragusa make up the balance of the trio of UNESCO gems – and if you’re anything like me, by the time you leave you’ll come to the conclusion that when it comes to Baroque architecture, you can never have too much of a good thing.
An Island in Siracusa
The final stop on the tour is well worth waiting for. Ortigia is the historical heart of Siracusa; separated from mainland Sicily by a narrow channel, it is effectively an island connected by two bridges. Also known as the Old City (Città Vecchia), this 1km by 500m island is absolutely packed to the brim with the trove of cultural treasures that define its 2,500-year heritage. You’ll discover Baroque and Norman architecture, Roman and Greek ruins (including the Temple of Apollo) and a maze of streets and alleys steeped in history. It’s a wonderful well-rounded way to end the tour.
A Tour to Remember
Many tours claim to show you the ‘real’ destination, but there’s really nothing quite like the Prestige Holidays ‘Sicily Off the Beaten Path’ tour. I’m proud of what we’ve been able to achieve in facilitating Paul Stratton to introduce you to the history, culture and cuisine of the island in a most authentic way.