No other island in the Mediterranean is of more strategic value than Sicily. This autonomous region of Italy is located right at the toe of its mother country’s “boot” and has been fought over from the time of Carthage to World War II, leaving it with a remarkable wealth of artistic and archaeological heritage. From the extremely well-preserved temples of Segesta and Selinunte to the sparkling Byzantine and Norman treasures of Palermo and Monreale, Sicily never fails to impress. Add to this the Greek theatre of Taormina and the natural spectacle of Vesuvius, you will soon agree with Goethe's observation that: "Sicily is the key to everything".
In 2019, our small-ship, Aegean Odyssey will explore the island’s fascinating history starting in April on the Classical Civilisations of the Southern Mediterranean voyage from Malaga to Athens and later in the season from Rome to Athens as part of the Italian & Adriatic Highlights.
Nowhere is the beauty of Sicily more apparent than in the hilltop town of Taormina. Today we will tender ashore for a short, scenic drive to this idyllic spot with its mountainous backdrop, lemon-blossom scented air and narrow, medieval “streets”. This walking tour proceeds past the Cathedral and the 15th-century Palazzo Corvaja with its black and white lava decoration.
The highlight is a guided tour of the theatre. Originally built by the Greeks in the 3rd century BC and rebuilt by the Romans in the 2nd century AD, the site offers heart-skipping views of the sea and Mount Etna. Your tour concludes with a stroll along the pedestrian Corso Umberto. In the small lanes and twisting viuzze you can shop for colourful ceramics, seek out the wines that won the praise of Pliny or dine on the mullet favoured by Ovid. Passengers wishing to linger in Taormina after the tour can do so, as we have a later return transfer back to the ship.
When seeking locations for The Godfather trilogy about the notorious Corleone family, the filmmakers felt the town of the same name was too developed and chose, instead, two remote mountain villages: Savoca and Forza d'Agro. Both are reached by a drive through scenery that exemplifies the sensual beauty of Italy.
As you disembark for a drive through Naxos, founded by Greek colonists in the 8th century BC, the magnificent bay, Taormina and Mount Etna are just a taste of what's to come. Enjoy the coastal scenery before turning inland to the Peloritani Mountains, where Savoca is set in a saddle between two hills. Here, the Bar Vitelli seems undisturbed from the time when Francis Ford Coppola was here and has a collection about the film. From the bar, a leisurely walking tour traces the wedding path of Michael Corleone and his bride up the main street past the 15th and 16th century churches to Santa Lucia, where they were married. Climb to the hill's summit for panoramas of a Norman Castle and the Strait of Messina. Also visit the Cappuccini Church where mummified bodies stand fully dressed in the crypt's shadowy niches.
Your excursion into Godfather Country winds to the nearby village of Forza d'Agro, where Al Pacino and Sophia Coppola came to shoot scenes for Godfather III. Landmarks include the Church of S. Agostino with its Gothic-Catalan portal, the Baroque Mother Church and the Arab-Norman Castle of Capo Sant'Alessio. You don't need to be a film buff to appreciate this choice part of Sicily.