OVERVIEW OF SICILY

Perhaps the most exciting wine region in Italy. The largest, most interesting and beautiful in the Mediterranean Sea. Colonized by Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians, Normans and finally by Garibaldi bringing it into unified Italy in 1860. No country this size has had more influences to bear on  it than Sicily. These influences are so pronounced today in the food, the people and the fascinating mix of incredible sights all bound within this 1000 miles of beautiful coastline. Robertson Wine Tours can plan your Sicilian wine tour and combine this with culinary tours and cooking classes and more importantly with cultural and archaeological sites that are too numerous to name.

We have to state right now that no wine tour to Sicily would be complete without visiting and tastings the wines and wineries of Etna. Mount Etna is Europe's tallest active volcano at 10,930 feet (3330 metres). Wines from Etna are mineral-rich, but like nothing you have ever tasted. Nerello Mascalese and Cappuccio are the red wine varieties of Mount Etna. Sicilian autochthonous (indigenous) grape varieties tend to be for white the Catarratto, the Grillo and the Inzolia. Marsala is made from the Muscat of Alexandria and the wines from Island of Pantelleria come from the Zibibbo, the Sicilian name for the Moscato. Nero d'Avola, a hugely important red variety, is planted extensively and when blended with Frappato you have Sicily's only DOCG wine, the Cerasuolo di Vittoria. International varieties are planted none more so than Syrah, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. The disastrous 2014 vintage of Italy did not affect Sicily thank goodness. Any wine and culinary themed vacation to Sicily needs time. Don't try to seeing or doing too much. In Sicily less is more. 9 nights is the ideal time frame for a wine tour in Sicily, but we understand that you sometimes do not have that amount of time. If that is the case then we can bring the wines of the other Sicilian wine regions to you and we can concentrate on Etna's wines or base ourselves in Palermo or in one of the incredible wine resorts and discover Sicily from there. We love Sicily … end of story.

INTRODUCTION INTO SICILY

The largest and most interesting and beautiful island in the Mediterranean Sea. Colonized by Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians, Normans and finally by Giuseppe Garibaldi, bringing it into unified Italy in in 1860. No country this size has had more influences to bear on it than Sicily. These influences are so pronounced today in the food, the people and the fascinating mix of incredible sights all bound within this 1600km (1000 miles) of coastline. Make no mistake, Sicily is a country to its own and in such it deserves to be a destination of its own. Robertson wine tours can plan your Sicilian wine tour and combine this with culinary tours and cooking classes and more importantly with cultural and archaeological sights that are too numerous to name. Any wine and culinary themed vacation to Sicily needs time. Don't try to see or do too much because you can always return. In Sicily less is more.

It is our ethos at Robertson wine tours not to try to squeeze too much into a holiday. Sicily is enormous, the driving and roads are frankly awful, so don't self-drive. If you are looking for peace and tranquillity then let us deal with the logistics and driving so you can sit back and enjoy this incredible place.

Time to visit Sicily. Our suggestion is to come to Sicily in April, May or June and then followed by September and October. Sicily is blessed with consistent sunshine and a moderate rainfall, which are the characteristics of the 'classic Mediterranean climate'. In April the flora starts to show. Temperatures all over the island are generally pleasant from May onwards. The sea is warm but the beaches are still very much for yourselves. We do not suggest you to come to Sicily in July and August. It’s very hot, crowded and the only thing to do is take a beach holiday, which is of course not what you would be employing Robertson Wine tours for. Perhaps our favourite months to visit Sicily are September and October, the harvest is taking place, both wine and olives. In this period, temperatures are not oppressive and there is no longer the overcrowded feeling.

The wines of Sicily. Sicily has more vineyards than any of the other Italian regions and is constantly competing with Puglia (Apulia) for first place as the largest wine producer. Sicilians however consume less wine per capita than any region in Italy. Sicily historically used the goblet-trained (bush-shaped) vines, this type of plantings are low yield, high vineyard maintenance, and are particularly delicate. They are also the most interesting for fine wine production. Unfortunately for Sicily in the 60's and 70's many of these were ripped up by government subsidy programs and now most plantings are from the tendone and guyot training methods. What remains is now in great demand and no more so in the Etna region. We have to state right now that no wine tour to Sicily would be complete without visiting and tastings the wines and wineries of Etna. Mineral-rich, dark soils characterise the Etna wines. Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio (also known as Nerello Mantellato) are the red wine varieties of Mount Etna. Sicilian Autochthonous grape varieties tend to be for White, Catarratto , Grillo and Inzolia . Marsala is made from Muscat of Alexandria, and the wines from island of Pantelleria come from the Zibibbo, the Sicilian name for the Moscato. Red-varieties, Nero d'Avola, is then blended with Frappato, the second grape of Sicily's only DOCG wine Cerasuolo di Vittoria. International varieties are planted none more so than Syrah, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon.

HIGHLIGHTS

Table of contents


Palermo, Sicily

PALERMO

Palermo is the capital of the autonomous region of Sicily and is located on the north-west side of the island. It is the fifth largest city in Italy based on the number of inhabitants.

Some of the main sights of Palermo are:

Palazzo dei Normanni is the oldest royal residence of Europe. It is located on the highest point of the ancient centre of Palermo where it was built in the 9th century by the Emir of Sicily. After the invasion of the Normans during the 12th century it was used as the home of the Kings of Sicily. Since 1946 it is the location of the Sicilian regional parliament.

San Giovanni degli Eremiti is a church from the 6th century. It has many different influences with regard to the architecture. During the Arab domination it served as a mosque but became a church again in 1136 when King Roger II reigned the country. Because the church was rebuilt many times, you can find Islamic, Romanesque, and Gothic influences.

Convento dei Cappuccini is the monastery of the Capuchin Franciscans. The most interesting part of this monastery is the catacomb, which is accessible to the public. Since the end of the 16th century people have been buried in a special way. There are about 8000 bodies in the catacomb of the monastery. They are grouped based on gender, age, profession, and schooling.

The Museo Archeologico Regionale is one of the most important museums of Italy because of the history of many millennia and the great climatic conditions, which kept the antiquities well kept. Here you can find all the treasures that were found with the excavations.

Mount Etna, Sicily

ETNA

Etna is a volcano situated on the east side of the island Sicily (province of Catania) and is the most active volcano of Europe. It is the second tallest volcano of Europe with its 3329,6 meters (2mi & 121yd) and is also the largest volcano of Italy with its surface of 1,190km2. In June 2013 it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The United Nations declared it a Decade Volcano, because of the history of its recent activity and the population that lives nearby.

Cefalù, Sicily

CEFALU
Cefalù is a city in the province of Palermo on the north-eastern part of Sicily. Cefalù is one of the major tourist attractions of Sicily. In Cefalù you can find the Cathedral which was built in 1131 in a Norman style. This Cathedral was built by Roger II because of the importance of Cefalù in the past.

Above the town centre there is a crag called the Rocca. The way up is very steep (do not climb it in very hot weather and always take a bottle of water). At the top of the Rocca you will have superb views of the surroundings.

Castelbuono, Sicily

CASTELBUONO

Castelbuono is located in the province of Palermo and is famous for its castle. The construction of the Castle started in 1316, by order of Count Francesco I of Ventimiglia. It has never served any really strategic purpose because its position is down valley. In the 17th century the Castle was altered when some Ventimiglia families moved there. The Castle has Arab and Norman features. The cube shape is part of the Arabic architecture, while the square towers are of the Norman style.

Tindari, Sicily

TINDARI
Tindari is part of the province of Messina on the island Sicily. Tindari was a Greek city founded in 396 or 395 BC. In Tindari there are two main sights that can be found.

One is the Santuario di Tindari, where the statue of the Black Madonna can be found. One of the legends about the Black Madonna is that one pilgrim was making uncomplimentary remarks about the statue of the Black Madonna, and after that she saw her child falling off the cliff, into the sea. However, as an act of mercy and to demonstrate her powers, the Madonna created a bank of sand rise from the sea to make the child fall on a soft surface. This bank of sand rise is also called the tongue of sand which is raised about 4 metres a.s.l. and stretches 1.5km (0.93mi) into the sea.

The other sight of Tindari is the archeological site of Tyndaris. Here you see the original Greek walls and also Roman habitations and baths. In summer there are Greek plays in the theatre, which was built in the 4th century BC.

Taormina, Sicily

TAORMINA

Taormina is a city located on the east coast of Sicily, in the Province of Messina.

The main sight of Taormina is Teatro Greco. This Greek theatre was built in the 3rd century BC and was originally quite small. However, the Romans enlarged the theatre. Especially the view from the Teatro Greco is spectacular, you can see both Mount Etna and the Bay of Naxos.

Corso Umberto is the main street of Taormina which goes from the Porta Messina to the Porta Catania. On the Corso Umberto you can find many souvenir shops, restaurants and boutiques.

Another sight of Taormina is the Odeon, located in the centre of Taormina. This is a small Roman theatre, which was discovered in 1892. It was mainly used for small vocal performances.

Catania, Sicily

CATANIA

Catania is the second biggest city of Sicily, located on the east coast and at the foot of the Mount Etna. Because it is at the foot of Mount Etna, parts of the city have been destroyed because of the outbursts. However, the volcanic ashes also produced fertile soil, which can be used for the production of wine.

In both the 14th century and the renaissance, Catania was one of the most important and most flourishing centres (cultural, artistic and political) of Italy.

The old part of Catania is in Baroque style. The building material was lava, so it is a grey city (and it is unique for it). The Cathedral, which is dedicated to St. Agata, the city’s patron saint, stands on the site of a church from the 11th century that was destroyed by the eruption of the volcano Etna in 1693. Now it is in the Baroque style and shows some Roman columns taken from the amphitheatre.

The symbol of Catania is the u Liotru, also known as the Fontana dell’Elefante. In 1736 the u Liotru was assembled by Giovanni Battista Vaccarini. Legend has it that when Catania was inhabited for the first time, all fierce and dangerous animals were chased away by an elephant to which the inhabitants called him “liotru”. The name Liotru comes from the dialectical correction of the name Elidor, who was a magician in the eighth century and had failed to become a bishop of the city, to which he disturbed sacred function with various spells.

Syracuse, Sicily

SYRACUSE

Syracuse is the capital of the province of Syracuse. Syracuse is a 2700 year-old city and is also the birthplace of mathematician and engineer Archimedes.

The historical centre of Syracuse is on the island Ortigia. It is located on the eastern part of Syracuse and it is connected to Sicily by three bridges. Here you can find the Duomo of Syracuse, which used to be the Greek Temple of Athena. You can still see the Doric columns from the Temple of Athena on the left nave of the cathedral. In 1700 the façade of the Duomo was rebuilt (due to the earthquake of 1963), and it now shows hints of baroque.

In Syracuse you can find Greek history, culture and architecture. Some buildings of the Greek period are: the Temple of Apollo, the fountain of Arethusa, the Greek theatre, and the Amphitheatre.

In 2005 the city of Syracuse and the Necropolis of Pantalica were listed a World Heritage Site. The Necropolis of Pantalica consist of a collection of rock-cut chamber tombs, which are from the 13th to 7th century BC.

Ragusa, Sicily

RAGUSA

In 1693, many buildings in Ragusa were destroyed by the earthquake. After the earthquake there were differences in opinions about where they should rebuild the town. Some (mainly the wealthier citizens) wanted to rebuild  Ragusa on a different site, which is now known as Ragusa “Superiore”. Others wanted to rebuild the city in its original place (now known as Ragusa Ibla). Nowadays, Ragusa Ibla attracts the most visitors. Here you can see 18 different buildings that are protected by UNESCO patronage. Some sights that you can visit are: Basilica di San Giorgio (built in 1738, with a neoclassical dome that was added in 1820), Giardino Ibleo (Hyblean Gardens, with amazing views of Ragusa), Chiesa di Maria delle Scale (between Ragusa Ibla & Ragusa Superiore, was not totally destroyed by the earthquake and can be reached via 242 steps).

Modica, Sicily

MODICA

Modica is, like Ragusa, also divided into two parts: “higher” and “lower” Modica. These two parts are connected to each other by numerous steps. The most remarkable building of Modica is the Duomo di San Giorgio, which was rebuilt after the earthquake of 1693 in the Baroque style.

In Modica you will find many chocolate shops, since chocolate has been made here for about 400 years. Because Sicily was part of the Spanish Kingdom, Sicily was one of the first recipients of the products brought from South America. One of these products was cacao. Nowadays you can visit many chocolate shops and sometimes even see the chocolatiers at work!

Noto, Sicily

NOTO

Noto is the glorification of Baroque town planning and architecture. Also Noto was completely destroyed by the earthquake of 1693, and was rebuilt in the Baroque style, 10 km (6.21mi) from where it used to be. The building material used was mainly local compacted limestone. Even though the buildings are all in Baroque style, they all have their own unique design. Just walk through the Corso Vittorio Emanuele and you will see many of the impressive Baroque buildings (Monestero del Santissimo Salvatore, Palazzo Ducrezio, the Cathedral, Church of San Francesco, etc.)

Ispica, Sicily

ISPICA

Also in Ispica you can find perfect examples of the Sicilian Baroque architecture. The main sight in Ispica with the Sicilian Baroque architecture, is the church of Santa Maria Maggiore.

Also pay a visit to the Parco Forza, which is in the Cava d’Ispica. This is a 13km long canyon where you can find remains of the troglodyte dwellings, medieval villages and necropolises. Before the earthquake in 1693, about 2000 people lives within the fortress and 5500 people lived in the surroundings.

Piazza Armerina, Sicily

PIAZZA ARMERINA

Piazza Armerina is best known for the Villa Romana del Casale, which is a few kilometres out of Piazza Armerina. The Villa del Casale was built between 330 and 360 AC but it is unknown who was the owner of the villa.  The reason why many tourists visit the Villa del Casale, is because of the 3500 square meters of mosaics throughout the villa. Also because of these mosaics, Villa Romana del Casale has been declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 1997.

Agrigento, Sicily

AGRIGENTO

In Agrigento you can go to the old centre and see the Cattedrale di San Gerlando, which is on the highest point of the town. You can also find the Basilica di Santa Maria dei Greci there, which was built in the 12th century.

Just outside of Agrigento, you can find the Valle dei Templi (Valley of the Temples). In this archaeological park you can find eight temples that were built between 510 BC and 430 BC. You can also find the remains of the old Greek city Akragas and get an impression of one of the most important and culturally-advanced Greek city in the Mediterranean. 

Sambuca di Sicilia, Sicily

SAMBUCA DI SICILIA

In Sambuca di Sicilia, you can find many different styles. Sambuca di Sicilia is of Arab descent, which is still visible today. Furthermore, you can also find 19th– century buildings with the Baroque style.

Marsala, Sicily

MARSALA

Marsala is most famous for one thing: wine. The Marsala was discovered in 1773 by the English man John Woodhouse. Marsala is the largest wine-producing centre of Sicily

Apart from the wine, Marsala has a Baroque old town centre where you can easily walk around. You can also visit the Cathedral of San Tommaso. It is of Norman origin and was renewed completely in the 18th century.

If you would like to visit a museum, the archaeological museum is the place to go to. Here you can see prehistoric finds from Marsala and its surroundings and also the remains of a Punic ship.

Trapani, Sicily

TRAPANI 

Trapani is at a peninsula, which is shaped in a curve. One of the main sights of Trapani is the Basilica e Santuario di Maria Santissima Annunziata. This church was built in 1300 and was expanded in the 18th century. Here you can find the marble statue of Madonna of Trapani.

Erice, Sicily

ERICE

Erice offers you a beautiful view over Trapani and the Egadi Islands. A way for you to enjoy this view is to take the cable car from Trapani to Erice. Apart from the great view, there are also other things to see in Erice.

The main sights of Erice are two castles that are in the city: the Pepoli Castle, which is from Saracen times, and the Norman Venus Castle, which is on top of the ancient Temple of Venus. Apart from these castles, Erice has sixty churches, which means there is plenty to see!

Monreale, Sicily

MONREALE

The reason why people visit Monreale is because of one thing: the stunning Duomo (cathedral). This cathedral dates back to the 12th century and was founded by the Norman ruler William II. Arabic and Byzantine craftsman worked on the cathedral, which led to a fusion of architectural styles. The upper part of the cathedral’s interior is covered in gold mosaics. In the apse you will see the greatest image of the cathedral from Christ Pantocrator.

Pantelleria, Sicily

PANTELLERIA

Pantelleria is the largest of all Sicilian islands and is a volcanic island. On this island you will find the Dammusi. These are Arab houses in a square shape  that are built with square stones. The roof can be used as a terrace, however the roofs are of a domed shape to collect the rain.

On Pantelleria you can find La Montagna Grande, which is a National Park and also the highest peak of the island (836m/914yd). If it is a clear day, you will be able to see the North African coast from this point.  Apart from the great environment, Pantelleria also has a lot to offer gastronomically. You will find a lot of fish of great quality here. Other specialities are ricotta and mint ravioli, capers, pesto pantesco, fish couscous, and Sciakisciuka (spicy Med stew with courgettes).

The weather of Sicily

CLIMATE

Sicily is in the middle of the Mediterranean climate zone, which is also known as the dry summer subtropical climate. This climate has moderate temperatures and includes dry summers and wet winters.

AVERAGE TEMPERATURES

January 13˚C / 55˚F

February 13˚C / 55˚F

March 15˚C / 59 ˚F

April 18˚C / 64 ˚F

May 22˚C / 72 ˚F

June 25˚C / 77 ˚F

August 29˚C / 84 ˚F

September 26˚C / 79 ˚F

October 22˚C / 72 ˚F

November 18˚C / 64 ˚F

December 14˚C / 57 ˚F

SEA TEMPERATURES

– Winter: around 16 ˚C / 61 ˚F

– Summer: up to 26 ˚C / 79 ˚F

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