-Visit new and historic wineries in the Alcamo and Marsala regions of Western Sicily
-Enjoy private, sit-down tastings at Planeta, Donnafugata, Ceuso, De Bartoli & more
-Lunch at a boutique olive oil producer and taste samples from different types of olive trees
-Take a private boat ride around the saline, where sea salt is made the ancient way, using windmills and evaporation ponds
-See a perfectly preserved Greek temple and amphitheater in the archaeological park of Segesta
-Be awestruck by Byzantine mosaics in the cathedrals of Palermo and Monreale
Day 1: Palermo, Past and Present.
Glittering Byzantine mosaics, ornate Baroque churches, domed Arab mosques, and grandiose Norman cathedrals stand shoulder-to-shoulder in Palermo, the richest city in the Mediterranean during the 1100s.
Discover Sicily starts with a walking tour of Palermo, which touches on this complex history as we stroll through major sites like the Cathedral and Palatine Chapel, a jewel-box of Byzantine mosaics and Arabic carvings. We’ll also dip into the Vucciria market, an outdoor bazaar with strong Sicilian atmosphere and carts loaded with produce, fish, and spices.
Lunch is at the historic Focacceria S. Francesco, which features Sicilian street food like arancine (meat and rice balls) and panelle (chickpea fritters), as well as classics like Pasta alla Norma, caponata, and, for dessert, sublime cannoli. Afterwards, we head east of the city to Abbazia di Santa Anastasia, a 12th C. abbey that was transformed into a winery in 1980. Tasting their elegant, award-winning nero d’avola and cabernet, we’ll see that the monks knew how to pick ideal vineyard sites. Dinner is at a friendly restaurant near the hotel that specializes in traditional Sicilian dishes. D - Mercure Palermo Centro.
Day 2: Byzantine Splendor.
In 1166, the Norman King William II commissioned the Cathedral of Monreale. Built on a hill overlooking Palermo, it stood on the spot where the Virgin reputedly appeared to William and revealed where his father had buried a treasure. Coated with mosaics, gold leaf, and intarsia, it’s one of the world’s greatest masterpieces of Byzantine architecture.
We then travel an hour south to Alessandro di Camporeale. Owner Antonino Alessandro or a family member will escort us through the boutique winery, which excels in syrah; their Kaid is a symphony of dark berries and spice. Lunch will be close by at an agriturismo.
From here, we head to our second tasting, at Planeta. Founded in 1995, this is the winery that put Sicily on the map, first with their intense chardonnay and merlot, then with their succulent nero d’avola, berry-like cerasuolo, and floral fiano. Then we’ll drive across the stark rolling hills to the fishing village of Castellamare del Golfo, where we’ll settle into our second, bayside hotel. For dinner on your own, there's a wealth of seafood eateries that line the harbor. B, D - Hotel Cala Marina, Castellamare del Golfo.
Day 3: Greek Temples & Boutique Wineries.
We begin the day at Cusumano. With eight vineyards spread across the island, they excel in both monovarietal and blended wines. We’ll taste their excellent lineup at their new cellar in Partinico, situated in a 19th century baglio.
Then we’ll move on to the smaller boutique winery, Ceuso. Started in 1990 as a labor of love by the three Melia brothers – a farmer, an enologist, and an agronomist, Ceuso makes luscious, oak-aged blends of nero d’Avola and French grapes, inspired by mentor Giacomo Tachis (of Sassicaia fame). Our host will be Giuseppe Melia, who will show us around the 1860 baglio (a plantation’s walled farmstead) that the brothers slowly restored. He’ll give us a first-person account of the winery’s rise to success.
After lunch, we take a trip back in time. On Monte Barbaro, a thousand feet above the sea, lies the temple of Segesta. Once the political center of the indigenous Elymian and Ionian Greek people, this is now a vast archeological park. Here we’ll see a beautifully preserved Greek Doric temple and, higher up, a Greek amphitheater with an unparalleled view of countryside and sea. Dinner features more fresh-caught seafood. B - Hotel Cala Marina.
Day 4: Salt & Oil.
This morning, we move down the coast towards Marsala. First stop is Erice, a stone village perched high atop a mountain that is famous for it churches and breathtaking view of the sea.
Next is lunch at an olive oil estate, where, in a new trend, different types of olives are separately pressed to make diverse oils. We’ll see the stone press and hear how extra virgin olive oil is made, then taste these various oils over lunch.
Afterwards, we drive to the picturesque saline, or sea-salt ponds, where sea salt is made using an ageless technique of windmills and diked evaporation pools. We’ll see a fascinating short film that shows the entire process, then take a chartered boat past the windmills towards the Isle of Mozia, an ancient Phoenician settlement. We then check into our third hotel, in the historic center of Marsala, and have dinner in town.
B, L, D - Hotel Carmine, Marsala.
Day 5 – Marsala: The Town and the wine.
In 1773, a sirocco storm forced British merchant John Woodhouse into the port of Marsala. Here he found the local perpetuum wine (named for its perpetual blending/aging process) to his liking. He sent a shipload back home, adding grape spirits to stabilize it for the long sea journey. It was a smashing success, and soon Marsala was the most famous wine of Italy.
This morning is devoted to the town and the eponymous wine. First we’ll head to the bustling outdoor market in the old city center, where locals shop for their fresh swordfish, prickly pear, Pantelleria capers, and other local goodies. Then it’s on to Marco de Bartoli, where we’ll discover the real marsala. Inheriting his mother’s estate, this former race-car driver has done more than anyone to resurrect the reputation and quality of marsala, using techniques that harken back to the perpetuum aged wine that Woodhouse so loved. We’ll taste his nutlike 10-year-old Vecchio Samperi, sweet passito wine from the windswept island of Pantelleria, and his dry table wines.
Our second winery is Donnafugata. This family-run estate, a setting in the novel Il Gattopardo (The Leopard), pioneered night harvests in Sicily and routinely wins coveted wine awards. Afterwards, there will be free time to stroll and shop in Marsala before our farewell dinner at the elegant Bottega del Carmine. B, D - Hotel Carmine
Day 6 – Buon Viaggio!
A shuttle to the Palermo airport and assistance with your travel plans. B.
Also see tour packages in:
Europe Italy Local Culture Food & Wine Archeology/History