A Sicilian wine tour, from Palermo to Marsala
- New & historic wineries in the Alcamo and Marsala regions of western Sicily
- Private sit-down tastings at Planeta, Donnafugata, Ceuso, De Bartoli and more
- Lunch at a boutique olive oil producer
- Private boat ride around the saline, where sea salt is made
- Greek temple and amphitheater in the archaeological park of Segesta
- Byzantine mosaics in the cathedrals of Palermo and Monreale
DAY 1 – PALERMO, PAST AND PRESENT
Welcome to our Sicily wine tour! We'll start off with some glittering Byzantine mosaics, ornate Baroque churches, domed Arab mosques, and grandiose Norman cathedrals standing shoulder-to-shoulder in Palermo, the richest city in the Mediterranean during the 1100s.
DISCOVER SICILY begins with an excursion to Cefalu, a medieval seaside city that Conde Nast Traveler listed among its “10 Most Beautiful Small Towns in Italy.” (Cineastes, take note: Cinema Paradiso was filmed here.)
Also along the coast is our first winery, Abbazia di Santa Anastasia, a 12th C. abbey that was transformed into a winery in 1980. Its strategic location shows that the monks really knew how to pick great vineyard sites! We'll have lunch at the winery, pairing their superb wines with typical Sicilian dishes.
Then it's back to town for a walking tour of Palermo, which will touch on its 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.
Dinner is at a friendly restaurant near the hotel that specializes in traditional Sicilian dishes.
L, 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
Want a Sicily wine tour with some hiking? We do that! See Sicilian Saunter, in western Sicily.
Palermo (known as both Falcone-Borsellino Airport and Punta Raisi Airport), located 22 miles west of the city
Plan to land in Palermo a day before the tour begins; that’s necessary to be at our starting point on time. To get from the airport to the city, you can take a cab (50+ Euros) or a Prestia e Comandé bus (5.80 Euros). The latter runs frequently and makes multiple stops in town, including the Politeama Theater (40 min) and the main train station (55 min).
For your pre-tour hotel, one possibility is the 4-star Mercure Palermo Centro. This is located in the city center, a couple of blocks from the Politeama Theater, the Prestia e Comandé bus drop-off. There are many other hotels in this vicinity as well. For other options, email us or consult a good hotel search engine, such as TripAdvisor.com or Hotels.com.
In Palermo city center, in front of the Mercure Palermo Centro hotel (see above).
Shuttle to Palermo airport by 11:30 a.m. Contact us if your flight requires an earlier arrival.
Discover Sicily focuses on the western side of the island, where the major historic wine regions are located. The eastern side, however, is where you’ll find many of Sicily’s most famous archaeological sites. Thus, if you wish to spend some extra time in Sicily pre or post-tour, you could easily devote 4 to 5 days to touring this area by car. (Public transportation leaves much to be desired.) Pick up your rental car at the airport, then do a loop trip, covering sites such as the following:
- Caltagirone, a town founded by the Arabs and famous for its ceramics (caltagirone means land of vases in Arabic)
- Piazza Armerina and Villa Romana del Casale, a Roman patrician Roman residence with sophisticated and well-preserved floor mosaics
- Taormina holds one of the most celebrated ruins in Sicily: the Greek theater, on a summit overlooking the sea.
- Mt. Etna, the highest and most active volcano in the world. Hiking excursions are available up the 11,000’ slope, which the Greeks believed to be Vulcan’s home. (Visit Etna from your base in Taormina.)
- Siracusa, a Greek colony with many ancient ruins, including the largest open theater in Europe; also famous for its Sicilian Baroque architecture
This is recommended to protect you from needless loss caused by last-minute cancellations, lost luggage, and more. Three sources are Travelex Insurance, (800) 228-9792; CSA Travel Protection, (800) 348-9505; and Travel Guard, (800) 826-1300.
When packing, check www.weather.com. Go to “Palermo, Italy” to get a general idea of temperatures and forecast.
For cancellation policy & more, see our General Information page.
Single supplement: $350
Palermo city center, in front of the hotel Mercure Palermo Centro
- 5 nights accommodations (double room) in three hotels, with breakfast buffet
- 4 gourmet dinners (three courses with wine)
- 2 lunches
- All wine tastings mentioned
- Guided walking tour of Palermo
- Admission to Segesta, sea-salt museum, entry to Mozia museum
- Boat ride by the saline
What's not included
- Air travel
- 1 dinner on your own & most lunches
- After-dinner drinks, or special wines at tastings that are not part of what is provided to the group
- Items of a personal nature
- Anything not specified as included