Tour eastern Sicily, from Taormina to Mt. Etna to Siracusa

  • Meet the pioneering winemakers on Mt. Etna
  • Ascend Europe’s tallest, most active volcano
  • See the Greek ruins of Taormina & Siracusa
  • Visit the Baroque city of Noto

ITINERARY

DAY 1 – UP THE VOLCANO
Welcome to our new Sicily wine tour, on the eastern side of the island. After a morning pick-up at the Catania train station, we’ll go to see the star of the show: Mt. Etna, Europe’s most active volcano, with eruptions averaging every two weeks. It’s also the continent’s tallest, rising to 11,000 feet and snow-capped during the winter months. This hulking presence dominates modern life and ancient myth. The Greeks believed it to be where Vulcan forged Zeus’s thunderbolts.

While the winemaking happens on the volcano’s northern slopes, its active craters are on the south side. That’s where we’ll head today. The way up is in several stages: First, a cable car takes you 2500 meters up to the Rifugio Sapienza, the gateway to the volcano. Then an off-road vehicle continues to 2900 meters. The last 100 meters, where we can view the craters, are on foot with a licensed guide. (Volcanic activity &/or weather conditions will determine how far we’re permitted to ascend that day.)

Late afternoon, we’ll arrive at our hotel, a resort belonging to the Firriato winery. If there’s time and interest, we’ll taste their wines before dinner and perhaps get a look at their palmento, or antique wine press. D • Cavanera Etnea Resort

DAY 2 – ETNA DOC
Though bulk wine has been made on Etna for centuries, only in the last 20 years have winemakers attempted to make premium bottled wine from the wizened centurion bush vines on ancient terraced vineyards. Today spotlights three of these pioneers. 

We begin with Graci, founded in 2004 by the Graci family from Catania and run by Alberto, who left his banking job in Milan to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps. We then lunch at Planeta’s new Etna winery Sciara Nuova, started from scratch at the edge of a 1614 lava flow that’s legendary for having lasted 10 years. Afternoon features Passopisciaro, owned by the Roman transplant Andrea Franchetti, who was one of the first to make serious wine on Etna and trumpet the virtues of this region.

Like wine critics everywhere, you’ll be seduced by the nerello mascalese grape. Much like pinot noir and nebbiolo, it’s extremely responsive to terroir. And here the terroir changes every 20 feet, being a patchwork of hardened volcano flows. Some winemakers are even making single-vineyard bottlings from specific lava fields. Prepare to be dazzled! 

Dinner is in the town of Randazzo at a popular hangout for local winemakers. B, D • Cavanera Etnea Resort

DAY 3 – THE GREEKS UP HIGH: TAORMINA
The ancient Greeks got something right: Location, location, location. In Taormina, they built a theater on a high cliff overlooking the sea, and looking straight out toward the smoking volcano. Talk about drama! 

Praised by the German writer Goethe, Taormina was a mandatory stop on the Grand Tour taken by educated Europeans in the 19th century, and it remains just as enchanting today. After a visit to the Greco-Roman theater, you’ll have time on your own to explore the town and have lunch.

Afternoon takes us back to wine country, where we’ll visit another regional pioneer: either Tenuta Terre Nere, where founder Marc De Grazia developed the idea of lava-flow-based viticultural subzones, or Frank Cornelissen, an eccentric natural-wine advocate willing to take the road less traveled. Dinner is at a local trattoria. B, D • Cavanera Etnea Resort

DAY 4 – SIRACUSA, ANCIENT ISLAND CITY
Today we head south to the ancient seaside city of Siracusa, or Syracuse. Along the way, we’ll stop at one of the first wineries to put Etna on the map, Benanti. Begun as a hobby by a Catania pharmacist in the 1980s, it grew into a serious but sprawling enterprise. When the sons took over in 2012, they shed properties to focus on their forte: Etna wines, including the highly prized flagship Pietramarina, made from the minerally carricante grape.

Siracusa is brimming with ancient ruins, mysterious grottos, Gothic and Byzantine churches, and a medieval seaside castle, which we’ll see on a guided walking tour. The historical center is actually a small island called Ortigia (derived from ortyx or quail), where one finds the largest Greek theater in all of Europe. There’s also a Roman amphitheater and the Orecchio di Dionisio, a limestone cave shaped like an ear (orecchio). Siracusa’s main cathedral, built on the site of an ancient temple, simply incorporated the Greek columns into its lateral walls. The city also has a long and beautiful lungomare, or seaside promenade. There’s much to explore!

We wind up the day at our hotel in the heart of the historic center. Tonight it’s dinner on your own. B • Palazzo Gilistro

DAY 5 – NOTO, THE PEARL OF THE BAROQUE
Sicily is a land of earthquakes, and there was a doozey in 1673, which knocked down the entire city of Noto. When the town rebuilt, it did so in the fashionable Baroque style. Today it’s considered a masterpiece of the Sicilian Baroque. Seeing the sights, you’ll understand why UNESCO declared it a World Heritage Site.

The sun-baked region of Val di Noto is one of the best for nero d’avola, Sicily’s most important red grape, which originated a few miles north, around the town of Avola. The area is also known for its fragrant Moscato di Noto wine, in both dry and passito versions. We’ll get the lowdown on Noto wines at two wineries: Zisola, founded by one of the Mazzei brothers from Chianti (the acclaimed Fonterutoli winery), and Tenuta La Favola, a fifth-generation, certified-organic farm.

At our farewell wine dinner in Siracusa, we’ll toast ancient lands and new friends! B, D • Palazzo Gilistro

DAY 6 – ARRIVEDERCI
After breakfast, we head to the Catania airport (1 hour) and say buon viaggio!


Want to see western Sicily instead? Check out Discover Sicily. Want a Sicily wine tour with some hiking? We do that too! See Sicilian Saunter.


TRIP NOTES

Airport
Catania–Fontanarossa Airport (also named as Vincenzo Bellini Airport), located 5 miles southwest of Catania, Sicily’s second largest city.

Pre-tour
Plan to land in Catania a day before the tour begins; that’s necessary to be at our starting point on time. For options getting from the airport into town, click here.  

Meeting point
In front of the Catania train station, Stazione Catania Centrale. (See map.) 

Departure day
Shuttle to the Catania airport. 

Trip extensions
The eastern side of Sicily is where you’ll find many of the island's most famous archaeological sites. Thus, if you wish to spend some extra time in Sicily pre or post-tour, you could easily devote a couple of 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.

  • 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.
  • Ragusa, another UNESCO World Heritage city in the Val di Noto, is known for its Baroque architecture.
  • To venture all the way to western Sicily, you should allow a few more days for sightseeing. The drive from Catania to Palermo is 2-1/2 hours by highway. (Palermo has Sicily’s other airport, so you could fly into one city and fly out of the other.)

Travel insurance
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.

Weather
When packing, check www.weather.com. Go to “Catania, Italy” to get a general idea of temperatures and forecast.

For cancellation policy & more, see our General Information page.

2019 dates
September 30 – October  5
Book by February 1 for a $150 Early Bird Discount

Price
$3,295
Single supplement: $350

Meet
The main train station in Catania, called Stazione Catania Centrale

Depart
Catania airport

What's included
- 5 nights accommodations (double room) in two hotels, with breakfast buffet
- 4 gourmet dinners (three courses with wine)
- All wine tastings mentioned
- Entry to Taormina's Greco-Roman theater
- Guided walking tour of Siracusa

What's not included
- Air travel
- 1 dinner on your own & all 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