A wine & hiking tour on Sicily’s western shores
- Seaside and inland hikes in the Trapani and Marsala regions
- Enjoy private, sit-down tastings at Donnafugata, Ceuso, De Bartoli and other leading wineries
- Visit a Greek temple and amphitheater at the archaeological park of Segesta
- Admire the splendid Byzantine mosaics at the Cathedral of Monreale
- See ancient methods for making sea-salt and enjoy a boat ride in the surrounding lagoon
- Visit the hilltop town of Erice and the Baroque port city of Marsala
DAY 1 – BYZANTINE MOSAICS
Welcome to our Sicily wine & hiking tour! We begin in Palermo, the richest city in Europe in the 1100s. Its outskirts provided hunting grounds for royalty, and in 1166 the Norman King William II built a magnificent cathedral there overlooking the fertile valley. Today the Cathedral of Monreale remains one of the masterpieces of Byzantine art, with floor-to-ceiling mosaics and gold leaf everywhere. After a morning pickup in Palermo, we’ll shuttle up to Monreale and begin there, soaking up the Eastern flavor of Sicily’s art.
Then we drive an hour to our complementary welcome lunch and wine tasting at Alessandro di Camporeale. Here members of the Alessandro family will rustle up such regional dishes as caponata (sweet-and-sour eggplant and bell peppers), Sicilian pecorino, and homemade pasta—all accompanied by fantastic wines, from crisp cataratto to spicy syrah. From Camporeale, we do a warm-up hike on country roads that wind past vineyards and farms towards Alcamo, getting our first taste of Sicily’s wine country. We then check into our hotel, which sits directly on the bay of Castellammare del Golfo, an active fishing village. Dinner features fish fresh from the Mediterranean.
L, D • Cala Marina
DAY 2 – TREK AROUND MT. COFANO
Today we explore Monte Cofano, a nature preserve on the sea (40-minute drive from hotel). It occupies a Dolomite limestone promontory jutting out between two gulfs. Networked with trails, the park covers an area once inhabited by shepherds and tuna fishermen. First we climb up over a mountain pass; here grazing sheep and circling falcon will be our only companions on this solitary and scenic trail. As we descend to the sea, we’ll find traces of the old settlements on the hillside: abandoned terraces, the remnants of shepherd huts, an antique tuna-processing plant. The path then skirts the sea, weaving past huge boulders and rocky shores, interspersed with Mediterranean flora and fauna. (The full loop hike takes about three hours. A shorter option is also possible.)
In the afternoon, we head to the boutique winery Ceuso for a tour and tasting. Ceuso was started in 1990 as a labor of love by the three Melia brothers: a farmer, an enologist, and an agronomist. It makes luscious, oak-aged blends of nero d’Avola and French grapes, inspired by mentor Giacomo Tachis (of Sassicaia fame). Our hosts will be Giuseppe Melia and his niece Luisa, who will show us around the 1860 baglio (a fortified farmstead) that the brothers slowly restored. They’ll give us a first-hand account of the winery’s rise to success. Dinner is back in Castellammare, where we’ll find such dishes as seafood risotto and grilled swordfish with cherry tomatoes. And who can say no to cannoli?
B, D • Cala Marina
DAY 3 – THE GREEKS AT SEGESTA
Today we visit the archaeological park of Segesta, a thousand feet up on Monte Barbaro. Once the political hub of the indigenous Elymian and Greek Ionian people, today it features two archeological wonders: a beautifully preserved Greek Doric temple and, higher up, a Greek amphitheater with an unparalleled view of the countryside and sea. We’ll visit both, then do a loop hike nearby. This will begin on gravel roads that pass through farms, vineyards, and agriturismi, then crosses over Monte Barbara on wooded trails, winding up on a road that overlooks the archaeological park. After pondering the ephemeral nature of world power, we’ll ask the eternal question, “What’s for lunch?”
Mid-afternoon, we head to the award-winning winery Spadafora, which takes its name from the noble family Spadafora (“sword unsheathed”). Its prince, Francesco Spadafora, will be our host. As winemaker, he’ll present a panorama of finely crafted wines, from indigenous nero d’avola to wonderful cabernet blends. You’ll see how much French grapes like the Sicilian sun! We return to Castellammare for another scrumptious dinner.
B, D • Cala Marina
DAY 4 – HIKING THE ZINGARO NATURE RESERVE
Today we hike on a peninsula that juts out like a finger in the sea, pointing towards San Vito lo Capo. Here lies the Zingaro Nature Reserve, a park with seven miles of pristine coast and 1700 acres of unspoiled nature. All along the rocky trails are steep cliffs, exotic flora and fauna, and paths leading down to hidden coves, where we can dip our feet in the water or jump in for a swim. The reserve also contains several educational museums in former fishing huts that illustrate an old way of life, showing how baskets and ropes were made from palms and ash trees were tapped for sap. Older still is the reserve’s towering prehistoric grotto, Uzzo, that sheltered the local population 8,000 years ago.
After this splendid hike, we’ll refuel on seafood pasta in the nearby village of Scopello. Save room for a Sicilian specialty: granita di café, with a dollop of whipped cream, naturally. We then transfer to Marsala (1-hour drive), settling into our second hotel, a gracious former convent in the heart of town. Dinner is at one of Marsala’s better restaurants a short walk away.
B, D • Hotel Carmine
DAY 5 – ERICE
Today we take a day off from hiking. First, we devote a little time to the Baroque town of Marsala. We’ll stop in the cathedral, pass through the gate where Garibaldi’s thousands marched, then poke into the fish market, where you might find prickly pear, pistachios, and pecorino siciliano. Then we head to the western tip of Sicily (1-hour drive), where Mount Erice rises 2,500’ above the sea. At its top is the town of Erice, a Phoenician settlement overlooking the western waters. Once devoted to the cult of Venus, its medieval streets are now full of Catholic churches, attractive boutiques, and a particularly excellent pastry shop. (Another cannoli, anyone?)
After some free time in Erice, we return to Marsala for our afternoon tasting at Donnafugata. One of Sicily’s most prominent wineries, it is owned by the Rallo family, which once made Marsala wine, then sold the brand name and switched to dry table wine in the 1980s. Naming their new enterprise after a character in Gattopardo (The Leopard), Donnafugata is consistently among the Tre Bicchieri winners for its nero d’avola–based blends and its nectar-like passito, Ben Ryé. Dinner is on your own in Marsala.
B • Hotel Carmine
DAY 6 – MOZIA & MARSALA'S SEA SALT
Today’s hike is an easy and educational loop around the small island of Mozia, once a base for Phoenician sailors and tradesmen. In the early 1900s, Joseph Whitaker, member of a prominent Marsala-producing family, started excavating. The artifacts he unearthed form the core of a superb little museum. Other ruins still dot the island—stone gates, mosaic pavements, necropoles, even a submerged road. We’ll circle Mozia twice: once on a private boat to get an overview, then on foot to absorb the atmosphere as we walk amid prickly pear, agave, palms, and ancient ruins.
We then return to shore to see how sea salt is harvested. Since ancient times, Sicilians have used evaporation ponds and windmills to crystallize salt from the protected lagoons between Trapani and Marsala, where a steady sea breeze and protected coves make the conditions ideal. We’ll visit the saline, watching a film that shows the year-long process, then have lunch nearby.
In the afternoon, we finally have our marsala tour! We head to De Bartoli, the winery that resurrected the real marsala as a praise-worthy meditation wine. We’ll see how marsala is perpetually blended and aged using the solera system, then sample De Bartoli’s array of dry wines (including Sicily’s first 100% grillo), marsala, and passito from Pantelleria. Our farewell dinner is outside of Marsala at an elegant hillside restaurant.
B, D • Hotel Carmine
DAY 7 – BUON VIAGGIO!
A shuttle to the Palermo airport by 11:00 a.m. and assistance with your travel plans. B
Hiking Level of Difficulty
These hikes are generally 2 to 3 hours. During the course of the week, they alternate between easy and flat, and challenging and hilly. Our easy days are either on country roads or on footpaths on a flat island. Our more challenging days are in two nature preserves, where we're on rocky paths and have a few climbs and descents. For these days, walking sticks are helpful, and shoes with good treads are essential. For those unable to do the more challenging hikes, we can provide shortened alternatives.
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 11:00 a.m. Contact us if your flight requires an earlier arrival.
Sicilian Saunter 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.
Book by February 1 for a $150 Early Bird Discount
Single supplement: $400
Meet & depart
Palermo city center, in front of the hotel Mercure Palermo Centro
- 6 nights accommodations (double room) in one 3-star and one 4-star hotel, with breakfast buffet
- 5 gourmet dinners (three courses with wine)
- 1 welcome lunch
- All wine tastings mentioned
- Admission to Segesta, sea-salt museum, 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