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A Private Tour of Sicily | Travel Guide

Updated: Oct 8, 2023

Sicily, a relatively unexplored region of Italy, is a must visit if you're into history, culture, scenery and great food! We decided that we wanted to spend a week exploring Sicily but we didn't want to drive. We scoured the web for private tours of Sicily and after reading a tonne of reviews, decided to book with Handy Sicily. They offer a range of set itineraries, and can also tailor make trips to suit. We chose their 11 day itinerary with an English speaking driver. Their standard itineraries include, all transport in luxury vehicles, English speaking drivers and guides, accommodation and some meals. We chose to arrange accommodation ourselves and the price was reduced accordingly.

The beauty of a private tour is, to be frank, that it's private. No waiting around for other group members, and the flexibility to change the days schedule on a whim. Handy Sicily was totally flexible and we enjoyed 11 days at our own pace.

Day 1 - Palermo

We were met at the airport by a driver in a luxury Mercedes sedan, and transferred straight to our accommodation in Palermo. That afternoon we had time to explore the city ourselves before we met up with our driver for the rest of the tour, Domenico, the next morning.

It's a nice stroll around Palermo harbour, which is dotted with traditional fishing boats moored alongside million dollar yachts. The old town is a mixture of Greek, Arabic and Norman architecture, and a majority of the old town is now World Heritage listed. The Opera House in the centre of the city has 30 minute guided tours every day (9:30am~5:30pm) taking in the auditorium and the halls of the third largest opera house in Europe. We were lucky enough to be there when they were rehearsing West Side Story and the cast were truly fabulous!

We chose to stay at: Alma Hotel - Palermo 📍5/5 🛌 5/5 👩‍💼 5/5

Day 2 - Palermo & Monreal

Morning is a visit to Monreal which sits atop a mountain overlooking Palermo with panoramic views over the city and the bay. The World Heritage listed Monreal cathedral (Cattedrale di Monreale) is the highlight of this small town. The cathedral's interior is covered in frescoes and mosaics embedded in gold and is truly stunning. The beautifully maintained cloisters (Chiostro dei Benedettini) feature 228 intricately carved columns inlaid with mosaics depicting plant and animal motifs. You can also walk along the roof for views of the cloister gardens, and up to the bell tower for great views of the surrounding valley and Palermo in the distance.

In the afternoon, after a walk through the Ballaro street market, visit the Royal Palace, the Cathedral, and the Piazza Pretoria (the square of Shame), before heading out for dinner in one of the city's many restaurants.

We chose to stay at: Alma Hotel - Palermo 📍5/5 🛌 5/5 👩‍💼 5/5

Day 3 - Erice & Sagesta

Leaving Palermo the road hugs the coastline for while before heading inland towards Sagesta. Passing through undulating farmland, you are suddenly confronted with glimpses of a large Greek temple nestled on a hillside. The looming temple is on flat even ground, however it's unshaded so an early morning visit is advisable. After taking in this superb example of ancient Greek architecture, hop on the shuttle bus up the hill for a short walk to the Greek amphitheater, another walk with no shade but worth it for the views.

The afternoon is spent in Enrice, high above Trapaini. Explore the historic township, it's winding cobbled streets, numerous churches, and the imposing Venus Castle (Castello di Venere) with 360º views of the surrounding country side. Definitely take the 10 minute cableway from the car park down the mountain, for panoramic views of the coastline and the Egadi Islands, before reaching Trapani.

We chose to stay at: Hotel San Michele - Trapani 📍5/5 🛌 5/5 👩‍💼 5/5

Day 4 - Salt Way Road" and Mothia Island, Selinunte

Travel from Trapani to the Marsala lagoon and the Stagnone Nature Reserve, where ancient windmills and salt pans dot the landscape. A short boat ride takes you across to the island of Mothia, where you can spend an hour or so exploring the archeological remains that were only rediscovered in 1902 when a local wine maker purchased the island. The museum on the island is surprisingly interesting, with both modern and ancient installations. Returning to the mainland. don't miss visiting the Museo de Sale (Salt Museum), a working windmill, and the climb to the rooftop for extended views of the salt pans and the lagoon.

Spend the afternoon exploring Selinunte, an ancient Greek city on the south western coast. The Archeological Park with it's 7 temples is spread across 270 hectares and is a treasure trove of ancient Greek history. Although the park is large, the temple buildings are close enough together to visit them in two sections. Temple E and F are next to each other on the Acropolis hill, and Temples A, C, D, O and R are together on the Eastern Hill overlooking the ocean. Some of the remains are more intact than others, but the whole area is strewn with huge stones giving testament to how truly grandiose the city was in it's day. You can hire electric carts (golf buggy's) in the park, or buy a ticket for the tour by train (around €6). There's not much shade so take a hat, and the weather can change rapidly as we found out, so a light jacket is advisable.

Fun fact: Acropolis is the word for high (acro) city (polis).

We chose to stay at: Casa Duci - Agrigento 📍5/5 🛌 5/5 👩‍💼 5/5

Day 5 - Agrigento - Piazza Armerina

Agrigento is a hillside city in the Valley of the Temples. A World Heritage site, the archeological area has well preserved remains, and was once one of the leading cities in the Mediterranean world. Start at The temple of Juno (Hera Lakinia), and check out the temple of Heracles (Hercules), the temple of Aesculapius, the tomb of Theron, the temple of Vulcano and the temple of Concordia , then take the bridge across the highway to the temple of Olympian Zeus (Jupiter) with the huge reclining human statues and the temple of Castor and Pollux (Dioscuri) - the symbol of Agrigento. Plan for a couple of hours here and start early in the morning which means less visitors, and cooler temperatures. Again there is very little shade, and no toilets once inside the park.

After lunch at a local restaurant overlooking the countryside, a short drive takes you to the World Heritage listed Villa del Casale (outside Piazza Armerina). The villa was preserved for 600 years under 10 meters of mud after a landslide, and after lengthy restoration is now in really good condition. The complex is made up of several buildings, residential rooms, a bath complex and out houses, all with detailed mosaic floors and colorful wall frescoes depicting scenes of everyday life.

We chose to stay at: Melodia 3 Suites - Noto 📍5/5 🛌 3/5 👩‍💼 4/5

Day 6 - Ragusa Ibla and Modica

Visit nearby Ragusa and Modica, both with lovely cathedrals, admittedly they are all starting to look the same.

In the evening, climb the tower to the top of the Noto Cathedral for fabulous views of the town. Just beware the tiny steps make coming back down a little treacherous. Then go down the left hand side of the building to the basement bar and restaurant, both which are well worth a visit.

We chose to stay at: Melodia 3 Suites - Noto 📍5/5 🛌 3/5 👩‍💼 4/5

Day 7 - Donnafugata Castle and Mazememi seaside

Visit Castle Donafugata with Europe's largest period costume collection. The drive to the castle is through picturesque and fertile farmland, the roads lined on either side with olive groves and grazing herds of sheep and cows. The castle itself is meticulously restored with over 100 rooms each intricately decorated in different styles with period furniture and paintings and murals. If you are not into architecture or interiors, there's a wicked stone wall maze in the gardens which genuinely seems to have no way out.

Continue on to the seaside Mazememi for lunch in a seafood tavern. The taverns dotted around the bay all serve similar fare. Whilst it's gained popularity on Instagram, the town is pretty small and there's really not a lot more than the restaurants and a few gelato shops. The taverns dotted around the bay all serve similar fare.

We chose to stay at: Melodia 3 Suites - Noto 📍5/5 🛌 3/5 👩‍💼 4/5

Day 8 - Palazzolo Acreide and Pantalica

Start the day with a visit to Pantalica Nature Reserve, one of the biggest necropolis sites in Europe, consisting of more than 5,000 tombs chiselled into the rock of the surrounding countryside. With no exaggeration, there are tombs carved into the hillsides as far as the eye can see. Some are easily accessible but if you aren't too sure on your feet it would be wise to take care as most are very close to sheer cliffs.

In the afternoon explore the archaeological park of Akrai (€4) near Palazzolo Acreide, which dates back to 664BC. It consists of a Greek Theatre, a quarry, tombs, and remains of a place of worship dedicated to the goddess Cibele. The necropolis carved into the hills under the Greek Theatre feature intricately carved walls and windows between each tomb. There is no shade except in the tombs so take water and a hat.

We chose to stay at: Residenza Nereo - Ortiga 📍5/5 🛌 5/5 👩‍💼 5/5 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Day 9 - Siracusa full day

Explore the expansive Siracusa Archeological Park just outside Ortiga (€10). The site has a well preserved and expansive Greek Theater, a Roman Amphitheater, and a limestone quarry which provided stone to build the city, and was used as a prison for 7000 prisoners in 413BC after the war with Athens.

Inside what is now a lush sunken garden (once the quarry), is a towering limestone cave named the Ear of Dionysius. The cave was dug in Roman times as a water storage for the city of Syracuse, and is said to have flawless acoustics and can echo people's voices many times over. The garden is a shaded oasis where you can sit down and cool off after walking around the park.

Back in Syracuse, well worth a look are the miles of catacombs under the city, where residents hid during bombing raids in WWII. A fascinating guided tour of the extensive subterranean San Giovanni’s Catacombs is €8 and takes about an hour. The entrance is Take a light jacket or cardigan as it's quite cool underground.

A definite must is the the local fruit, veg & fish market where huge a oyster for €2.50 gets you a free glass of (cheap) bubbly!! We had a few glasses of wine with lunch at a seafood restaurant and were advised that a bottle would have been cheaper. 😅 On a hot day you might also consider a swim, but entrance to the ‘beach’ costs €35!!!!!!!

We chose to stay at: Residenza Nereo - Ortiga 📍5/5 🛌 5/5 👩‍💼 5/5 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Day 10 - Mt Etna and Taormina

As the highest volcano in Europe, driving up to Mt Etna is like traversing a range of ecological landscapes. The road first winds it's way through farmland and olive groves, then hillside forest, and finally the wide expanses of lava dotted with wildflowers. Truth be told, it's a little worrisome being on an active volcano. Apparently Etna has been erupting continuously from 2013 to the most recent eruption, when the crater northeast of Etna erupted on the 9th of September 2019. It erupted without warning in 2011, and from the southern face you can see the paths of the lava flows, down through the countryside on towards the ocean. It's worth a walk into one of the smaller craters. And if you have time there is a cable car up to the higher summit.

On the way down the mountain, have lunch in the square at Zafferrana overlooking the ocean. After lunch take a walk through the town of Taormina, and visit the enormous Greek Theatre built on a hillside with sweeping views of the Calabrian coast and Mt Etna. The theatre is largely intact, which is remarkable for something built in the third century BC. There is a €10 admission fee but surprisingly short lines to get in to the complex. Access is possible to all three sections of the theatre, the scene, the orchestra and the auditorium. There may be some scaffolding as restoration works seem to be ongoing.

We chose to stay at: Hotel Villa Fiorita - Taormina 📍3/5 🛌 2/5 👩‍💼 4/5

Day 11 - Taormina to Catania Airport

Transfer by road to Catania airport. This transfer may be with a different driver which is often the case with multi-day tours.

OVERVIEW: We loved every minute of our private tour of Sicily. Admittedly we visited a few more cathedrals, Greek theaters, Roman amphitheaters and ruins than we anticipated and they all started to look the same. But, we fell in love with Noto and the scenery, food and people of Sicily and would go back in a hear beat!! 💕

NOTE: We paid a deposit by credit card before leaving home, and the remainder we paid to Handy Sicily when we met up with Paolo the owner in Noto, their base of operations. The transaction was seamless and easy, the owner Paolo was lovely. The only negative was carrying around thousands of Euro for 5 days or so until we reached Noto. 🥺 Our driver Domenico was truly fabulous. Arriving each morning 5 minutes early in as shirt and tie, making us feel like royalty each time he dropped us off and picked us up after visiting each site.

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