Sicily Tour Highlights:
• Discover beautiful, historic, energy-filled Palermo – where we’ll stay for three nights in the old Arab quarter, with photo walks in the markets and port, plus key sights in town – and travel to nearby Monreale to marvel at and capture its incredible mosaics.
• Explore the northwestern corner of the island and photograph the Greek city of Segesta in its stunning setting, hilltop Erice (often shrouded in a mysterious veil of fog), and the Marsala salt flats in late afternoon light.
• Experience and photograph the famed Good Friday procession in Enna, a beautiful off-the-beaten path mountaintop town in the center of the island.
• Partake of and photograph Easter celebrations with Sicilians in the beautiful Alcantara Valley, after an afternoon exploring imposing the striking slopes, lava fields and vineyards of Mount Etna.
• Enjoy and capture the essence of the dolce far niente (sweetness of doing nothing) in enchanting Taormina—which Goethe called “a corner of paradise”— with its spectacular views of Europe’s largest volcano.
• Absorb the beauty of historic Siracusa on our three final nights, one of the most powerful cities of antiquity, with its archeological treasures and lovely old town of Ortigia.
• Stay in deluxe hotels throughout the itinerary, chosen for their ambiance, high standards, and location (all within walking distance from the top areas of photographic interest, giving us ample freedom of movement).
• Learn from travel photography veteran and photo instructor David H. Wells, via one-on-one guidance and a series of photography workshops throughout the trip.
• Travel with veteran tour leader and Sicily expert Alex Ros, the owner of boutique tour company Open Sky Expeditions, who is fluent in Italian and a photographer himself.
• Absorb the knowledge of local experts, traveling with some of the top English-?speaking guides on the island for most tours and joined by a local Sicilian photographer who’ll show us her insider spots on select days.
• Savor amazing, delicious Sicilian food, enjoying carefully chosen restaurants, avoiding the big tour crowds.
• Relax with logistically seamless, hassle-free travel – tipping included, and much more (see tour inclusions).
• Book confidently on an itinerary developed over months to find the correct pace and balance, with an eye toward the best light and photography opportunities.
A PREVIEW OF THE GOOD FRIDAY PROCESSION IN ENNA: Shadows lengthen, the air is cooling; the strains of a funeral march begin. Crowds gather along the narrow cobblestone streets; they peer from the windows and balconies of the stone buildings that line the way. It is Good Friday in the ancient city of Enna, in the very center of Sicily, and soon these streets of its historic center will be animated by a tradition that can be traced back to its 17th-century Spanish occupiers. Pale yellow robes and white hoods mark the Confraternity of San Salvatore, 60 of whom shoulder a weighty platform that carries the Urn of the Dead Christ from the Church of San Leonardo. From the Church of Addolorata, 80 men of another confraternity, clad in black robes and white hoods, sway from side to side with the weight of another statue, this one the six?foot?tall Madonna of Sorrows. She is mourning the loss of her child. As the evening progresses, these men will be joined by nearly 3,000 others from the city’s 15 confraternities, each distinguished by the color of their robes. Early on, the bright red vestments of the Confraternity of the Passion will appear, bearing on red cushions the Mysteries, or symbols of the crucifixion: the nails from the cross, for instance, the dice thrown by the Roman soldiers. It is a mournful, majestic procession, and it will, finally, begin the longest leg of its slow march at the 14th-?century Duomo, wending its way to the cemetery on the edge of town and then, just as slowly, just as majestically, back. Colored lanterns light the way as darkness gathers. The slow beat of a snare drum guides the procession up the hill and into the town center once more, crowds still lining the streets, where at last, near midnight, the Urn of the Dead Christ will be returned to the Duomo and the Madonna of Sorrows to the Church of the Sant’Antonio. Our hotel is nestled in the historic center of the city, where the procession begins, allowing us the best flexibility and access to the events of the day. We’ll be able to capture the colorful marchers from several sites that we’ll have staked out along the route, and you’ll have the opportunity to follow the procession at your own pace, pausing at whatever scene of this theatrical ritual catches your eye.
Included with Registration:
• A complete program of tours and excursions, as described in the itinerary
• Stays at carefully selected four-star and boutique hotels on the island, as per the itinerary
• Photography workshops and one-on-one teaching by award-winning photographer and photo instructor David Wells, who will accompany all of our outings
• All meals as noted in the itinerary
• Baggage handling and airport transfers in Sicily on arrival and departure
• Gratuities to all guides, drivers, porters, and wait staff for group meals
• Open Sky Expeditions owner Alex Ros as your personal host and tour leader
• Excellent English-speaking guides throughout
• Bottled water on all excursions
• A detailed and useful Destination and Travel Information Packet – including a recommended reading list – to assist with pre-departure planning
• A complimentary travel wallet and personalized travel notebook with final documents (or alternate gift for past travelers)
Sunday, March 25: Depart Home
Monday, March 26: Arrive Palermo, Italy
Arrive Palermo and transfer to your deluxe hotel on arrival. Rest and enjoy the rest of the day at leisure after the overnight flight. Gather tonight for a welcome dinner at an excellent, non?touristy restaurant Palermo.
Accommodations: Overnight in Palermo at the Eurostars Central Palace or Hotel Ambasciatori. (D)
Tuesday, March 27: Palmero | Monreale
Optional sunrise walk in the area near the hotel, before breakfast, likely to the port. Then, after breakfast: Photography tour of Palermo visiting key city attractions (Piazza Pretoria, the old city center, La Martorana), and highlighting the lively Ballaro Market in former Arab quarter (wonderful opportunities to shoot the characterful sellers offering fresh fish, local vegetables, cheeses, et.). Enjoy a classic Palermitano lunch at a local popular eatery (an insider’s pick). In the afternoon travel to nearby Monreale, with its beautiful panoramic views above Palermo, to see and photograph the spectacular mosaics in its cathedral, visit the Benedictine Cloister, and enjoy some independent time to explore. Our return to Palermo will timed to end a key spot for sunset. Remainder of the day at leisure (with recommended restaurants for dinner).
Accommodations: Overnight in Palermo at the Eurostars Central Palace or Hotel Ambasciatori. (B, L)
Wednesday, March 28: Palermo | ERICE | SEGESTA | MARSALA SALT FLATS | Palermo
Take a full-day excursion out to the northwestern corner of the island, including: A morning visit to the majestically set, impressive Greek ruins at Segesta, including its striking 5th century BC Doric-style temple and the theater, with its sweeping views of the island. Midday to early afternoon in charming Erice, a small medieval village with breathtaking views located at 2,500 ft altitude – including a visit to Maria Grammatico’s famous pastry shop for a tasting of her legendary almond cookies and marzipan (centuries-old secret recipes) with local dessert wines and liqueurs. We’ll enjoy independent time to photograph the attractive town, which is often shrouded in a mystical fog, and also plan to have lunch there. In the late afternoon, timed to coincide with sunset, we’ll drive to the Marsala Salt Flats, a striking setting for photographs in late afternoon light. Return to Palermo for the remainder of the day at leisure.
Accommodations: Overnight in Palermo at the Eurostars Central Palace or Hotel Ambasciatori. (B, L)
Thursday, March 29: Palermo | CEFALU
Those interested can join a second optional early morning walk in the historic district around our Palermo hotel. After check?out we’ll then head east out of Palermo towards Cefalu, with a possible stop in the scenic hilltop town of Castelbuono en route. Arrive in postcard?worthy Cefalu in time for a delightful lunch at a local restaurant. Spend the rest of the afternoon exploring the relaxing, scenic, delightful seaside town of Cefalu – with a dedicated late afternoon/sunset shoot in the town. The remainder of the day is at leisure. Today is intentionally more relaxed, in an effort to find balance at the right time in the trip.
Accommodations: Overnight in Cefalu at the La Plumeria boutique hotel or seaside Hotel Astro Suites. (B, L)
Friday, March 30: Cefalu | GOOD FRIDAY PROCESSION IN ENNA
Flexible early to mid-?morning in gorgeous Cefalu. Those interested can venture out for photos with David. By 10am, we’ll depart south, cutting through the island’s northern mountain range and out to the beautiful off-?the-? beaten path mountaintop town of Enna, in the center of the island. On arrival, we’ll check into our hotel, and leave time for an early, independent lunch so that the rest of the day is clear for the one of the trip’s highlights: the famed Good Friday Procession in the historic town.
Accommodations: Overnight in Enna at Hotel Sicilia. (B)
Saturday, March 31: ENNA | HILLTOP TOWNS AROUND ETNA | Taormina
After a late night on Friday, enjoy a morning at leisure to sleep in, process photos, and/or explore Enna independently. This afternoon, will join a local photographer-guide for a drive towards the northeastern coast and Mt. Etna, stopping in various carefully-?selected, scenic hilltop towns en route. Some of the photo walks will prioritize exploring off?the-beaten track towns and meeting & photographing the welcoming locals. As the afternoon proceeds and the light becomes more dramatic, we’ll focus on capturing the spectacular settings of the villages in the landscape before imposing Mt. Etna – ensuring we are the right place in the correct light, and with enough flexibility to respond to weather conditions, unexpected photo opportunities, etc. In the early evening, we’ll arrive in scenic Taormina, for two nights.
Accommodations: Overnight in Taormina at the Hotel Villa Diodoro or Hotel Piccolo Giardino. (B)
Sunday, April 1: TAORMINA | MT. ETNA | EASTER SUNDAY in the ALCANTARA VALLEY | Taormina
Built on a hillside with breathtaking views of Mount Etna and the Ionian Sea below, it’s no surprise that Goethe described Taormina as a “a corner of paradise.” A popular travel destination since the 19th century, Taormina is as rich in history (the first Greek settlement in Italy) as it is in spectacular views and beauty. This morning we’ll have our orientation in Taormina, with a short tour highlighting the Greco-Roman Theater, where the backdrop is none other than Mount Etna, the largest volcano in continental Europe. Saving our leisure time for tomorrow, we’ll venture off for an exciting afternoon including: Lunch and a visit to a delightful agriturismo or winery on the northern side of Etna; An exploration on the slopes of the volcano in some its most striking areas, some extraordinarily fertile, others stark; A walk on the slopes of Mt. Etna (possibly a longer hike depending on time); Exploring the scenic Alcantara Valley, its various gorges, and stopping into an Easter celebration in one of the villages; Sunset at a strategic point on the landscape by Mt. Etna Return to Taormina for the remainder of the evening at leisure.
Accommodations: Overnight in Taormina at the Hotel Villa Diodoro or Hotel Piccolo Giardino. (B, L)
Monday, April 2: TAORMINA | SIRACUSA
To balance out yesterday’s full day, this morning into early afternoon will be at leisure to explore and enjoy enchanting, walkable Taormina (often cited as the place to enjoy the “dolce farniente” or the “sweetness of doing nothing”). David will also plan to offer on-on-one photo review meetings for those interested (this is something we'll do throughout the trip, but today will have the most time for). After an independent lunch, we’ll head south via Catania to Siracusa. Founded in the 8th century BC by colonizing Greeks, Siracusa (Syracuse) was one of the most powerful cities in the Mediterranean, rivaling the dominance of Athens. Cicero once described it as "the greatest Greek city and the most beautiful of them all.” On arrival we’ll check in to our lovely boutique hotel in the old town, situated on the island of Ortigia, where we’ll spend our final three nights. Those interested can join David & Alex for an independent dinner at a recommended restaurant in town.
Accommodations: Overnight in Siracusa at the Hotel Roma. (B)
Tuesday, April 3: SIRACUSA
Siracusa’s old town - situated on the Island of Ortygia - is another delightful place to wander in, so we are again deliberately keeping scheduling light today to adjust for where the group is feeling, independent exploration, etc. On the menu for the day: An early morning/sunrise optional walk, focusing on the eastern side of the island, ending with the market as it comes alive for the day; A guided walk through the old town’s attractive lanes including visits at the Temple of Apollo, Fountain of Aretusa, cathedral, etc; A late afternoon photo shoot focusing on the western side of Ortigia; Depending on interest, the possibility of including a cooking class (at an additional yet reasonable cost); The balance of the day at leisure.
Accommodations: Overnight in Siracusa at the Hotel Roma. (B)
Wednesday, April 4: Siracusa | NOTO | MARZAMEMI | Siracusa
On our final day of exploration we’ll enjoy an excursion to the gorgeous baroque town of Noto, and the charming port town of Marzamemi, with lunch at a local restaurant during the outing. Return to Siracusa for a final late afternoon in the town. Gather tonight for a slideshow of top photos from the trip, followed by a farewell dinner at a delectable local restaurant in the old town.
Accommodations: Overnight in Siracusa at the Hotel Roma. (B, L, D)
Thursday, April 5: Siracusa | Catania - Fly out
Transfer in the morning to the Catania airport for outbound flights.
Photography Instructor David H. Wells
(www.davidhwells.com) is a freelance documentary photographer and photo-educator based in Providence, Rhode Island. He specializes in inter-cultural communications and the use of light and shadow to enhance visual narratives. David’s “Light Studies” have appeared in a wide range of exhibitions and publications including the Philadelphia Inquirer Sunday Magazine and Rhode Island Monthly.
He has received two Fulbright Fellowships, a grant from Nikon/N.P.P.A. and a fellowship from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. His work has been shown around the world in over fifty exhibitions and publications including American Photographer, Camera and Darkroom, Camera Arts and Zoom.
He has taught workshops at the International Center for Photography in NYC and the Maine Media Workshops. David launched an online educational tool with video podcasts and other useful information for photographers called “The Wells Point” (www.thewellspoint.com).
Host and Tour Leader Alex Ros
is the founder and President of Open Sky Expeditions. A Harvard graduate who speaks six languages and has traveled to over 80 countries, Alex has extensive in-depth knowledge of the travel business.
Prior to founding Open Sky in 2010, for over eight years he directed dozens of international programs for one of the world’s top operators of high-caliber educational programs aboard small ships. Among Alex’s unique experiences, he has conducted reconnaissance missions to over 15 countries in Africa alone, and has personally led hundreds of travelers on scores of international tours.
Alex speaks Italian and has been leading tours to Sicily since 2003 - an island that he’ll unabashedly tell you is his favorite place in the Mediterranean.