The UNESCO Grand Tour of Sicily

Study Italian and explore Sicily!

Sicily is home to no less than seven UNESCO World Heritage sites. It is the sum of the history of Mediterranean civilisations, traditions, history, art, legends, mythology and of course its wine and food. 

The Grand Tour of Sicily is a wonderful program of sightseeing and culture, perfect if you want to get to know as much of Sicily as possible in just 2 weeks!

Of the 7 UNESCO sites in Sicily we will visit 5, plus the beautiful town of Taormina.

What is the Grand Tour of Sicily?

Our Grand Tour of Sicily is a 2-week program for lovers of the Italian language and culture who are interested in getting to know Sicily, not as tourists, but as travelers. It is for people who are curious and want to have an authentic experience.

In the 2-week program, we visit 5 UNESCO World Heritage sites (Catania, Syracuse, Noto, La Villa Romana del Casale in Piazza Armerina and Mount Etna) and Taormina.

We travel in private buses for maximum comfort and you are always accompanied by qualified, professional guides.

Cooking lessons and tastings will be held by experts in the field of enogastronomy, while cultural talks will be given by our teachers.

Who is the Grand Tour of Sicily for?

All foreign adults aged 30 and over can participate in the Grand Tour of Sicily. Participants are generally lovers of the Italian language and culture, are sociable, are very interested in exploring Sicily and have an open, curious mind!

What will we visit during the Grand Tour of Sicily?

The UNESCO sites we will visit are Catania, Syracuse, Noto, Piazza Armerina, Mount Etna and Taormina.

What will we be visiting during the Grand Tour of Sicily?

The UNESCO sites we will visit are Catania, Syracuse, Noto, Piazza Armerina, Mount Etna and Taormina.

Catania

Catania

Catania is the city where our school is located.

It is a historical city, originally founded in the 8th century B.C. by the Greek Chalcidese.

The history of the city follows the history of Sicily which had many different dominations and there are traces of these to be seen all over Catania such as the Greek theatre, the Roman amphitheatre, three Roman baths as well as a medieval castle (Castello Ursino) built by Emperor Frederick II of Swabia.

The historical centre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of the beautiful Sicilian Baroque architecture which is thanks to the Spanish reconstruction of the city after the 1693 earthquake.

After World War II, the city expanded into a much larger industrial and commercial area.

Syracuse

Syracuse is located on the Ionian coast and was once the capital of a great empire that first rivaled Athens, then the Carthaginians and then Rome.

In the city you can see magnificent monuments from the Greco-Roman era (the Neapolis Archaeological Park contains the Roman amphitheater, the Greek Theatre and the Ear of Dionysius). There is also an important museum regarding the Greek period called the Paolo Orsi Regional Archaeological Museum. 

Syracuse is a UNESCO World Heritage Site not only due to the remnants of the Greco-Roman period but also because of the district of Ortigia which displays one of the most splendid examples of the Sicilian Baroque style, often paid homage to in many Italian films.

Noto

Noto is known as the ‘capital of Sicilian Baroque’. In 2002 the historical town centre was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, together with the other late Baroque towns in the Val di Noto area. This great architectural jewel displays all the distinctive elements that characterise the Baroque style in south-eastern Sicily.

Noto is also often called ‘the garden of stone’ thanks to its sumptuous palazzi and monumental churches built out of richly decorated local golden stone. The streets of Noto are interspersed with scenic squares and imposing staircases connecting terraces, old homes and aristocratic palaces. 

As you stroll through the streets of Noto, you cannot but be struck by its charm, highlighted at sunset by the changing light that lends a unique atmosphere to the ancient facades of the town.

The Villa Romana del Casale in Piazza Armerina

The Villa Romana del Casale in Piazza Armerina, is a wonderful example of a late-imperial Roman villa. The Villa, one of the most luxurious of its kind, is famous for the richness and quality of its mosaics (dating back to the 4th century AD), which are recognized as the finest in situ Roman mosaics. This treasure shows us the living habits of the Roman ruling class and proves the influences on cultures and mutual exchanges in the ancient Mediterranean between the Roman world and the North African area.

The villa consists of 48 rooms (about 3,500 square meters of floor space) covered with mosaics which are in perfect condition. Possibly created by African masters, the mosaics allow us to retrace the steps of daily life of the greatest among the Empires, with scenes depicting heroes, gods, hunting and games.

The history of the Roman Villa del Casale dates back to around 320-350 AD and, according to some scholars, it belonged to a member of the Roman senatorial aristocracy, perhaps a governor of Rome under Emperor Constantine. According to other studies, however, it was built by a very high imperial official, Maximilian Herculean, a tetrarch of Diocletian. The Villa Romana del Casale has been on UNESCO’s World Heritage list since 1997.

Etna

Mount Etna is a fundamental part of the landscape and nature of Sicily. Writer Leonardo Sciascia called it “an immense house cat that quietly hums and occasionally wakes up….” According to myth, the volcano’s ash activity and lava eruptions are said to be the fiery ‘breath’ of the giant Enceladus, defeated by Athena and trapped for eternity in an underground prison under Mount Etna. Earthquakes are said to be caused by the giant turning in his chains.

For nature lovers Mount Etna is an enchanting place, combining snow with fire and green vegetation beside the blackness of old lava flows. The active craters are at the top of the volcano and further down the mountain you can see the moonscape of old lava which is the beautiful Bove Valley. 

Etna is considered to be a ‘young’ active volcano, only born a couple of million years ago! Today it is a National Park and UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Taormina

Although Taormina is not yet on the UNESCO World Heritage List, a Grand Tour of Sicily cannot fail to include a stop in Taormina, a favorite destination of all who visit the town.

Situated on the rock of Mount Tauro, Taormina town is like a large terrace overlooking the Ionian coast. It has been a vacation destination for kings, queens, noblemen, artists and international bankers since the 19th century and is today a popular destination for tourists visiting Sicily, 

The town which is of Sicilian origin, was also Greek, Roman, Arab and Byzantine. The layout of the town is medieval although, among all the monuments worth seeing, a marvelous Greek Theater stands out. The breathtaking view from the open-air theatre takes in the Bay of Naxos and Mount Etna in the background which makes attending a show there quite a unique and spectacular event!

What other events does the Grand Tour of Sicily include?

The other events during our Grand Tour of Sicily are:

A cooking class on how to make the famous arancini

One afternoon of the program will be devoted to a cooking class to learn how to make the famous arancini, the volcano-shaped cone of boiled rice, filled with a meat sauce and then deep-fried.

These are one of the most succulent specialties of traditional Sicilian cuisine!

 

A tasting of Etna wines

Another afternoon will be devoted to tasting a glass of white, red and a dessert wine produced on the slopes of the volcano.

Over the past years Etna wines have entered the ranks of the best Italian wines so it would be a shame to leave Sicily without tasting them!

A lecture on the “History of Sicily”

The lecture on Sicily’s historical background will be given on the second day in preparation for all the visits during the program. A knowledge of the history and a chronology of all the dominations that have succeeded one another over the centuries is crucial in order to help you appreciate the deeper aspects of the places and monuments you will visit during the tour. 

A lecture on the “Mythology and Legends of Sicily”

Sicily is a hotbed of myths and legends, beginning with the Greek and Roman periods and ending with the local legends of the many fantastic characters that appear in Sicilian fiction. You will notice that these myths and legends will then be connected to monuments, palazzi, mosaics and paintings that you see on the tour. Having this background knowledge will help you to understand the essence of their meaning and beauty better.

Can I combine an Italian course with the Grand Tour of Sicily?

The program is designed so that you can attend one of our Italian courses in the morning and participate in the Grand Tour of Sicily in the afternoon.

Why study and travel?

The Grand Tour of Sicily is a unique opportunity for full language immersion as the program is conducted entirely in Italian. During the program you will be able to practice your Italian by speaking with the guides, interacting with our experts during Sicilian cooking classes and Etna wine tasting, and talking to the teachers who will be giving our lectures. It will be a real linguistic, cultural and fun experience.

Do I have to speak Italian to participate in the Grand Tour?

The program is very useful for practicing Italian and is complementary to the language course. 

The guided tours, cooking classes, wine tasting and cultural talks will all be delivered in Italian. Of course, it will be an Italian that is as accessible and understandable as possible to everyone, even to students at the lowest levels.

We still recommend having an A1 level in Italian even if, from time to time, a few little words in a foreign language will be spoken!

Does the Grand Tour also include the language course?

The cost of the Italian course is separate from the Grand Tour of Sicily cultural program. 

How much does the Grand Tour of Sicily cost?

The two-week program which includes all activities described, entrances to archaeological sites, bus transfers, guides, and socio-cultural activities (cooking class, wine tasting and lectures) costs:

€ 980

What are the dates of the Grand Tour?

We offer a program starting date every month, except July and August when students mostly focus on going to the beach 😊

2024 program starting dates are:

March 18th
April 15th
May 20th
June 17th
September 16th
October 14th

What is the schedule each day?

This is the schedule for the 2-week Grand Tour of Sicily

MondayGuided tour: CATANIA
TuesdayLecture: HISTORY OF SICILY
WednesdayGuided tour: SYRACUSE
ThursdayGuided tour: VILLA ROMANA DEL CASALE
FridayCOOKING CLASS ON ARANCINI
SaturdayDay off
SundayDay off
MondayGuided tour: TAORMINA
TuesdayGuided tour: NOTO
WednesdayLecture: MYTHOLOGY IN SICILY
ThursdayGuided tour: HIKING ETNA
FridayETNA WINE TASTING

What is the ‘Grand Tour’ between the 18th and 19th centuries?

Beginning in the eighteenth century, Sicily began to exert its appeal on European aristocrats and intellectuals and therefore became an obligatory destination on the Grand Tour, the fashion for which was introduced by the English in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

At that time, it was young gentlemen, who were scions of the ‘upper class’ between the ages of twenty and twenty-five, who traveled to discover places of European culture. The Grand Tour enriched and supplemented their mostly Enlightenment education.

The era of the Grand Tour included painters, men of letters and gentlemen from all over Europe who reached the “land of lemons” (as Goethe described it). During their wanderings in Italy and in particular in the south of Italy, they wrote diaries, reports or actual guidebooks in order to illustrate their travels in search of the origins of the classical world. The Grand Tour thus became one of the foundations of the education of the gentlemen of northern Europe.

It was Richard Lassels, an English Catholic priest of the late seventeenth century, who shaped the idea of the Grand Tour. Indeed, in his travelogue which was published in 1670 he wrote “Where can a man acquire greater knowledge than in Rome? Where all languages are spoken, all sciences are taught, the wisest men in Europe are met, where every stone is a book, every monument a master.” In a short time, the idea extended from Rome to the entire Italian peninsula and Sicily.

Johann Hermann Von Riedesel, Patrick Brydone, Jacques Philippe D’Orville, Jean Pierre Houel, Dominique Vivant Denon, Johann Wolfgang Goethe, Guy de Maupassant, Karl Friedrich Schinkel, Friederick Maximilian Hessemer, Alexis de Toqueville and Alexandre Dumas are only some of the illustrious travelers who came to Sicily in search of a new sensibility.

In his Italienische Reise Goethe recounts his trip to Italy (1786 – 1788) and focuses his attention on archaeological Sicily and Greek ruins. At a time in history when travel to Greece was dangerous because of tensions within the Ottoman Empire, Sicily revealed Greece to him and with that, the classical world, the remains of which Sicily is steeped in.

Sicily thus became the Land of Myth and began to be hailed by the intellectuals of the time. Goethe wrote, “Italy, without Sicily, leaves no image in the spirit. It is in Sicily that one finds the key to everything.” Hessemer echoes him, “Sicily is the dot on the i of Italy, the rest of Italy seems to me only a stem placed to support such a flower.”

The island became a crossroads of travel and travelers and the very idea of tourism originated here. People came from the coldest lands of Europe to see Italy, all the way to the place where the light becomes dazzling and beauty is infinite Sicily!

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