Sicily Grand Tour Part 1: Volcanoes, Hilltowns & Easter Pilgrims, Apr 6 - Apr 18, 2017
with Jeremy Woodhouse & Antonino Lombardo
At the centre of the Mediterranean, but on the periphery of Europe lies the island of Sicily. With an exotic appeal that sets it apart from mainland Italy, Sicily has long been known as a melting pot of ancient cultures and peoples. Sixteen foreign dominations have touched, changed and marked the Sicilian soul. First the Greeks and the Romans, then the Arabs and Normans, and finally, the French, Spanish and Italians, all of them contributing to an unparalleled historical legacy. The conquerors have left, not only an abundance of art, architecture and archaeological remains, but have transformed the landscape, fashioned the cultural eccentricities, influenced the mixed appearance of the inhabitants and shaped the social attitudes unique to Sicily and the Sicilians.
While the tour must have a definite outline and format, a flexible itinerary may be adapted as required to accommodate for the unexpected opportunities, and the serendipitous twists, which often transpire during tours. Ultimately the emphasis throughout is on seeing, and the priority is to ensure good creative photography, providing an ample amount of time each day so that participants will have the opportunity to explore without being rushed. The overall format includes a balance of early morning, day and evening field trips to a diverse range of scenic locations, along with time to relax and explore on your own.
This tour is for anyone passionate about photography, from novice to experienced amateur or professionals, who want to expand their vision while discovering the island’s social and cultural and geographical history through photography, and will provide an opportunity to meet with others who are totally immersed in photography. Time spent as a group can be both a visual and an emotional journey and is conducive to exchanging ideas, sharing enthusiasms and refreshing creative energies. Particularly noteworthy in the organisation of this trip is the decision to limit the number of participants. The number of participants is limited to 6 only, in order to maximise opportunities to learn together as a small cohesive group, as well as to provide ease of transport and mobility, which enhances flexibility of planning, and shooting logistics in the field.
Our focus will be the volcanoes of Stromboli, which is constantly active, and Etna, which in March - April should be snowcapped and beautiful. We will explore the history of Sicily through the huge number of tiny hilltop towns which dot the incredibly beautiful landscape around Etna, and many of which sport Norman castles above the narrow medieval streets, which seem to have seen little change in hundreds of years.
After meeting in Palermo, we will spend time in Cefalù; Stromboli; Taormina, which we will use as a base for coastal fishing villages nearby, as well as exploring the famous Grand Tour town itself with its stunning Greek amphitheatre; we will then immerse ourselves in discovering the landscape around snowcapped Etna. During our time there, we will have opportunities to photograph the lavish and passionate Holy Week celebrations, which culminate in the Good Friday candlelit procession. Nowhere in Italy but Sicily, is this celebrated with such fervent dedication and symbolism. We will shoot blue hour at both ends of the day whenever possible, and take as much advantage of the clear spring light as we can to photograph the atmosphere of Sicily in every sense of the word. Join us!
Day 1: Thursday, April 6 – Palermo to Cefalù
Arrive Palermo at around midday. Drive to Cefalù for sunset. This popular holiday resort, wedged between a dramatic mountain peak and sweeping stretch of sand, has the lot: a great beach; a modern town with good shops and services; a truly lovely historic centre with a grandiose Norman cathedral; and winding medieval streets lined with restaurants, boutiques and small, intriguing shops.
O/N Hotel Mediteraneo, Cefalù (D)
Day 2: Friday, April 7 – Cefalù
Photography in and around Cefalù. Climb up the Roccaforte for expansive views above this medieval town.
O/N Hotel Mediteraneo, Cefalù (B,L, D)
Day 3: Saturday, April 8 – Stromboli – Cefalù to Stromboli
Photography in and around Cefalù. Drive to Milazzo, 21/2 hour ferry ride to Stromboli. Photograph the volcano in the evening.
Stromboli’s perfect triangle of a volcano juts dramatically out of the sea. It is the only island whose smoldering cone is permanently active, thus attracting experts and amateurs alike, like moths to a massive flame. Volcanic activity has scarred and blackened one side of the island, while the eastern side is untamed, ruggedly green and dotted with low-rise whitewashed houses. A youngster among the Aeolians, Stromboli was formed a mere 40,000 years ago and its gases continue to send up an almost constant spray of liquid magma.
O/N Hotel Ossidiana, Stromboli (B, L, D)
Day 4: Sunday, April 9 – Stromboli
Photography on Stromboli. Palm Sunday processions.
O/N Hotel Ossidiana, Stromboli (B, L, D)
Day 5: Monday, April 10 – Stromboli to Taormina
After our ferry ride from Stromboli we drive to Taormina.
On our way we will stop off at Castiglione di Sicilia. Founded by refugees from Naxos in 496 BC, Castiglione di Sicilia was destroyed by the troops of Syracusan tyrant Dionysius I. It was successively ruled by the Roman, the Byzantine, the Norman and the Swabians. During the Middle Age, it was a feudal fiefdom belonging to Roger of Lauria.
A number of relics scattered throughout its territory testify to its ancient past. Among these are the ruins of a Greek acropolis, of a small Byzantine temple, of a Saracen tower and of a Norman castle.
O/N Hotel Isabella, Taormina (B, L, D)
Day 6: Tuesday, April 11 – Taormina
Spectacularly located on a terrace of Monte Tauro with views westwards to Mt Etna, Taormina is a beautiful small town, reminiscent of Capri or an Amalfi coastal resort. Over the centuries, Taormina has seduced an exhaustive line of writers and artists, aristocrats and royalty, and these days it is host to a summer arts festival that packs the town with international visitors.
Perched on its eyrie, Taormina is sophisticated, chic and comfortably cushioned by some serious wealth – very far removed from the banal economic realities of other Sicilian towns. But the charm is not manufactured: the capital of Byzantine Sicily in the 9th century, Taormina is an almost perfectly preserved medieval town, with a wealth of photographic opportunities as you explore the narrow streets.
O/N Hotel Isabella, Taormina (B, L, D)
Day 7: Wednesday, April 12 – Taormina
Blue hour in Taormina. Drive to the nearby Alcantara Gorges, a series of deep incisions in the cliffs around the Alcantara River. Ancient volcanic eruptions created the gorges and now the area is peppered with deep canyons, caves and rock pools that beg to be explored.
O/N Hotel Isabella, Taormina (B, L, D)
Day 8: Thursday, April 13 – Taormina to Enna
After sunrise and breakfast we will head towards Enna taking in views of hilltops towns such as Castiglione di Sicilia and Paternò, always in the shadow of Mt Etna. Enna, the highest provincial capital in Sicily, was, in antiquity, first Greek, then Carthaginian, and finally Roman. It remained a Byzantine stronghold in the face of Arab invasions, and later became a seat of power for the Hohenstaufens, as two of the grandest fortresses in Sicily, later altered by the Spanish, remain as testament. Enna is famed for its Easter Celebrations, and on arrival, we will (scout) explore the medieval streets and plan our strategy for the next day's Easter procession.
O/N Hotel Sicilia Enna (B, L, D)
Day 9: Friday, April 14 – Easter Procession at Enna
Holy Week celebrations in Enna begin on Palm Sunday with the procession of the Confraternities from their own churches to the Cathedral accompanied by the town band playing funeral marches. From Palm Sunday to Holy Wednesday the fifteen Confraternities, in their characteristic Spanish costumes, spend an hour in adoration of the Eucharist displayed on the main altar in the Cathedral.
On Good Friday at 5PM the Society of the Passion of Christ leaves its church and, joined in via Roma by all the other Confraternities, makes its way to the Chiesa dell'Addolorata.
From here Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows is carried in procession to the Cathedral where the Urn of the Dead Christ awaits. The solemn procession which begins at 7 p.m. is led by thousands of hooded brethren wearing capes of different colours.
At the rear of the procession, beneath a canopy, is a cross containing a reliquary of the crown of thorns followed by the Urn of the Dead Christ and the statue of Our Lady Of Sorrows which are slowly carried on the bearers' shoulders as far as the cemetery. The torchlit procession then passes once again through the town on its return to the Cathedral.
On Easter Sunday the Risen Christ and Our Lady are reunited in the Cathedral square; on Low Sunday the two simulacra are returned to their respective churches.
O/N Hotel Sicilia Enna (B, L, D)
Day 10: Saturday, April 15 – Enna to Centuripe
Drive to Centuripe. Perched on a hill, the views of Etna are stunning. With any luck we will have a clear day and a snow-capped peak.
O/N Hotel Kentopark, Centuripe (B, L, D)
Day 11: Sunday, April 16 – Centuripe to Petralia Soprana
Leaving Centuripe we will drive to the quaint town of Adrano where we will watch the Diavolazzi di Pasqua. This religious folk drama is held in there town square, Piazza Umberto 1, where a stage is built with Hell on one side and Heaven on the other. The script is attributed to a priest of the 18th century from the town of Adrano: Death is overcome by the good of Humanity; Lucifer vents his rage but the Archangel Michael keeps guard. The Diavolata symbolises the triumph of Good over Evil.
Lunch there, then to Petralia Soprana
O/N Hotel Residenza Petra, Petralia Soprana (B, L, D)
Day 12: Monday, April 17 – Petralia Soprana to Palermo
We will spend the morning in the picturesque hill town of Petralia Soprana where we will be able to photograph the surrounding landscape from several elevated viewpoints. After lunch we drive to Palermo where we will have our final dinner and photograph the city skyline of Baroque churches and medieval rooftops from the roof of our hotel.
O/N Hotel Ambasciatori, Palermo (B, L, D)
Day 13: Tuesday, April 18
With an early morning start, we head back to the airport for your connections back home
Good Friday Procession
From the August 1995 issue of National Geographic Magazine
Enna is an ancient citadel city of 29,000 built on the summit of a 3,200-foot (975 meters) mountain in the center of the island. The modern highway joining the two main cities of Catania and Palermo runs past just below, and from either direction Enna rises on the horizon like a mythical kingdom—“Our happy highland,” the Ennese call it. No delinquency, no slums, no-Mafia? “Well, much less than in other places,” one man allowed.
Here, as in many towns throughout Sicily, the Holy Week ceremonies preceding Easter are rich and complex. The rituals are religious, certainly, but they seem to have almost equal importance as a community tradition. In Enna, everyone joins in the array of processions and dramas that commemorate the death and resurrection of Christ.
On Good Friday, Luigi Barbarino, 38, closes his café-bar to shoulder the Urn of the Dead Christ. As a member of the confraternity of San Salvatore, he is one of 60 men who carry this glass coffin holding a wooden statue of the crucified Jesus.
Luigi was a boy when he joined his father’s confraternity in 1966; three years ago he was elected a bearer. This is a great honor, as it is for the 80 men of another confraternity who carry the six-foot (183 centimeters)-tall statue of the Madonna of Sorrows. Joining the procession are 15 other confraternities, with nearly 3,000 men and boys. “We are very attached to our traditions,” Luigi said.
Enna’s ritual, a legacy of 17th-century Spanish rule, begins at 5PM. The air is cool and the shadows are lengthening. The opulent Urn of Christ, to my Protestant American eyes, looks a bit gaudy. But as the men muscle the coffin into a narrow stone street and a funeral dirge swells from an accompanying brass band, I find myself unexpectedly blinking back tears. Luigi and his fellow bearers are not ashamed of theirs. “Christ’s death for us is a very important moment,” he tells me later. “Carrying his coffin, we express our pain.”
All of Enna lines the route or hangs from balconies as the confraternities in a rainbow of capes and white hoods begin the five-hour march through town to the cemetery, then back to the 14th-century cathedral. With them walk young girls dressed as nuns or angels, giving thanks to Mary for a blessing or praying for one.
As darkness falls, the temperature drops also, into the 40s (4-10ºC). The hooded men light their torches — battery-powered colored lanterns these days instead of flames. (On the windy plateau their sleeves too often caught fire.) When the procession climbs the hill back to town, it is to the sound of the beat from a lone snare drum. “All we can hear are whispers and the sound of marching feet,” says Luigi. I can hear people making plans for dinner, the stray car alarm blaring, and pocket cellular phones ringing. I’m waiting for them in a street I hoped would be full of mysterious medieval gloom, but it is bright with the glare from spotlights jury-rigged onto balconies. “But it’s nice that they do that,” a bystander comments. “People can get better shots with their video cameras.”
Dates: April 6 -18, 2017
See also Sicily Grand Tour Part 2
Single Supplement: $850 if available
Maximum Group Size 6
FULL – WAITING LIST
Jeremy Woodhouse with local guide Antonino Lombardo. This trip is limited to 6 participants
Cost does not Include
Travel details from Rome to Palermo
If you are arriving in Sicily from Rome in order to join the tour in Palermo these are the flight times that you should plan for:
Alitalia April 6 Rome - Palermo AZ 1779 leaves 12:30PM - arrives 13:40
Alitalia April 18 Palermo - Rome AZ 1774 leaves 07:00AM - arrives 08:10
These flights are chosen so that, bearing in mind that most people will be flying in from North America, and those flights usually arrive around 08:00AM, there is enough time to collect your luggage, which can be slow in Rome!
The outbound flight plan means that we will all arrive in Palermo together; the car will be collected and we will leave for Cefalú at around 14:30PM. We will meet up at the departure gate in Rome, but for anyone who may have arrived in Sicily earlier, you will need to get to the airport by 13:45PM and we will meet you in the arrivals area of Palermo airport. Recognition should be straightforward, either from prior travel or buckling under too much camera gear
The return flight has been selected so that we arrive in Rome in time for North American connections to work easily. They are normally 11:00AM onwards, so that an arrival at 08.10AM gives some leeway for luggage collection and flight connections. Sorry about the early start – no way around it if N. Americans want to make their connections.