This exotic trip combines the treasures and exquisite food of Sicily with the architectural gems and amazing markets of Istanbul, on this exciting cultural and culinary tour of two continents. We'll first explore Byzantine Palermo, then on to the glittering mosaics in Monreale, and enjoy walking hidden alleyways to taste Palermo's delicious street food, topped off with the city's best cannoli. In the lofty hills of Sicily, we'll revel in the stunning Roman mosaics at Piazza Armerina, before heading to the lively city of Catania in the shadow of the Mt. Etna volcano. Board a Turkish Airlines direct flight to Istanbul (2 hrs.) and enter into a different world of mosques, Greek Orthodox churches, Byzantine sites, and bazaars where east meets west in a jumble of colors and scents that manage to mingle in perfect harmony. See Istanbul's classic sites such as the Blue Mosque and St. Sophia, but also visit delightful undiscovered neighborhoods, and joyous perfumed markets filled with colorful produce and exotic spices on market tours with a private guide. This unique cultural and culinary tour in Sicily and Istanbul combines the wonders of Two Continents that will remain with you forever.
|•||Gaze in awe at the glittering gold mosaics in Palermo and thrill to the decadent Roman mosaics at Piazza Armerina, before dining in the shadow of a smoking volcano|
|•||Taste Palermo's street food with a local guide and dare to try the spleen sandwich, and hop over to Asia to eat your way through Istanbul's market in Kadikoy|
|•||Imagine life in a harem in the lavish Topkapi Palace, and get soaped and scrubbed by an enthusiastic attendant in a steamy Turkish hamam|
|•||Indulge in an array of antipasto in Sicily and meze in Istanbul, and discover a 1000 ways to prepare eggplant|
|•||Haggle in the Grand Bazaar and realize that you really do need a Turkish carpet to go with the ceramic dishes you bargained for|
Meet at our 4-star Palermo hotel in the morning. Full day guided walking tour of Palermo, including the dazzling mosaics of the cathedral of Monreale, similar to the smaller scale mosaics in the Chora church of Istanbul. In particular, we will trace the remaining Byzantine influences in Palermo, as well as its various dynasties that changed from Christian to Muslim, and back to Christian. Palermo has a little bit of everything, from 8th century BC Phoenician walls to 18th century Baroque palaces, and we’ll immerse ourselves in its diverse history. Enjoy dinner in an excellent ristorante.
|Monreale Cathedral Mosaics|
The colorful markets and traditional street food of Palermo are the focus today, with a guided culinary tour into the city’s backstreets with stops for numerous tastings, including pannelle chick pea fritters to the brave-hearted pane ca meusa, a stewed spleen sandwich, or opt for the city’s best cannoli. Time permitting, a visit to the lush and tranquil Botanic gardens is recommended to decompress from the day’s activities.
|Roman Mosaics in Piazza Armerina|
We cross the island of Sicily, winding through the Madonie mountains and past the hilltop town of Enna to Piazza Armerina, where the lavish Roman Villa di Casale will be our destination. Here room after room of floor mosaics decorate this sprawling villa, giving us a rare glimpse into the life of the ancient Romans. After lunch, we’ll continue across the island to the city of Catania, and join the passeggiata to dinner.
Morning walk through the historic center of Catania and the raucous fish market. Transfer to the Catania airport for 2 hr. Turkish Airlines flight to Istanbul (booked separately,) and transfer to the delightful Galata neighborhood of Istanbul. Check in to 4-star hotel and dinner in Istanbul, where we begin with a variety of meze, appetizers to be shared at the table.
Istanbul is a teeming city of 17 million people spread out over 100 kilometers. Our focus will be on the large core of neighborhoods in the city center, as well as crossing the Bosphorus to the Asian side of the city. Though primarily of Muslim religion with over 2000 mosques, Istanbul hosts people of all faiths and walks of life who co-exist in peaceful harmony – the sound of church bells in Sicily will be replaced by the muezzin’s call to prayer in Istanbul. You’ll find that English is the second language, locals are helpful and friendly, and public transport is very efficient. The city is made up of many distinct neighborhoods, and we will visit some of our favorites, including major sights but also exploring very much off the beaten track, where you enter another cultural world, and delectable culinary discoveries are around every corner. Expect to walk 5-12 km (3-8 miles) daily, with some short hills.
|Mosque in Istanbul|
Our first full day in Istanbul will center on the historic Sultanahmet area, where we’ll visit the Blue Mosque, so-called because of its sumptuous decoration of ceramic tiles painted in tones of blue – here we will also learn about the foundation and rituals of Islam, which are based on peace and generosity to those less fortunate (nothing at all to do with terrorism!) Visit the Topkapi Palace, once the opulent home of the Sultan and his harem, as well as the mystical Roman water cistern with its carved columns and soaring architecture that have given it the name of “Basilica” Cistern. Last but not least is the Santa Sophia museum, formerly a church and a mosque, with its grand cupola considered to be the apex of Byzantine architecture.
Today we’ll explore completely different hidden neighborhoods (Fatih, Balat and Fener), where only 1% of tourists venture, and where English is rarely spoken. Here you will find creaky wooden houses, Orthodox Greek churches next to grand Mosques, women covered head to toe in black, the old Maltese quarter where butchers, bakers, and spice sellers hawk their wares in the shadow of a Roman aqueduct, and after a lunch in a tiny tavern frequented by locals, we’ll end at the lovely Chora Christian church, with its evocative mosaics and frescoes.
The culture of food is extremely developed in Istanbul, and we’ll be guided through a labyrinth of streets on a culinary tour sampling the best local delicacies including an astonishing variety of olives. Take a ferry across the Bosphorus from Europe to Asia, and explore the wonderfully colorful market with an astonishing variety of goods, from salted grape leaves to spicy cheese wrapped in sheepskin. We’ll eat our way through the market, ending this culinary adventure with ethereal sweets.
This morning will be free for shopping in boutiques or perusing the Grand Bazaar where tiny shops selling handwoven towels, jewelry, lamps, ceramics, and cashmere and silk scarves are interspersed with many carpet dealers. Don’t forget to bargain, it’s part of the game! Or you may prefer to relax in a hamam, a traditional Turkish bath, where you can be scrubbed and massaged until your skin glows. Transfer to Istanbul airport for 2 ½ hr. flight to Rome. Arrivederci! (You may choose to overnight at a Rome airport hotel if you have a flight the next morning, or head into the city if you will be spending time in Rome.)
Includes: 7 nights in double accommodation in 4-star hotels, daily buffet breakfast, 6 lunches, 5 dinners, wine with meals in Sicily and final night in Istanbul, non-alcoholic beverages other meals in Istanbul, transport by private vehicle in Sicily, airport transfers in Catania and Istanbul, transport within Istanbul by tram, bus, and ferry, full-day private guide in Palermo, full-day private guide in Istanbul, guided culinary tour and tastings in Palermo and Istanbul, entrance fees to included sites in Sicily and Istanbul, guided visits to historical sites and neighborhoods for 2 days in Istanbul, services of Italian Connection tour leader for entire tour. Does not include, guide gratuities, flights and expenses of a personal nature. (Direct flights on Turkish Airlines fare from Catania to Istanbul and Istanbul to Rome is currently a total of approximately $255.)