Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea and has a population of approximately five million.
Our visit will be in the early spring to take advantage of the good temperatures at that time of year (any later and it would be too hot).
Sicily has seen a variety of different cultures, including the original Italic people, the Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Saracens, Normans, Spaniards, French, each contributing to the island’s culture, particularly in the areas of cuisine and architecture.
Our tour of Sicily travels over currently active railway line on the island, both standard and narrow gauge and with possibility to ride the tramway system in Messina and Palermo and visit some railway museums. Unfortunately, several sections of various lines are temporarily closed for engineering work or have been closed to public service, a situation which is quite fluid and subject to change. In addition, the winter timetable has brought many changes with more services replaced by buses on certain lines. As such, our agenda is dictated by the timetable in force.
Tour Managers: Angelina assisted by John Copsey
Monday, 3rd April (D) We fly out from London Gatwick at 11.45 with Easyjet for our direct flight to Catania. Upon arrival (15.55) we will transfer by tour coach to Palermo centrally located 4-star hotel with our welcome dinner. Flights may also be available from other UK airports.
Tuesday, 4th April (B) There are two different programmes to choose from:
For the cultural option, we board our tour coach for a guided visit of Palermo in the morning and then Mondello beach and Monreale in the afternoon. Palermo millenary history has given it a great artistic and architectural heritage ranging from the remains of the Punic walls to the Art Nouveau villas, moving from residences in Arab-Norman style, with Baroque churches and Neoclassical theatres. Mondello beach is a famous seaside and very crowded in the summer, but fortunately not in April, with its liberty style villas and a wonderful landscape around. The Cathedral of Monreale, dedicated to Santa Maria Nuova, was built in 1174 and is one of the greatest extant examples of Norman architecture. It is a national monument of Italy and one of the most important attractions of Sicily.
Rail enthusiasts take FS Trenitalia service trains on a return to Messina, covering both the new faster, direct line between Barcellona and Patti on an InterCity service (planned departure 9.55) and returning via the old line via Falcone on local, Regional services. Messina is located near the northeast corner of Sicily, at the Strait of Messina, just opposite Villa San Giovanni on the Mainland. We should have time in Messina to visit some of the 7.7 km long light rail system (Tranvia di Messina), opened in 2003 and crossing the central railway station near the city centre and harbour area, and have time to visit the local FS depot. Arrival in Palermo should be at 20.00.
Wednesday, 5th April (B)
Today, we have the opportunity to explore the western side of Sicily as we all travel by bus to Trapani, stopping on the way in Segesta to visit the Greek Temple, the best preserved in Sicily, and in Erice, a famous touristic place, the old town located on a 750 metre hill. Trapani sits on a low-lying promontory jutting out into the Mediterranean Sea in front of the Egadi Islands. Much of Trapani’s economy still depends on the sea, fishing and canning are the main local industries. The nearby coast is lined with numerous salt-pans. Expensive coral is also an important export as is Marsala wine and we will have the chance to test good wines near where they are produced.
For railway enthusiasts there is the possibility in the morning to travel by train from Palermo Centrale to Palermo Giachery. From Trapani all the group will catch the 4 o’clock train till the last station on service on the line towards Palermo, Piraineto, where our bus will get to the hotel arriving there at about 8 p.m.
Thursday, 6th April (B)
Today, the whole group takes an FS Trenitalia service train from Palermo Centrale at 08.38 to Agrigento, located two hours away, on the southern coast of the island. For the culture option, we will have a guided visit to the Valley of the Temples, one of the most outstanding examples of Greater Greece art and architecture, being one of the main attractions of Sicily as well as a national monument of Italy. The area was included in the Unesco Heritage Site list in 1997 and the valley includes remains of seven temples, all in Doric style.
For rail enthusiasts, we board a special FS train at Agrigento Centrale, destined for a return trip over the branch from Agrigento Bassa to Porto Empedocle Succursale (last mile and terminal station reopened in 2016 after 38 years), a line with no regular passenger service. A stop in Porto Empedocle Centrale is scheduled where you can even move on a railway bike on the rails. Using FS service train, the whole group returns to Palermo, where there is the possibility to travel on the new Palermo tramway lines before returning to the hotel.
Friday, 7th April (B) This morning we move by train across Sicily from the Tyrrhenian Sea to the Ionian Sea through the mountainous interior of the island. Departing Palermo at 09.33, we travel on the line through Roccapalumba, Xirbi and Enna to arrive in Catania in time for lunch at 12.20, and we will stay in a centrally located 4-star hotel near the sea for the next 3 nights. Catania is located on the east coast of the island, at the foot of the active Etna Volcano. Catania has had a long and eventful history, having been founded in the 8th century BC. In the 14th century and the Renaissance, Catania was one of Italy’s most important and flourishing cultural, artistic and political centres, including the opening in 1434 of the first university in Sicily. Today, Catania is one of the main economic, tourist and educational centres in the island, being an important hub of the technological industry, thus gaining the nickname of the “European Silicon Valley”. In the afternoon, we have the opportunity to go to the famed Taormina for a guided visit of the city and the famous Greek theatre. For railway fans in the afternoon there is a scheduled train to Messina, a short visit to Messina Marittima Ferry station, and return to Catania with a regional train.
Saturday, 8th April (B) Our cultural option will take a charter coach for a guided visit of Siracusa, which is located in the southeastern corner of the island of Sicily on the Ionian Sea. The city is notable for its rich Greek history, amphitheatres, architecture and as the birthplace of the pre-eminent mathematician and engineer Archimedes. This 2,700-year-old city played a key role in ancient times, when it was one of the major powers of the Mediterranean world. Before returning to Catania there will be a stop in Caltagirone to see the famous ceramic flight of steps.
As an alternative we can board our FCE special train, using even 1937 Fiat railcar Aln 56, from Catania to Riposto. The Ferrovia Circumetnea (FCE) is a 950 mm (3 ft 1 in) narrow-gauge railway line constructed between 1889 and 1895 and now is the only one remaining of the narrow gauge network. As the name suggests, the line (110 km in length) follows a route which almost encircles the Etna Volcano. From its terminal in Catania the line starts off in a westward direction and loops around Etna in a clockwise manner, eventually reaching its other terminal at the seaside town of Riposto, approximately 28 km to the North-East of Catania. The original terminal was at Catania Porto, although Catania Borgo (the mainline station) was the last stop for the trains. At the end of 2016 a new section of FCE underground was opened: the section from Catania Stesicoro (town center) converted, as the other tracks, to standard gauge.
After a visit at FCE Borgo depot and workshop, we get on our special train leaving Catania at 8.40, stop at Bronte to see the FCE museum and arrive in Randazzo to have lunch. We will restart there and get off at Giarre FCE station where by FS regional train we will close the circle arriving in Catania Cle; tube fans may travel on FCE underground making a complete tour arriving at Galatea station, not too far from the hotel.
Sunday, 9th April (B, D) Our charter bus takes us to visit the Roman Villa del Casale, famous for its splendid mosaics, located near the town of Piazza Armerina. After a lunchtime break in Piazza Armerina itself, our coach goes to Enna, where we can visit the Castello di Lombardia, and on the way back to Catania there is a stop at Villarosa station, in order to see the collected railway items, and to visit the Folk Museum and Villapriolo village museum. Farewell group dinner.
Monday, 10th April (B) In the morning there is the possibility for a guided visit of Catania (tourist open bus tour) or a visit to the FS Catania depot. In the early afternoon coach transfer to Catania Airport from where we take the flight back to London Gatwick. You can, if you wish stay on it Catania for a few more days. Flights to Gatwick are daily. There are also a direct flights to Manchester and Luton.
Railway Lines on Sicily
Sicily has a large network of lines and we cannot cover them all in a week. We therefore do not travel on these lines:
- Catania-Siracusa-Gela-Canicattì-Caltanissetta Xirbi
There are few trains on these lines and no service on Sunday. If you want to travel on these lines you need to extend your stay by two extra nights in Catania.
The other two railways lines are no longer operating:
- Alcamo Diramazione-Segesta-Trapani
- Palermo Notarbartolo-Piraineto