VENTflash #206: Sicily & Malta Aboard the Sea Cloud May 02—11, 2017

Posted by Victor Emanuel

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Victor Emanuel

Victor Emanuel started birding in Texas 68 years ago at the age of eight. His travels have taken him to all the continents, with his areas of concentration being Texas, Ari...

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Dear friends,

For many, the opportunity to travel aboard the historic sailing ship, Sea Cloud, is the thrill of a lifetime. Unique in her all-wood construction and spectacular under sail, this legendary ship has no peer. For years, it had been a dream of mine to charter the Sea Cloud exclusively for VENT travelers for a Mediterranean cruise that emphasized history and nature—two of my favorite things. That dream became a reality in the autumn of 2005 when we reserved the entire ship for a cruise from Athens to Istanbul. That first trip was unforgettable, so much so in fact that I resolved that VENT would charter the ship as often as we could. In ensuing years we have operated two more Sea Cloud trips in Greece and four trips to the Lesser Antilles in the Caribbean. Every one of these trips has been marvelous.

Sea Cloud

Sea Cloud — Photo: Courtesy Sea Cloud Cruises

I am thrilled to announce that VENT’s next Sea Cloud adventure will again be in the Mediterranean region, a charter cruise to Sicily and Malta, May 2-11, 2017. This voyage, arranged exclusively for VENT travelers, offers a varied travel experience emphasizing the history, culture, and nature of this dynamic region. I am certain that this program’s multi-themed approach makes it an ideal choice both for travelers whose primary interest lies in history, culture, and sightseeing, and for birders and naturalists who possess an interest in history.

VENT’s only other time in Sicily occurred in 2007 when we operated a trip aboard another vessel. I am especially excited about this trip, not only because we’ll be returning to Sicily, but because we’ll be doing it aboard the Sea Cloud. If you have not yet made your spring travel plans, if you’ve ever wanted to visit Sicily and Malta, or if you’ve ever wanted to travel aboard the Sea Cloud, I am certain that you will be delighted with this trip and its many attractions. Among them:

The Program:
Our exciting itinerary includes a day on Malta and a partial circumnavigation of Sicily. Our voyage begins in beautiful Valletta, the mainly Baroque capital of Malta and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. From Valletta, we’ll cruise to the western edge of Sicily before tracing a route along the south coast en route to Syracuse on the eastern side of the island. We’ll call at several important ports including Trapani, Marsala, Porto Empedocle, and Syracuse. Land excursions to some of the finest Greco-Roman archaeological sites surviving from antiquity include Segesta, home to a remarkably intact Doric temple and Greek theater; Selinunte and its stately Temple of Hera; Agrigento and its golden-brown temples of Juno and Concordia; and Syracuse, featuring the Temple of Apollo and the famed Greco-Roman theater. Additionally, in Trapani we’ll ride a gondola to the top of a small mountain where sits a centuries-old village featuring a medieval castle, narrow winding streets, and massive vistas onto the plains of Trapani below.

Temple of Segesta, Sicily

Temple of Segesta, Sicily— Photo: luigi nifosi/shutterstock

The History:
Situated at an ancient crossroads of Mediterranean civilization, Sicily and Malta offer a grand sweep of historical perspective dating to Neolithic times. Through the millennia, some of history’s greatest powers have left their marks here including the Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans, Arabs, Normans, Ottomans, and Hapsburgs. We will delve into the complex past of Malta and Sicily. In Malta, our tour of the capital, Valletta, will recall one of history’s greatest battles, the Ottoman siege of 1565 that immortalized the Order of the Knights of St. John, who defeated the oncoming Turks. In Sicily, much of our attention will be directed to the island’s Classical past, when the Greeks trained their artistic and engineering prowess to the construction of a series of beautiful temples.

The Culture:
During our travels we’ll receive exposure to a variety of art forms, such as Arabic, Norman, and Baroque architecture, and spectacularly ornamented medieval churches and cathedrals. Along the coast we’ll travel past old fishing villages, while inland we’ll travel through verdant pastoral lands cultivated with wheat, olives, and grapes.

The Birding:
Early May is a lovely time of the year to travel in Sicily and Malta, particularly for the naturalist inclined among us, with mild temperatures, wildflowers in bloom, and birds on the move. Visits to two important nature preserves—Reserva Delle Saline and Oasi di Vendicari—promise an excellent array of waterbirds and landbirds. Among the species we’ll seek are a range of regional specialties and passage migrants including Levantine Shearwater, Eurasian Spoonbill, Purple Heron, Pied Avocet, Black-tailed Godwit, Audouin’s and Slender-billed gulls, European Bee-eater, European Roller, Pallid Swift, Sardinian Warbler, Woodchat Shrike, Spotless Starling, Italian Sparrow, and Corn Bunting in addition to other resident birds.

Eurasian Spoonbill

Eurasian Spoonbill — Photo: Brian Gibbons

The Ship:
Of course, for many people, the opportunity to travel aboard the legendary Sea Cloud is the primary allure. With a history as rich as its bearing is elegant, the ship sets the standard by which all other sailing vessels are measured. All cabins are immaculately appointed and contain private facilities. Public areas include a lounge, viewing deck, Lido deck, and bar. High quality cuisine is served in an elegant dining room. Traveling aboard the lovely Sea Cloud is the best way to visit these islands, as your cabin will be your home for a week regardless of the ship’s positioning. On most mornings we will disembark at a different site in advance of our shore excursions. We will return to the ship at midday for a beautiful buffet lunch served on the Lido deck where dining is al fresco, enjoying the delightful climate. On most afternoons the ship will travel to a different site, affording relaxing time aboard as Sea Cloud cruises just offshore. On one afternoon there will be a presentation about the Sea Cloud’s remarkable history followed by an evening champagne reception and tour of the “historic rooms,” the ten cabins built by E.F. Hutton and Marjorie Merriweather Post as part of the ship’s original design plan. With her sails up, the Sea Cloud is a breathtaking sight never to be forgotten.

The Leaders:
Joining me as leaders on this voyage are longtime VENT leader, Barry Lyon, who possesses years of experience leading trips aboard the Sea Cloud; Larry Wolff, the Silver Professor of European History at New York University and Director of the NYU Center for European and Mediterranean Studies; and Peter Zika, a superb field biologist and botanist at the herbarium of the University of Washington. Professor Wolff will be accompanied by his wife, Perri Klass, an honored Professor of Journalism and Pediatrics at New York University. Larry joined the VENT staff for our last Sicily cruise, back in 2007, while Peter has accompanied numerous Sea Cloud voyages to Greece and the Lesser Antilles. Both of these men are superb speakers, and their shipboard presentations and “in the field” interpretation will provide the program added girth while enhancing your overall enjoyment of the trip.

Pre- and Post-cruise Extensions:

Mt. Etna and Ruins of Greco-Roman Theater, Taormina, Sicily

Mt. Etna and Ruins of Greco-Roman Theater, Taormina, Sicily— Photo: Circumnavigation/shutterstock

For those who want to experience more of Malta and Sicily, land-based Birds & History tours will be offered as optional pre- and post-cruise extensions. Our Malta Pre-trip combines birding and sightseeing in a variety of island-wide locations including the Three Cities region on Grand Harbor, the medieval fortress of Mdina, the Neolithic site of Hagar Qim, and the wetlands of Ghadira Nature Reserve. Our Sicily Extension will spend time in the island capital of Palermo, travel to the beautiful cliff-side town of Taormina, and go birding on the volcanic slopes of Mt. Etna, Europe’s highest volcano. If at all possible, I urge you to join one or both of these extensions.

Early May is a delightful time to visit Sicily and Malta. The weather should be beautiful, the crowds and heat of summer will not yet have arrived, and the scenery will be at its peak. We expect this trip to fill up quickly! For more information on this trip or to register, please visit our website or contact Greg Lopez or Patrick Swaggerty at the VENT office via email (greg@ventbird.com; patrick@ventbird.com) or phone: 800-328-8368.

Sicily & Malta: History, Culture & Nature Aboard the Sea Cloud, May 2-11, 2017 with Victor Emanuel, Barry Lyon, Larry Wolff, and Peter Zika; cabins start at $8,995 in double occupancy from Valletta, Malta.

Malta Pre-trip, April 29-May 3, 2017 with Victor Emanuel, Barry Lyon, and Peter Zika; $2,295 in double occupancy from Valletta, Malta.

Sicily Extension, May 11-18, 2017 with Victor Emanuel and Barry Lyon; $4,995 in double occupancy from Catania, Sicily.

I would be delighted to see you on this marvelous voyage!

Best wishes,

Victor Emanuel