Sicily: Extension to the Sicily & Malta Cruise Aboard the Sea Cloud May 11—18, 2017

Posted by Barry Lyon

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Barry Lyon

Barry Lyon's passion for the outdoors and birding has its roots in his childhood in southern California. During his teenage years, he attended several VENT/ABA youth birdin...

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The impetus for a Sicily Extension to our cruise, Sicily & Malta aboard the Sea Cloud, came from two important facts: first, Sicily boasts innumerable amazing places and landscapes that we were unable to include in the cruise program; and second, a land-based tour would include a more thorough natural history experience.

When designing this program, we knew that we should concentrate on eastern Sicily. This part of the island holds Sicily’s best wetland and montane habitats and some of its most impressive landscapes. Diversity is the key here, and it is possible to travel from coastal lowlands to above treeline in a short while, witnessing changes in plant life, bird life, and geology. It is this compelling mix of natural history to which we directed our pursuits for the first three full days of the trip. Shifting gears at the midway point, history and culture took on added significance as we worked our way from Catania to Palermo via Taormina and Cefalú.

Traveling with local guide extraordinaire, Andrea Corso, we spent three wonderful days doing nothing but natural history. Our day along the coast provided excellent birding from start to finish. Oasi Di Vendicari got us going with a flourish of shorebirds and gulls, while a day-ending trip to Pantanos Di Cuba and Longirini was an unexpected delight, not least of which was the opportunity to spend time in the field with Roland Tischbier, a German businessman who has dedicated his life to the protection of birds in southeastern Europe. A day inland included a magical morning at Reserva Cava Grande, highlighted by Spectacled Warbler, Woodchat Shrikes, Wood Larks, Cirl and Corn buntings, Rock Petronia, profusions of wildflowers, and fascinating reptiles. Our third day in the field will be fondly remembered as the day we traveled to Mount Etna, Europe’s highest and most active volcano. On a stunningly beautiful spring day we were treated to striking volcanic features, fields of wildflowers, montane forests, and the snow-capped mountain itself. Sensually, this day was perhaps the most beautiful of the entire trip.

From Ortygia the show went north. En route to Taormina, a walking tour of Catania took us through the city’s winding open-air market for a totally wonderful experience. In Taormina we soon discovered why this place is so beloved. Quaint, inviting, and beautiful are appropriate superlatives to describe Taormina, but world-class vistas of Naxos Bay and Mount Etna, and a Greco-Roman amphitheater were simply stunning. Topping off the experience was a stay at the Hotel Grand Timeo, a magnificent palace of a hotel.

Our adventure concluded in Palermo with a grand finale tour of the Sicilian capital and adjoining Monreale. It was here, nearly a thousand years ago under the Norman kings Roger II, William II, and Frederick II, that artistic expression reached new heights, as demonstrated by the incredible mosaics, gilding, and other ornamentation of the Capella Palatina, Cathedral of Monreale, Cathedral of Palermo, and La Martorana.