Palermo is the 5th biggest city in Italy with a population that sits around 1 million people, depending upon how you count it.  It has passed through many hands over the centuries but the one consistent thing was that when the conquerors arrived, they built astonishingly beautiful monuments on a truly massive scale to attempt to show their predecessors who was now in charge.  So we have two magnificent cathedrals that match any in the world.  The royal palaces and state buildings simply shout out authority and power.  And the opera house can hold its own against anything that any city puts up against it. 

But the city likes to keep its secrets and the tiny lanes and shady squares are often hidden from outsiders’ view.  In contrast to the public displays of wealth, the private citizens of Palermo are very discreet, hiding their fortunes behind crumbling facades while inside the riches and beauty boggle the mind. 

This private Palermo, this hidden Palermo is what we will do our best to show you on the pre-trip.  We’ll get beyond the typical tourist sites and in the company of an expert local art historian guide, this magnificent city will reveal itself. 

On our final evening at the Palazzo Ugo with the Baron and Baroness Camerata, we will get a very insider look at this private world.  And eat and drink well with the aristocracy!

Hope you can join us on this special pre-trip journey in one of the world’s most fascinating cities.

tuesday oct 29
Arrivals in to palermo



Arrivals into Palermo over the course of the day. 
The airport is a 40-minute taxi ride. 

Palermo is the capital of Sicily located on the Gulf of Palermo in the Tyrrhenian Sea.  Its story stretches back almost 3,000 years and the city is noted for its history, culture, architecture and gastronomy.  The city was founded in 734 BC by the Phoenicians, then became a possession of Carthage, before becoming part of the Roman Empire and eventually part of the Byzantine Empire for over a thousand years. From 831 to 1072 the city was under Arab rule but was then reconquered by the Normans and held until 1816 when it became the capital of the Kingdom of Sicily.  Visitors are attracted to the city for the beautiful Mediterranean weather and the multitude of Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque churches and palaces as well as its colorful fruit, vegetable and fish markets - Vucciria, Ballarò and Capo – throughout the Old Town.

Check into our 4-star Grand Hotel Piazza Borsa.  Every effort will be made to have the rooms ready for when you arrive but official check-in time is 3:00 pm.  If you want to guarantee early check-in, the best thing to do is to reserve the night before.

The 4-star luxury Grand Hotel Piazza Borsa occupies a beautiful 19th-century Classicism building in the absolute heart of the city.  The rooms are large, there is a spa and trendy bar.  Restaurants and cafés are nearby everywhere. 

4:00 pm.  We meet and immediately head out on foot with a talented art historian as our guide. Our fist stop will be the Oratorio dell’Immacolatella.

Also known as The Oratory of San Lorenzo it is a Baroque oratory located near the Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi, in the quarter of the Kalsa, within the historic center of Palermo. The oratory was founded in the late 16th century and the building was given to the Conventual Franciscans in order to spread the cult of the saints Francis and Lawrence. In 1699, Giacomo Serpotta created a sumptuous stucco interior decoration.   

The oratory is particularly famous because of the masterpiece altarpiece Nativity with St. Francis and St. Lawrence by Caravaggio. This important painting was stolen, probably by Cosa Nostra, on October 18, 1969.  In 2015 a hi-tech replica of the altarpiece was placed inside the oratory. 

Following our visit, we take a short transfer to the Palazzo Abatellis. 

Palazzo Abatellis is home to the Gallery of Art for the Sicilian region and contains masterpieces from the 12-18th century, including the museum's most famous work, the Virgin Annunciate, by Antonello da Messina, considered among Italy's best Renaissance paintings and showing Mary interrupted at her reading by the angel.   But many find even more compelling the late Gothic Triumph of Death.  Death enters riding a skinny horse and launching deadly arrows against characters belonging to all the social levels, killing them. The horse occupies the center of the scene, with its ribs well visible and a scrawny head showing teeth and the tongue. On the lower part are the corpses of the people previously killed - emperors, popes, bishops, friars, poets, knights and maidens. On the left is a group of poor people, invoking Death to stop their suffering, but being ignored. On the right is the group from the nobility, shown as having no interest in the events, most simply continuing their activities.

Dinner at La Cambusa, a local trattoria that has been serving wonderful food for 30 years in the Piazza Marina.   

We will eat like the locals with big salads, risotto with shrimp, zucchini, and smoked scamorza cheese, sea bass stuffed with asparagus and Jerusalem artichoke puree, grilled vegetables and cannolo Siciliano.

Short walk back to our hotel.

Overnight at the Grand Hotel Piazza Borsa, Palermo, Sicily.

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wednesday oct 30



Breakfast in the Kemonia Restaurant of our hotel. 

Following breakfast we walk and further explore the central core of the city while en route to the magnificent Cathedral.

Quattro Canti, officially known as Piazza Vigliena, is a Baroque square laid out on the orders of the Viceroys between 1608-1620 at the crossing of the two principal streets in Palermo, the Via Maqueda and the Corso Vittorio Emanuele.  The piazza is octagonal, four sides being the streets while the remaining four sides are Baroque buildings, the near-identical facades of which contain fountains with statues of the four seasons, the four Spanish kings of Sicily, and of the patron saints of Palermo - Christina, Ninfa, Olivia and Agata. At the time the piazza was built, it was one of the first major examples of town planning in Europe.

Via Maqueda is the main axis of the historic center and provides access to a number of important sights, including Teatro Massimo and Fontana Pretoria.  The street is perfectly straight from Piazza Verdi to Porta di Vicari and during daylight hours, this stretch is reserved for pedestrian traffic only. 

The Cassaro is the most ancient street of Palermo and following the unification of Italy, it was officially renamed Via Vittorio Emanuele II.  But the old and distinctive name is still in use. The street is rooted in the age of the foundation of Palermo by the Phoenicians and provides access to a number of important sights, including the Royal Palace and the Cathedral, two UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

The Fontana Pretoria was built in the city of Florence in 1554 but was transferred to Palermo in 1574 because the indebted owner Luigi de Toledo needed the funds.  The fountain included 48 statues and was surrounded by a long arbor formed by 90 columns of wood making it what many described as the most beautiful fountain in all of Italy.  In order to transport it, the fountain was disassembled in 644 pieces and several buildings were demolished in central Palermo to make room for it.  The fountain represents the Twelve Olympians, other mythological figures, animals and the rivers of Palermo.  In 1973, Italian National Postal Service dedicated a postage stamp to the Fontana Pretoria. It is one of the wonders of Southern Italy.

Piazza Bellini is located in the heart of the city and holds two buildings dating back to the era of Norman Sicily - the churches of Martorana and San Cataldo, both UNESCO World Heritage Sites.  Also on the square are the Church of Santa Caterina, the Bellini Theatre and the posterior facade of Palazzo Pretorio.  In addition, parts of the ruins of Punic walls are visible.

The Duomo or Cathedral of Palermo is an impressive 12th-century cathedral encompassing a wide variety of architectural styles.  In 1184, during Sicily's Norman period, Archbishop of Palermo Gualtiero Offamiglio founded the cathedral on the site of a Muslim mosque, which had itself been built over an early Christian basilica.  The archbishop's main aim was to surpass the glory of the magnificent cathedral of nearby Monreale, and the Palermo Duomo became an architectural battleground for "The Battle of the Two Cathedrals."

The most prominent characteristic of the Duomo is its many architectural styles. The exterior shows the development of the Gothic style from the 13th to 14th centuries.  The south porch (1453) is a masterpiece of the Catalan style, and at the apse end, sturdy Norman work can be seen through a decorative Islamic-inspired overlay.  The facade is closed between two soaring towers with double lancet windows and dates from the 15th century.  The four impressive bell towers date from the 14th century, the south and north porches from the 15th and 16th centuries, and the dome from the 18th century.

Following our visit of the Cathedral, we walk literally next door to the stunning Palazzo dei Normanni. 

The Palazzo dei Normanni was the seat of the Kings of Sicily during the Norman domination and served afterwards as the main seat of power for the subsequent rulers of Sicily. The building is the oldest royal residence in Europe.  The palace stands in what is the highest point of the ancient center of the city, just above the first Punic settlements, whose remains can still be found in the basement.

The site’s first building, the al-Qasr is believed to have been started in the 9th century by the Emir of Palermo. Parts of this early building are still visible in the foundations and in the basements, where typical Arabian vaults are present. After the Normans conquered Sicily in 1072 (just 6 years after they conquered England) and established Palermo as the capital of the new Kingdom of Sicily, the palace was chosen as the main residence of the kings. The Norman kings transformed the former Arabian palace into a multifunctional complex with both administrative and residential aims. All the buildings were linked to each other via arcades and enclosed by gardens, designed by the best gardeners of the Middle East. In 1132 King Roger II added the famous Cappella Palatina to the complex.  This chapel is by far the best example of the so-called Arab-Norman-Byzantine style that prevailed in the 12th-century Sicily. The wonderful mosaics, the wooden roof, elaborately fretted and painted, and the marble incrustation of the lower part of the walls and the floor are magnificent to see.

Lunch at the private Palazzo Federico. 

Palazzo Conte Federico is one of the oldest buildings in Palermo, built on Punic-Roman city walls which originally surrounded ancient Panormus.  The tower on the south side of the palace is one of the few remaining parts of the old city wall.

It dates back to the 12th century and is Arabic-Norman origin. Above the double-arched Norman windows can be seen the coat of arms of the Imperial family of the Hohenstaufen, from the Kingdom of Aragonia and the city of Palermo.

Over time, Count Federico's palace has undergone several reconstructions. Because of this you can observe various architectural styles - high painted ceilings from the 14th century, baroque ceiling frescoes by Vito D'Anna and Gaspare Serenario, Marabitti's lion fountain from the 17th century as well as the grand stairway with the interior walls done by Marvuglia.  Count Federico's family, which can be followed back to the Staufen Emperor Friedrich II, has been living in this palace for centuries.

Return to the hotel.

Dinner and evening at leisure. 

There are gourmet restaurants and simple trattorie, all within easy walking distance.  This is your chance to try arancini, pecorino, caciocavalo, swordfish and a glass of sweet Marsala wine with desserts such as canoli, granita, or even the very local St Agatha’s breasts

Overnight at the Grand Hotel Piazza Borsa, Palermo, Sicily.

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thursday oct 31



Breakfast in the Kemonia Restaurant of our hotel. 

Short transfer up to the stunning Cathedral of Monreale for a visit with our art historian guide. 

Famed for its glorious golden mosaics, Monreale Cathedral is the finest Norman building in Sicily and one of the most awe-inspiring sites in the world. It was built in the 12th century as part of a grand royal complex a few miles outside of Palermo, commissioned by William II (1154-89), the Norman ruler of Sicily, who wished to demonstrate the magnificence of his kingdom and outdo the splendid Palatine Chapel built by his grandfather, Roger II. The project employed both Sicilian and Byzantine craftsmen, resulting in a magnificent fusion of eastern and western influences.

Monreale boasts two sets of Romanesque bronze doors, of which there are only a handful remaining in Europe. The doors of the main entrance were sculpted and signed in 1185 by Bonanno Pisano and depict 42 reliefs of biblical scenes set within decorative frames. The north doors, completed in 1179 by Barisano da Trani, depict 42 portraits of saints and evangelists.

The exterior of Monreale's Duomo is pleasant enough, but gives no indication of the golden splendor within.  The undisputed highlight of Monreale Cathedral is its richly mosaiced interior. Dating from the 12th and 13th centuries, the golden mosaics completely cover the walls of the nave, aisles, transept and apse - amounting to 68,220 square feet in total. The mosaic cycle is second only to the Hagia Sofia in size, and much better preserved. Some of the mosaics were created by craftsmen brought from Venice. This site is worth the trip by itself.

Return to the hotel.

Walk to lunch near hotel at Osteria Ballarò.

Following lunch we take a short walk to the fascinating Archaeological Museum.

The Archeological Museum possesses one of the richest collections of Punic and Ancient Greek art in Italy, as well as many items related to the history of Sicily.   On the ground floor, a section is dedicated to the artefacts found underwater, including materials that were part of the cargo of vessels, stone anchors, strains of lead, lamps, amphoras and inscriptions ranging from the culture of the Phoenicians to that of the Romans.  The Phoenician section displays two large anthropomorphic sarcophagi of the fifth century BC as well as sculptures of gods and Phoenician votive stelae.  A reconstruction of the east pediment of the archaeological site of Selinunte which we will see during the main trip is exhibited, displaying the Gorgon of Temple C, several metopes with mythological reliefs (Temples C and E) and sculptures of the archaic and classical period.

Return to the hotel.

Early evening we walk to Palazzo Ugo for visit, cocktails and private dinner with Baron and Baroness Camerata.

Palazzo Ugo was once the residence of the President of the High Court. The palace was erected at the turn of the 17th century by combining earlier mansions owned by several noble families. At the beginning of the 18th century it was rebuilt by Vincenzo Ugo, Marquis of Favare. Descendants of this family are still the owners and this is a very special, very private entry that few will experience.  The façade overlooking the square, renewed and completed in 1713, has three entrances. The elaborate central doorway is flanked by columns and surmounted by the balcony of the piano nobile. The opening of the balcony is adorned with two statues which were part of a sarcophagus. The interior is composed of a series of rooms situated around a central courtyard. Each room has a different color and style and holds a different collection of decorative or fine arts.

Overnight at the Grand Hotel Piazza Borsa, Palermo, Sicily.

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friday nov 1



Breakfast in the Kemonia Restaurant of our hotel. 

Following breakfast we visit the Casa Professa.

Palermo’s Casa Professa – or Church of the Gesù – is one of the most important masterpieces of Baroque art in Sicily. The building is enhanced by incredible decorations in marble and stucco. The entire decor was created almost entirely in the 17th century.

Later a chance to explore the bustling food markets, shops and cafés in the nearby Ballaro Market.

1:15 pm Rendezvous with the rest of the group for the main trip at the Grand Hotel Piazza Borsa.  The bus will depart at 1:15 pm and it will be a 1 ½ hour transfer through beautiful rolling hills to our deluxe Verdura Resort on the southern coast of Sicily overlooking the Mediterranean Sea.  

The main trip begins.

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