Itinerary review, please – eastern Sicily and southern France

I'm in the throes of planning a trip (May 20-June 6) with my 21-yo daughter; in part we are revisiting Siracusa and Montpellier, where she stayed during recent study-abroad programs. We are interested in Roman sights, other historical sites, theater, and opera, but also food and relaxation. We spent 3 weeks in Paris a few years ago, which is partly why we're only there a few days on this trip. Your thoughts and suggestions on sights, hotels, transportation, or anything else you want to comment on are most welcome. And thanks to those who commented on my earlier posts for this trip; very helpful! Day 0 – leave U.S. Day 1 Tu – arr Catania 12.15 pm; bus to Agrigento; recover from jet lag. Sleep in Agrigento Day 2 W – see Valley of Temples; bus to Piazza Armerina; sleep in P Armerina Day 3 Th – see Villa Romana del Casale; bus to Siracusa. Sleep in Siracusa/Ortigia 4 nights Day 4-6 F/Sa/Su –sightseeing in/around Ortigia. Neapolis, Duomo, archaeological museum, etc. Day 5 Sa – Ortigia/Siracusa etc. Day 6 Su – Ortigia/Siracusa etc. Day 7 Mo – bus/train to Catania in afternoon; fly to Paris late Mon or early Tu Day 8-10 Tu-Th – Paris. Louvre, Orsay, Notre Dame, opera, sewers. 3-4 nights in Paris. Day 9 W – Paris etc. Day 10 Th – Paris etc. Day 11 F – train to Nimes. Nimes sights, Roman and other. 3 nights in Nimes Day 12 Sa – day trip to Arles. Market, arena, ancient history museum. Day 13 Su – day trip to Montpellier. Day 14 Mo – Rent car; drive to Aigues-Mortes; drive to Pont du Gard; drive to Orange or nearby village . 2 nights Day 15 Tu- Roman towns, other sights in Orange area. Return car unless staying with friends. Day 16 W – Roman towns, other sights; drive or train to Marseille airport. Sleep at airport hotel.
Day 17 Th – EARLY flight back to U.S.

Posted by Adam
Boston
2633 posts

This sounds like a very exciting trip, and well thought out. I'll just note a few minor logistical things about the Provence part. 1) Orange has a magnificent theater and a few other antiquities of note. It is well worth your time to visit. Do not, however, stay there. 2) If you do stay in that general area, north of Avignon, consider spending one of your days in the Luberon.

Posted by Kathleen
Reston, VA, USA
306 posts

Adam, thanks for the advice and support! I'm really waffling on whether to rent a car, as it looks as if we can see Aigues-Mortes and Pont du Gard via bus or train; if anyone has thoughts on car vs public transit, I'd appreciate hearing them.

Posted by Grier
Carmel, IN
1056 posts

What Adam said. And I'd definitely get a car for Provence. Also, you could consider going to a performance at the theaters in Orange or in Arles. We went to a concert in Arles in the ancient theater and it was really special. We got tickets the same day or day before, but you could probably check on line to see what is on.

Posted by Tom
Chicago
2876 posts

Personally, rather than 4 nights in Siracusa/Ortigia, I'd find a way to spend a night or two in Taormina. The ancient amphitheater is spectacular, as are the views of Mt. Etna & the Ionian Sea. The town itself is very colorful. It's popular - and a bit expensive - but it'd be a shame to be in that part of Sicily and not visit it.

Posted by Kathleen
Reston, VA, USA
306 posts

Thanks to all for the helpful comments. As I read the RS Provence guide, I'm struck by how many times he says "Theft is a problem; don't leave anything in your car." We had planned to stop at Aigues-Mortes and Pont du Gard on our way from Nimes to the Orange area but now I'm wondering about leaving our suitcases in the car. Maybe better to just drive straight to our new hotel to leave the bags, then head out to the sights? Also thinking about staying in Vaison-la-Romaine rather than Orange; any comments on that town? Helpline folks are... so helpful!

Posted by Terry kathryn
Ann Arbor, Mi
2608 posts

I would probably get the car on Day 11 as there are so many wonderful places to see in the south of France, and with your own car, you can change your mind on a whim. You should definitely be careful with your belongings, but probably putting them in the trunk would be fine. We did get broken into in a small village in the south of France, but we had 3- 9 passenger vans filled with photographers, so when we hit town we were a bit obvious. A few people left stuff in the back and when we returned the windows were smashed and the equipment gone... (I travel light and would not have left extra stuff, but some people did) But I have driven all over many, many other times and had no problems whatsoever.

Posted by Zoe
Toledo, Ohio, US
2504 posts

Kathleen, it sounds like you've given this a lot of thought already. A couple of notes from my experience in Sicily: the Valley of the Temples has two parts, separated by a road; the museum is on the other side of the street. This can be a very long day, so you may want to spend a second night in Agrigento and get an early bus to Piazza Armerina (it's several hours from Agrigento). From Piazza Armerina you can take a mini-bus to the Villa (they run every half hour during peak times, perhaps less often during mid-day). The pickup/dropoff is at one end of the piazza where the big, long-distance buses arrive and depart. In Ortigia, I like Hotel Posta on Viale Trieste. It's a block from the daily market and a few meters from a major bus stop. There's a free minibus that does a circuit of Ortigia before dropping you off at the train/bus station across the bridge - this bus stops in front of the big parking garage about a block from Hotel Posta. If you are going to Catania only to catch a plane the next day, I agree with the poster who suggested a night or two in Taormina instead. You can get to Mount Etna from Taormina if you want. Or, if you haven't been to Palermo or the area around it, there are some exquisite daytrips: Monreale's cathedral (mosaics), Segesta (unfinished Greek temple and a theatre), and Erice (a medieval town at the very top of a mountain). Palermo itself is fascinating.

Posted by Andre L.
Tilburg, Netherlands
2176 posts

It takes less than 2h between Agrigento and Piazza Armerina by road... but buses there are hideous, I'd rent a car for 3 days while you tour Agrigento and Piazza Armerina. Actually I'd reschedule the Sicily stay like this: - Days 1-4 sleep in Siracusa - Days 5-6 rent a car, drive to Piazza Armerina, visit the Villa del Casale, drive to Agrigento. Sleep there 2 nights (taking one to visit the Valle of the Temple)
- Day 7 - drive to Catania. If flying Tuesday morning to Paris, then stop on the volcano or other small village. If not, go straight to the airport. Return the car there. Do not use buses in Sicily. You will lose a lot of time.

Posted by Kathleen
Reston, VA, USA
306 posts

Thanks for all the helpful advice! Andre, I had come to the same conclusion about the bus from Agrigento to Piazza Armerina. We're still planning to bus from CTA airport to Agrigento - seems to be a straight shot with no changes, takes about 3 hours, and buses every hour or two all afternoon - but will then spend 2 nights in Agrigento, rent car morning of day 3, drive to Villa Romana del Casale, possibly stop in Morgantina if time allows, and continue to Siracusa where we will drop the car. Daughter is really not interested in Taormina, and if I enjoy Sicily as much as expected, I'll take the RS tour in a few years to see things we'll miss this trip. I used Google maps which suggested this route would take 3 hr 30 min - it's 250 km. Should I figure more like 4 hours? or longer?? And I'm curious about the advice not to stay in Orange. It's just not as interesting as other towns, or is there some additional reason to avoid it? I'm now leaning toward Isle sur la Sorgue if the stay with friends doesn't work out. We will have a car at that point.