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RS Best of Sicily Off Season (11 days) 2017

When I first started thinking about how to best write a trip report, my initial idea was to write a report that followed us day by day on the tour. I’m not sure now that that is my best option because the daily itinerary is more or less posted through RS about what’s covered on the tour.

So let me tell you a few of the things we learned from doing this trip.

When we travel with a tour group, we always schedule our arrival 1-2 days before the actual tour begins. This time we arrived two days before the official start of the tour. We flew Delta from our home airport, changing planes in Atlanta to fly the overnight leg on Delta to Rome. Then in Rome we changed planes to Alitalia and flew to Palermo.

For those people used to claiming their luggage and going back through security when arriving in the US from abroad, the luggage process was different for us on arrival in Rome. If your luggage is booked through to Palermo, then you do not have to retrieve it in Rome. You just go through customs (which took us less than a minute), and then you find your next gate.

When we arrived in Palermo, we did have to search for our luggage which did not appear on the main baggage carousel after the flight. Apparently luggage arriving from an originally international destination is delivered to a separate room. We found our luggage there. Then it went through an X-ray machine, and then we left the airport.

It’s important to me to stay hydrated. I always refilled a water bottle at every hotel which had potable water (only one did not, and they provided bottled water), but water bottles were also available for purchase on our bus for one Euro/bottle. This was often easier than trying to find a market when we were short on time.

All of the hotels were lovely. Some of the breakfasts were better than others, but that’s to be expected wherever you travel.

Remember that when traveling in Italy, you may need to provide your own toilet tissue. Also remember that toilet seats are not always available in the restrooms.

Our flight back home departed from Catania at an insanely early hour. Because we were unable to check in online, we made sure we arrived early to take care of the issue and go through security. (Our check in issue wasn’t a security issue. Apparently it had something to do with the original ticket booking, but the gate agent for Alitalia was gracious and reassured us multiple times that it was a computer issue and not a problem with our tickets.)

On both legs that we did with Alitalia, many carry on bags were gate checked. Boarding started with priority boarding and then from the back rows to the front rows. (Aka - get in line early.) We lucked out and our carry ones were stowed overhead, but this wasn’t the case for everyone.

Packing light will be your friend on this trip. There are many hills and lots of steps. The less you have to carry, the better. Definitely wear a sweater on the airplane. Then you do not have to pack it.

Take along your sense of humor and your sense of adventure, and this will be one of your favorite trips of all time!

Posted by
166 posts

My wife and I are going on the tour in May, thank you for your insights!

Posted by
996 posts

donseery - You will LOVE this tour. Sicily is different from the rest of Italy, but in the best possible way for anyone doing a tour. It feels familiar, but it also brings so much more history to it. (And who thought that was possible, right?)

Suki - Favorite place? Tough question. I loved our first day in Palermo where we did the group walking tour. The market is hands down, one of the best places ever. I also enjoyed our time in Ragusa. It was my favorite hotel, and the photo opportunities were amazing. I also found a bookstore that sold English books (on local Italian subjects) which was perfect, because I'd run out of reading material in our room!

And as weird as it may sound, I enjoyed all the animals we saw on this trip. Apparently it's fine to take your dog into many restaurants. We even saw one dog on two separate nights at different spots. (Yes, I took pictures!) But everywhere we went - cats in the market, dogs riding scooters with their masters, and even the octopus that crawled out of its hold in the fish market...all these things were so unique for me.

Posted by
1014 posts

This was also one of our favorite tours. It just seemed to get better with each passing day. I noticed that they eliminated Ragusa from the itinerary and added Taormina.

To avoid early flights and multiple connections, we spent a couple of days in Rome before continuing on to Palermo at the start of the tour. After the tour, we flew from Catania to Rome, spent a night, and continued home from there.

Posted by
865 posts

aquamarinesteph -- I'd love to hear about the sort of stuff you ate, both with the group and on your own. I imagine there's a lot of seafood.

Posted by
6712 posts

What hotel did the group stay in Ragusa, if you don't mind sharing? Was it located in the upper or lower town?

Posted by
1014 posts

When we went on the tour in April 2016, there was a stop in Ragusa.

The hotel was:

Hotel dell'Orologio
Via Ioppolo n. 12
Ragusa

We enjoyed this stop on the tour. The lodging was characterized as a dispersed hotel in that the main hotel was supplemented by apartments in the neighborhood.

Re: Seafood.

One of the better tour meals included a whole sea bass for the group.

Posted by
58 posts

I am thinking of an RS Sicily tour for 2018, but would like to arrive a day or so ahead of time and take a day trip from Palermo to a small town near Palermo where my grandfather was born. Is there a way for our RS guide to help us with this day trip..i.e transportation?

Thanks - Kathy S.

Posted by
996 posts

Bob - Yes, they have eliminated Ragusa. I thought that was one of our best stops, but we were told (when one of our group wrote a passionate letter to keep Ragusa in the future) that Rick prefers Taormina to Ragusa.

Teresa - I had the BEST DESSERT EVER in my entire life on this trip. Graffa. It will change your life. But if you're talking about the rest of the food, it was incredibly good. LOADS of fresh seafood. Homemade couscous. (We had a lesson on how to make this.) Chocolate that's out of this world. And if you have a specific seafood allergy, they can easily handle this. I can't eat shellfish. I always had great menu options.

Agnes - We stayed at the same hotel which Bob listed. Hotel dell'Orologio was my favorite of the entire trip. Not the best of anything, but we had such unique accommodations there, it felt like you were living in the town while you were there. It was truly a once in a lifetime experience for me.

Kathy - I don't know what RS can offer for pre-arrivals. You could always call and ask?

Posted by
18853 posts

Kathy, the RS office offers consultation service for a modest fee. I'm sure they could help with your pre-tour transportation needs. Otherwise, if you post the details in a separate thread here, we may be able to assist you.

Posted by
6712 posts

Hotel dell'Orologio was my favorite of the entire trip.

I actually researched that hotel for my independent trip to Sicily (but could not fit in an overnight to Ragusa). It looked really charming!

Thanks for sharing the info. I wonder why (if I understand correctly) the tour no longer goes to Ragusa, but Taormina instead...I liked the former better although both were beautiful.

Posted by
1014 posts

Re: elimination of Ragusa from the itinerary

Previously only the off-season tours included Ragusa. Our guide told us that It was too hot in Ragusa to include that stop on the warmer weather tours. I guess RS just wanted to have a consistent itinerary.

Posted by
6712 posts

I only just realized the Off-Season Sicily tour is not offered in 2018 (or for good?). Well, that was a surprise.

Posted by
865 posts

"Teresa - I had the BEST DESSERT EVER in my entire life on this trip. Graffa. It will change your life."

Lol! As if I need more incentive to book this tour! :)

Posted by
22 posts

aquamarinesteph - Did you take the bus from the airport to the center of town when you arrived? If so, did you buy tickets online ahead of time or at the airport? I understand the train connection is currently out of service. Planning to leave on this tour at the end of February - can't wait!!!!

Posted by
996 posts

JulH - The bus is probably cheaper, but we were SO TIRED when we arrived that we simply took a cab. Our cab driver was funny. I think he probably charged us a fair fare, but it was costly to take a taxi from the airport to the hotel. If I had to do it again, I would research the bus fares.

Posted by
4594 posts

JulH, we took the bus both times we went to Palermo. As I recall, there are signs directing you to the bus stop. The ticket booth is there at the bus stop. The clerk will ask if you want a one way or return (two way) ticket. The bus stops at several places in Palermo, and ends up at the train station, from which it is an easy walk to the Hotel Ambasciatori. Or at least, it's easy once you figure out how to get across the street!

Posted by
18853 posts

Yes, getting across the street is perhaps the biggest challenge in Palermo. They will not try to hit you, but they may not slow down, opting just to drive around you.

Posted by
62 posts

I just booked this tour for November 11, 2018. I have been a vegetarian all my life and do not eat meat or fish....can anyone who has been on this tour tell me if that will be a problem with the meals arranged on the tour? I've often found I come home weighing less than when I left depending on the food culture of the country I visit! lol

I'm very excited about this trip though, I'm going solo too, so hoping for a friendly bunch of travelers! I'm taking my first RS tou in April, Best of Europe, so Sicily will be my second!

Thanks everyone,

Lynn

Posted by
4594 posts

Lynn, the cuisine in Sicily is heavy on fish and seafood, not so much on meat. But be sure to let RSE know you are vegetarian. Have you already filled out the personal info forms on the portal they sent you? And once you get to Sicily, remind the guide.

Many people have posted that the guides are wonderful about making sure everyone's dietary needs are taken care of. Vegans, vegetarians, people with allergies are all accommodated. And no fuss is made about special meals, which I appreciate. I have a food intolerance that keeps me from being able to eat certain foods. On our last tour there was one vegetarian. Our guide made sure the we were served foods that fit our needs discretely. In fact, we were more than half way through the two-week tour before most of us even realized one of our number was vegetarian.

Same goes for the non-drinkers. Just let the office and your guide know, and it will all be fine.

Posted by
996 posts

Lynn - There is a lot of fish on the menu, but I don't eat shellfish. There was never an issue about having something different made for me. As stated above, make sure you state that you're vegetarian on the RS forms and remind your guide before/after the orientation meeting. They'll take care of that for you with no problems.

There was one group dinner where I definitely had a much smaller dish on one serving, but the rest of the food more than made up for it!

As far as coming home lighter than when you started, I did! But it wasn't because of the food which was wonderful. There's a ton of walking on this trip, and for me it helped jumpstart my slow metabolism back into a more normal gear.

Posted by
10 posts

Hi Steph,
Thank you for the details :) We are taking this trip Oct 2018.
Like you we arrive couple days early on our trips.
My question is what sites did you see in Palermo prior to tour starting?
I don't want to see something that is included in the tour :)

Posted by
4594 posts

Hi, Lorey: I thought I'd chime in here, as well, because we loved Palermo. We've been there three times on RS tours, always with several extra days, and have never been at a loss for things to do.

Walk down to the port. Check out the Galleria Regionale (art museum, everything pre-1800.) We loved the Vucciria market, great street food and local ambiance. The Palazzo Reale and Cappella Palatina are amazing; I don't know why they're not on the tour. There are a couple of beautiful Oratorios in walking distance of the hotel Ambasciatori. We also took the cooking course the hotel offered, and recommend it.

My DH saw the Archeological Museum; I was sick and skipped that one. And I do recommend that you try to eat a couple of meals at the various markets. The tour walks through the Capo Market, but there's not enough time to stop and eat, and unfortunately, we didn't make it back there on our own. (Well, we did, but the tempting fish stall was closed.) The Ballaró Market is great to wander around in, and we did eat there (just us, not the group.)

Posted by
1937 posts

For Lorey: Not intending to hijack this wonderfully informative thread but one thing we did with our extra days was take a food tour. The one we chose happened to focus on "street food". It was lots of fun and the food and drink we tried were delicious, different and interesting. I can find the link if you might be interested. I loved both Sicily tours we took and spent several days in Palermo and Catania each time. I loved all my time in Sicily. Absolutely agree with aquamarinesteph; "Take along your sense of humor and your sense of adventure, and this will be one of your favorite trips of all time!"

Posted by
996 posts

My question is what sites did you see in Palermo prior to tour starting?
I don't want to see something that is included in the tour :)

In the pre-planning section of the tour information, there's a list of things that aren't covered by the Palermo section of the tour. I found that very useful when planning out what we wanted to do ahead of time.

We went to the Archeology Museum which is lovely. We went to the Cappella Palatina (incredible mosaics with so much history). If the Palazzo is open, definitely check out those rooms as well. The Santa Maria dell'Ammiraglio is incredible as well.

The posters who mentioned eating in the market were correct. Try to take a walk through there before the tour so that you can explore it at you leisure. And I think a walking food tour of Palermo would be amazing!

There's a very nice tourist information office in Palermo. They have a lot of info and might be a good place to start if you want some recommendations from the local inhabitants.

I hope you enjoy your trip!!