I was lucky and honored to experience Alitalia’s inaugural flight from Washington Dulles Airport to Rome, Italy this spring. The service in the coach cabin was quite nice and seat-back screens provided a generous assortment of inflight entertainment.
Unsurprisingly for summer-time travel, storms delayed our flight over two hours, so we missed our scheduled connection from Rome to Catania, Sicily. While disappointed, I was very impressed that during the delay, Alitalia proactively rescheduled all travelers to their final destination. In addition to booking new connecting flights, Alitalia agents met us upon arrival in Rome with new boarding passes for our alternate connections and escorted us thru passport control. Connie’s tip: I wondered if they did this because it was the inaugural flight but was informed that this is normal procedure for any delayed flight. Kudos for the hands-on approach, Alitalia.
When we arrived in Catania, guides escorted the group of travel industry and media guests to the NH Collection Taormina by motorcoach. This lovely hotel was our home for the next three nights in the most famous seaside destination of Sicily. The rooms are spacious with beautiful views overlooking the sea, city, and mountains. The same views seemed even more spectacular from the roof-top infinity pool. The hotel itself is right in the middle of the historic center of the town near shops, cafés, and bars.
Tour host Absolute Sicilia treated us to an afternoon walking tour of Taormina, including the modern PalaCongressi (center for film festivals and conferences) and iconic ancient Greek Theatre (used for theatrical performances and concerts) just five-minutes’ walk from our hotel. We enjoyed strolling the quaint little shops and even crashed a few wedding photos! The hotel served a typical (amazing) Sicilian dinner, complete with beautiful desserts resembling Sicily’s famous volcano, Mount Etna.
A Volcano Excursion to Mount Etna
The next morning, we piled into SUVs and headed to Mount Etna for an off-road volcano excursion! Mount Etna is the highest active volcano in Europe and actually erupted shortly after our visit. We visited a lava cave and volcanic craters while we learned about the geology from our guide. Connie’s tip: This is a fascinating, must-do adventure in Sicily.
After an adventurous morning, we inspected the beautifully tranquil spa resort Villa Neri and enjoyed a delicious lunch there. This 24-room boutique hotel is an explosion of colors reflecting the strong personalities of the Sicilian people. Some rooms and the wine cellar suites have large balconies overlooking Mount Etna or the sea. Connie’s tip: This luxuriously quiet hotel is perfect for a two-night honeymoon stay.
Back to Taormina, we went, for another fabulous dinner and overnight. Connie’s tip: Sicilian cuisine is so delicious! While it has a lot in common with mainland Italian food, Sicilian food takes cultural influences from the Greek Spanish, French, and Arab periods of dominance through the centuries.
Siracusa, an Ancient Powerhouse
On the third and last day of my quick visit to Sicily, our group headed to the seaside village of Siracusa, known for its ancient ruins. We visited the Archaeological Park Neapolis that includes the Greek Theatre, the Roman Amphitheatre, as well as the architectural jewel, Cathedral of Siracusa. The city was once a powerful player in the ancient Mediterranean world and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The patron saint of the city is Saint Lucia, and we happened to be there during the celebration of the Feast of Santa Lucia, so revelers filled the piazza. We crossed one of the three bridges to the pedestrian-only island of Ortigia where we had lunch and inspected the Ortea Palace Luxury Hotel. Connie’s tip: The building was once the “Palazzo delle Poste,” a 1920s palace that functioned as a magnificent post office.
After our day in Siracusa, we headed back to our host hotel in Taormina for a pizza-making class. Following three very busy, food-filled days of sightseeing and hotel inspections, I had a 2:00 am wake up call for a 6:00 am flight home.
Many thanks to Alitalia, NH Collection Taormina, and Absolute Sicilia for introducing me to the wonders of Sicily. Each of these companies offers travelers excellent services when visiting Italy.
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Disclaimer: The travel vendors noted hosted Connie’s trip, but all opinions expressed are her own.