Make Your Next Trip Extraordinary

We are just back from an AMAZING, perfectly planned and executed trip to Sicily. Marcello Baglioni is the gold standard of travel planners. He created a perfectly curated, balanced itinerary and checked in daily to make sure all was going smoothly. We could not have covered as much as we did (in 9 days) without having private drivers, who were excellent—especially Josie who started with us in Palermo. We covered a lot of ground in Sicily with a full schedule each day, but somehow it never felt rushed.

While January might not be the ideal time to visit Sicily (with the weather less than cooperative!), we saw, learned, engaged, and met wonderful people all along the way—from Palermo and surrounding towns Monreale, Castebuono, Cefalu to Villa Romana del Casale, Agrigento, Testa del Aqua, Noto, Siracusa/Ortiega to Mt Etna. More than anything, getting to know Sicilians—over good conversations, culinary experiences, archaeology hikes, tours, food and wine—was the highlight of the entire trip. Marcello’s selection of guides and hosts was superb. Perhaps the highlight of many highlights was the final day at Mt. Etna guided by Salvo (a vulcanologist) followed by our visit to the Santa Maria La Nava Winery for a tour, wine-tasting and lunch hosted by Vera and Carmello. They epitomized the warmth, welcome and pride of purpose we found everyday during this first visit to Sicily. We look forward to returning soon to this stunning, fascinating, history-filled island.

The view of Mt. Etna ecosphere, showing a smoking Mt. Etna, lava flows, regrowth, surviving trees.

The Mt. Etna ecosphere: a smoke plume, lava flows, regrowth, and surviving trees. Photo: Traveler Joe Lyle

In 2022, we spent 2 weeks in Sicily, perfectly planned by Marcello Baglioni. It was so much fun (see previous review) that we decided to go back for five nights to explore the Mt Etna wine region this past October. We wanted a home base providing easy excursions within the region without changing our accommodations or staying in locations with “tourists.” Our location was central, and we could explore local wineries and learn about the rich growing environment of the region.

Two highlights were the Mt Etna hiking tour and a fabulous cooking and wine-pairing luncheon. A visit to Mt Etna volcano is amazing, but if you are guided by a volcanologist named Salvatore, it is spectacular. Salvo’s enthusiasm and love of science is infectious. To see the top of a hotel that was destroyed during an eruption is an amazing experience. You look around and can follow the lava flow of previous eruptions and see the regrowth of trees in the igneous rock formed from the lava. When there is a news report of an eruption on Mt Etna, I know Salvo will be in the mix.

A visit to Santa Maria La Nave Winery is a must. This area is known for its fertile soils, orchards, and particular grape varietals located on the northernmost flanks of Mt Etna. Vera, our wine expert, explained the recovery project of previously abandoned varietals on the property and the Casa Decima vineyard. The Grecanico Dorato and Albanello grape varietals were new to us and not something that can be found easily in the US. After a tour of the vineyards, we joined Lucia, an amazing cook, and Vera in the Zen building (our name for the structure). You walk in and immediately feel at home. A wall of glass overlooks the vineyards and mountains. Now, we got down to business with a glass of sparkling wine and a pasta-making lesson. Suffice it to say that Lucia did most of the cooking, and Vera paired the wine for a delightful afternoon in a beautiful location.

The trip was rounded out with a home-cooked meal and wine tasting at Filippo Grasso Winery and visits to nearby towns and villages that offered spectacular views of the coastline.

All of this was made possible by the wonderful relationships that Marcello has with local tour guides, wine experts, and chefs across Sicily. I don’t expect this will be our last trip to Sicily; without a doubt, Marcello will be our first call.

The view of Sicily's western coastline and Monte Cofano seen from Erice.

Sicily’s western coastline and Monte Cofano, as seen from Erice. Photo: Traveler Nancy Footer

With plans to see eastern Sicily already booked, I turned to Marcello and Matteo to create a weeklong itinerary to visit Palermo and western Sicily. They were so thoughtful in their approach, asking me about my interests and goals for the trip, my preferences for hotels, transportation (me drive in Sicily — no way!) and dining. I took the advice found in many reviews by previous clients and gave Marcello and Matteo free rein to design the itinerary and I am so glad I did.

I spent my first day in Palermo — such a bustling and exquisite city — seeing all the key historic sites, the waterfront, and the Capo Mercato with Giorgio, a thoroughly charming and expert guide. The following day I ventured out of Palermo with a driver and fantastic guide to visit Monreale Cathedral, a World Heritage Site and truly one of the most spectacular cathedrals I have ever visited. The guide made the visit so memorable — her knowledge of history, architecture and design was magnificent, and I really appreciated the chance to linger while other visitors were clearly being hustled in and out. Without the guide’s encouragement I might not have climbed to the top of the cathedral and taken the outside walkway along the roof — the views were beautiful and more than worth the climb. We traveled next into the hills near Camporeale for a private tour, lunch and tasting at Porto del Vento winery. Marco, the owner, was a generous and engaging host and I appreciated learning about his wines and his journey to becoming a vintner. It was a treat to see the harvest, learn about the winemaking process and then taste his award-winning wines. And then, when I thought the day couldn’t get any better, I was surprised with a WOW Moment — a private dinner at the home of chef Gabriella Garajo. The meal was remarkable — contemporary versions of Sicilian classics made with local ingredients served at Gabriella’s dining table set with her family china and silver. It was a perfect finish to a most memorable day. My final day in and around Palermo was spent in Castelbuno and Cefalu, touring the cathedrals and historic sites. Not to be missed — the manna (yes, from heaven!) and panettone in Castelbuno and strolling the charming streets of both towns.

I spent the remainder of my week in Trapani, a gorgeous seaside city in western Sicily. From my base in Trapani, I spent several hours touring the archeological park at Segesta, including the temple and theater. Valentina, my guide, was so knowledgeable and personable — she really made the history and importance of the site come alive. I thoroughly enjoyed visiting Erice — on everyone’s must-see list in western Sicily as it is situated 2,000 feet above Trapani with panoramic views in all directions. The cathedral, many churches, and castle are not to be missed. Marcello and Matteo arranged a tasting at Maria Grammatico’s famous pastry shop — a dream come true for this lover of sweets! My guide and I spent the remainder of the afternoon touring Trapani, even encountering a wedding at the cathedral. I adored my last day in western Sicily, heading out to the Marsala Salt Pans first, including a museum visit to learn more about the salt harvesting process and history, then a short boat ride to Mozia, an important archeological site, and finally a tour of the city of Marsala. Again, my guide made the day fun and interesting.

I am so impressed with how well Marcello and Matteo devised an itinerary to match my interests in history, architecture, design, and culture, while also finding time for memorable meals and wine tastings. They have a group of devoted guides who are smart, warm, and informative and it was a pleasure to spend time with each of them. Their drivers are peerless — I felt safe, well cared for and oh so glad I opted not to drive myself! They helped me choose just the right accommodations and when I said I’d love a room with a view, boy did they deliver. In Palermo, my terrace faced Teatro Massimo and in Trapani, my expansive terrace looked out onto the Tyrrhenian Sea — no matter whether it was night or daytime, the views were spectacular. Marcello and Matteo are attentive while you are in country — checking in daily to make sure all is going well, a very personal touch I truly appreciate.

Sicily is a unique and special place. I couldn’t be more delighted that I trusted Marcello and Matteo to design my trip.

My niece and I returned from Sicily just 17 days ago, but I’m only just coming down from the high induced by this remarkable trip! I’ve wanted to travel to Sicily for years but didn’t want to go on my own, so I asked my adult niece to accompany me since she is fascinated with Italy and its food, being a former chef. We wanted a trip that balanced cultural highlights with food experiences, and Marcello and Matteo really delivered! They arranged wonderful drivers and local guides in each of our locations—many of whom were specialists in their field. For example, our guide in Palermo, Andrea, is an archaeologist. He provided unique local insight and expertise on the city and its astonishingly beautiful mosaic-decorated churches. By having private drivers and guides, we not only maximized what we were able to see, but the guides helped us fully understand our experiences. One of the highlights of our time in Palermo was a day when we went to Monreale to see the exquisite Norman church and then stopped at a vineyard on the way back to Palermo for a private wine tasting and amazing lunch with the owners and their big friendly adorable dog!
Many of our days were a lovely balance of cultural touring/visits and the rest of the day making cheese or tasting olive oil or learning how to make cookies! We also appreciated the boutique hotels recommended by Marcello and Matteo. Even when we were in cities, these hotels felt like a private, restful oasis each day when we returned from our activities. Their restaurant recommendations were also excellent and easy to find, thanks to the maps they provided!

Our favorite part of the trip was our final few days, based in Ortigia, visiting the Greek ruins of Siracusa and the beautiful Baroque towns of Ragusa, Noto, and Modica. We both agreed that the private 4-course lunch served after an olive oil tasting in Ragusa was among the best meals we’d ever eaten in our lives! As we were leaving the Greek temples one late afternoon (wonderful light for photos) our guide told us about a Leonardo da Vinci painting that was being displayed in a small gallery near the exit of the temple area. We never would have known it was there if he hadn’t been with us.

I’ve already recommended Marcello and Matteo to friends of mine who are interested in traveling to Sicily. We loved every minute of it and never had to worry about a thing. A perfect holiday!

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