University College School’s Sicilian Escapade

May 05, 2016


Last month University College School jetted off to spectacular Sicily for a 5 day geographical adventure. The group were accompanied by trip courier Amelia Maresca (daughter of our very own Educational Tour Coordinator, Tracey) who jotted down highlights from the group’s time away.

With volcano trekking, island hopping, dolphin spotting and time to enjoy the Sicilian sunshine, culture and delicacies it certainly sounds like a trip to remember!

Day 1: Jetting off to sunnier climes

After meeting University College School at the airport for the first step of their Sicilian escapade, we took the opportunity to sit down for a meal with the teachers and get to know one another, before boarding our flight to Catania. In contrast to the dim views of the English rain, on landing we were greeted with views of Mount Etna in twilight.

Our friendly driver, Marco, met us at arrivals and once on board the coach we set off for the hotel. Arriving late, we quickly assigned rooms, dropped off our luggage and congregated for our first taste of Sicily – the Italian classic pasta Pomodoro (that’s pasta, olive oil, fresh tomatoes and basil in case you weren’t sure).

Day 2: Aeolian Islands hopping

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Our first day in Sicily took us off shore to the stunning Aeolian Islands. The group had been separated in two, to allow the students to focus on the aspects of geography they had chosen to study.

Pietro, our guide for the day and familiar face for the teachers who travelled here year after year, met one group at the base of Vulcano, in order to start our climb to the summit. The guide’s knowledge of the island’s plants, animals and of course tectonic system, gave the students an experience they could never receive from a textbook. Standing on the rim of the crater, the beauty of the islands became a true reality.

Meanwhile in Lipari, the second group of students were exploring the small picturesque island that was a great case study for the cultural students interested in remote Italian life.

In order to allow all the students to fully appreciate the islands, the students swapped location in the afternoon. On return, the captain decided to take an alternative route round the back of Vulcano where we were able to see coastal landforms such as stacks, stumps and arches. Here the captain carefully manoeuvred the boat into a cave. Just when we thought the excitement was over and Milazzo harbour was in sight, we were fortunate enough to see bottlenose dolphins.

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Day 3: Exploring the mountainside towns

Today’s first stop was Castiglione di Sicilia, a remote dozy town built into the valley side. The students were given freedom to explore the town’s traditional lifestyle and encouraged to get as high up as possible in order to appreciate the views.

Next stop was Francavilla, another typical Sicilian town. Here, a historic derelict fort overlooks the sea (where Taormina now lies). This stands high on a mountain ridge and is the original settlement of the town due to its prime lookout point. Today, the fort is positioned at a cultural crossroad with Castiglione di Sicilia to one side, Francavilla to the other and Taormina in the far distance, so a hike up to the top was a definite.

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We then visited the Alcantara Gorge to appreciate the physical geography of the area. The students, after a guided tour later and cinematic 4D experience, were able to take a break while a local demonstrated the production of the authentic honeys and chutneys typical to the area.

To end the day we headed to Taormina. As a group, we visited the Greek amphitheatre which framed Giardini Naxos and Etna through its ancient archways. The students were able to explore the walled town before congregating back in the main square.

Day 4:  Mighty Mount Etna

After days of seeing Etna from afar, we had the opportunity to get up close. The abnormally warm temperature for spring meant that the usual snow-capped Etna was bare and barren with few signs of snow. This, in fact, worked in our favour, as we were able to see far out over the panorama and walk to areas that are normally too dangerous. Our specialist guide, Nino, accompanied us on the trip, providing a firmer geographical understanding of the eruptions and how these are managed.

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The sheer power and destruction of the active volcano became a reality with the last destination for the day; the 1992 Piano dell’acqua lava field, a vast landscape of solidified lava.

Day 5: ‘Ciao’ Sicily

With an evening flight, the opportunity arose to visit the busy town of Catania and its infamous Saturday morning market. The chaos of fishermen and butchers bartering with locals over fresh native produce was a great experience for all, especially for those cultural students studying the traditional lifestyle here.

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We then headed to the island town of Ortigia to explore our last bit of Sicilian ground. There a national canoe polo game in the open water caught our attention, yet evening was looming and it was time to say ‘ciao’ to Sicily.

If you’ve been inspired to find out more about a geographical exploration in Sicily, take a look at our Sicily page or give our team a call on 01332 347 828.