Sicily & Malta: History, Culture & Nature May 02—11, 2017
Posted by Barry Lyon
The central Mediterranean was the venue for our first-ever voyage to the islands of Sicily and Malta aboard the Sea Cloud. And while each of these islands were worthy attractions in their own right, it was the opportunity to sail aboard the venerable Sea Cloud that captured the hearts and minds of so many.
With its immemorial Greek heritage, Sicily was a natural draw for us given our emphasis in recent years on the birds and ancient history of the Mediterranean. Boasting Greek temples to rival—even surpass—those of Greece, we felt that a voyage to Sicily would mark a perfect continuance of this tradition. Add to that Malta, a marvelous little island-nation with a character unto itself, and all the ingredients would be in place for a most fascinating trip.
The theme of our voyage was Birds & History, and as Sea Cloud got under way, we knew that in Sicily we would find both. Journeying from west to east, we visited four remarkable archaeological sites that preserve the remains of Greek city states that reached their zeniths 2,500 years ago: Segesta, Selinunte, Agrigento, and Syracuse. The giant Doric temple at Segesta is among the finest preserved Greek temples in existence, while the sandstone edifices in the Valley of the Temples at Agrigento are considered by many the most beautiful of all.
Beyond temple ruins, a marvelous diversity of experiences included a visit to Erice, the wonderful mountaintop village with a medieval air; a walking tour of Ortygia’s old quarter that revealed the architectural wonders of La Piazza Duomo, Cathedral of Syracuse, and the Athenaion; and taking in shipboard lectures by Larry Wolff and Peter Zika on the history and botany of the Mediterranean. Although our time in Malta was relatively brief, our day spent within the confines of its famous walled capital city, Valletta, included an interpretive tour highlighted by visits to the amazing Co-Cathedral of St. Johns and the Upper Barrakka Gardens, the latter featuring sensational views of Grand Harbour and the Three Cities region.
While Sicily is not known as one of the world’s great birding centers, it indeed has plenty to offer the visiting birder. In addition to encounters with a range of common and widespread European birds (appreciated especially by those new to birding in Europe), we were treated to a range of unforgettable experiences, such as the flights of European Honey-buzzards migrating over the sea during our approach to Trapani; the large gathering of Greater Flamingos at the World Wildlife Fund site of Reserva Delle Saline; at sea, sighting both species of Mediterranean-breeding shearwaters—Yelkouan and Cory’s (Scopoli’s); and a visit to Oasi Di Vendicari Preserve, south of Syracuse, where we experienced our greatest avian diversity of the trip including waterfowl, shorebirds, gulls, terns, turtle-doves, warblers, finches, and more.
But of course, it really is all about the Sea Cloud—her design, her history, her pageantry, her staff and crew, and her supreme elegance. In few other ships could one find such a combination. It is why we charter it. It is why people love it. In fact, this trip demonstrated yet again that a trip aboard the Sea Cloud—any trip aboard the Sea Cloud—will stay with you forever.