Noble Caledonia – MS Hebridean Sky – Sicily Coast Cruise

Noble Caledonia's Hebridean SkyThe sense of anticipation is palpable. Looking around it appears that, like me, my fellow passengers aboard the Noble Caledonia’s MS Hebridean Sky, are raring to begin their voyage of discovery around the coast of Sicily. As the 118-passenger luxury liner lies berthed in Malta’s ancient port of Valletta, we meet on deck under a starlit sky to toast our coming voyage. The programme, which features many of Sicily’s most famed sights, has attracted a good range of history buffs and, with shared interests, we all soon bond and the conversation hums before we sail.   

Happily too, we’ll be treated to this cornucopia of history in style. The Hebridean Sky, may be small, but is perfectly formed. Fresh from a multi-million pound refurbishment in 2016, it has the feel of a luxury yacht with its rich wood panelling and brass fittings. Our cabin,Our cabin is roomy with a walk-in wardrobe, comfy sofa and well-appointed bathroom. There’s an elegant dining room but meals can also be taken on the Lido deck and the prospect of eating al fresco is an added delight. Pre-dinner canapes are served in the spacious lounge and upstairs is an inviting bar. A well-stocked library is a bonus. A great attraction too is that we’re accompanied by four opera singers and their pianist from the London Festival Opera, who’ll entertain us with a feast of classical music, delivered on board and in some delectable on-shore locations.

The largest of the Mediterranean islands, Sicily has experienced a cavalcade of rulers in its long history from the Phoenicians to the Normans, but the Greeks and Romans especially left an indelible mark on its landscape. Our expectations are soon wonderfully realised by our first excursion. Docking early on the south coast in Licata, we set off into the hills to visit the Villa Romana del Casale. An imperial hunting lodge, dating to the 4th century AD, its world famous, vast mosaics enthrall us with their scenes of wild-animal hunts, children playing games, frolicking gods and goddesses and bikini-clad girls. In an elegant winery later, we sample the local wines and delicious Sicilian dishes, before we retire elated to our ship and set sail again.

Temple of Concord, AgrigentoNext morning finds us in the southeast of the island in the vibrant heart of Syracuse, one of the greatest cities of antiquity. A full day of sightseeing follows. Excursions are included in the cost of the cruise and our guides are all experts in history and keen to share their knowledge. The city’s Neapolis Archaeological Park, which boasts a vast Greek theatre and Roman amphitheatre, makes an awe-inspiring start. Afterwards we tour Ortigia, the city’s historic centre, where life hums around the vestiges of the Temple of Apollo, baroque churches and stately squares. We are serenaded by our singers later in the star-lit courtyard of the magnificent Palazzo Beneventano del Bosco, before the owner hosts a delicious buffet.  

Greek Theatre in Taormina and Mount EtnaOne of the delights of the cruise is the range of sights on offer. In the north-east of the island, we visit the hill-top town of Taormina. Lying near the towering Mt Etna, its huge Greek theatre and terraces offer spectacular views of the Ionian Sea. But it has plenty of modern glamour too with its smart boutiques and cafes and clearly draws a classy crowd of visitors. 

As we continue our odyssey, we marvel at the energy of our charming, attentive crew which never flags. In the evenings, we enjoy several events from a talk on Verdi’s love life to a concert by our singers. The bar buzzes with chatter and we are serenaded after dinner by Dong, our resident pianist. Breakfasts and lunches include a host of choices for every palate, including local specialities, and the a-la-carte dinner menu also offers a range of dishes, including good vegetarian fare. 

Al fresco dining - MS Hebridean SkyAfter sailing along the north coast, we reach Palermo, Sicily’s capital, an enchanting sight with its crumbling Baroque grandeur, huge churches, vast opera house and shady, cafe-lined lanes. A true treat follows that night with a concert in the astonishingly lavish Palazzo Valguarnera-Gangi, with our singers in period costume. Our last feast of Sicilian history comes in the ancient site of Segesta, high above the port of Trapani. Here, a Greek amphitheatre has been carved into a hillside and a nearby temple, begun in the 5th century BC and left unfinished, dominates the rocky landscape. Weathered by the years, it remains a glorious, haunting reminder of this island’s astonishing past. We say farewell to Sicily and sail on to Sardinia where our cruise ends. Our voyage into the past, accomplished in real comfort and in the best of company, has delivered a host of memories I’ll not forget and a definite desire to set sail soon again.     

Silver Travel Advisor recommends Noble Caledonia.

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Diana Bentley

Freelance travel writer & broadcaster

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