Italy's licensed tour guides are among the world's best—each earns a university degree and attains proficiency in a foreign language before taking a rigorous qualifying exam on subjects ranging from ancient archeology to modern art. But a few guides have a knowledge, expertise and ability that transcends even this training. They stand out for their familiarity with the history and culture of a timeless place and their ability to convey its every nuance. Meet Jackie Alio.
A native speaker of English, Jackie is specialized in Sicily, and particularly the island's north-western areas of Palermo, Cefalù, Monreale, Segesta and Erice. She is a published author, having written about Queen Margaret of Sicily, Thomas Becket's Sicilian link and Saint Agatha in Sicily and Malta, among other topics of historical, cultural and culinary interest (such as the definitive online article about Palermo's medieval Genoard royal park). This alone distinguishes her among professional tour guides. She is also an experienced lecturer and—when time permits—a Sicily blogger. (Read some satisfied clients' emails and comments.) These are not "generic" group tours. Every tour with Jackie is fully customized, personalized to your interests. Contact Jackie to begin planning your tour.
Sightseeing is one thing, but actually appreciating the sights is another. The best guides understand that no archaeological or historical site, no work of art, no single place stands apart from its place in history. It's all about context. As Sicily's multicultural heritage was shaped by numerous civilizations—from the Sicanians, Phoenicians and Greeks to the Arabs, Normans and Swabians (among others)—it helps to know something about the peoples who lived beyond Sicilian shores. Polyglot medieval Sicily was home to Arabs and Jews, and to two "branches" of Christianity—Greek "Orthodoxy" and Roman "Catholicism." Jackie is a rarity among Sicilian tour guides because she understands the complex connections at this unique convergence of cultures and knows how to convey this to visitors.
This scholarly and practical competence reflects far more than a profession. One might even say that it is an art based on the expression of natural talent and intellectual insight. Beyond mere "observing" or seeing, the best guides can take you to the plane of discovery and understanding.
Of course, it is possible to visit an interesting place without a private tour guide. But Sicily's unique history makes a walking tour of Palermo with a guide an attractive option—for at least part of your visit—even if you usually prefer independent travel. A day sightseeing with a private tour guide is the perfect complement to independent travel. While Jackie and other professional tour guides frequently work with larger groups (of ten or more), they can also be hired for smaller ones, even if your "group" is just you and your spouse.
Don't confuse this with those sites that list numerous tour guides' profiles and photographs along with a few standard itineraries, and then invite you to "directly" contact the guide through their site. All of Jackie's services are tailor-made and contact is exclusively, directly with her. There is no "go-between" and therefore no confusion. And while there are certain popular sights, there are no set, "standard" itineraries. You will be sightseeing at your own pace.
Let's talk about your Sicily experience, which will be personalized to your interests. Here are a few itinerary ideas for your day tour. Contact Jackie for more information, details and rates.
Medieval Palermo and Monreale: The legacy of Sicily's Norman kings comes alive. See Palermo Cathedral, the Norman Palace, Saint John of the Hermits Monastery and, following lunch, hilltop Monreale Abbey.
Aristocratic Palermo: Visit the Norman Palace of Sicily's first kings, with its Phoenician foundations and palatine chapel. Then we'll see Palazzo Mirto, a Baroque residence of a noble family, and the Steri, a medieval castle.
Judaic Palermo: Highlights of Palermo's Jewish heritage, built by a community which flourished in the city until the end of the fifteenth century. Because Jackie's itineraries are based partly on original research, they're especially insightful. This is far more than an "ordinary" day tour of Palermo.
Culinary Curiosities: A visit to one of Palermo's colorful street markets, established as Arab souks in the ninth century, followed by lunch and a wine tasting.
Discovering Palermo: Sites and monuments that give you a lasting impression of this colorful city: a medieval street market, the imposing Cathedral, the Martorana and its mosaics, Piazza Pretoria Fountain, Palazzo Mirto and more.
The Leopard's Palermo: Discover the places that inspired Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa's classic novel, The Leopard (Il Gattopardo), in a personalised walking tour of the city as he saw it. This itinerary can easily be customized to include a lunch based on Sicilian baroque cuisine typical of the 19th century.
Theme Tours: As you can see from these descriptions, it's easy to plan a personal walking tour dedicated to a specific theme - for example, Baroque or Byzantine architecture, the Kalsa, the local gardens, Palermo's castles.
Charming Cefalù: Drive along the coast to the seaside town of Cefalù. See its stunning Norman Cathedral, stately medieval Cloister, and ancient stone streets. Lunch, if you wish, at a local seafood restaurant along the shore in the old city walls.
Segesta and Erice: Segesta's ancient Greek temple is one of the best-preserved in the world. Founded by Carthaginians, Erice is a charming hilltop town with stone streets and delightful treasures that include great restaurants and pastry shops.
Cooking in the City: Personalised market cooking classes in a historic home in Palermo's Quattro Canti district. Includes shopping for ingredients at the Ballarò street market nearby. The class is held in an 18th-century residence overlooking the Quattro Canti. Read about these cooking classes in Palermo.
Wine Country Cooking: Venture to Count Testa's Tarantola vineyards for a cooking demonstration and leisurely country lunch in the heart of Sicily's wine region. Read about these country cooking classes in Sicily.
Corleone and the Royal Hunting Lodge: Venturing into the hilly hinterland beyond Palermo, you'll discover the real Sicilian countryside with a visit to Ficuzza, the Bourbon kings' hunting lodge on an estate that includes a forest, lake and streams, and to nearby Corleone, haunted by the ghosts of Sicily's colorful rustic bandits. (A country-style lunch and/or a wine-tasting can be included with this day-tour.)