What it’s like to travel to Sicily with 87 teenagers…
In April, our travel specialist Lauren visited Sicily with Millthorpe School. She shares some of her top tips and unique experiences from the trip.
Day 1 - Taormina
After a bright and early start, our flight from Manchester arrived in Sicily – the ‘football’ following the ‘boot’ of mainland Italy. I was unsure of how Italy would compare with previous trips I’d joined to Iceland but any doubts were unfounded as I was in store for an unforgettable time with this huge, energetic bunch!
There were eight teachers accompanying the 87 students. Two of the teachers were Geography teachers but the others came from a range of subjects including PE, Music, History, English and Languages. In order to keep the groups manageable, they were split over two large coaches and the itineraries were staggered so that only one group was at a destination at once.
Mr Carmody, Millthorpe’s lead teacher for the trip, had chosen a packed itinerary of adventurous activities so there was no time to waste. We headed straight to town and had the afternoon to explore ancient Taormina and stop off for our first (and far from last) slice of pizza.
Top tip: There are many fantastic pizzerias in Sicily. You can grab a delicious slice for around €2.
Our guide Maurizio, affectionately nicknamed Lord Farquod from Shrek, was an instant hit with the students as he teased their teachers and led us through the town and to the top of a hill where we would see our first jaw dropping view.
We sat in a grand amphitheatre, steeped in history and overlooking rolling hills. Mount Etna loomed in the distance puffing volcanic smoke into the sky. It was inspiring to imagine the generations since the original amphitheatre patrons, who had all lived in the shadow of this powerful volcano.
To top off a perfect first day, we had time to pop back to the hotel, change our clothes and scurry to the beach to brave the chilly sea. It was in the evenings that the students would have a chance to see the rest of their group and trade stories of the day. Only one day into the trip and we were already off to a spectacular start.
Day 2 - Cyclops Riviera & snorkeling
The Cyclops Rivera – where myths and geography collide. As we looked out from the cliffs to the stacks in the sea, Maurizio explained both the geographical processes that created the striking coastline as well as the legends. He told us about the myths of Cyclops ‘Polifemo’ who had crushed his adversaries (or lover depending on the version) by throwing boulders into the sea. Not a great GCSE Geography answer but it certainly entertained us.
We wandered around the seaside shops and stopped to refuel. The gelato after our lunch seemed like a great idea until we remembered we needed to squeeze into wetsuits for snorkelling…
The students had an incredible experience and got a chance to see volcanic rocks under the surface as well as the many creatures that inhabit them. For many of them this was the first time they had braved snorkelling and it was a real joy to see them supporting each other and enjoying this experience as a group.
Tip of the day: After returning from the slightly cold water, grab a hot chocolate from the centre of Aci Castello.
I was very impressed that the teachers had such great control of their large group during the day but it was, of course, more of a challenge in the evenings. Here are a few tricks I picked up from the Millthorpe teachers to keep things under control at your accommodation:
- Choose accommodation that is comfortable with large groups as noise and excitement is unavoidable after an eventful day.
- Ensure that students are aware that any poor behaviour would result in them being prohibited from taking part in activities. Also, if students’ table manners slip, a suitable response would be for them to clear the plates away after dinner
That being said, Millthorpe students were not in need of much discipline, partly because of our exhausting days in Sicily and partly because of the fantastic teachers who knew how to ensure their students kept out of mischief.
Day 3 – River tubing down the Alcantara Gorge & Mount Etna
River tubing provides a way to explore a river from a unique point of view. We linked together and spun in our doughnut shaped tubes and climbed over rocks to navigate the river.
We floated on the water as the current changed speed and we were pulled into rapids which helped us see how the river carves through the land.
It was so much fun and even though a few of us were nervous, we all made it to the end of the gorge with the biggest smile on our faces.
Next for the geographical ‘peak’ of our trip… Mount Etna
As the coach drew nearer to the 3000ft summit, the clouds drew in and the snow began to fall. We had been told to wrap up for the -13°c wind chill that would greet us at the top. We had prepared for the cold but nothing could prepare us for the otherworldly terrain and awesome views from Mount Etna.
Tip of the day: If any student (or teacher) has forgotten their warm layers, you can rent a jacket shortly after getting out of the cable car for just €3.
We took a coach, cable car and a 4×4 to reach the summit. We could see how the landscape had been changed by the lava flow effusion only eight days earlier. It was incredible to pick up rocks that were still warm from the lava cooling underneath them. Venturing to the smoking crater we could see where the lava had flowed right under our feet. The students were captivated when another teacher, Miss Wright, pointed out that these rocks would probably have never been touched by anyone else on the planet.
It’s no wonder why Mr Carmody described day three as the ‘best day of his life’.
Day 4 – Panarea & Stromboli
It was our final full day on the trip and time for our boat trip to the Aeolian islands. Despite the jam-packed day before, everyone was very energised for another adventure. Mr Baybutt led the school chanting on the bus ‘Stromboli, Stromboli – we’re the famous Millthorpe School and we’re going to Stromboli’.
Students made their way to the top deck to take in the sunshine and embrace the bumpy ride to Panarea where we stopped for a spot of lunch and a swim in the sea.
Tip of the day: Practice your Italian manners and bartering as it may get you some discount off your souvenirs or sunbed charges.
Back on the boat we reached Stromboli – Europe’s most regularly active volcano. If measured from below sea level, Stromboli actually exceeds Etna in size. After time to explore the island we watched the sun set over Stromboli as plumes of tephra arose from its crater.
Day 5 - Home sweet home
It was finally time to go home, but not after one more picture of Etna and a few final Italian souvenirs and snacks in the airport. Be sure to try chocolate cannoli and arancini Norma.
Sicily is so much more than Italy’s ‘football’. It has everything you need for an unforgettable school trip packed with fun, adventure and geography. The students learnt so much and saw things that I had never had an opportunity to at their age.
You may think that travelling with 87 teenagers would be a challenge, and you’d be right, but with a busy itinerary, appropriate accommodation and enthusiastic teachers, it is a challenge you can be glad to accept. The organisational complexity is all worth it when you see the 87 students return home with incredible memories and a new understanding of geography that will help them in the classroom.
Thank you to Millthorpe for making my trip so special.
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