5 days in Sicily

[stextbox id=”grey”]Intro[/stextbox]

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I travelled with my wife in September 2012.

We rented a car and stayed in:

It was a last minute impromptu trip. We were in search of relatively inexpensive R&R, delicious food, a bit of culture and heat.

It was a win on all counts.

Aside: I was going to call this article ‘Sicily in 5 days’, but that would be completely disingenuous as we barely scratched the surface.

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[stextbox id=”grey”]Palermo[/stextbox]

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ORIENTATION

The airport bus (Euro 6.1 per person) to Stazione Centrale takes c.40 mins. More info here.

The airport bus route dissects Palermo and is a good way to familarise yourself with the city. Arriving the North East: South down ‘Notarbatolo’, West on ‘Via Liberta’ to ‘Politema’, South down ‘Via Emerico’ to the port, West skirting the coast to the South West corner, then  North along ‘Via Abramo Lincoln’ to ‘Stazione Centrale’. 

You will want to be based near Quattro Canti – (Cell C4 on the map).

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HOTEL

Hotel Palazzo Sitano

Location: 20/25 [See ‘H’ on map above. Limited views]
Room: 20/25 [See video – Great size, Nice decor]
Breakfast: 3/10 [Coffee = machine, ‘Juice’ = ‘Squash’] 
Staff: 9/10 [Helpful re recommendations]
Amenities: 5/10 [No free wifi, small TV]
Value: 19/20 [£93]
Overall: 76/100 = Recommended

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Junior suite in Hotel Palazzo Sitano

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FOOD

Antica Focacceria

Food = 25/40
Service = 10/20
Value = 15/20
Atmosphere = 15/20
Overall = 65/100

Le Delizie di Cagliostro

Food = 20/40
Service = 12/20
Value = 12/20
Atmosphere = 12/20
Overall = 56/100

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We went to both these restaurants on the recommendation of the desk at Hotel Palazzo Sitano. Both are less than 5 mins walk from the hotel.

Both were reasonable, neither sent me to culinary heaven, which is reflected in the lack of photos.

The Antica Focacceria is worth the trip for the cheap lunch buffet in a pleasant secluded square.

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OFF THE BEATEN TRACK

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VIA ARGENTERIA

Just across the road from Hotel Palazzo Sitano.

This neighbourhood looked like the set from the Romeo & Juliette (the one with Danes/Dicaprio): Edgy, Decay, History, Grafitti, Hip looking bars, Religious symbolism, etc.

Gagini Social Restaurant looked like it had good potential.

Would love to come back and spend a day taking photos in this area.

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PIAZZA S. ONOFRIO

This little square seemed to have it all:

Frida Pizzeria – very popular with the locals, delicious looking pizzeria with outdoor seating

Alchimia – a relaxed Hooka and Cocktail bar

and an excellent little gelato cafe (the best ice cream we had all trip).

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[stextbox id=”warning” caption=”Driving in Sicily “]

I’ve heard bad things, should I drive?

  • Absolutely yes, unless you are a timid driver/prone to panicing. We used a taxi once and they totally tried to rip us off.
  • Anyone who has driven in South-East Asia should feel totally at home on Sicily’s roads.

Tips?

  • Keep your eyes pinned infront of you. Lane hopping, late braking, pulling out into busy traffic, indicating one way and turning the other are the norm. Forget your mirrors and let those behind you worry about what you’re about to do.
  • Don’t bother trying to drive fast in towns, too many unknown variables.
  • Be aggressive and decisive. Don’t be afraid to use your horn/flash lights to remind people that you’re there. Keep your indicator on if some numpty is driving slowly in the fast lane. But probably don’t give people the finger – you might lose it!
  • Many towns are pedestrianised or use one way systems. Research parking at your destination in advance.
  • The motorways / toll roads are generally good. There don’t appear to be any speed cameras. I found driving faster safer.
  • Roads were quieter in early afternoon (siesta time for the locals!)
  • If you want to to enjoy costal driving, best to travel counterclockwise – so you are on the correct side of the motorway for a the sea view.

What car?

  • Small (parking space is at a premium, streets are narrow)
  • Powerful (mountainous roads, and you’ll need to get up to speed quickly)
  • probably automatic (a lot of start-stop in cities).

Other

  • I’ve used ‘Maggiore’ car rental a couple of times, they try and push insurance at POS, but other than this they have been decent. They are the partner for Alamo and National in Sicily.
  • Road map of Sicily here
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[stextbox id=”grey”]Taormina[/stextbox]

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ORIENTATION

Located on an  cliff 200m above the Ionian coast, with views westwards to Mt Etna, Taormina has an amazing setting.

The center of Taormina is pedestrianised. There are two large car parks to the east and west of the town, you will want to work out in advance of arrival which is closest to your hotel, if your hotel is in town, and program the car park into your Sat Nav (our hotel was on an alleyway not on the Sat Nav, causing great grief) .

Taormina is aesthetically beautiful but the charm feels manufactured. The town is centered on and choked with Tourists (a fair amount of mainland Italians), so any sense of authentic sicilian experience is left behind asyou enter through the medieval gates.

Everything happens on or just off ‘Corso Umberto’.

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HOTEL

Hotel El Jebel

Location: 20/25 [See ’11’ on map above. Set just back from Town Hall and Cathedral with Beautiful views from our room on the 2nd floor room across the bay of Villagonia]
Room: 18/25 [See video – Small but tastefully kitted out. The air conditioning didn’t function terribly well, but thankfully there was a large ceiling fan]
Breakfast: 9/10 [Excellent – cooked and french style options. Nice coffee. Fresh Juice. Por your own Prosecco (which i did…. bellinis for breakfast)]
Staff: 9/10 [Helpful and smiley on the whole.]
Amenities: 7/10 [Free Wifi, No pool which was odd given the 5* tag, excellent rooftop terrace for an evening drink]
Value: 15 /20 [£140]
Overall: 78/100 = Recommended

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Views from Hotel El Jebel

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FOOD

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Roso Peperoncino

Food =33/40
Service = 18/20
Value = 13/20
Atmosphere = 18/20
Overall = 82/100 = Recommended

Secluded (and difficult to find) garden setting near the Cathedral, friendly service and decent food; I really enjoyed the whole experience at Roso Peperoncino. Perhaps part of the enjoyment came from arriving just as they were opening and being the first guests for an hour or so.

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Trattoria da Nino

Food =33/40
Service = 16/20
Value = 13/20
Atmosphere = 15/20
Overall = 77/100

This place was decent, I just didn’t find the meal/setting as relaxing as Roso Peperoncino. Ask for a balcony seat on the first floor overlooking the sea if you are booking in advance.

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THINGS TO DO

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IN TAORMINA

Public Gardens / Giardino Publico – Beautiful views across the Bay of Naxos and Mount Etna (see pics in the gallery). Plenty of benches. Interesting trees and plants.  Felt far from the madding crowd. Bring your camera and a good book.

Bam Bar – Ice cream without cream was a new experience, but it was totally delicious (see pics in the gallery). We went later in the evening when the crowds had dispersed.

We also went to the Laboratorio Pasticceria Roberto which everyone on trip advisor raves about. The shop itself is interesting, the snacks were pleasant but overpriced IMO

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MOUNT ETNA

I drove to the Sapienza car park, took the cable car to Piccolo Rifugio (c. 2500m) and then the ‘Jeep’ (aka shuttle bus) to the Summit Zone (c. 2900m) = Eur 60 per person.

I have mixed feelings about our trip to mount etna:

  • On the one hand: Driving up the south side of Etna, was fascinating: from warm costal towns, through foothill villages, past vineyards, to mountain towns and finally to a place that felt like being on the moon. The trip was incredibly memorable and I took some interesting contrasty photos on the way up.
  • On the other hand: Taking the cable car and jeep to the ‘Summit Zone’ felt like a major rip off. It was expensive, took a long time, was totally freezing at the top and I didn’t feel like we saw anything extra – the craters at the Sapienza car park are bigger than the ones at the Summit Zone, and the Summit Zone itself is not the Plateau, so you don’t get to overlook the top (and see the bubbling lava flow I had envisaged in my naive imagination).

So, I would suggest just driving to the Sapienza car park; taking in the craters and views there and spending the saving (Euro 60 pp) on a really nice meal / better hotel etc….

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[stextbox id=”grey”]Syracuse[/stextbox]

 

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ORIENTATION

The main sights of Syracuse are on the island of Ortygia, connected to the town by three bridges. You can drive on the Island.

Ortygia is absolutely stunning from top to bottom – there is no obvious best place to stay, or place to go, just wander the tangled maze of alleys and take in the architectural tapestry of overlapping cultures.

The best know sites are the Cathedral (#9 on the map) and the Fontana Aretusa (#15).

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HOTEL

Royal Maniace Hotel

Location: 25/25 [See ‘H’ on map above. On Lungomare Ortigia, with excellent views across the bay and sea]
Room: 5/25 [The air conditioning didn’t work. Disaster. Had to sleep with a wet towel on my face. Literally. Rooms looked like they were last decorated sometime in the 1980s. The first room we were offered was dirty (see video)]
Breakfast: 1/10 [Very, Very, mediocre – a limited and poor quality spread of food and drinks. Not 4*)]
Staff: 2/10 [Were not coping with the air con and wifi outage across the hotel. This has been ongoing for 5 days before we arrived and continued during our stay.]
Amenities: 3/10 [Limited amenities. They have a ‘garden’ out the back but it wasn’t terribly appealing.]
Value: 5 /20 [£90]
Overall: 41/100 = Excellent location ruined by management. Do not stay here.

If you decide to stay here, you MUST insist on a room with a sea view. The sea view is the only thing the hotel has going for it under current management. It was close to “Fawlty Towers’ bad.

Time for a change of management, investment in the hotel and rebranding I think.

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Garden view room in Hotel Maniace (which we promptly rejected)

Sea view room in Hotel Maniace.

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FOOD

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Reginia Lucia

Food =37/40
Service = 18/20
Value = 18/20
Atmosphere = 18/20
Overall = 91/100 = Highly Recommended

Beautiful building and decor, charming service, delicious food. More expensive than other restaurants we went to, but overall great value. You would pay an arm and a leg for this experience in London.

We hadn’t booked and the seated area overlooking Piazza Duomo, was fully occupied despite it being 10pm, so we were seated inside. The decor inside was lovely, and we had the room to ourselves, so no loss.

We went for the tasting menu. It was mountains of food. Perhaps skip lunch and come here for an early dinner.

Book in advance.

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Appolonion

Food =39/40
Service = 16/20
Value = 20/20
Atmosphere = 16/20
Overall = 91/100 = Highly recommended

There is no menu. The deal is you pay Euro 35 and they bring you mountains of out of this word delicious food. Amazing value. It is small restaurant popular with locals. Book in advance. We tried to get in on our first night but were unable.

The only slight downside was that the complientary house wine was not great. If / when I go back, I’ll pass up on the house wine and choose something off the wine menu to compliment the food.

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THINGS TO DO

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IN SYRACUSE

Just wander the streets. There is something cool around every corner.

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NOTO

An hour or so from Syracuse, Noto is definitely worth a trip for the beautiful baroque intricately carved buildings. The main sites (cathedral and palaces) are all in a small area and you should also check out the theatre.

We had lunch at the ‘Terazzo Pizzeria’, which was average at best.

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