A September 2004 trip
to Sicily by shaunandtrish
Quote: This island should really be the top tourist island destination in the Mediterranean - it has so much going for it. It also has its problems, quirks, and considerable irritations. Most are either avoidable or you can work around them with a bit of research. Some valuable (I hope) tips contained herein...
Mount Etna is a good trip, hiring a car being the best and cheapest option for getting there. Organised tours are expensive, while public transport is woefully inadequate.
Palermo... well ... plenty to see, historical buildings especially, BUT not without its problems. Too many to summarise - details in another journal.
Public transport options are often very limited, making exploration by a hired car the best option, but poor road signs make navigation difficult, and often non-existent parking options mean you need a car like a hole in the head when you get there. A good guide book and detailed road map are a must. Insure your car to the hilt. Oh, and develop eyes in the back of your head for driving.
Rail links are actually fairly good and cheap across the whole north coast from Trapani to Cefalu. Trains from Palermo airport to Palermo leave 40 minutes past the hour and tickets cost between four and five euro, depending on which stop you get off.
Hotel | "Hotel Villa Mora, Giardini Naxos"
It is run by a blonde, statuesque lady called Anna who delivers all verbal information with the air of a strict and ticked-off music teacher - that's just her way. Her English is very good. What I took to be her other half was more affable and looked remarkably like French goalkeeper, Fabien Bartez, or a young Donald Pleasance. He took charge of breakfast each day.
There's a nice professional website at Hotel Villa Mora. There are accurate photographs of the interior of the hotel, breakfast room, guest rooms, and more, but the exterior shots are a bit misleading. They show the sea view, but I think there are only three or four rooms with anything like that view, and I shudder to think how the photographer contorted himself to enable those shots. I struggle to reconcile the views on the website with those you would get from the hotel balconies. Don't let that put you off though. The rooms are fairly spacious, clean, secure, and with an en suite shower and toilet for 75 euro a night. Credit cards accepted. The bathroom's a little bit cramped - its one of those arrangements where the toilet and shower share the same floor space behind a curtain, meaning that you have to take extra care to keep the toilet paper dry while showering. Basic toiletries, paper, and towels are all supplied.
Breakfast is served 8am to 10am in the pleasant breakfast room and consists of tea/coffee, juice, bread, jam, boiled eggs, melon, grapes, and cheese.
Parking is a problem. The Hotel has no car park. All on-street parking is subject from 9am to 9pm to a 1-euro-per-hour charge. Tickets must be bought from one of an army of blue-vested Poliza Municipale who tenaciously and joyfully patrol and enforce. If you do not buy a ticket - you will get a ticket!! Alternatively, Anna will refer you to Franco, who has a small parking lot about half a mile away, near the Autostrasse. For 7 euro per day, he'll keep your car safe, secure, and shuttle you to and from it for free. Franco, incidentally at the time of writing, is in the process of preparing an apartment for holiday rental. It’s set back a couple of hundred yards from the beach, but if you are planning on a longer stay, he might be worth a call (0942 52606). His English isn't great, mind you, and his German is only a bit better.
So, Villa Mora - we stayed 3 days, but could easily have stayed longer.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on September 22, 2004
Hotel Villa Mora
Lungomare Naxos 47
+39 (0942) 51839
Hotel | "Giorgios House, Palermo"
I would not say the reviews were misleading: Giorgio is a genuinely nice guy who goes the extra mile for his guests, rooms are basic but comfortable and clean, and the ratio of two bathrooms to three rooms is not bad either. Breakfast is juice, coffee, fresh chocolate croissants, fresh bread and jam, and french toast, which Giorgio makes at about 8:30 am (he does not live on the premises). Towels and basic toiletries are supplied and the kitchen has a gas stove and a large fridge. What I would say is that the reviews may lead you to overlook Palermo's (not Giorgio's) downsides, and, maybe, spend longer in Palermo than you should.
The location of Giorgio's House can scare the first time visitor, especially if you arrive at night. The streets hardly look safe, and its not until you can get out in the daytime that you realise that you are just 50m from the Palazzo dei Normanni and the main police headquarters. Its a 10-minute walk from Palermo Orleans Train Station. A ticket to/from the airport will cost 4.50 euro. Trains from the airport leave 40 minutes past the hour; trains back to the airport leave 17 minutes past the hour. Giorgio will collect you from the station when you arrive.
Giorgio's House is on the second floor of a block of flats. You get a key to get you in the secure front entrance and a second key to get you in the flat. As well as the kitchen, there's a TV room for guests to use (all channels are Italian), and a bakery/pizzaria just downstairs (closed Sunday).
During our stay, Giorgio took us to Erice for an evening in is own car. This was a lovely trip, especially since the peacefulness of Erice contrasts so starkly with the raucousness of Palermo. All we had to do was chip in for the gas.
I find it hard to recommend Palermo for an extended trip, but if you do find yourself there, then Giorgio's House is a good place to stay. Check out his chaotic website. Giorgios House. Credit cards are not accepted. You have to vacate your room by 10am on your day of departure, but he's a good guy and will let you stay in the house for as long as you need if your flight or train is not until late. He'll give you a key to get in and out of the house. This is actually quite a bonus as you can rest up in the TV room and shower before you depart.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on September 22, 2004
+39 (091) 525057
That is not to say the food does not stand up for itself: large, tasty pizzas (all are thin-crust in Sicily) for 4 to 8 euro, depending on topping; pasta dishes for a similar price; a well-stocked vegetarian anti-pasti buffet for 6 euro to start (containing a wide selection of vegetables roasted in olive oil and balsamic vinegar); and a litre of local wine for about 9 euro.
Fish eaters and vegetarians are well-catered for here, but carnivores less so. This is common throughout Sicily. So if you can't stand fish and really want something meaty, your choices will be very limited. Credit cards are accepted.
Like most restaurants up and down the Via Naxos, the Arcobaleno serves competitively priced and tasty pizza and pasta ranging from about 4 to 9 euro, depending on what it's topped with. The house anti-pasti is a plate of vegetables, melon, and parma ham (6 euro) and a litre of vino locale comes in at about 9 euro.
Price and quality actually don't vary too much along the Via Naxos. Things are quite competitive so its difficult to get a bad meal. The only negative issue against this spot is that they don't accept credit cards. Other than that, good spot, great food, competitive prices, and no complaints.
You get a nice little bonus here because they bring you little snacks for free too. Sometimes its bits of left over Pizzele, sometimes crisps or pretzels. Service is friendly, but not always the quickest, but prices are reasonable. We generally shared a half litre of vino locale, which would come to about 5 euro I think.
Come in and watch the world go by for an hour.
Restaurant | "Pizzeria Bellini, Palermo"
Anyway, they have a reasonable, self-service vegetable anti-pasti buffet at 5 euro, which is good value to start. Next you can go with the pizza, pasta, or meat/fish. If you are hungry, you have to go with the pizza. We went meat/fish and, although the quality was high, the quantity was not. My seafood mixed grill consisted of three prawns, four calarmari, and a small piece of grilled tuna (10 euro). With that, you get no veggies, chips, potatoes - nothing save for a lettuce leaf. Luckily, we were not starving after we got our full value from the anti-pasti buffet. Wine starts at about 9 euro a bottle and credit cards are accepted.
Actually, this place does have another strength over most other Palermo eateries. It has an open courtyard that is set well back off the main Via Marqueda, which means it can offer reasonably civilized, open-air dining - something that the constant din of the traffic normally puts the dampers on, as most other places are closer to the street.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on September 22, 2004
Piazza Bellini 6
It offers a good quality of food in relatively (for Palermo) quiet surroundings - prices are not the cheapest, but service is efficient and friendly. We had anti-pasti and pasta. The anti-pasti was a bit of a rip-off at €5 and four olives, some pieces of cheese, and a slice of parma ham (how much thought went into that one I wonder?). Pasta was better, very tasty, but portions were small, and the price was about €8.
Credit cards accepted, closed on Sundays (aren't they all?).
Prices here are a euro or two higher than Palermo, but nothing major. Choices are (as always) pizza, pasta or meat/fish, and (as usual) your meat choices are the most restricted, with fish and vegetable eaters better catered for.
A good-sized pizza will set you back about 6 euros and a plate of pasta 7-10. I had a Spaghetti al Gamberi (spaghetti, olive oil, four or five shell-on prawns), which was about 7.50. If you get a beer, you will be offered "piccolo" or "grande". Be careful, as often this means 25cl or 33cl - here the "grande" is 66cl. Similarly, if you go for the "grande" option for Coca-Cola, they bring you a full litre bottle.
Anyway, our bill for a pizza, 3 pastas, a plate of chips a "grande" bottle of Coke, and beer came to just under 40 euros. Not bad value, nice surroundings, pleasant service - recommended.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on September 23, 2004
Anyway, you have to go. We had a car at the time, which is by far the best option. Coach trips from Giardini Naxos and Taormina are about 30 euro each, and then you'll only get to the base camp (Etna-Sud) at about 1800 feet. If you want to go higher, you must travel on the monopolized mini-bus route (no cars past the base camp) or cable car. Both will set you back about 45 euros. You can walk for free, but you'll need a good four hours.
Driving from Giardini Naxos to Etna is easy. Follow the A18 to Giarra for 20km, and then follow the surprisingly adequate brown signs to Etna-Sud via Zaffarana, which, incidentally, is attractive enough for an ice cream stop in the main square. The drive will take about 70 minutes.
Arriving at Etna-Sud, you find a place to leave your car amongst the tour buses and other cars; then you are free to wander around the black and dusty lower craters or take an expensive trip or long walk to the top.
Considering gravity of the attraction, there is little in the way of support activities on Etna. A small and expensive bar/restaurant and a souvenir shop - that's it. So don't be surprised if you choose not to go to the top that you are turning back for home after about an hour.
One curiosity you'll notice is that the slopes are literally covered with ladybirds (ladybugs). They are everywhere. What do they eat? Beats me.
So, what's it like - check out the photos. It’s well worth the trip, but, to be honest, it’s pretty much what you'd expect the side of a volcano to be like.
The island is such a parodox, and it is difficult to work out, at first, why it is the way it is. For starters, it has more going for it as a travel destination than most places. A great central Mediterranean location makes it accessible and gives it a nice long season. It’s well-served these days by cheap flights in and out (with Ryanair). Its beaches are wonderful, it is home to the largest active volcano in Europe, Mount Etna, it has some lovely little islands offshore, great diving locations on the north coast, and it possesses a depth of historical and archeological sites from a range of diverse civilizations that has no real parallel in Europe.
So you wonder why it does not wipe the floor with Cyprus, Ibiza, Corfu, and others as the island destination of choice? Why does it make so little effort to exploit its potential? Major sites are served by a pitifully inadequate public transport infrastructure. Parking is largely a nightmare. Attractions are rarely supported by the sort of side-show that encourages you to stay a bit longer. Mt. Etna, for example, the largest active volcano in Europe, has one crappy souvenir shop and a small bar/restaurant at its base camp, Etna-Sud. No museum, no additional information, no marked paths, nothing. So you ask yourself, "What's wrong with these people?" The island is not wealthy and there's a lot of unemployment, why does it not take the easy step of beefing up its attractions and make some relatively easy, and much needed, money? The sad and simple reason was explained to me by a Sicilian. Who'd be an entrepreneur when half your profits are siphoned off by your mafia "sponsor"?
Basically that means, with the exception of straight beach holidays on the east coast, there is a bit of work to be done if you want to get the most out of your trip. Go east, west, or south and you need a car, a good guide book, and detailed map to find the gold. Signs are generally poor, so don't be surprised to find what you are looking for before you see a brown sign leading you to it, and don't be surprised either if there is nowhere to park and no toilets. Think ahead and stock up on water and snacks, especially on a Saturday night. Even in Palermo, you'll find that most places, even restaurants, don't open on a Sunday.
Think carefully before you plan to spend too long in the bigger towns of Palermo, Catania, and Messina. There might well be quite a bit to see, in Palermo especially, but you may find that the bustling, gritty atmosphere and the incessant noise will grind you down. Whilst Palermo is busy and densely populated with plenty to see, do, eat, and drink, "vibrant" is not an adjective that fits it very well. We spent four days there and wished for home after two.
Relaxing times can be had in the east - of that there is no doubt. Taormina and Giardini Naxos do allow a person to chill. These are the most obvious locations that encourage a stay of more than a day or two. Although the process of sightseeing can be stressful and problematic, the sights themselves are generally worth the effort
Money, Payment, and Banking Issues are things that must be carefully thought through. Travellers Cheques are not recommended because they are a nightmare to change. Credit Cards are not as widely accepted as they are in most other western European destinations, with some fairly large restaurants and guest houses refusing to take them. Banks, even the really big ones near the Teatro Massimo in Palermo, are a nightmare. Queuing etiquette is largely ignored by customers, even if there is a formal ticketing system, with pushing-in and barging past common-place. Procedures at the counter are painfully slow and practically prehistoric. To give an example, I needed to draw some cash on my card in Palermo. When I finally reached the counter, the teller had difficulty swiping my card and getting an imprint on the paper counter-foil. This was fairly obviously because he put the card in upside down and was trying to get an imprint from the smooth side. He had six failed attempts in total (each time with me desperately trying to catch his eye, each time with him deliberately failing to make eye contact in a ridiculously exaggerated fashion) before he finally figured it out for himself. Then he had a problem because my signature on the form did not exactly match the one on my eight-year-old passport. After four failed attempts to recreate my old signature (which incidentally did not match the one on the back of my current credit card), he decided to hand over the cash, shaking his head gravely as he did it. My advice? Make sure you know your PIN numbers to avoid all of this nonsense.
Personal Security, I have to say, was less of an issue than I'd anticipated. We are not ones for wandering around in the middle of the night so we don't test it to its limits, but, provided you stick to wide, well-lit streets with people in them and the odd car going past, and you take the obvious sensible precautions, you won’t have any problems. I did not notice the fabled armies of roving pick-pockets in or around the airport or stations, and, what beggars there are in Palermo, are fairly passive. There are some pretty big stray dogs though ...
So, the conclusion. Take in the sights early in the trip, moving on after a day or two in each area (Erice, Palermo, Agrigento, Syracuse) - that will be enough. Leave some time at the end of your trip to chill out in Giardini Naxos, Taormina, or Cefalu. That's my advice. Do things in reverse and you may find that you go home truly worn and stressed out.
Vision of Hell #0.5: Autostrasse tolls.Not a big hell, just a bit of an irritation. The A20/A18 between Palermo and Catania has the most tolls, and the whole trip will cost you about 12 or 15 euro in tolls. The A19 through the middle, on the other hand, has little or none. Either way its only a little hell because the driving is easy. One thing to watch - the A20 between Palermo and Messina is not finished and there is a long stretch not long after Cefalu where you have to follow the single carriage coast road. It's quite tortuous as it twists and turns, and because it's a major freight route, you may well find yourself at the back of a slow moving convoy for mile after mile.
Vision of Hell #1: Parking in small/medium sized towns. This is only a minor hell, punishment only maybe for a few lies. Taking Enna and Giardini Naxos as examples, you'll find parking a problem. Dedicated car parks are rare and usually you'll have to take your chances on the (usually very narrow) streets. At this point, you'll need to watch out as it is generally not free and parking enforcement (ticketing in other words) is probably Sicily's most efficient public service. Charges will vary from about .50 to 1 euro per hour, and you'll buy your ticket either from a patroling, blue-vested Poliza Municipale or sometimes the bars and Tabacs sell them.
Vision of Hell #2 - Driving round trying to find things.Oh Lord, please give me a sign!!! This is a step up and punishment for something more sustained and substantial like theft or arson. Don't expect notable attractions to be well posted, easy to find, or easy to park your car near to. Taking Monreale as an example, I drove around its extremely narrow, vespa-infested streets for as long as the tears held off without locating The Duomo or Cloisters. In the end, the trip had to be aborted and I spent another 30 minutes just trying to leave in the right direction. This is common, even in places you expect to be a bit more laid back like Monreale (described in many guide books as a "hill town") and Enna (ditto). Generally, places will be more crowded and hectic than you expect.
Vision of Hell #3 - Driving manners. The ultimate punishment in terms of its severity. Let me describe the road manners - there aren't any. You can be overtaken at any point by anything on any road on either side of your vehicle. Vespas are the worst - they just decide to overtake and it's your job to make space, not theirs to decide if there is any! You will never EVER be flashed in to a line of traffic, not even by a little old lady or a priest.
Vision of Hell #4 - Driving in Palermo.This is indeed hell in a very, very angry shade of red. Basically, it's visions 1 to 3 added together and multiplied by 10. I am crying as I recall the two hours spent trying to get out alive. Why was I there in the first place? By pure accident - a wrong turn on the way back to the airport to drop the hire car off. But once you're in, you're in. Vespas are everywhere, signs are nowhere. You arrive at a crossroads (most crossroads) and there are NO SIGNS telling you what is in ANY direction!!! So you just have to guess. If I'd seen a sign for Rome or Prague, I'd have followed it - at least I'd have known where I was headed. Double parking is commonplace - people just stop their cars in a line of traffic and wander off!!! I will NEVER, EVER do this again, even by accident.
Unlike many other Sicilian towns, Erice has not suffered over the last 150 years or so through being "added to". The feel and atmosphere of the hill town are authentically medieval. Many of its narrow cobbled streets are free from traffic, and it is an ideal escape from the noise and hubbub of Palermo. For the first time in a while, you may notice that the continual whine of the Vespas has disappeared. Worth the trip on its own.
We were lucky enough to be driven to Erice one night by our host, Giorgio (see my journal "Giorgios House"), along with another guest, Candy, so long as we chipped in for the gas. I think Palermo gets under Giorgio's skin as much as it did ours, and I think he enjoys this particular excursion as much as his guests, even though he must do it every week.
Arriving by car at Erice, after you have wound your way up to the top of the hill, you park in a car park at the edge of town (Porte Trapani). You are then free to stroll the quiet, eerie (where is everybody?) streets and take in the atmosphere. You must take care to wrap up warm for the trip. Erice is high up and has its own microclimate, tending to be mistier and cooler than its neighbours at lower altitudes. This all adds to the atmosphere, of course.
The town itself is the highlight - it is beautiful, quiet, clean and full of character, its Norman Castello di Venere being its most specific attraction. Other than that, another notable highlight is the view over the west coast and Trapani down below that it gives. Strangely, despite the fact that there may be nobody around from 8pm onwards, there is a reasonable selection of trattorias in which to take a bite. We used the Ulisse (see its own journal).
A very, very highly recommended excursion and a wonderful contrast to the attractions of Palermo.
Leaving the A19 (by far the fastest route to the west coast, far faster than the A20 and with fewer tolls), follow the signs to Enna. First you'll come to Enna (bas) - I think – anyway, that's not it, the Enna you want is actually up on top of the hill.
Arriving in Enna, you may be surprised to find that its outskirts are mostly unattractive postwar blocks of flats; following the route to the centre of town, they gradually get replaced by the older core of the old town. The streets are narrow and traffic will probably be heavy. Parking is, as usual, the problem. You must simply roam around until you find yourself a spot around the edges of one of the piazzas, or on a street. Then you must buy and display a ticket (0.50 Euros per hour, bought usually from a nearby bar). Then you're set to wander.
A must-see is the view over the lower hill towns across the scorched interior from Piazza Garibaldi. Then wander around the older part of town, taking in the Duomo in the Piazza Mazzini before heading to the highly impressive 13th-century Castello di Lombardia.
On the way there, you may well pass the only hotel in town - the Sicilia - in the Piazza Colainni, and my word, does it look grim from the outside!!!
After that it’s time to hit the road. Enna is the sort of place you can see quite easily in 2 hours, and with little to offer in the way of accommodation options or nearby attractions - it pretty much is in the middle of nowhere - you're not likely to feel compelled to stay much longer.
The Corso Vittorio Emanuele from the Palazzo dei Normanni to the Marina
Staying at Giorgios House (see its own journal), puts you at the end of the Corso Vittorio Emanuele. In actual fact at that point (the end furthest from the sea), it's the Corso Calatafimi, which merges with the Corso Vittorio Emanuele at the Cattedrale. Anyway, starting at this end, the first attraction is the impressive Palazzo dei Normanni, initially a Norman construction, but looking much more modern due the fact that it has been constantly added to and tinkered with over the years. Nonetheless, it’s a fine building with an attractive courtyard and fountain out front. It has a guarded entrance due to the fact that it now houses the Palermitan Regional Assembly.
Crossing diagonally through the courtyard in front of the Palazzo dei Normanni, with its many palm trees, you find yourself immediately facing the Cattedrale. Again it’s a Norman conception that looks much younger as a result, again, of being tinkered with and added to over the years. Its domes, for example, are about as Norman as a bunch of bananas. It too has an attractive piazza out front, giving you the space to get some good external photographs without being run down by the ever-present onrushing traffic. Inside it’s pleasant enough, but pretty much as you would expect the inside of a cathedral to look once you've seen a few. Entry is free, but inside they have a very small museum of artifacts that you must pay (I think) €2 to view. We didn't.
Proceeding down the Corso Vittorio Emanuele from the Cattedrale, you'll be struck by the density of second hand book shops on the initial stretch. This gives a clue that the University is in the vicinity, and it is, just off the Via Marqueda to the right as you walk in the direction of the sea. The sidewalk is narrow, busy, and occasionally blocked in places by scaffolding, so you'll frequently find yourself stepping out onto the road to make progress. If you do this, please promise me that you'll be careful!!!
At Quatro Canti, a crossroads about 100m down from the Cattedrale where the road is crossed by the Via Marqueda, there is an interesting baroque architectural feature incorporating a fountain arrangement. At the time of writing, it was permanently occupied by a group of three large stray dogs (always sleeping, always together). Large stray dogs are a feature of the city, unlike other parts of the world where strays tend to have gravitated/evolved to knee height or less. Other oddities you may notice in Palermo are a higher than normal proportion of hairless people of both sexes, and men below 5 feet in height - obviously some genetic peculiarity of the region. Anyway, I digress, back to the street.
Following the Corso Vittorio Emanuele, you become increasingly aware that at the end there is a light at the end of the tunnel. The thoroughfare is narrow, the buildings are tall and, in many cases, quite run down, and it comes as quite a relief when it finally opens out a bit at the Piazza Marina. This is about as close as Palermo gets to offering an oasis of tranquility amid the din of the city. Hemmed in by iron railings with entry possible through its only open gate at the corner closest to the Corso Vittorio Emanuele, this is a lovely little square with a nice fountain, some ancient and odd looking banyan trees, and statues offering a bit of relative tranquility. It’s only about 50m by 75m, so you can still hear the traffic right enough, but it can't actually get to you. It gets used by lots of couples for wedding photos. There's a decent bar right next to the piazza with a great selection of ice cream (tiramisu recommended) enabling you to grab some and indulge in a rare and peaceful moment of pleasure in the piazza adjacent. Their coffee is good too. On most days, the outside perimeter of the Piazza is surrounded by the hap-hazard, but interesting stalls of a flea-market. The Palazzo Chiarmonte is right next door too.
Just opposite the piazza, the very busy Via Della Cala, is the Marina with its many moored yachts - a good photo opportunity and another popular spot for post-wedding photographs. You'll be put off from dwelling too long though, because the water is quite stinky.
The route is not that long and walking from the Palazzo dei Normanni to the Marina is easily achievable inside an hour at a leisurely stroll. Generally, you'll be looking to take in a broader range of sights on your foot tour by following the main thoroughfares that cross this road. The attractions of these are recounted in a separate journal, Walking Central Palermo #2.
The Via Roma is mostly a commercial street, the best street for more up-market clothes shops. It’s probably also the widest and tidiest road in Palermo and home to most of the big banks; including some highly visible, and hence safe, hole-in-the wall cash machines. So if you need to draw some money, head this way. There are some good coffee and ice cream shops here too, and it leads directly to the highly impressive main post office and, next to that, the Museo Archeologico. The more interesting diversions, though, are to be had by following the side streets off to the left (as you head towards the Museo Archeologico). On any day, except Sunday (naturally), these streets incorporate a wide variety of market stalls. The ones closest to the Via Roma sell mostly clothes and gadgets, while the ones nearer to the Cattedrale and the Teatro Massimo sell fruit and vegetables, meat or fish. As you might expect, these are vibrant and colourful affairs. It’s easy to feel like you are getting lost as you follow the rows of stalls in and out of the side streets, but you'll either end up at the very grand Teatro Massimo or near the Cattedrale somewhere.
The Teatro Massimo is a very grand affair and plays host to all the major cultural events, ballets, theatrical productions, and the like, and is at one end of the Via Marqueda, the other main thoroughfare crossing the Via Roma at Quatro Canti. Head away from the Teatro Massimo down the Via Marqueda, and you'll eventually end up at the Statione Centrale, the main train station. The road leading to the station houses quite a few of the better-priced hotels and also some reasonably priced restaurants. As you approach the station, you'll also notice that a higher proportion of immigrant communities are centered here, bringing with them the rarities of a Chinese and an Indian Restaurant.
Just off the Via Marqueda, near the Piazza Bellini (home to the open-on-a-Sunday Pizzeria Bellini) is the Piazza Pretoria with its impressive large fountain occupied by a host of white statues in various poses and stages of undress.
This route is a good walk, centered on the two main thoroughfares, but incorporating the side-streets and markets. There are plenty of coffee and ice cream shops here too, and there's even a supermarket on the Via Marqueda at the end nearest the train station. Incidentally, if you happen to buy a train ticket from one of the machines and it decides to give you a credit instead of change (I don't know why sometimes its one, sometimes the other), you can only redeem the credit inside the Statione Centrale, which is a great pain. I happen to be sitting on a 5.50 Euro credit right now.
Anyway, Giardini Naxos is relatively laid back for Sicily. It appears to have no other real function than as a resort, so it has less of the work-a-day hustle, bustle, and grime of some other towns. Arriving by car gives you two immediate problems. Firstly, the resort is predominantly one-way, and locating your hotel can be difficult, despite the town's relatively small size. Then there is the parking. Parking is not particularly difficult, but it is expensive, and trying to find free parking is a futile exercise. All parking is subject to a one-euro-per-hour charge from 9am to 9pm, payable to the patrolling blue-vested Poliza Municipale. FIND ONE BEFORE THEY FIND YOU. Fines are stiff and dished out with glee. If you find a parking spot that appears to be free, it probably isn't. If you plan on staying in the resort for any number of days, it will be cheaper to use one of the commercial car parks on the edge of town. The Hotel Villa Mora put us in touch with Franco 0942 52606, who charges €7 per day for secure parking and pick-up/drop-off services.
So, the merits of the resort? First, a very nice, long beach along a shallow bay with warm, safe waters. Much of the beach is given over to private hire; that is, you must pay about €7 per day to use a two-sun-lounge/one-umbrella pitch, but the pitches are clean and well-kept, so the charge is not unreasonable. Most have changing cubicles and a toilet, as well, so you can set yourself for the day. The resort’s second merit is its good choice of reasonably priced restaurants and bars. Business along the front is quite competitive, and you may well find that there is little to be gained by shopping around, with quality and value consistently good. The third merit is its handy location for a visit to Taormina (about four miles along the coast - take the public bus and save yourself the hassle of getting parked in Taormina) and Mount Etna (about 40 miles). There are several organised tours to Mount Etna departing from the resort; prices seem to come in at about €30 per person. Driving there yourself, if you have a car, is easy and takes about 70 minutes.
I've recommended some accomodations, eating and drinking options in my other journals. Many bars and restaurants offer lovely evening views over the bay, and the arrival of the occasional cruise ship moored in the bay only adds to the romance. On the whole, we wish we'd stayed here a bit longer.
Durham, United Kingdom