We spent a fantastic week touring Sicily a couple of years ago and because we only had a day to explore its capital, Palermo, we decided this was definitely a place that warranted a return visit. The first time we visited there was a thunderstorm which would have had Noah shepherding his animals on to the ark, the traffic which is bad at the best of times was horrendous and the rubbish collectors had been on strike for months. I reckon that if a city cries out to be visited again under these circumstances it has to be pretty special.
We got a good deal at the Grand Hotel et des Palmes, an iconic hotel steeped in history. It was founded in 1874 and later renovated in 1907 by an exponent of the Art Nouveau style. Famous visitors include Richard Strauss, Sigmund Freud and Richard Wagner, and the hotel also hosted the so-called 1957 Palermo Mafia Summit, details of which are still shrouded in mystery.
The hotel’s entrance lobby is impressive with marble floors, sculptures and antique furniture. Other parts of the hotel could do with a little TLC in places but the faded grandeur adds to the charm of the hotel and for £60 odd a night I certainly wasn’t complaining.
Breakfast was included in this bargain room rate and this was served in a splendidly elegant, if slightly faded, ballroom reminiscent of pre-revolution St Petersburg. It consisted of a generous buffet including hot options and prosecco, as well as the standard fare of fruit, pastries, cereals and bread. Jugs of fruit juice and coffee were laid out but if you managed to catch a waiter (not always easy) you could also order fresh coffee and freshly squeezed orange juice.
Our room overlooked a side street so was relatively quiet for such a central hotel. It was unremarkably furnished but spacious and the bed was comfy. Wi-fi was not free but then again it didn’t break the bank. The receptionists spoke good English and were very helpful when we had trouble with our key card. For the intrepid souls who are brave enough to drive in Palermo valet parking is available for a daily charge.
There really is no need for a car though. The shuttle bus from the airport stops a five minute walk from the hotel so you don’t even have to splash out on a taxi. The hotel is in a good position for sight-seeing with the old town being an easy walk away. It is also close to some good bars and restaurants. The railway station too is walkable if you fancy a day trip to places such as Cefalu and the bus stop for the beautiful abbey at Monreale is equally accessible.
Sadly Sicily conjures up images of Mafia activity and there was a time not so long ago that Palermo after dark was not a good place to be. Things have changed for the better though and we never felt uneasy. Admittedly I avoided carrying a handbag but this is the sort of precaution I would take in many cities.
If you’re looking for somewhere with a difference for a city break why not give Palermo a try? There is lots to see, good food, friendly people and, compared with the major cities of Italy, everything is a bargain!
Categories: Hotel Reviews - Europe