We piggy backed our tour of Sicily with a week on our own in Rome. (See TRAVEL: Rome post, dated 4/7/2016.)
Alitalia has several flights a day between from Rome (and other major Italian cities) and Palermo and Catania, Sicily.
The views upon approach were strikingly beautiful. City and mountains meet the azure seas. The compact airport was easy to navigate. A taxi from the airport to central Palermo was about 50 Euros. We opted for a first class shuttle bus that had a stop one block from our hotel costing only 12 Euros each.
The first impression at this new destination was a bit disappointing. After leaving the Airport the coastal highway presented a series of old, crumbling industrial sites and miles of modest to dilapidated ocean front homes.
As we got closer to Palermo the roads and images improved. Suddenly Palermo appeared to be an extensive series of midrise housing blocks with commercial or retail on the first floor, somewhat void of any historic character.
Finally we arrived at a central square overlooking one of two Opera houses, our stop. As it turned out, our Plaza Opera Hotel was centrally located one block from the most important shopping street in Palermo and an easy walk to restaurants and the old part of town. The hotel, while compact, has a charming breakfast room and a hearty breakfast, a cute tiny bar, comfortable modern rooms with all the amenities. There is a roof deck open in good weather. Service was excellent. Most staff spoke excellent English. Plaza Opera Hotel, via Nicolo Gallo, 2, 90139 Palermo, Italia. firstname.lastname@example.org or www.the hotel sphere.com.
As we spent the afternoon getting acquainted with our new home for the next few days, we made a wonderful discovery that lasted the rest of our trip: prices were 30% to 70% cheaper than most of Western Europe. A liter of bottled water was 25 cents and good wines were 3 to 5 Euros. Perfectly satisfying whites and reds at bargain prices. You could spend more but given the quality and selection, we were happy campers.
Palermo: Old Quarter
This area is the ancient part of Palermo and the confluence of the many nations that ruled this city over the centuries, predominately Christian and Islam. This well preserved area of the city is filled with buildings dating back centuries. Most are well preserved or restored. The cathedral was first a mosque before being expanded and converted to a church during the Norman period. It has a look and feel different from most of Europe but that is part of the charm and fascination.
Overlooking Palermo is suburban Monreale and its 12th Century Norman Cathedral. Nearly every surface of the interior is covered in mosaics of biblical scenes in rich colors and lots of gold.
After returning to Palermo’s historic quarter for a walk through the traditional marketplace, we lunched on roasted vegetables, pasta and pastries.
Castelbuono & Cefalu
Sandwiched between the bay and a massive granite cliff is the bucolic town of Cefalu. Its Romanesque cathedral dates back to 1131.
Set in the Madonie Mountains, Castelbuono is a well preserved medieval town complete with 14th century castle embattlements and towers.
Part 2…Coming Soon
Mazara Del Vallo