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Italy/ Sicily - Help with area west of Palermo

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Hello, nee
We are finalizing our plan for ten days in Sicily, and I need some help with our last two nights. As background - We are traveling during high season, with our own car, and will have hopefully seen a lot of Greek ruins and also hopefully spent a fair amount of time at the beaches. We have three children between the ages of 6 and 10. We are interested in outdoorsy stuff and typically shy away from cities (which is why we are leaving only a few hours to wander Palermo). We need to leave Palermo on a Tuesday late in the afternoon and will wrap up in Agrigento on Sunday morning/ early in the day.
Someone suggested we spend our last two nights in the Trapani / Castellmmare del Golfo area, as there are neat things to see (more ruins and beaches - but of a different variety, and interesting landscape) and it might be cooler by the coast. There are way too many options for me to consider, but I am leaning towards a town between Palermo and Trapani, so we can do a day trip on Monday around the coast and then on Tuesday we are not rushing to get into Palermo. At the same time I am considering b and b's off the beaten path that offer a pool because it is likely to be very hot, and maybe our best course of action is sitting by a pool during the day and venturing out to see a few local sites in the early morning / evening on that Monday. It really is not a lot of time because we may decide to take our time driving north/ west from Agrigento, spending all day Sunday slowly making our way... and then to leave early enough in the day on Tuesday to be at the port by 4pm, we really only have Monday.
The start of our trip has us driving east from Palermo to Messina (via Cefalu) which is why I was leaning towards staying to the West of Palermo on our last two nights.
I think the number one things is that the area be family friendly (I know most of Italy is - but it is still hard to find accommodations for a family of five).
Thanks in advance for any suggestions!
Carolyne

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    I'm not sure I understand the logic of a relaxed 10 trip that has you start by heading from Palermo to Messina, but includes time between Palermo and Trapani, but FWIW, Segesta and Erice are often mentioned as good stops in the west.

    I think Dayle has recommended a place that might suit your needs -- do check her trip report.

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    Trapani has the wonderful hilltop mini-town of Erice above it, overlooking (views!!!) the city below and far beyond. There is a gondola that’s fun to take up there. It’s only a bit over an hour from there to the Palermo Airport (which is on the “good” side of town to avoid the city when making this trip from Trapani, it’s a straight shot).
    Coming from Agrigento you might first want to check out Marsala (where the Vermouth-like dessert wine Marsala is made). If you and the kids want to stay at a place like none other, stay at the hotel Villa Favorita. The grounds are superb, with pool, and park-like, the building is like a château, with an exquisite restaurant and wonderful breakfast. I’m sure the rooms up in the main building are nice, but we rented one of the “igloo”-like sleeping quarters in the gardens, hard to describe - round “huts” like you’ve probably not seen before. Fully self-contained and comfortable, too! You can see a glimpse of them at http://www.villafavorita.com/hotel-resort.html.
    A night there, and a night up in Erice, that would put a nice final memorable stamp on your trip!
    If you want to take one last look at Ancient Greece on your way to the airport, stop by Segesta along the A29. The temple actually looks better from a distance than from up close. Take the shuttle from the parking lot to the top of the hill and walk over to the amphitheatre with its incredible views. Those Greeks sure knew about making the most of the best spots!

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    If you want to stay somewhere along the coast between Trapani and Palermo, Castellammare del Golfo would be a good choice. Easy to get to Palermo airport (40 min.) and you could visit Segesta from there (20 min. drive).
    Check booking.com for hotels/B&B's/aparthotels with family rooms.

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    Better late than never... apologies for the long time it has taken me to provide an update. We found a great, family friendly place outside of Trapani - with a pool! It was off the highway, so handy and easy to find, but outside of Trapani, so we needed to drive if we wanted to go anywhere. It worked out great - with a family room large enough for us and food service on site. It is called L'islola del sale. We did not make it to Castellammare del Golfo - so we will save that for our next trip. We did get to Segesta, and it was as awesome as people say it is! Our kids were enthralled, and even though it was quite hot, we enjoyed the hike around the ruins. The view from the theater is beyond words.
    Oh, and we made the decision to bail on Agrigento. That too is for our next trip. We did do a day trip to Siracusa, including taking in the ruins and going on a short boat trip. Everyone was happy.
    Thanks to all for the advice!
    cdc

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    I have read your post three times and I am still not sure about this plan. The sentence “We need to leave Palermo on a Tuesday late in the afternoon and will wrap up in Agrigento on Sunday morning/ early in the day” has me baffled.
    You arrive in Palermo when? And you have to fly out of Palermo when?

    You say you have ten days in Sicily. Is it Day One when you plan to go as far as Messina, with a stop in Cefalù? (Be advised that you can’t drive to anywhere near the church).

    What does “wrap up in Agrigento” mean? Surely not the end of the trip since you aim at getting back to Palermo?

    How do you plan to get from Messina to Agrigento? The long way around - via Syracuse and Modica, or from Catania inland via Caltanissetta?

    For a stopover before getting back to Palermo I recommend Marsala, staying at the Villa Favorita in one or two of their cute “space-capsule” huts in the beautiful gardens (with pool etc.) - see www.villafavorita.com. In easy drive distance from Trapani where you should go up to Erice.

    Then on the way back to Palermo stop at Segesta and make sure you take the shuttle up to the hilltop, walk to the amphitheater and marvel at the good sense the Greeks had in selecting beautiful spots. Bring your camera!

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    Hi again,
    Here is a follow up from our trip. We took the ferry boat from Genova to Palermo. We wanted to have our own car - with a family of five the cost of the flight plus a car rental was prohibitive. We presently live in Switzerland and Genoa is only a few hours away. If we didn't fly, it meant that we would need to add a day for driving the twenty hours to Calabria, to then wait for a ferry to Messina ... or spend two days on the ferry. We opted for the boat! I later learned that there were other ferries from further south of Genoa, but there were none that would have brought us closer to Messina.
    We arrived in Genoa way too early for the departure - it was only Swiss and Germans lining up hours before departure - - the locals knew they could arrive much closer to the departure time. It was hot on the pier, but we were permitted to leave the car and walk around - - so we set off to find ice cream and shade. I am glad we arrived early, despite the heat and the boredom, because I was anxious for our first time on the ferry and I felt better knowing we were in the queue ready to go.
    The cabins are snug, but clean and served their purpose. Many people do not book a cabin and will book only a movie theatre styled seat - or find a spot to crash in a lounge or hallway. The outdoor decks were jam packed with people staking out their territory which was frustrating and limited the outdoor time we could enjoy. There were also a lot of dogs on the boat, plus a kennel for cats and bigger dogs. If you are not an animal person then I would not take this trip. I brought a lot of games, books, etc. to keep us occupied for the 20 plus hour journey-- but still the last two hours you are sent to wait in a lounge or restaurant based on where your car is parked... and it can be painfully boring and claustrophobic. (My husband and I disagree over which is worse option - to drive and be stuck in the car or to take the ferry and be stuck on the boat... I think if we did the drive one way, we would say we should have taken the boat... and while we are on the boat, we would wonder if the drive would have been better. They are both probably equal!)
    When we arrived in Palermo we were one of the first cars off the boat! It was a bit crazy getting into our car as the cars are so tightly packed. And driving there is not for the weak at heart.
    We spent our first night in Palermo at the Best Western. I didn't know how we would feel or if the boat would be on time (it was early) so I did not want to go far on our first day. The BW had a great family room, the staff was very nice - and the breakfast buffet was lovely. It was really well located, and there was a pay parking lot around the corner.
    We arrived early enough in the day on a Friday to spend a few hours wandering around the town. One of the main streets was closed (I think it is closed for the market every Friday) which allowed us to people watch and window shop as we stretched our legs. We saw a lot of the tourist sights (from the outside) as we explored the city. We eventually found a place for dinner - - note that many places do not open for dinner until 7 pm and sometime 8pm. Our kids were starving by the time we found a place - - having gelato and granita on most corners helped keep us all going.
    The next day we took off for the Messina area where we would meet family. We stopped for lunch and a swim in Cefalu, as it is on the way. It was the first day of a holiday week and a Saturday - so the town was very crowded. There was so much traffic getting off the highway and getting into the town -- it was a crawl most of the short way. I would not advise going during the August holiday unless you have to. We skipped any sightseeing and instead paid for parking close to the beach and spent the afternoon in the waves. The life guards were really friendly and helpful. Even though the beach was crowded, the water was beautiful. It was shallow with small waves, and tons of kids in the water. The kids (and the parents) had a blast. We had a slightly overpriced simple lunch on the waterfront - - well worth it because the kids could play across the road at playground while we waited for our food to arrive. We made it to my family's place later in the evening. We spent most of our time there visiting with family and doing stuff in their village.
    However, one day we broke away to take a boat trip to Volcana and Lipari. We took the hydrafoil. It was a last minute trip (we booked it an hour before the boat left) and most of the touring boats that hit multiple islands were fully booked. If I could have planned better I would have booked one of the tours that goes past Stromboli at night so you can see the natural fireworks. LIpari was nice - a cute old town at the port - there seems to be a port for cruise ships and another one around the point for the hydrafoils, and an old church with a musuem high on the cliffs. We followed some locals to a 'local beach'. It was very rocky but the water was really pretty. There were two other people there - so was really a random swimming spot that some locals use for swimming or launching their boats. There were some hotels that seemed to have their own beaches (better groomed) that we passed along the way. We had been warned about the rocks and brought water shoes / beach shoes that allowed us to walk on the beach. I noticed that there were taxis that went to the popular beach spots - I think there are two main beaches that the day trippers visit and was told that those beaches have cafes and offer other amenities - as well as a boat tour that took tourist by sea to the popular swimming holes. That would have been a good option for us - - maybe next time!
    We then took a ferry to Volcana. Again I was thankful that we had the water shoes for all of us. We paid the few euro to use the private thermal baths and private beach. Another Euro bought us a shower for when we were done. This was one of the coolest parts of the trip. The smell was a little overwhelming and my contacts were incredibly irritated that I needed to stop at a pharmacy to buy eye drops - I had not thought of bringing my back up glasses or drops. We saw a few people get slight burns on their feet and legs - - so we were warned to keep our shoes on and use care while walking. Swimming in the sea with the thermal water bubbling up from the rocks was a lot of fun. We arrived later in the day so it was not that hot and plenty of the lounge chairs were open. I imagine that earlier in the day it was packed. We did not do any of the hikes - we were tired from walking around most of Lipari and feeling especially lazy. We snacked on food from one of the food trucks in the port while we waited for our ferry back to the main land. The boats did tend to run late - and people were very anxious to make the boat.
    A long day for sure, but well worth the effort. We then enjoyed the next few days relaxing at the local beach where we were staying - which was crowded for the August holiday but is such a small town that it is not a big tourist spot.
    We said goodbye to my cousins and hit the road towards Catania, where we stayed in Aciterezza for few days. We chose that town because we have friends who spend their summers there. There are pubic beaches there (I think) but we met our friends at a great private beach/ pool club at the edge of town. If you have children this place is great. The children play in the tidal pools, climb the rocks or swim to one of the three rafts. There are showers, lockers, a cafe and restaurant. we ate at the cafe and thought the food was good and reasonably priced. You can pay a few euros for chairs with umbrellas - well worth it in August sun. There was also a pool, but we didn't even venture to that side of the club. I think it helped that our children were with their school friends - and they were occupied all day long. People come to this town to see rocks thrown by the giant at Odesius -- and you can take day trips by boat around the coast. We intended to take a boat trip... but never got around to it. There are plenty of great restaurants and pretty neon illuminated church in the center of the town. Our hotel offered breakfast and we ate lunch at the beach club each day. I would like to say that we did a day trip to Catania or even ventured out and about... but we just spent time with friends at the beach club - very little history/ culture for this part of the trip. Although the beach club was all Sicilians - either locals or Catanians who had vacation homes in that area. Few people spoke English. I was grateful for my choppy but effective Italian-- and even more grateful for my friends who are from that area and Italian is their mother tongue.
    We said goodbye to our friends and then headed off to Siracusa for a day trip. My husband and I had been there a few years earlier, but this was the first time for our kids. We did a boat trip in Ortegia, around the island and to some of the caves - and it allowed a stop to go swimming. There are many companies that offer such trips - we picked one off trip advisor and made a reservation in advance. I am sure we could have walked up to any one of the booths and booked a trip on the spot though. We also went swimming at one of the public beaches. I was underwelmed - aside from being very crowded, the water was not clean, especially compared to our other experiences. Ortegia is great, but not the place to go to the beach in my opinion. We enjoyed wandering the streets and visiting the ancient buildings. I think we stopped for ice cream a few times over the course of the day... When it was a little cooler, later in the day we drove over to the archelogical site. We paid someone to park on the street - I am not sure if that was required but it did seem that until 5 or 6pm, some payment was required. It was only a few euro - - and our motto for the trip was that we would rather pay for parking and have someone keep an eye on the car than struggle to figure out where we are allowed to park and run a higher risk of having the car broken into...
    The kids loved the ruins in Siracusa. We did not make it to the church with them - another trip I suppose. We did not spend the night there, but instead drove to Enna to make our drive to Trapani the next day shorter. We found a lovely hotel there in the town - but a few blocks off the main square (it was still a bit noisy, but bearable). We spent the next morning wandering around the town, visiting the castle (closed for tours, but you could walk around the outside) and visiting a greek/ roman temple. Our children are really into the roman and greek stories, so they enjoyed this part. There were some good hikes in this area, but we were not keen to do any in August - maybe another time of year. There was a lot more to do in Enna and we could have easily spent another day, maybe two. We had time to visit one of the big churches, but did not go to any of the musuems.
    From there we headed to Trapani - see my post above. The swimming continued, at our hotel, and also at some of the local beaches. A couple spending the weekend from Palermo suggested some local beaches further to the south. They were nice, but windy and a lot of sea weed. The public beach in Trapani that we visited faced a private beach - - both seemed to have larger waves than the east coast and lots of seaweed. We visited an old ruin (maybe a castle turned prison - - still not sure as there were no markings and we got a different story from each local we spoke to) and some of the sites in Trapani but the highlight for our children were the salt flats. There is one you can walk around right off the main road - and then another that is run by a family, a little further down a side road closer to the coast. There is a b and b, a restaurant and small museum. We enjoyed the tour (offered in multiple languages) and purchased small local salt to take home. a long time ago this area supplied most of the salt for Europe, but not only makes salt for the locals/ tourists.
    On our last day we headed to Segesta - loved it! Absolutely beautiful and even in the heat and wind -- it is really windy! Like hats blowing off people's head windy - - the kids had a blast. Unlike ruins in the north, the ruins are much more accessible. In fact, the amphi theater is still used for concerts today - so you can sit and gaze at the ocean in the distance - - and imagine what it was like centuries ago (and how did they ever build such a structure on such a high point without the help of cranes or modern machinery!). People had suggested we take the shuttle up the hill - but we had not realized that the ticket to the ruins did not include the shuttle up the hill-- that was a different line, which had become quite long. My husband suggested we could make it up the hill by foot... there were people older than us and with younger children doing it... how bad could it be??? It wasn't that bad, but it was a hot and long journey. I would have happily paid double to the drivers that passed us for a lift! When it was time to head down, I asked a shuttle driver if I could pay him directly for a ride down with my youngest who was nearing melt down mode-- and he took pity on us, allowing us to take the jump seat in his full bus. So, if you want to take the shuttle - after getting tickets to the ruins at the ticket office, you need to go to the cafe next door and buy the shuttle tickets separately.
    We stopped for lunch in one of the coastal towns on the palermo. I am blanking on the name right now. I was told that the sea was rougher and it was windier than usual - which meant the beach was not too crowded. We did go for a swim, but did not stay long as the water was rough and there were some jelly fish or something that nipped at us.
    We expected to have time to spend in Palermo, but the line for the ferry had formed miles long with hours to go before the departure. We were surprised because that was not our experience in Genoa. Drivers were also much more aggressive and less willing to allow people to merge in.... so we decided to queue up - spending more hours than I would have liked waiting to load onto the ship. The ship left hours after its designated departure time - - so perhaps we could have spent time around Palermo and arrived later -with no line. The ship arrived in Genova on time - - and again we were able to quickly depart.
    It was a lot of places over a short two weeks, with a lot of driving. I know many people don't care for that type of holiday, but we don't mind driving and the kids don't mind (maybe even enjoy?) being on the go. I am glad we covered as much ground as we did because it gave us a good flavor for Sicily outside of where my family lives (my husband and I really had only spent time with them before). We plan to return next year, and maybe will add a few days to Agrigento after we visit the family -and depending on whether we go in/ out of Palermo again, we would return to Trapani and spend more time exploring the natural reserves in the northern peninsula. The kids have said that Sicily is their favorite place in Europe so I guess we have to go back - According to them (and I agree), Sicily has the best food, granita! for breakfast even!, swimming, ruins and family. The rest of Europe cannot compete with that I suppose. I don't check fodors that often, but if someone is visiting Sicily in the near future and wants to know the names of the hotels / restaurants or wants more details, please let me know.
    Thank you again to the group who offered suggestions in reply to my questions.
    -Carolyne

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