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It's SICILY for our special trip--thoughts/suggestions on the first draft

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Aug 3rd, 2009, 01:27 PM
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It's SICILY for our special trip--thoughts/suggestions on the first draft

I’m in the process of planning a special trip for our family of four for next June and had just about closed the deal with Crete and Santorini when I read Ian’s and then Bob’s trip reports on Sicily. We like to travel independently, and, while we’ve driven throughout Europe, including Italy and Greece, I had been concerned about tackling Sicily because of its reputedly free-for-all approach to the road. My younger son spent a week on Sicily as part of a study abroad program and has long waxed enthusiastic about the island’s beauty, the multitude of knock-your-socks-off attractions, and the fantastic food. To cut to the chase, we now have a new destination. Five stops will be as many as my group can handle, and our pace tends to be on the slow side. My husband says that I’ll travel any distance to look at a pile of rocks. Guilty as charged. I provide the plan for the accommodations and sights; he does the food. I care about where we stay. Character and charm highly desirable. Crystal chandeliers, gilt, and antique furniture with spindly legs are negatives. Generally looking to spend less than 200 euros/room/night but some flexibility. Love shopping for locally made items. Here’s what the tentative itinerary looks like--nothing has been booked yet. We’d fly into Catania and out of Palermo.

Taormina 3 nights Villa Schuler (www.hotelvillaschuler.com)
Actually toyed with the idea of staying at the San Domenico Palace but just couldn’t swallow those rates even if it is my birthday trip.

Syracuse/Ortigia 2 nights Domus Mariae (www.sistemia.it/domusmariae)
or Algila Ortigia Charme (www.algila.it)
Other recommendations?
The Algila gets lots of good reviews on TA. Anyone have first-hand knowledge?

stop for lunch in Noto and then on to

Ragusa 3 or 4 nights Eremo della Giubiliana
(www.eremodellagiubiliana.com)

Right now this is the splurge stop. I know I’ll want to see at least Modica in addition to Ragusa, hiking in the Cava d’Ispica looks intriguing, and we plan to day trip from this stop to the Roman mosaics at the Villa Imperiale. The hassle factor of getting to and from a town hotel to wherever the car is parked for excursions and the attendant passenger meltdowns are making me think twice about staying in town here. Having one really nice countryside stay would also be a plus.

see the temples at Agrigento and then stop at

Selinunte area ? 1 or 2 nights Villa Sogno (http://www.villasogno.it)
Could see the ruins at Selinunte the day we arrive, depending on the group’s wishes, or the next morning. Will definitely stop at Segesta at some point.

Are there other don’t miss attractions on the southwestern side? Is Erice really worth a journey? Maybe the salt flats and the Salt museum? If yes, does Selinunte make a good base for seeing them? I also thought about staying at Scopello, liking the idea of a seaside location with hiking possibilities, but that would make for a very long travel day if I’m to hold to my 5 stops.

Palermo 3 nights? Haven’t been able to get a handle on the hotel for Palermo yet. I know we’ll want to stay in the center. We'd spend more if necessary for a nice four star that offers good memories for our last stay. The top three choices in Tripadvisor, Porta Felice, Ucciardhome, Garibaldi, seem to be in the ballpark. Are their locations good/comparable? The Principe de Villafranca has gotten some recent dings in TA.
We'll see Monreale either on our way in to Palermo (plan to drop the car as soon as possible) or take the bus from the city.

We’ve decided to drop London and have two to two and a half weeks, not counting travel days, to play with. Thanks for all coments and suggestions!
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Aug 3rd, 2009, 06:12 PM
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No suggestions. Just want to say that the "pile of rocks" at Agrigento was something I had dreamed of seeing since I was a teen and it more than met my expectations. It stands out as one of the most wonderful archeological sites I have visited. You will love it.
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Aug 3rd, 2009, 06:18 PM
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Erice is definitely worth visiting, as is old town Trapani. For pix see kwilhelm.smugmug.com/Travel/519560 - password "erice" and for description see http://www.fodors.com/community/euro...-sicily.cfm?62
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Aug 3rd, 2009, 07:02 PM
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Glad my report was helpful---I assume you saw the photo gallery as well--it is my favorite.
We are talking about going back next May just so Susan can see Noto without scaffolding. It would be brief in Sicily this time after a week or more on the AC.
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Aug 3rd, 2009, 08:59 PM
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Thank you all for your encouraging responses. Sassafrass, I do fully expect to love Agrigento and the many other piles of rocks not to be missed. Thursdaysd and Bob, your photos are fabulous. Thursdaysd, the part of your trip report that dealt with the area around Trapani helped me get a feel for that area. The photos of otherworldly Erice made me wonder what it would have been like to have lived there in its heyday.
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Aug 3rd, 2009, 10:02 PM
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You will love Sicily. We did the same trip in May. The one surprise was how much we loved Palermo. Stayed at the Wagner and could not have had a nicer stay. We even drove into Palermo by mistake, missed the airport excit and did not have any problems. Enjoy
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Aug 3rd, 2009, 10:35 PM
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Morningstar, thanks for the information on the Wagner. What was your itinerary and where else did you stay?
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Aug 6th, 2009, 10:48 AM
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I was in Sicily in 2006 and absolutely loved it. Great choice.

In Palermo, we stayed in a chic b&b called bb22. Rooms were not huge but really stylish. It's very centrally located, but in a quiet cul-de-sac on a side street.
www.bb22.it
We were there 3 nights which was enough for us - weren't in love with Palermo but did love the food.

We went from there to Modica, where we extended our stay by 2 days as soon as we saw the town. It was one of my favorite places ever. Stayed at Casa Talia, ( www.casatalia.it ) which is a really special place run by a couple from Milan. They designed it themselves, up on the hill in the former Jewish quarter, built into the rocks. The views over Modica are astonishingly beautiful. It's a short trek up and down stairs to get between there and the main street below. We liked the exercise. Especially because the breakfasts they served in their garden were amazing, and the town had the best pistachio gelato I've ever eaten. Loved the restaurant Sappori Perdutti for home-style food.
In Modica, L'Orangerie, which is on the main street, also looks like a very nice place to stay.

We visited Ragusa and ate dinner at the 2* Michelin there. It's a beautiful town also, but felt a lot quieter than Modica. We didn't really see anyone out and about, even in the main square. Modica felt more like a bustling community, with lots of cafes and a lively passegiata in the evening.

I think you've picked the right hotel in Ortygia - I liked it better than the one we stayed at.

Taormina has incredible views and seemed like a nice place to be if you're splashing out at a great hotel. But I was so glad we only did a day trip there, as we'd been advised by some friends who described it as very touristy. They were right. But other people love it, so...depends whether you're bothered by big bus tours and lots of menus in English.

I don't know whether you're really into food, but just in case, here are our food notes:

FOOD:

PALERMO:
La Cambusa, in Piazza Marina - go for lunch.
San Francesco - famous place, tourists but also lots of locals. Not the friendliest service but worth it for the food. We liked it for dinner.

MODICA:
Sappori Perdutti - very popular local place, ate here two nights in a row.
Gelati Divini - best gelato (pistachio) we had the whole trip.

RAGUSA:
Il Duomo - michelin starred restaurant. Our most (and only) expensive meal in Sicily. Incredible food.

NOTO:
Pastries from Caffe Sicilia.

SIRACUSA:
L'Ancora: the best restaurant on Ortygia, and our favorite in Sicily. Packed with locals and no tourists. Very non-descript looking, especially from the outside. We went three nights in a row because we knew none of the other restaurants would be as good. Everyone recommended other places - just happened to find this one on someone's travel/ food blog. MAKE SURE to order the linguine a l'ancora.
Ate at Archimede once for lunch, a place everyone says is great. Nope.
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Aug 6th, 2009, 10:51 AM
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GREAT tips above. I can only add that I loved the Domus Mariae.

Cinzia, the receptionist at the time I stayed at the hotel (2005), ranks with the most charming and helpful hotel workers I have encountered.
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Aug 6th, 2009, 11:57 AM
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Bon voyage, my suggestion would be to watch the three classic GODFATHER films again - they really make me want to return to Sicily. We visited the site of the tavern scene in the first GODFATHER flick, just outside of Taormina.

Bob, your pics of Sicily are great - I review them from time to time.
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Aug 6th, 2009, 12:16 PM
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Aw shucks---grazie !
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Aug 8th, 2009, 02:07 PM
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Wow, I just saw all these new responses! Thank you all so much. Great minds, lbelgray. I decided to take another look at possibilities in Ragusa/Modica and had zeroed in on Casa Talía. I think it's going to be better for us and significantly less expensive to boot. And we are most definitely into food. Your restaurant tips look right up our alley and will get printed out today. Thanks for the information on bb22 in Palermo, will check it out. And lbelgray, I wasn't sure whether you were referring to the Domus Marie or the Algila when you wrote, "I think you've picked the right hotel in Ortigia." Which one? Ekscrunchy, I have also found that "charming and helpful hotel workers" go a long way toward making an experience memorable. Latedaytraveler, I had to smile at your post because The Godfather is my husband's favorite movie of all time, and we've watched I and II more times than I can remember. I'm also giving serious thought to the Villa Carlotta in Taormina as being perhaps a bit prettier than the Villa Schuler. We will be coming from California, and, while the touristy aspect of Taormina is a downside, right now I think it will serve well as our get-over-jet lag first stop.

The part of the trip between the Baroque cities and Palermo still needs ironing out. The decisions:
1) Daytrip to the Villa Casale from Modica or go there on the way from Modica to Agrigento
2) See Selinunte and Segesta and otherwise skip the west or possibly add a destination and stay at Scopello

Again, thank you all for all of your encouragement and great suggestions.
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Aug 8th, 2009, 04:30 PM
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We also stayed at Domus Marie a few years ago and loved it . Great location and try to book early to get a room with a sea view.
Taormina was actually a favourite,but we wandered through the town and gardens away from the crowds. We stayed at La Pensione Svizzera. It was off the main drag but still close to everything and they parked our car. I just read the recent reviews on T/A and I would stay there again.
Agrigento,if you do all the sights,is a big day especially if it is hot. You may want to spend the night. Otherwise go early before the buses arrive.
You will love Sicily.
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Aug 8th, 2009, 04:44 PM
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The Palazzo Centrale in Palermo was one of the nicest hotels we ever stayed in. Don't be fooled that it is a Best Western; this three star American chain has bought up some wonderful old four star palazzos in Italy. The location is very central, the hotel elegant with a rooftop outside dining area, the staff was more than cordial. It was beyond our usual budget but we can't imagine staying anyplace else and hope to someday go back (my DH is from Genoa, which usually points us to more northern routes).

If you are staying in Palermo over a Sunday, go to see the church in Monreale around 9:30. With luck, you will arrive just after the first mass, can walk around the church and beautiful cloisters, then attend the 11:00 mass, during which the mosaics are illuminated and tourists are not allowed to enter the church, which is the most beautiful we have ever seen.

We also loved Segesta, Noto and the Piazzale Armenia (??), which I think even your DH would like. We found Agrigento too crowded to fully appreciate.
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Aug 8th, 2009, 06:59 PM
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Thanks a lot, huddoshols and cmstraff! Domus Mariae is certainly a popular choice. Looks like we couldn't go wrong there.
Re the Centrale, I know European BWs are a different animal, and we already have a positive Best Western bias since they were a mainstay of our family trips out West. Seeing the mosaics illuminated sounds fabulous--will definitely see if we can work that out.
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Aug 8th, 2009, 09:55 PM
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Oh great, I'm glad you're thinking about Talia - the owners are so cool and put so much thought into creating the place. I mean, the floor of their breakfast room is made of rows of patterned tiles that they spent 4 years collecting from different sources. Just amazing.
One of the magazines - maybe it was CN Traveler? British version? - did a spread on Modica and Talia last month. It said, "discover it before everyone else does" and I'd say, definitely do, especially now that they let the cat out of the bag.

Domus Mariae was the place in Ortigia I was reffering to. It was on a gorgeous side of the island, by the water, and looked very chic.

Sicily was one of my favorite places ever!
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Aug 8th, 2009, 10:43 PM
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We loved the Villa Carlotta. It is a fabulous hotel and the staff can not do enough for you. The breakfast is served on the balcony on the top floor with beautiful views. Make sure you request a room with a balcony. We spent three nights and then drove to Siracuse for two nights, spent a night in Modica and one night in Piazza Armeina, two nights in Agrigento, one night in Erice and three nights in Palermo. If I could change anything I would not stay in Piazza Armenia but do it as a day trip. However, it is a long trip to see the Villa. Don't forget to buy chocolates in Modica. We bought some to give as gifts, but should have bought more. It is so unique. The reason we liked the Wagner is the location and staff and we got a special rate that was very good.
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Aug 8th, 2009, 10:55 PM
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Ortigia-God's heaven on earth. Enjoy!(Hope that it is still wonderful despite Marriott knocking down the post office and running off the local market.)
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Aug 9th, 2009, 06:28 AM
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"running off the local market" - they did?!?! I was worried about that - it was right below my B&B, and not only convenient but fun to watch. They'd already run off the bus station - very annoying.
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Aug 9th, 2009, 07:21 AM
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My daughter studied there in college and our family LOVED this city. Friends went back last year and said that "civilization" has come to Ortigia in regards to their urban planning. So sad..
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