Where we will be!
Palermo, the regional capital of Sicily, is one of those cities with its own very distinct, almost tangible atmosphere, a place of mystery where reality often outperforms the traveller’s imagination and preconceived stereotypes. It is a buzzing Mediterranean centre whose 1 million inhabitants are a fascinating cocktail of apparently conflicting characteristics.
Palermo’s history has been anything but stable as the town passed from one dominating power to another with remarkable frequency. Its strategic position in the middle of the Mediterranean brought wave upon wave of invaders including the Phoenicians, the Carthaginians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Saracen Arabs, the Normans, the Swabians, the French and the Spanish Bourbons just to name the most influential. The result of this quilted history is evident today in the vast range of architectural styles, the intriguing fusion of ingredients used in many local dishes and in many place names which are obviously not of Italian origin.
Visiting Palermo is still somewhat of an adventure in a world where so many places have become tourist-friendly to a fault. You won’t find many restaurants with menus translated into 5 different languages, you may have trouble communicating in English in many places, and some parts of the old town centre have remained untouched since they were bombed during the war. There are many back streets that have only just opened up to those from without and it is still often difficult to obtain any information worth having. However, this is also a stimulus to those who wish to embark on a little adventure, to discover things for themselves, to dig into the very fabric of the city and to try to understand what really makes Palermo (and its people) tick.
The often faded grandeur of many of Palermo’s wonderful palaces and churches in the centre gives way to popular areas whose way of life doesn’t fully belong to the 21st Century. This is particularly true of the markets, whose Arabic origins are still evident today thanks to their noise, smells, colours, narrow labyrinthine streets, the splendid array of food and other goods on display and the general ‘souk’ atmosphere.
Mondello is a small seaside resort with a wonderful beach just a short bus ride from the centre of the Sicilian capital Palermo. The beach is generally crowded, but there's a sunny holiday atmosphere at Mondello, and like the locals, tourists may wish to take time off from their business of sightseeing, and relax with a few hedonistic hours by the turquoise sea.
The Mondello beach is long and curving, made of soft pale sand sloping very gently into the turquoise sea. It is ideal for all the family, for swimmers and for those who simply want to wade into the waves to cool down. There are pedal-boats for hire, life-guards keeping an eye on the water, pedlars weaving up and down the beach with jewellery, sarongs, food and drink, and generally a busy, lively atmosphere.
The road, which curves behind the beach, makes a pleasant stroll. Up at the far end of the bay, the 'centre' of the town, a waterfront piazza rather blighted by advertising boards for eateries, is useful for eating and shopping but otherwise isn't much to write home about. The most historic sight is the old stone watchtower, which predates the beach resort. It's worth wandering up as far as the harbour, though, where small fishing boats bob up and down and old men fish from the jetty.
The symbol of Mondello is the striking Art Nouveau building on a pier in the middle of the bay, the Charleston. Dating back to the more elegant heyday of the resort, this has been restored and sits in yellow glory over the blue waters of the bay, while children splash around below. There's a smart restaurant here, a bar and a paying beach establishment.
The slopes of Monte Gallo, beyond Mondello - the old hub of Mondello, by the harbour - are a nature reserve, with footpath access from Mondello.