There was a time when we heard more French spoken on Sicilian beaches. But in recent years, our compatriots have seemed to ignore Sicily, or at least we rarely see hordes of tricolour holidaymakers rush into buses and attack the most beautiful sites on the island. However, tourism is doing rather well. In fact, it has simply changed its face.
It is no longer time for organized trips, in groups, but to discover a more intimate, more personal Sicily, “à la carte”: you rent a car at the airport and then drive along the roads following your own itinerary. We are then free to stay several days in Palermo and take the time to visit the countless jewels in the “capital” of Sicily, or to explore the mountainous reliefs of the Madonie in the heart of the island, isconcoct a tour of the most beautiful baroque cities or even plan nothing at all and move according to your desires with, on the menu, beaches and dolce idleness.
Hotel clubs are no longer popular. The trendy formula now is bed & breakfast. The Italians, who are not very fussy about protecting the language and do not hesitate to borrow massively from English, have opted for this term 100% British. In France, we would rather talk about accommodation with the inhabitant. Less cold and less formal than a stay in a hotel, the formula lends itself perfectly to a nomadic tourism: we like it, we stay; we want to move, we leave. And there is no shortage of proposals. In the city of Palermo and its surroundings alone, there are no less than 133 bed & breakfast hotels, compared to 891 in Sicily as a whole on the website FindHotel. As its name suggests, it is, most of the time, a room with a bathroom, made available to the holidaymaker inside an apartment or villa occupied by its owners. With, included in the price, breakfast served in the morning.
But the formula is flexible (we are in the Mediterranean, let’s not forget it!) and sometimes reserves pleasant surprises. Like the bed & breakfast that Il Glicine offers. In fact, under this name there are three sisters. Three sisters, three different structures. Silvana’s is undoubtedly the most sought-after. Enjoying a breathtaking view and worthy of the most beautiful postcards on the Gulf of Mondello, the favorite beach of the Palermitans, the vast villa is built against Mount Gallo and overlooks the bay of light sand. Buried in the greenery, it offers a real haven of peace after a hot day spent splashing around in a blue Caribbean sea and sunbathing under a relentless sun, all in the joyful atmosphere of the southern beaches. But as the seaside resort is very well served by buses and pullmans (more comfortable version with air conditioning), it only takes about twenty minutes to reach the centro storico de Palermo, the heart of the old city where all its most important monuments and colourful districts are located.
This bed & breakfast on the Gulf also has the advantage of offering two types of accommodation: a traditional double room, but also a real apartment, with an independent entrance, overlooking a garden with lush vegetation. And to top it all off, the mistress of the house is an unfailing kindness and embodies the sense of the legendary hospitality of the South. Not only has she cared for her interior, knowing how to create a warm and refined atmosphere, all in harmony, but she pushes the detail to offer you homemade jams for breakfast (the fig and cinnamon jam is a pure delight!) and eggs from the garden hens, when they have laid sufficient quantities.
Still in Mondello, the second bed & breakfast, Gabriella’s, is no more or less located in the wing of an 18th century castle. Like the rest of the house, the three bedrooms are of rare elegance and plunge you into a timeless atmosphere. And when you have had breakfast on the terrace drowned in the exuberant vegetation of the splendid garden, it is likely that you will have all the difficulties in the world to leave these enchanting places. Don’t you speak a word of Italian? No matter what! “I prefer to receive French people because I speak Molière’s language better than Shakespeare’s,” explains the hostess in impeccable French. The English come mainly in spring, while the Italians are mainly present in summer, although rooms are available throughout the year.
Because the other great advantage of bed & breakfast is that you can visit it virtually, no matter where on the planet you live. In most cases, in fact, it is accompanied by a website on which abundant photos and descriptions are provided to visitors. No more bad surprises on arrival. In addition, we deal directly with the owner. The absence of intermediaries thus makes it possible to offer much more reasonable rates than those charged by hotels.
In addition, the owners of the villas generally work hard to make their guests’ stay easier and more enjoyable: they are often happy to share their knowledge of the surroundings and provide valuable information and visiting tips. The three sisters of Il Glicine have shelves full of leaflets, maps and brochures of the region that they make available to holidaymakers. They also offer a number of additional services, such as picking you up from the airport, or taking you there if you don’t have a car; or renting you bicycles or vespas, a must when living in southern Italy. One of them even plans, for next summer, to cook the evening meal for all those who request it. And, a little bit more, they can also provide an Internet connection, which is not insignificant in a city where, strangely enough, Internet points and Internet cafés are not very common.
With the third sister, Donatella, we leave the bed & breakfast category strictly speaking to move on to the agriturismo category, literally green tourism, the equivalent, more or less, of our rural cottage. However, it is the same principle: we rent a room, an apartment, or even a whole outbuilding within a property inhabited by the owners. The difference is that these houses are located mostly far from the cities, in privileged natural sites, which serve as a starting point to discover the local products and gastronomic specialities of the region. The agriturismo de Donatella is located in Campofelice di Roccella, fifteen kilometres from Cefalù and sixty from Palermo. In a landscape full of hills, with the sea as a backdrop, this beautiful 19th century country residence is literally drowned in green: the silvery green of olive trees, but also the darker green of Mediterranean pines, the light green of eucalyptus trees and the bright green of lemon trees. The birds make no mistake about it and come to nest in large numbers, making the place a real paradise for birdwatching enthusiasts. The sea is only three kilometres away, but the pool is there to cool down when the summer heat makes the mercury rise. Donatella produces her own olive oil, organic of course, as well as all the fruits and vegetables she grows in her garden and which she offers to her guests on half or full board.
In addition to a magnificent wisteria climbing along their houses (hence the name of their association), the three sisters certainly have in common the taste of beautiful things and know how to create an atmosphere that is both warm and refined, and Donatella’s interior does not deviate from the rule. Their three houses have a soul that no hotel can bring to their guests.