Belfast Telegraph Friday 24th January 1958
SICILIAN RESORT THAT SIR WINSTON PUT ON THE MAP
Mondello—its hotels are de luxe, the beach is sandy, the bathing delightful and safe.
On this holiday island the de luxe hotels are classed reliable, cuisine and service are good and you can have swordfish for lunch.
SUNNY MEDITERRANEAN and Aegean islands were my destination during many weeks last summer—islands which, though a little expensive to reach, were cheap enough for all those things which add up to a delightfully “different” and healthy holiday.
To-day I want to describe my experience in Sicily. Linked to Italy by a train ferry across the Straits of Messina, this island can be reached by rail, but the journey from the United Kingdom must be reckoned in days, not hours.
Islands are manifestly a classic example of the advantages of air travel. I flew from London to Catania by the Italian airline, Alitalia, which operates a daily service from London throughout the summer. It is a 7 ½ hour journey and costs £65 11s 0d return, tourist class.
Catania is a good Jumping off place, if only because it is a short distance from Taormina, special buses meeting the London plane. Taormina has been a favourite resort of British people for years, but especially since Sir Winston Churchill took a painting holiday there. It is on a hillside virtually on the slopes of Etna and enjoys wide vistas over the sea and surrounding country. There are some fine hotels, notably the Excelsior Palace, justly one of the most famous in Europe.
In fairness I must say that I met a number of British visitors last year who were not very pleased with this resort. They praised its beauty, but found the necessity of scrambling for a bus to take them to the beach—this was in the height of the season– rather trying. Also they did not care very much for the rather rough beach (it seems to be largely composed of lava from Mount Etna). But it is a very beautiful place.
From Catania I travelled by train across the island to Palermo. the capital. By diesel this takes about 4 ½ hours. Some six miles beyond the city is my favourite spot, Mondello Lido, easily reached by a frequent bus service. where the beach is sandy and the bathing delightful and safe.
There Is a very fine hotel here, the Mondello Palace. where the amenities are equal to those of the best hotels in Europe. The rooms are well furnished. the cuisine and service are good and there is a private bathing beach.
The Mondello Palace is a de luxe establishment, and a word about Sicilian hotels is necessary in this connection. De Luxe hotels in Sicily are exactly what they set out to be—de luxe. But they are inexpensive. Certainly they are well worth the small amount by which they differ from first and second class hotels.
The Sicilian tourist authorities issue a hotel guide which is quite accurate as to prices but not so reliable as to grades. Some so called first-class hotels are far from first-class; some others ought not to be in any official guide. But de luxe places are generally reliable and so are the hotels in the Jolly group.
Sightseeing excursions by coach are available all over the island, and everywhere there is beauty, warmth and evidence of past civilisations as for example at Segesta, Agrigente and Syracuse.
The drive from Palermo round the coast road to Catania is beautiful, though owing to Sicilian driving habits, hair-raising.
The cuisine is in the main Italian, with a good deal of emphasis on fish. Swordfish (“spada”) is a favourite. They are said to breed around the Sicilian coast and nowhere else.
Perhaps the best time for a visit is June and early July. The currency is Italian (about 1,760 lire = £l) and it is wise to change travellers’ cheques at banks rather than hotels—you get a better rate. Only the simplest summer clothes are necessary.