Land in Palermo expecting to arrive somewhere divine on a scale of its Italian cousins Roma or Venezia and you’ll be sorely disappointed. It’s grim in places and definitely filled with the hum of shady folk having shady conversations in shaded places. The steps of the Opera House, made iconic from that bloody scene in The Godfather 3, might remind you that seriously well-organised organised criminals are born and bred around these parts. They did me. I didn’t stop for selfies, just shuffled on minding my bag every few steps and trying not to make contact with black eyed waiters calling for me to dine in their restaurants, unsmiling as they did so. Cursing me when my feet declined and led me on down Via Vittorio Emanuele past their small establishments with the obligatory arrangement of cheap plastic chairs outside. They don’t flirt, and are very unlike their Roman compatriots in their attempts. There’s no wild gesticulation while they pore over you with Signora this, Signora that and ma quanto si bella! It’s just a case of severe eyeballing, an abrupt hand gesture to summon my ass on a plastic chair and the subsequent scorn when I decline the (easy to decline) offer. Bienvenuti a Palermo!
If you’re a depressive sort altogether, you’ll do as I did, and book a wonderful baroque villa that is unfortunately situated on the very outskirts of the city, pretty much beyond the realms of human contact. It’s located in an area that offers nothing at all for tourists. There’s a mechanic across the road and a butcher, who surprisingly served the chap I was with, the “greatest Italian dish” he’d every eaten. It was a cooked meat mix, full of gelatinous pork bits, that turned me off as soon as I saw it, but still has the guy talking about it to this very day. (And yes, he bought a cooked food dish in a butchers!) As villas go, it was beautiful, although the gardens were very unkempt, but Villa Bonocore Malleto served great wine and as I’m Irish, that made up for weeds and went some way towards making up for the long taxi distance from the city centre. It’s a quiet spot, with 15 rooms and a lovely private pool, but as I mentioned, it is miles away from civility.
So, Palermo didn’t have a wow factor and my lovely abode was in the wrong place – could there have been a redeeming factor? Well apart from my hiring a cute little FIAT Panda to take all 6 ft 8 of my companion across the island to visit Corleone, which was a fun journey in itself – Sicilian road signs on the rural backroads being vague and infrequent, to say the least. The meal on our last evening was like a lottery win. We happened upon a stunning restaurant near the heart of Palermo on the return from Corleone. Within minutes of our arrival the place had packed to capacity. It literally filled up all at once. Turns out it’s a favourite of students and staff at the local university. The crowd were young with the odd middle-aged ‘oldie’ among them. The banter rose into the Palermo night as we all ate the most delicious plates of fish and veal and every type of pasta. It was truly wonderful.
And then the pièce de résistance…The next day, on our way to the airport before returning the car, we took a trip to the seaside town of Mondello. I loved it! It’s everything you’d expect from a seaside resort but has something special about it. The water is a myriad of blues, the beach is very pretty, the horseshoe bay is idyllic. It’s unsurprising that Goethe wrote so fondly about the place. Again, another amazing fish meal was had, by way of our last (
supper) lunch, and I regretted not having stayed there for the trip. It’s a place I will return to, to laze on her white sands and dip in her azure sea. There’s a lot to be said for saving the best till last.