It is an understatement to say that we covered a lot of ground in traipsing around this chaotic, decadent, sultry and charming city of Palermo. I’d hate to calculate the miles that we walked but we had a grand time.
Still, we wanted to do some exploring outside of Palermo. Our hostess at the Massimo Plaza Hotel assisted us in booking three tours with a local company, “ExcursionSicily.co.” (See the below link.) We reserved a one day tour for the nearby towns of Monreale and Cefalu; another day trip to Erice, Segesta with a quick stop in Trapani; and the furthest away day tour in Agrigento.
For all the planned trips except for Agrigento, we were provided an upscale car just for the two of us with a well trained movie star looking driver in a suit and tie. Most of the drivers spoke English and they were always on time to pick us up at the hotel door. They were obviously skilled, experienced drivers who easily delivered us in style and comfort to our destinations. They would provide us with a guide book and some basic information as well as instructions. This worked perfectly well for us as we were allowed ample time to explore the towns of Moneale, Cefalu (hillside and seaside towns); Erice and Segesta (for Greek ruins) at our leisure. These professionals were the consummate gentlemen in treating us like royalty throughout the day.
For the ride to Agrigento, our tour host traveled to several sections in Palermo to pick up other guests as well as ourselves in a smaller well appointed van. Soon we were 7 passengers on our way to Agrigento to explore the Greek ruins. The other guests were from different parts of the world. Again, we were given guide books with ample time to reconnoiter the region at our leisure.
At some point, in a snack area, they all wanted to talk about Donald Trump. They kept asking how could he become the next republican presidential nominee. What could I say?
At the end of the day, I was very impressed when our host insisted on personally escorting a client who travelled by herself back to where she was staying, as the hotel door was not within sight from where he was able to park.
Upon returning home after one of our tours, there was one shocking event that had me shaking in my boots. On the way back, our very charming and courteous host started driving against the traffic flow in a one way designated street. I felt like I was on a movie set where nothing was real. What really surprised me was that the oncoming cars just swerved to avoid hitting our car without honking away at full blast. I didn’t scream because I was afraid to distract our driver, and so, I just kept crossing myself while silently praying for a safe arrival. When we came close to our hotel, there were barricades blocking any vehicle traffic on the street in front of our lodgings. I suggested that we were fine with walking just a couple of meters to our door. He kindly responded that there was no problem, and he proceeded to drive around the barricades to drop us off directly in front of our entryway. I had concluded that that there were no rules that mattered.
Guess what? As I was telling others about my harrowing, potentially catastrophic close call, I was informed that everything that our driver did was perfectly legal. It seems that there are special statutes for these professional drivers and touring companies.
Overall, we were very pleased by the professionalism and consideration extended to us by the ExcursionSicily.com team. The only time that we chose to go with another tour company was when there was a huge difference in the rates for the two of us, between their business and a competitor of 150 euros ($166) for a tour trip from Palermo to Taormina on a non scheduled tour day.
The following advice about driving in Palermo is from the World Travel Guide:
“Attempting to drive in Palermo during the week is unwise – confusing road signs, hefty traffic jams and aggressive drivers combine to make it a trying experience. The situation improves at weekends, but parking is always a problem.”
“The centre of Palermo (the ZTL-zone) is restricted to traffic and a congestion charge is applicable. The ZTL-zone in Palermo is active daily from 0800-2000 and is controlled by video cameras. If you are driving to a hotel within the zone, give your number plate to the hotel in advance to avoid paying a fine. Minibus services (registered touring company vehicles) on the Linea Gialla (yellow line) and Linea Rossa (red line) run from the railway station and stop at the most frequented tourist destinations.”
Monreale (Hillside town near Taorminia)
In Italy, there are many mountain and hill side towns and Sicily is no exception. Close to Palermo, there is the historic hill side community of Monreale that’s very picturesque. It’s most famous for the fine mosaics in the town’s famous Norman cathedral.
This Monreale Cathedral is frequently cited as one of the greatest examples of Norman architecture in the world. It was finally built in 1182 after 8 years of construction, as ordered by King William II. The church was dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, and Pope Lucius III, elevated it to the rank of a metropolitan cathedral.
The church has been declared to be a national monument of Italy as well as one of the most important attractions of Sicily.
Cefalu (Sea-side town)
Following our time spent in Monreale, we were then transported to the sea side resort town of Cefalù.
This is also a picturesque historic town on a rocky headland winding down-wards to a beautiful wide sandy beach. There is a fine Norman cathedral, decent transportation to access the area, as well as lots of shops, foodie stores, bars/caffes and restaurants. It is one of Italy’s most attractive seaside destinations.
Cefalù has a grand past. One of Sicily’s Norman rulers, King Roger II, built a glorious cathedral here. While there is little left, there are still some substantial and elegant buildings, as well as reminders of Sicily’s varied influences, not just Norman and Byzantine, but also Arab, Spanish and finally Italian.
ExcursionSicily.com www.excursionsicily.com/ Professional English speaking driver always ready to assist and help You during the daily tour. Modern and comfortable licensed cars…vans…