25 May 19
The Scottish Sun
SOMETIMES you just have to live a little. As a family of four with two children under the age of six, my wife and I have been huge converts of the all-inclusive package holiday.
Everything under one roof with kids’ club and as much food and alcohol as one can eat and drink — and transfers to and from the airport — have been a godsend.
The coastal city of Cefalu is famed for its picturesque harbour, alleys and medieval buildings
But go that extra mile and it really is worth the effort, especially if you choose Sicily. I’d been desperate to go ever since watching celebrity chef Rick Stein tour the island a few years ago. So we took the plunge and decided to swap the safety of the kid-friendly hotels in the Canaries for a villa in Sicily.
Situated in an olive grove with mountains on one side and views over the Mediterranean on the other, villa Casa Turi is quite simply breathtaking. The huge pool, sunken bath, outside living area complete with al fresco kitchen, hammock and swing chair create luxury that would not be out of place on Channel 4’s Grand Designs.
Sleeping up to 11 people, it is the perfect destination for a large family holiday or a break with friends.
After a three-hour flight with easyJet, we picked up the keys from the owner, who had kindly left wine and pastries from one of Palermo’s best bakeries in the kitchen. It was our first real taste of Sicily.
The properties look like the LA mansions of Hollywood stars
And less than two hours after landing at Palermo Airport, we were sitting in a restaurant in beautiful seaside village San Nicola l’Arena. But instead of the menu, the owner brought out a huge tray of seafood caught that morning — from giant clams and mussels to lobster and John Dory.
All we had to do was choose what we wanted with our pasta. The flavours were exactly how Rick Stein had described on the telly all those years ago. And with two large glasses of brutally chilled rose, the bill was roughly what you’d expect to spend on a family of four at Nando’s.
But while the food is beautifully simple, the beaches are simply magical. Even in late April, the aquamarine waters are what you’d expect in the Caribbean — without the long-haul flight.
Despite the temperature easily hitting 20C, the locals are all wrapped up in coats, hats and even some wearing gloves. We headed straight to the beach. The coastal city of Cefalu is famed for its picturesque harbour, alleys and medieval buildings with reminders of Sicily’s influences from Arab to Italian.
The huge pool creates luxury that would not be out of place on Channel 4’s Grand Designs
The Norman Cathedral (Duomo) and eclectic architecture have resulted in the beautiful port being declared a World Heritage Site. But none of that matters when you are aged six and two, and while the 12th-Century buildings hung over the rocks in the distance, our kids had the beach to themselves.
If we weren’t having long lunches we spent the rest of our week diving into the waves, building sandcastles or playing hide-and-seek. Sicilians seem to enjoy the simple things in life and like the rest of Italy, family is important and they absolutely adore children.
Their relaxed nature (except on the roads) meant we did everything as a family. Even going to the local greengrocer, who sold the world’s best strawberries and baby tomatoes, was an adventure. We settled into the Sicilian way of life very quickly, even having a sleep from 2pm to 4pm when life outside Palermo seems to shut down. While that was wonderful for our wellbeing, you can’t help feel there is something you are maybe missing.
There is the active volcano Mount Etna in the east of the island, ancient Greek ruins to rival Greece and the famed food tours of Palermo, the street-food capital of Europe. But no talk of Sicily would be complete without its most famous residents, The Mafia.
Bar Vitelli in Savoca should be on your list of places to visit
We saw signs for a town called Corleone, which has been home to a long list of mob bosses. But for the real film-set experience, Bar Vitelli in Savoca should be on your list of places to visit. And Mondello beach is a must. The stunning cove with white sand and turquoise sea surrounded by palm trees is where, reportedly, many a mob boss has owned a villa.
Dubbed The Hamptons of Palermo, the properties look like the LA mansions of Hollywood stars. We fell in love with the place and spent days paddling in the sea, sitting outside the beach bars or enjoying the swordfish carpaccio, a particular favourite with my two-year-old son Benji.
For the less adventurous, the incredible pizzas, which will barely fit in the door of a VW Golf, are a snip at ten to 12 euros as they easily feed a family of four. It was only on the day before we were due to leave that we managed to drag ourselves away. No visit to Sicily is complete without a visit to Sicilian Puppet Theatre (Opera dei Pupi).
The tradition dates back to the 15th Century — and it felt like the theatre and workshop where they make the incredible figures did too. The Opera dei Pupi at the Teatro Carlo Magno is set among the narrow maze of backstreets from the centre of Palmero to the port. All the puppets are handmade and are a work of art.
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Despite the 30-minute show being in Italian, there was more than enough fighting, complete with knights losing limbs and people’s heads being chopped off, to entertain the children.
It was a fitting way to finish the holiday and an experience the kids will remember for the rest of their lives. Meanwhile, my wife and I are still talking about the food, wine and incredible beaches.
We are years away from giving up on the kid-friendly breaks but our week in Sicily has reminded us there is a whole world we can enjoy exploring as a family.
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GETTING THERE: Flights from the UK to Palermo, Sicily, are from £27.25pp. See easyjet.com
STAYING THERE: A week’s self-catering at Casa Turi is from £254pp based on eight sharing. See wishsicily.com, 0207 193 7302.
OUT & ABOUT: For a Street Food Tour and visit to the Puppet Theatre see wishsicily.com.
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