A spring or summer vacation in Italy may appear beyond reach, but if you think further south, you may well be rewarded with a semi-affordable Mediterranean getaway. The island of Sicily is a very different Italian experience. Rustic and remote in some regions and glamorous and café society in others, it is a diverse island offering more than just beautiful beaches. The island is a living museum of ancient architecture ranging from imposing Greek temples to Roman villas, medieval cathedrals to quaint Norman villages. If you're on a budget, then it may be best to steer clear of the resort town of Taormina or the Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous Aeolian islands with their lavish celebrity villas and prices to match. There are many other smaller beach resorts and seaside towns but you may need to rent a car to reach them or have to rely on sporadic train or bus services. Alternatively you can jump on a quick ferry and travel southwards to the island nation of Malta, another surprisingly beautiful and ancient land steeped in Crusader history.
On Sicily's southern coast, Sciacca is a picturesque seaside town built on rocky cliffs that overlook white sand beaches and the Mediterranean Sea, half way between Marsala and Agrigento and a 30-minute drive from the imposing classical Greek temple at Selinunte. Sciacca is known for its artisan shops and specialized ceramic ware plus a historic thermal spa complex. The town is.
Grand Hotel delle Terme (www.grandhoteldelleterme.com) is the town's grandest beachfront hotel and is attached to the spa complex. It has a special offer on stays until May 31, 2008, offering a double room with a view of the Mediterranean at $142 per night including breakfast and entry to the thermal bath house. The spa complex offers affordable therapeutic and wellness treatments including massages, body scrubs and facials. Their high season lasts from late March to late September and regular double room rates are priced from $200 per room or $126 on a half board basis (including breakfast plus lunch or dinner). They also offer a number of packages including the Face and Body which gives visitors five-nights accommodations, a welcome drink, champagne and fruit basket on arrival, all meals, use of the fitness center, sulfur thermal pool entry, a body peel, a massage, anti-cellulite and infrared electro-stimulation treatment, a personal facial, a mud wrap detox treatment and another treatment that my Italian language skill limitation won't allow me to translate. This package is priced at $1105 per person. ON a smaller scale, there are two local bed and breakfast properties in Sciacca, Locanda Al Moro -- a 13th century building in the town center, and Locanda del Castello. Both have double rooms with breakfast for around $170 per night in summer and can be booked through Venere.com booking service.
On the island's rugged northern coast lies the picturesque town of Cefalù, less than an hour's drive from Palermo. In addition to pretty pebbly beaches and inspiring views of the Mediterranean from a mountain peak, this medieval city boasts narrow, winding cobblestone streets, an impressive Byzantine cathedral, the ruins of a large fortress and an ancient Greek temple. If you after more than a beach vacation, this is a great base or you can opt to stay in the nearby beach town of Santo Stefano Di Camastra. There are several moderate to affordable options including the stunning four-star Baia de Capitano (www.baiadelcapitano.it), a beachfront property with pool and tranquil gardens which offers double rooms with breakfast from $180 per night (just avoid the ultra-peak season from August 2 to 22, 2008, when the price goes up to$300 plus per night). A more budget conscious alternative is La Dolce Vita Bed and Breakfast (www.dolcevitabb.it) located in the center of town, but still a short walk to the beach. Situated in an historical building, it features five rooms, a sea view terrace with barbecue, deckchairs and umbrellas and internet access. Double rooms here including breakfast are priced at $75 per night. The Reserver Italia website (www.en.reserver.it) lists a dozen or so additional options for stays in hotels, apartments and bed and breakfasts in Cefalù for under $150 per night.
Sicily's southern cousin, Malta presents an opportunity to discover a new country and a different culture only a short distance away. Accommodation prices here are significantly lower despite the introduction of the Euro this year (you may still see prices in Maltese Lire as the population adjusts). You can get a lot more bang for your buck in Malta with higher quality and star-rated hotels for less. Rooms at many three and four-star properties are priced in the $50 to $100 per night range. Because many hotels do not have websites, your best bet is to use a locally-based booked service like Choose Malta (www.choosemalta.com) to make reservations. Here is a sampling of what's on offer this summer -- most with swimming pools and all including breakfast:
- The three-star Alexandra Hotel in the heart of St Julians but still close to the seaside is priced from $44 per night for two
- On the northern coast of Malta, in the seaside town of Qawra in St Pauls' Bay, the four-star Canifor Hotel is priced from $90 per night for a double room
- The four-star Hotel Fortina located in UNESCO World Heritage City of Valletta is priced from $165 per night
- The three-star Hotel Roma in the resort town of Silema priced from $42 per double room per night
- The four-star beachfront San Antonio Hotel & Spa in Qawra is priced from $91 per night
Unfortunately getting to Sicily means enduring a high priced summer season airfare to Italy. Eurofly (tel. 800/459-0581; www.euroflyusa.com), the Italian low cost carrier has reasonable fares from New York to Palermo this summer, priced from $1159 including fuel surcharges and all taxes. If you can travel during the month of May, fares go down to $920 round-trip. Only slightly more expensive is the $1163 price tag to fly with Delta and Alitalia during the month of June booking through Vayama (www.vayama.com). All flights go via Rome or Milan.
Virtu Ferries (www.virtuferries.com) runs high speed services between Catania (three-hours) on the east coast or Pozzallo (90-minutes) on the southern tip of Sicily and Malta. Prices vary on how long you are staying. If you squeeze in a three day trip across to Malta, there is a special round-trip fare priced at a little over $100 (65€), whereas an open ended round-trip ticket is more expensive at closer to $130. Children aged four to 16 play 50% and kids under four travel free. A round-trip day ticket to go and return within a single day is priced at $94. There is also departure tax from both ports, adding up to a further $41 (reduced to $16 for day trips).