Riviera Reporter
Riviera Reporter

How to turn a cheap golfing holiday in Sicily into a rather expensive one

Every year sees two bitterly-fought contests for the Ringpress Cup, myself and my former business partner John the only contenders.

These normally take place in Portugal, with John flying in from London and me from Nice. This year, however, we decided to escape the Algarve’s overfull golf courses, oh-so- slow rounds and general lack of cultural highlights: we picked Sicily. The largest island in the Med is not well endowed with golf clubs, so instead of playing several courses, which is our habit, we plumped for one eighteen-holer with rooms, and crossed our fingers.

TaorminaEven in short days of mid-November you can golf, lunch and sightsee (cliff-huggingly quaint Taormina, pictured, is half an hour away, and delightful villages all claiming to have been locations for one of the "Godfather" movies abound).Before I give you the good news about this trip, and there’s plenty, I’ll give you the bad – my choice of route. With no direct flights from Nice, and feeling adventurous, I discovered I could catch a ferry from Genoa and pitch up in Palermo 20 hours later – so no car hire to pay. I convinced myself that the €220 for the cost of car and me (in a “Pullman Seat”) was a bargain. The first thing I didn’t take into account were the motorway tolls between Cannes and Genoa, the second was the Pullman Seat. Nothing wrong with the seat itself, just where they put it – about six decks below the waterline with no light or air, just loads of Italians plus bambini being very noisy. So it’s a cabin for one please. A four-berth cabin just for me, some mistake? No, all the cabins are 4-berth, and so goodbye €90 each way.

The modestly-named Suprema (booked at http://www.aferry.com) left Genoa at 11pm, niftily skirted the island of Giglio and the wreck of the Costa Concordia, and arrived without incident (except for serving amazingly poor food) in Palermo at 7pm the following evening.

Palermo - Palatine ChapelPalermo is packed with wonder, including the Palatine Chapel of the Palazzo Normanni, a fusion of Christian faith and Arabic art in gilded mosaic.And the bills just kept on coming: a night out in this atmospheric city, plus a stay at the beautiful Palazzo Sitano hotel (http://www.hotelpalazzositano.it), a converted 18th-century palace on the main drag, Via Vittorio Emanuele. On Saturday, after meeting easyJet, it was a long drive to the slopes of Mount Etna and the Il Picciolo Golf Club (http://www.ilpicciologolf.com). We arrived after 11pm, but Giorgio is there to greet us – does he speak a little English or French, my Italian needs work? “G’day!” exclaims the swarthy Sicilian, who it turns out has spent 30 years Down Under.

“We’ve booked five rounds of golf, but we haven’t reserved tee times,” I say, remembering the queues on the tees in Portugal.

“No worries mate, you can start when you like – and play as much as you like.”

Tee ShotThis close! A tee-shot on a Par 3 was nearly an ace.He then showed us to our magnificent rooms, in fact a two-bedroom suite with a salon and massive terrace looking up the mountainside. And so started a golfing idyll, a very fine golf course, as green as anywhere is Surrey. We never had to wait on a shot for a group ahead as we usually had the place to ourselves; we ended up playing seven rounds plus a decider over 9 holes on one of the days. All this plus breakfast for €740 represents excellent value – on the ridiculously-priced golf courses that surround Cannes that wouldn’t even buy you the golf.

And to make the exercise a little more sensible, when we go back in April (the first of many return trips I hope) John will be flying easyJet direct from Gatwick to Catania (35 mins away from Il Picciolo) and I’ll be doing the same with Alitalia from Nice (a short change in Rome) for €230 return.

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