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Mondello

TOWNS AND CITIES IN SICILY

Known by the Arabs over a thousand years ago as Marsâ ‘at Tin (Port of Mud), Mondello has come a long way since it was a swampy, malaria-ridden marshland.

Today, Mondello boasts a gorgeous 1.5km-stretch of fine white sand, shallow electric blue waters, an architectural treasure trove of Liberty Style villas, a host of excellent seafood restaurants, numerous bars and a vibrant summer atmosphere.

Separated from Palermo by the 700m-high bulk of Montepellegrino, Mondello was originally a fishing village centred around what is now the main piazza. Two fortified towers were erected there in the 15th century as part of Sicily’s coastal defences. Both still survive, the first looking over the harbour, the second a little further north under the rocky mass of Monte Gallo.

In the 18th century, attempts were made to drain the marshes. Although initially unsuccessful, the project became an idée fixe of future generations and eventually, in 1891, Prince Francesco Lanza di Scalea turned his attentions to the problem and solved it. Soon Mondello was no longer a malarial bog but a highly desirable piece of real estate with a magnificent, if man-made, beach.

In 1910, a Belgian company, Les Tramways de Palerme, purchased a significant portion of the seafront, promising to create a prestigious seaside resort that would rival Nice and its Promenade des Anglais.

The “Mondello project” quickly became the talk to the town and soon Palermo’s aristocratic families began buying up lots and commissioning the city’s best architects (including Ernesto Basile) to build them magnificent Liberty Style summer villas. This concentration of Art Nouveau architecture is the unique, defining feature of Mondello. It was, in essence, a model village, not like the great philanthropically-inspired English villages of Bourneville, Saltaire or Port Sunlight, but rather an aristocratic summer idyll built exclusively for an elite class. 

Today, Mondello boasts a gorgeous 1.5km-stretch of fine white sand, shallow electric blue waters, an architectural treasure trove of Liberty Style villas, a host of excellent seafood restaurants, numerous bars and a vibrant summer atmosphere.

Palermo’s summering aristocrats needed something to do to pass their time, so exclusive sailing clubs, recreational circles and lidos were created for them. The jewel in the crown was the Stabilimento Balneare, a magnificent Art Nouveau gem built on stilts above the aquamarine waters. The architect, Rudolf Stualker, had originally designed the bathing station for Ostend in Belgium, but thought it would look much better in the Mediterranean climes of Mondello. Accessed by a wooden, pier-like bridge, the Stabilimento Balneare is a yellow and white ode to the Liberty Style, a richly decorated but functional homage to an architectural movement that had taken Palermo by storm. The sea-facing terrace, today mainly given over to a restaurant, offers unrivalled views of the bay of Mondello, from Montepellegrino in the south all the way round to Monte Gallo in the north.

Those who planned and built Mondello over 100 years ago considered future generations and how the resort might develop, as is evidenced by the extensive lungomare (seafront promenade), which is flanked by towering palm trees. The flourishing gardens of the private villas, meanwhile, brim with vibrant displays of flowering plants and mature exotic trees.

Today, Mondello’s beach attracts all-comers, from locals to tourists from all over the world. While the beach does get busy in July and August, there are several well-organised lidos where one may escape the crowds. Throughout the rest of the year - at least from April to the end of June and from the beginning of September to the end of November - you will have plenty of space to yourself. The fine sand and the gently shelving, shallow, placid waters are ideal for young children and toddlers.  A morning on the beach, followed by a stroll along the lungomare down to the main piazza and a seafront lunch in the sun, is a great way of spending time. The wide variety of eateries is extensive and includes street food sellers (panelle, arancini and pizzette), excellent gelaterie, seafood trattoria and a Michelin-starred restaurant.

Mondello is also a sporty place. Its nautical clubs have produced World and Olympic Champions in sailing and windsurfing, and there are plenty of water sports opportunities for mere amateurs too, including kayaking, surfing, paddle boarding, sailing and windsurfing. Local sports enthusiasts and those training for a triathlon enjoy nothing more than a pre-breakfast cycle up and down Montepellegrino (from where the views of Mondello are unbeatable) followed by a swim across the bay. 

On the north side of Mondello, meanwhile, is the mountainous nature reserve of Capo Gallo, whose vertical cliffs plunge precipitously into the sea. It's a lovely spot for kayaking or for a coastal walk followed by a dip off the rocks.

As you may have gleaned by now, Mondello has something for everyone. Why not make a visit if you're staying in the northwest of Sicily?  

Villas in Sicily in and around Mondello >>

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