Mondello is a small seaside resort with a wonderful beach just a short bus ride from the centre of the Sicilian capital Palermo. Mondello is more or less a suburb of the city, and excursions to the sea at Mondello are a ritual for Palermitani. The beach is generally crowded, but there’s a sunny holiday atmosphere at Mondello, and like the locals, tourists may wish to take time off from their business of sightseeing, and relax with a few hedonistic hours by the turquoise sea.
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The coastline at Mondello used to be marshy and plagued by malaria, so the settlement doesn’t have the historic pedigree of other Sicilian towns. It was only at the end of the nineteenth century that the land was subject to improvement schemes; by the early twentieth century a Belgian company began developing property, and wealthy residents of Palermo started buying up the new, elegant ‘Liberty-style’ villas by the beach. The lines of these villini are still an appealing feature of the town, though many visitors’ eyes will be fixed firmly on the sea.
Mondello is more than just a beach resort; it’s an education in Sicilian custom, rituals and adolescent bonding. The soft fine sand and the rows of changing cabins get packed with groups of youngsters just out of (or skiving off from) school, engaged in the large-group socialising that is the Italian norm. Although the beach games can get boisterous, and the sands choc-a-bloc with towels and sun-oiled bodies, the atmosphere remains civilised and good-spirited (maybe because alcohol doesn’t play much part in beach society here), as families, elderly ladies, teenage groups and young couples all unite in worshipping the sun and sea.
The Mondello beach is long and curving, made of soft pale sand sloping very gently into the turquoise sea. It is ideal for all the family, for swimmers and for those who simply want to wade into the waves to cool down. There are pedal-boats for hire, life-guards keeping an eye on the water, pedlars weaving up and down the beach with jewellery, sarongs, food and drink, and generally a busy, lively atmosphere.
Long stretches of the beach are taken up with pastel-coloured changing cabins which are frequently rented for the season. At present there are surprisingly few lidi attrezzati where you can pay for a bit more peace, a parasol and a sun-lounger, but if you head to the ends or the centre of the beach you will find one or two of these. Over the next few years it seems likely that the numbers of cabins will be reduced, and the number of beach establishments will increase, which is good news for tourists though less so for locals. The strip of sand between the beach establishments or cabins and the water is generally left open to anyone who wants to take a towel and find a bit of sand to lie on.
The road which curves behind the beach makes a pleasant stroll. Up at the far end of the bay, the ‘centre’ of the town, a waterfront piazza rather blighted by advertising boards for eateries, is useful for eating and shopping but otherwise isn’t much to write home about. The most historic sight is the old stone watchtower which predates the beach resort. It’s worth wandering up as far as the harbour, though, where small fishing boats bob up and down and old men fish from the jetty.
The symbol of Mondello is the striking Art Nouveau building on a pier in the middle of the bay, the Charleston. Dating back to the more elegant heyday of the resort, this has been restored and sits in yellow glory over the blue waters of the bay, while children splash around below. There’s a smart restaurant here, a bar and a paying beach establishment.
The slopes of Monte Gallo, beyond Mondello Paese – the old hub of Mondello, by the harbour – are a nature reserve, with footpath access from Mondello.
A trip out to Mondello is a great way to take a break from a city sightseeing schedule. If you’re not at a paying lido, the lack of facilities can be a bit awkward, but if you don’t mind hunting out a beachside shower, or travelling back to your hotel feeling damp and sandy, a few hours by the sea is a pleasure for even a beach cynic.
The stalls along the street – from permanent kitchens to old men frying food on the back of little ape trucks – are good for cheap snacks on the go, selling seafood and local street food like pastries, arancini, panelle chick-pea fritters in rolls, and deep fried vegetables. You can buy refreshing ice granite – including the Sicilian speciality granita di gelsi (mulberries) – at these stalls and also at a good, more formal bar in the main square (which has convenient toilet facilities). There is also a useful Coop supermarket near the seafront. For more substantial meals visitors are spoiled for choice, as Mondello is full of restaurants, trattorie and pizzerie.
Mondello’s summer season runs from May to September; outside this time you’ll find the bay more peaceful and the access to the sea more open. During the summer months, you’ll have to pick your way through the rows of cabins to reach the sea, or look out for a legally-enforced ‘public access entrance’ (varco pubblico) which passes onto the beach between paying establishments.
Mondello travel and transport
Mondello is on Palermo’s urban bus network, and standard tickets for the AMAT city buses (including good-value day tickets) are valid as far as Mondello, making it a cheap and easy outing from central Palermo. Buses 806 and 833 run to Mondello from the Politeama and Piazza Sturzo in Palermo. Services are fairly frequent, with extra services in summer, when the buses can get uncomfortably full. The journey takes around twenty minutes, circling the base of Monte Pellegrino. In the summer there is also another line to Mondello (called GT or Gran Turismo) operating more comfortable coaches; details can be found on the AMAT city bus website along with details of the regular urban routes.
Hotels and B&Bs
There are a few places to stay in Mondello, if you want to base yourself near the beach and perhaps takes trips into Palermo for sightseeing. On the whole, since Mondello is so close to the town, most tourists come out to the resort simply for a few hours. Mondello has a handful of large, fairly mediocre hotels, and some rather more promising B&Bs (check the latest reviews through the links below). Case D’a Mare Mondello offers self-catering accommodation close to the centre and the beach, and Il Glicine sul Golfo is a popular and friendly B&B with lovely sea views.
> Find accommodation in and around Mondello
Useful external links
AMAT – Palermo city buses