Wheelchair Travel in Sicily 2009
by Jane & Simon Reed © 2009
We have just got back from an exhausting visit to western
Sicily visiting our daughter. The notes from
the Edwards were extremely helpful, and we have a few things to add:
We stayed at two supposedly disabled friendly hotels:
a) the 5* Kempinksi - amazingly the disabled room is on the first floor and although the bathroom had all the right brackets - none of the handles were actually there. They also could not provide a plastic chair for the shower. There is a small step into reception (or access can be had via a fire exit) otherwise it is all easy including both indoor and outdoor swimming pools having steps with handrails into them.
b) the Baglio Conco d'Oro near Monreale - if you can find it! there is a ramp up into reception but from there there are steps up to the bar and then down more steps into the dining room - none with handrails. Flat access is available at the rear of the hotel to the lift but again the disabled room is on the first floor. Here the disabled room (very dreary) had an excellent bathroom and we did get an outside chair into the shower. My husband had another bad fall trying to get into the dining room for breakfast and we decided we would move. The only other hotel anywhere near with a disabled room was the Guillermo11 on the main road. We went and asked to see it and were told it was not habitable! Evidently they have to have one to tick a box but there was no special equipment, handles or anything else. The management at the hotel promised to do everything they could for us and luckily the weather was nice enough to have breakfast in the courtyard - which in actual fact was so much nicer than the very dark formal dining room.
Everywhere we went people went out of their way to be helpful - except at the Palazzo dei Normanni. Here there is an incredibly steep ramp up to the main door and the internal courtyard is cobbled. The lift up to the first floor and the Capella held 2 people only. there was no way you could get a wheelchair in and in fact even folded I had to take off the foot plates and bend down the handles to get the chair in. Coming out of the lift you are met by an iron gate which is padlocked. Around the other side of the courtyard there is another but actually it wasn't locked. At the chapel itself, the ticket collectors could not have been less interested or less helpful. On asking if there was a ramp for the chair we were just given a curt "no". No offer of assistance or anything else. The chapel is so over the top, and crowded, that if you have seen the cathedral in Monreale (which is just jaw droppingly stunning) I really wouldn't bother.
At Monreale everyone fussed around moving ramps so that we could get the wheelchair into the cathedral - worth every minute. As for the cloisters next door - two burly young men manhandled the wheelchair with husband in it (no mean feat) up and down but there are at least handrails here.
For us, Selinunte was one of the highlights. There is a little tourist train that goes around the enormous park but we were told we could take the car in and given the freedom of the entire site - magical. As with so many places (except the Palazzo above) we got in free but as we thought they had gone beyond their duty and it was such a worthy place we wanted to give a donation in any event. In the nicest way we were told we couldn't and that they were just pleased that we had enjoyed it so much. There are at least two disabled toilets here.
We tried getting into Solunto - again a nightmare to find, why is it that directions start you off and then just leave you stranded? - again a ramp up to a disabled toilet but the very steep ramp up to the ticket office and beyond was a roman paved road just made for twisting ankles and absolutely impossible for wheelchairs.
The Sicilians seem to expect anyone and anything in the roads so pushing a wheelchair in the middle of the road was not as scary as I thought it would be.
Amazingly a lot of restaurants had disabled toilets - there might have been a step or two into the restaurant but they had obviously gone some way to keeping to EU law - however one fish restaurant in Mazara obviously used theirs for a store room and whilst I was taking mops, brooms and rolls and rolls of paper out my husband slipped on the wet floor and had quite a bad fall. Everyone was very helpful (afraid of being sued?) but in the end we didn't stay. In Cefalu most of the restaurant terraces seemed to be down stairs but there were window tables on the flat to get the view.
Going in April and being blessed with reasonably warm weather meant that as often as not we were able to sit outside in Palermo - otherwise there didn't seem to be many disabled friendly places and of course with parking on the pavements (aren't Sicilian drivers wonderful?) pushing in those narrow little streets became a bit of an art form.
For additional information on Sicily, read
Mark & Margaret Edwards' excellent 2008 report.
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