One of my favourite hotels was the Grand Hotel et des Palmes in Palermo, which is one of those early 1900’s type hotel built in the grand design of that time and is the most legendary hotel in Sicily. Since the 19th century, it has hosted some of the island’s most important visitors, including Richard Wagner, who finished Parsifal here in 1885; Francesco Crispi, who would later become Prime Minister of Italy, taught politics here in 1882; the politician and lawyer Vittorio Emanuele Orlando would often stopover and the french writer Raymond Roussel lived at Grand Hotel et des Palmes on a permanent basis.
The hotel has seen enough murders, suicides, romantic but off-the-record liaisons, and aristocratic intrigue to provide more than enough plots for the complete works of Agatha Christie. My favourite is the story of Baron Di Stefano who was known as ‘the secluded of the Hotel’. He was condemned by a mafia sentence to a choice of death carried out immediately or exile. I can imagine his dilemma, ‘death or exile? let me think for a moment, errrrm, I think I’ll have exile in a top class hotel if that’s ok?’ Sensibly he chose the latter which happened to be the seclusion at the Palmes, where he stayed for fifty years, until his death; he must have been a bit like the Major in Fawlty Towers.
The public areas had classy furnishings, towering marble pillars, and antique chandeliers that evoke the greatness of an elegant and refined bygone era and although the bedrooms can sometimes be disappointing in these sort of hotels the attentive porter showed us to a spacious and superior room at the rear of the hotel with nice furniture and decoration, a recently refurbished bathroom and a mini-bar. It wasn’t dissimilar to the Hotel Royal Victoria in Pisa but not nearly so unusual and with a room on the back, and therefore not overlooking the busy Via Roma at the front, I was pleased that it was not nearly so noisy either. I checked out the mini-bar but at a prohibitively expensive €7 for a small bottle of beer quickly closed the door again and decided that I could wait until I found somewhere with sensible alcohol prices.