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August 16, 2010

KENNEDY’S TRAVELS:Discovering Southern Italy’s hidden gem

Sicily remains largely unknown to many if not most international meeting planners, yet as Paul Kennedy reveals it has plenty to offer the meetings industry. From Catania, a city of significant size with a Serie A soccer team and Italy’s third busiest airport with many international connections, and Taormina a stunning resort overlooked by the awe inspiring Mount Etna, to the latest NH Hotel resort at Donnafugata.

Visions of an erupting Mount Etna and a Mafia Don strolling round a hilltop village are two of the more common images that many people associate with the island of Sicily, situated off the famous boot that is the southern end of Italy. But a recent fact finding mission revealed the growing potential of the country as a meetings destination, ably supported by the Sicilia Convention Bureau.

The four-day trip can best be summed up as one of constant surprise. The coastal city of Catania boasts hotels with meeting facilities dotted around and a multi-purpose conference and events centre Le Ciminiere that has the potential to be a true international player. International chain hotels are not in the majority on this eastern side of the island, but the Sheraton Catania with very good meeting facilities is well placed to cater for small to medium-sized meetings.

Together with the excellent and spacious Gran Baia Verde Hotel, Conference and Spa complex, and indeed the newly opened and relatively small Aga Hotel, this ocean view suburb provides a genuine choice for meetings and incentives organisers. In the town centre, the newly opened Una hotel and the well known Hotel Excelsior provide just two examples of good quality facilities for our industry, which when combined with the elegant, if congested, city centre can provide a good fit for many planners’ needs.


Cliff-top appeal: Capotoamina offers a stunning
location and meeting facilities to match


Tales of Taormina
A whole day was easily spent in Taormina, which is famous for its great views of Mt Etna and beautiful coastline. Again this resort offers excellent meeting facilities, including a good selection of mid to high-end facilities for corporate meetings and incentives. The Grand Hotel Timeo, now an Orient Express Hotel, has one of the most glorious settings of any property I have ever visited; with a magnificent ancient Greek Amphitheatre immediately behind the property.

Meanwhile, the sister hotel, Villa Andrea, and the Mazzaro Sea Palace and Atlantis hotels literally have the sea at their doorstep. Indeed, this uncrowded resort has much to offer meeting and incentive planners alike. For larger meetings, the four-star Hotel Capotaomina, with its stunning cliff-top location, offers a range of meeting spaces and some true hidden gems, such as a stony beach actually reached via a cave and a gorgeous restaurant perched on a rocky promontory. A further property, the Naxos Beach Hotel – a resort hotel but with one of the best hotel conference auditoriums I have seen for a long time – provides yet another option for planners looking for four-star plus properties.

My final visit was to the newly opened NH Hotels Donnafugusta Golf Resort and Spa located south of Catanaia in Ragusa. This brand new property with very good meeting facilities is perhaps best placed to cater for incentives with numerous design-led meeting and event spaces to choose from.

Looking forward to Palermo
This brief and whistle-stop visit opened my eyes to a destination new to many. The Greeks and Arabs settled here thousands of years ago, and their influence in the cuisine, architecture and archaeology is still visible today. I for one look forward to my next visit scheduled for September, when I will visit the Island’s capital Palermo. 

The key message for meeting and incentive planners, is look at Sicily as a new destination option - it looks, feels and is different.

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