Our recent honeymoon saw us visiting Sicily for the first time, looking for a hotel somewhere that you've never been before is quite disconcerting. You have to rely on reviews, star ratings and photo's found around the Internet. On a trawl through Expedia I came across the Sant Alphio Garden Hotel, a four star hotel in the resort of Giardini-Naxos. Looking at a map I noticed that the resort wasn't that far from Catania, where we were flying into and was close to other areas that we had thought we might like to visi. The photo's all looked quite nice and the hotel itself looked clean and spacious. As an added plus the hotel also has an indoor spa and pool in addition to an outside pool, which I imagine would be delightful in the summer although at the beginning of March it looked a little too cold to venture into, not even in the interest of consumer reviews!
If you're anything like me you'll be highly organised before going on holiday (well you'll have printed off maps and put them in a file without looking at them!). Throw a wedding into a mix and the result is an unorganised Jo and frantic printing of hotel details, tickets and maps the night before leaving. Looking at the map you can print from Expedia I was none the wiser as to how to get to the hotel, fortunately the hotel's website has a better map in a pdf format which you can print (www.santalphiohotel.com). To give you some advice however would perhaps prove useful here.
From Catania Airport car rental bit, turn left out of the airport and follow the stream of traffic to the motorway, find the signs to Messina and head off in that direction. Jump off the motorway at Giardini-Naxos and pay your 1.20 euros. Now the exit is tricky. To find the hotel you need to take the middle road (it looks scary with 3 roads forking off!) and whizz round a fairly tight bend. At the bottom turn left, then left again 1st right before the garage and you're pretty much there. Despite us having a map we struggled to find the hotel in the dark on the first occasion so drive slowly and look at the signs carefully.
Well, when you arrive at the hotel you first have to get in. Sounds obvious I know but there are some pretty hefty gates to get through before you're actually in the grounds. This made me feel at ease as I was sure that the car would be safe and that no reprobates would come and steal the wheels. If you have a car you will need to talk to the reception via a speaker thing. Reception staff all speak good English so if you're not to hot on the Italian you can still communicate. Once through the gates, park up, get out the car and take no notice of the area you are now in. Being at the back of the hotel the car park doesn't give that good an impression of the hotel itself, walk round to the front however and the sight of palm trees and pale stone floors greets you and welcomes you through the front doors.
From outside, the hotel is quite modern looking and is traditional white with blue shutters. The gardens are quite lush (or they were in March) and the pool is pleasantly lit. The front of the hotel is welcoming and reception is very easy to find, unlike some hotels I have been to where you have to follow a maze of corridors to check-in. There may b a cat loitering around the front door, don't worry about letting her in. There is a bed for her in the lounge by reception!
All of the staff I dealt with at the Sant Alphio were extremely good. They looked professional and most importantly actually provided really good service. On check-in we handed over our passports and booking confirmation from Expedia. There was a little trouble about whether this piece of paper would suffice to allow us to check in the hotel but this was quickly resolved when I mentioned that it was the only documentation we had. We were given our key, which was on a rather large keyring and directed to our room. All in all it took about 5 minutes and at no point were we left waiting while the receptionist went for a chat with her mates out the back as has happened to me in other hotels.
We were given a room on the 3rd floor and were pleasantly surprised that the stairwell was wide and airy as opposed to dark and dingy in less salubrious hotels. We approached our room with weariness and a little trepidation, would the room live up to the pictures off the t'interweb? Well we needn't have worried, as our room was fabulous. Tiled flooring throughout was fine even in March when the temperatures were sometimes a little cool, the bed was actually a real bed, and not just 2 singles pushed together, it was also huge which meant that we could get a good nights sleep without being in each others way.
We had a standard mini-bar with all the usual stuff within, the prices were to be expected, slightly more than you would expect in a supermarket but with reasonability increasing in line with thrist.
The adjoining bathroom was nice and large, clean and well ventilated (with an actual real window!) and the shower was just to die for, really powerful and easy to get a nice temperature. The cleaner did a really good job with her daily clean we could find no fault with her. The bed was made every day and the maid even folded my jimmies for me. We had a balcony attached to our room which was really appreciated, although the room had air conditioning we found that we couldn't really get it cool enough without having the balcony doors open. Whether this was because it was early spring and the staff thought that it wasn't warm enough for air-con I do not know, we managed to strike a nice balance with temperature though after a nights experimenting (we were on our honeymoon after all!).
FOOD AND DRINK
When booking the hotel through their website you are given the option of B&B, ½ or Full Board. We were on a B&B deal although there were groups that were on the full board and ½ board present in the hotel. The restaurant is near to reception on the ground floor and is absolutely massive.
Tables for 2 are not lodged away in a corner but rather at the top of the room, with all seats facing into the dining room. I really liked this as it meant that we could both see the same things (I am an avid people watcher!) and didn't have to swivel round to see what else was going on. The waiters again were very professional and were really quick to brink you your coffee in the morning.
The breakfast selection was good with all the usual suspects present. You had the choice of meats, cheeses, yoghurt, pastries, bread, cereal and fruit. I personally went for cheese and meat with bread for my breakfast and made some sandwiches to take for our lunch, there didn't seem to be a problem with us doing this and we were quite open about it. The bread on offer was very touch and go, Overall I thought that it was a bit hard and chewy for my liking.
Dinner was available between 7 and 8:30 (to enter the dining room) we ate in the hotel on the first night as we were exhausted, the quality of the food coupled with convenience and cost meant that we actually ate in the hotel every night. There are 2 menu's (a menu of the day or á la Carte) and we tended to eat from the á la Carte. There was a beautiful fillet steak for 13 Euro's and some quite tasty wines (locally produced) for around 15 Euro's. With your main meal you get potatoes and vegetables of the day, which suited us just fine. We didn't know what some of the dishes were and the waiters were very good at explaining them to us. I tried some things I probably wouldn't have been brave enough to go for without a clear explanation.
If you want a drink before dinner you can get this from John's Bar (you have to walk through to get to the dining room). John's bar is a little gem of a place and certainly fits with the ambience of the hotel. It has a resident pianist (who will take requests) and again all the staff are very polite and eager to please. The cost of drinks here was slightly more expensive than a normal bar (around 9 Euro's for a gin & lemonade and local beer) but comparable to any other hotel. We were most impressed as the bar man knew what a rusty nail was and actually recommended it to my husband as he went to the bar (apparently bar workers never know what a rusty nail is!). An after dinner Baileys and Scotch came to around 11 Euro's which I was prepared to pay. All of the costs you run up in the hotel are charged to your room which can be slightly scary if you want to keep a track on what you are spending however so long as you don't go to mad you should be OK.
We didn't experience the spa although there was a price list in our room and they seemed to offer all the usual treatments. A couple we met during our stay used the spa every day and told us that they were really happy with the service, that the treatments were really relaxing and the pool was nice and spacious and kept at a nice temperature.
Outside the hotel there is a pool area and outside bar. These weren't open on our visit and I wouldn't like to make a comment about them. Suffice to say that the areas looked really nice and I'm sure that in the summer they would be well used by hotel guests. The hotel also has its own Beach Lido, which again wasn't open on our visit, although the hotel isn't on thew beach I don't think it's that far to the Lido. The sea around Giardinin-Naxos is really clear and looked lovely (if a little cold) on our visit. As I mentioned before the gardens looked lovely, full of colour and with some nice statues dotted around the place. The hotel grounds aren't particularly massive and I would imagine that they could get busy during high season diminishing their appeal.
Surrounding the hotel there is rather less to say, as the hotel is situated outside of the main resort, if you were wanting to eat out every night you would really need a car, or other form of transport to get around. In high season there may be more open but during our stay we were happy to eat in the hotel itself and din't explore much in the evening.
I would thoroughly recommend this hotel, it was a really relaxing break for us and thoroughly enjoyed. As a 4 star it was slightly more expensive than other hotels we could have chosen but I feel that extra price was justified, the hotel was noticeably more luxurious than a 3 star which was pleasing. The hotel more than lived up to our expectations and when we go back to Sicily it is one we will certainly think about revisiting. If you have a young family I don't think this is the place for you as Sant Alphio Garden tends to cater for older families or adults, certainly on our visit I didn't see any children although it wasn't the school holidays.
When it comes to a recommendation Sant Alphio Garden gets a whole hearted Yes from me.
Thanks for Reading