Ibis Styles Acireale – A Review By Punam Mohandas
The Ibis Styles Acireale in Catania, Sicily, is situated under the shadow of Mt Etna, a volcano that is still very much active! In fact, the last (mild) eruption was in April 2016! As a result of the frequent eruptions through the years, the beaches in Sicily are coal black in colour and are mainly pebbled or rocky. The Sicilians have learnt to walk around armed with umbrellas, not as protection against the fierce sun but more to ward off the shower of soot or tiny splinters when Etna gets into one of her moods again!
The Ibis Styles Acireale is built in a former lemon garden, with easy access to the mountains as well as the sea; it is roughly a 20-minute walk down to the beach, taking the steps from the Madonna Della Grazia church across the road.
The owner of this hotel has kept many of the Accor standards in place but has also added her own personal touches to it, making this a most unique Ibis Styles property. For starters, the lobby is small but cheery and looks more like someone’s untidy, lived-in sitting room than a hotel foyer. Bizarrely colourful sofas with geometric design prints lean against a small bar counter that serves drinks, coffees and snacks till 9pm. If you are lucky enough to have Carmen on duty when you arrive – as I did – you are in for a rollicking time. She is a smart, funny, voluble Sicilian, extremely helpful and resourceful and she enlivens the entire hotel check-in experience like none other I have ever been through!
The hotel has 66-keys in total, comprised of double, twin, triple and Family rooms.The Family rooms are bigger, with two double beds. 36 rooms form a separate block known as ‘Dependance’ where guests can park right in front of their individual units, motel style.
Within the main building and a flight up from the lobby, the corridor has crimson wall panels inset into biscuit coloured stone walls. The rooms are much larger than the typical Ibis. Pastel theme, with a round hanging lamp and sensible reading lights by the beds. The whole effect is simple, but pleasing. The bathrooms are really big and have magnifying mirrors. All rooms have the usual amenities of tea/coffee maker, mini fridge (not mini bar) electronic safe, hair dryer. Iron on request and laundry facilities are available.
There is one Business suite as well, mainly kept aside for business meetings, presentations or small workshops. It has a huge bedroom with two double beds, plus a bathroom and shower facilities of course. A small four seater dining table and tea/coffee maker are also placed in the room.
In terms of the ‘Dependance’ block, there are two rooms are completely different from the others. One has a circular bed with the bathroom as a totally open concept, with a triangular shaped bathtub (with jacuzzi) in one corner of the bedroom. Only the toilet itself has a door painted in orange and black stripes, while the room walls are in orange, apricot and yellow. A black tiled panel against the jacuzzi in sharp geometric angles contrasts neatly with the otherwise soft theme. The other room has a a square bed and the colour scheme for the room is crimson and pale yellow. Same open bathroom concept with jacuzzi, with the toilet door in crimson and black stripes instead.
All the colours have some underlying Sicilian meaning: the red is for active Etna and black for the lava, while yellow signifies the sun and blue, the sea. Green is for the Mediterranean richness in terms of fruit and vegetables.
With such radical shifts away from the usual boring Ibis formula, one could hope the management will eventually realise the folly of soap dispensers in the shower and do away with those too.
The sole F&B outlet has 50-covers and is open for breakfast only. Unlike other Ibis properties that serve two types of breakfasts, there is only one breakfast service at the Ibis Styles Acireale, from 7-10am on weekdays and 7-11am on weekends. In typical Sicilian tradition, there are plenty of torte (cake) varieties early morning, along with fresh mozzarella cheese, olives and tomatoes.The cappuccino and espresso machine miraculously produces the most amazing brews. Apart from this, the hotel serves no fresh food but ready-to-eat frozen options are available at the bar such as rustic soup, lasagna, tortellini, taglierini and suchlike and during winters, the hotel also serves special local desserts. Most guests go on to Acireale for their meals or the seafood diner just up the road.
There is no gym or spa, but the garden has two steppers that currently comprise the sole exercise equipment. Further, the Ibis Styles Acireale is part of Planet21, which is Accor’s sustainability programme and has solar heating as well as photovoltaic panels in place at the property.
Acireale is known as the ‘Town of a Hundred Churches.’ Quite obviously then, it is a wedding town and the Ibis too receives mainly wedding guests. The hotel itself is an easy 20-minute walk away from Acireale centre where you will see many churches with some delicate architecture; you may even be lucky enough to catch a wedding in progress. I came across three in the span of an of hour of walking!
From Acireale, it is a half an hour train ride for 3.80 euros to the utterly bewitching Taormina, right on the sea and hence more touristy. Once at Taormina, take a bus from just outside the train station to the centre of town, for just 1.90 euros. Steep hairpin bends with stunning seascapes will get you to a place redolent with the Godfather theme and Sicilian culinary treats such as Arancine (fried rice balls with a meat or aubergine filling) granitas (like a soft mousse ice cream) and of course, the canolli. Bougainvillea of a fuchsia so bright it almost hurts the eyes, are framed against the impossibly deep blue of the sea; it is a visual that is well nigh difficult to express in mere words. Taormina is quite simply one of the places to be seen in the world.
It is a slightly involved procedure to get to the Ibis Styles Acireale, but you will not regret it. Fly into Catania airport and, once here, take airport bus ALI for 4 euros to Catania town, 20-minutes away, to the main bus stop. From here you take the AST bus for 2.70 euros, to Acireale. Sicilians as a general rule are a warm and hospitable people. Acireale sees some European tourists but not many from the rest of the world and so, as an Indian, I pretty much stood out. It is the kind of small place where the bus driver knows many of the locals. The driver was so obliging that he actually stopped the bus a couple of times for me to take some photos – including one of a small fortress in the sea that the locals are very proud of – and none of the other passengers objected, in fact, one of them got up from his seat so I could take better angles. The bus dropped me right at the top of the road from where it is a short 4-minute walk down to the Ibis Styles. On your departure, it gets a little tricky as the bus does not stop at this point on the way back. The hotel can order you a taxi for 40-euros which is way too much; a better option is to take a shared cab or else, search online for a BlaBlaCar option. I paid only two euros eventually to get to the airport!
Oh yes – do remember to meet Carmen!
IBIS STYLES ACIREALE
TEL: +39 0957676522
FAX: +39 0957676576
Punam Mohandas asserts her right to be identified as the author of this work. Any views or opinions expressed in this review is that of the author.