I thought travelling with a toddler was tricky. That was until mine morphed into a teen. I can no longer whisk her off wherever I want; indeed I cannot whisk her anywhere since Tara is almost as tall as me.
She has opinions too. Strong ones. Of that I’m proud and glad, until it came to deciding what to do and where to see in Palermo, Sicily’s capital.
“Dad is that guidebook as old as this hotel?” asks Tara with that teenage air that could be genuine, but is surely mischievous. Before I get defensive it’s too late. She snatches it. Of course my guidebook doesn’t date beyond Villa Igiea’s inauguration in 1900, but it’s older even than I fear – 21-years-old in fact. I protest it’s “just a Rough Guide. Well no actually, a Lonely Planet”. Tara looks genuinely confused.
We are soon in the hotel’s shuttle bus bound for what TikTok hails the “Best arancini in Palermo”. The self-righteous dad part of me is secretly hoping the arancini are a soggy-bottomed mess. If I’m honest that paternal part is looking at this trip like a one-city version of the BBC’s Race Across the World. I want to win.
Disappointingly, the arancini at Arancinando are marvellous – a pleasing array of freshly cooked melt-in-the-mouth delights. Inarguably the best I’ve had in Palermo.
I groan, though, when Tara mentions Starbucks. Then I listen harder – it’s TikTok’s tip for “Sicily’s version of Starbucks”. Turns out Pedro’s serves a superb caffè freddo with infinitely more heart than Seattle’s finest.
Tara checks TikTok for “Palermo eats” and comes up with a market. I ask the barista for his market tip – to Tara’s delight he recommends Mercato del Capo too. It’s also one of my Palermo go-tos.
After weaving our way through the stalls we munch away at my choice of Sit & Mancia. Avoiding the soggy looking arancini, we savour fried calamari with a light Sicilian lemon-infused dip. Tara approves and before I take my second bite the squid poses for TikTok. I’m delighted to find Sit & Mancia is already positively reviewed. Then we smile and chat and share as phones are put away. Common ground.
We spend two days like this, happily immersed in Palermo’s steamy Mediterranean port delights, the quick pace of TikTok recommendations suiting a city whose citizens breakfast on mopeds and hurtle through the day at similarly breakneck speed.
I stress the need to slow down at points to take it all in. TikTok agrees, recommending sitting in a square in a café as being one of the top things to do in Palermo, with a flurry of recommendations where an espresso costs under two euros. I’m pleasantly surprised.
I insist we don’t miss the traditional big sightseeing hitters, but meet Tara halfway, which turns out to have positive spin-offs. She is impressed by the vaulting cathedral, as I am by the fine gardens TikTok leads us to just behind. Both our paths lead to the No Mafia Memorial, a sobering gallery vividly depicting the violent tumult that plagued Palermo until all too recently.
Instead of my rehearsed lecture to Tara that TikTok is not the fount of all knowledge, as it is for many of her generation (an Ofcom survey this summer confirmed TikTok to be the favoured news source of those aged 12-15), I end up questioning my own sources.
That faded guidebook skulks in my bag, missing its usual dalliance with the middle 60 per cent of Tripadvisor reviews, other writers’ tips and the locals I‘ve harangued into offering their tips.
I don’t have time to collect these spinning thoughts before we’re off to our next spot-on Tik-Tok recommendation. And another.
One top TikTok tip is ‘”just walking the streets”. Tara agrees: “it’s so beautiful walking around seeing all the buildings around us.” Phones are popped away. With TikTok’s approval we wander aimlessly, Tara happy to share my favourite way to explore a city.
Back at Villa Igiea on the last night Tara warms to my choice of hotel. She had wanted a TikTok-approved Airbnb right in town. We’ve just been for a swim and she is now sipping a mocktail as we recline in the lush gardens with the lights of the city blinking back across the bay.
With an early start tomorrow Tara’s dining in the buzzing centre has been replaced by a grand dinner on the terrace. As she tucks in to fresh pasta topped with red prawns from Scaccia (cue more photos) I ask what she makes of the hotel. “It’s actually nice,” she beams. “I want to stay here longer, can we?”
We can’t stay any longer, but before the familiar tinge of sadness that for me tinges the end of any family trip, there is one more thing to do. It’s time to retire my guidebook; Tara helps me recycle it. I protest that I will still be buying a new one.
Tara smiles with her eyes and slips back on to her TikTok to plan our next daddy and daughter trip. I settle in to join her.
How to get there
The writer travelled with easyJet which flies to Palermo from several UK airports.
Where to stay
The writer stayed at Villa Igiea, which has double rooms from EUR520.