Sicily is a veritable feast for the senses. It’s a land of extremes and contrasts, a magnification of all things Italian. It is also an island of supreme history, architecture and gastronomic delights.
MY FIRST TRIP TO SICILY and my first villa-stay experience were one in the same. After spending a few nights at Rocca delle Tre Contrade, I arrived at this conclusion: There’s simply no better way to enjoy Sicily. With 11 bedrooms and space for 22 guests, you’ll find incredible views, an amazing staff and the supreme comforts of home. Rocca delle Tre Contrade is the ideal place to come with your family, friends or significant other. It’s also the perfect spot for an intimate destination wedding. The 360-degree panoramic views take your eyes to the sparkling Ionian Sea on one side and the lava peaks of Mount Etna on the other. The inviting scent of lemons and other citrus permeates the air every time you step outside; lemon groves, fruit orchards and vegetable gardens enhance the estate. Relax by a private infinity pool, and enjoy the most delicious food you have ever tasted.
Breathtaking views are standard in each of the spacious bedrooms spread across three floors. Furnishings are an elegant blend of authentic antique, reclaimed and original pieces, which hint at the villa’s mid-19th-century origins. A calming color palette and tasteful art are found throughout the estate and complement stylish but comfortable armchairs, sofas and king- and queen-size beds. Baths are designed for discerning guests who love top-modern fittings, local marble and large-stone basins, tubs and showers. The property was recently restored by local architect Angelo Vecchio, who retained the original masonry of lava stone and white Siracusa limestone, which can be seen in the magnificent arches throughout the five living areas. Vecchio departed from traditional building techniques only for the new kitchen and dining areas, which incorporate polished concrete floors and glass walls.
Enjoy the panoramic terrace with a wide selection of al fresco dining options. Take steps through the lava stonewall to the L-shaped infinity pool. Swimming in one direction, you’ll feel as though you’re heading out into the Ionian Sea. Turn around, and you’re facing Mount Etna. Relax, swim or practice sunrise/sunset yoga poolside. It will be an experience you’ll never forget.
The staff at Rocca delle Tre Contrade includes Antonella, the most amazing cook on earth, caretakers, housekeepers and a waiter—you’ll never lift a finger during your stay. Just let the manager know a day in advance whether you’re dining in your room, and the staff will do the rest—including providing the most elegant centerpieces you have ever seen. Enjoy homemade muesli every morning accompanied by yogurt and fantastic breakfast cakes. (Warning: The freshly squeezed blood orange juice is addictive.) Dinners are indescribable. Be sure to enjoy polpette, which are the most amazing chicken/veal meatballs, Pasta á la Norma and Involtini di melenzane con spaghetti.
WHAT TO SEE
1. MOUNT ETNA The tallest active volcano in Europe, Mount Etna is the dominating feature of the eastern part of Sicily. When Etna erupts, travelers from all over the world come for a glimpse. Hike with a guide to gain expert knowledge. A cable car can take the sweat out of the trip up, but the descent past Valle Del Bove with its deep canyon of spent lava flows is mesmerizing. Take the villa’s 4 x 4 excursion in a Land Rover. You’ll veer off the beaten track to see fascinating aspects of this volcano that an ordinary tourist won’t. A volcanologist will accompany you for insight into one of Europe’s most fascinating treasures. parcoetna.it
2. PLANETA WINERY One of Sicily’s foremost producers of quality wines, founded in 1990 by the Planeta family, this winery put Sicily on the modern wine map. It now boasts 350 acres of vineyards divided among five estates, reflecting the diversity of Sicilian wines and grape varieties. They are currently producing more than 2 million bottles per year. planetawines.com
3. THE CITY OF CATANIA Sicily’s second largest city, Catania is a delightful square where Mount Etna is ever present. Several volcanic eruptions have destroyed Catania, the most devastating occurring in the 17th century. The old part of the town was rebuilt in Baroque style, with large open squares and avenues. Have lunch at Pizza Duomo for the best salads, pizzas, appetizers and desserts.
4. VENDICARI NATURE RESERVE Situated on the southernmost part of Sicily’s east coast, Vendicari is a mixture of sandy dunes, beaches and coastlines. You may see flamingos in addition to all kinds of migrating birds. The reserve is an ideal place for walking, running, swimming and sunbathing.
5. NOTO Destroyed in 1963 by an earthquake, this lovely town was rebuilt from scratch. (This urban center was also one of my favorite stops.) The buildings are Baroque-style, but each hosts its own design. The predominant material used is local compacted limestone, which absorbs the sun’s rays and transforms the buildings with a soft honey glow. The sunset is unreal here, so don’t miss it.
6. SYRACUSA A must during your Sicily travels, Syracusa features fabulous restaurants and trattorias. Stop at the Piazzo del Duomo, a wonderful pedestrian square home to the cathedral built on the site of an ancient temple of Athena. You’ll also find a morning street market with an excellent assortment of wines and Sicilian delicacies. The archaeological site is home to a Greek theater that dates back to the 5th century.
7. TAORMINA Taormina is definitely the most popular destination in Sicily, where you’ll find beautiful buildings, breathtaking views, amazing shopping and bars and restaurants galore. Have lunch by the sea at Mazzaro Taormina, which has a cable car to take you to and from the seaside resort. The main attraction is the Teatro Greco Theater, which began hosting performances in the 3rd century. It’s worth the walk to this amazing theater with spectacular views of Sicily.
8. THE MADONIE ADVENTURE PARK If you’re staying in or near the Madonie National Park, head for Il Parco Avventura Madonie, where you’ll find an adventure playground in the woods, including rope ladder-walking, tree-climbing and cable slides. It is also possible to go mountain biking (bikes and helmets provided), trekking and horseback riding. There are picnic areas and, if you phone ahead, you can request local products such as cheeses, hams, sausages, etc.
9. GOLF Il Picciolo in Castiglione di Sicilia is the oldest course in Sicily and has played host to a number of international tournaments, including Ladies European Tour events. Very few courses in the world boast a smoking volcano as a backdrop—but Il Picciolo is one, laid out as it is in a stunning location on the slopes of Mount Etna. This proximity to Etna and its regular eruptions provides the unusual hazard of lava flows on many of the holes, and with trees and vineyards also constantly in play, there is a premium on accurate driving. ilpicciologolf.com
10. HORSEBACK RIDING ON ETNA Head to Centro Ippico Amico del Cavallo in Misterbianco for this incredible adventure. amicodelcavallo.com; tel. 329 9509849 or 095 461882
Alternatively, in summer, horses are also available at Parco EtnAvventura in Contrada Serra La Nave in the town of Ragalna, southern Etna. etnavventura.it; tel. 333 1515904
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