Sicily sizzles whatever the season: Its cities are wonderfully chaotic. But this sublime Italian island also has delectable villages and hotels that offer a welcome off-peak escape
- Fiona McIntosh discovers that Sicily is home to ‘wild, untouched beauty’
- She stays at Alder Sicilia, a resort near the Torre Salsa Nature Reserve
- READ MORE: American in the UK reveals the country’s ‘strengths’ and ‘oddities’
Crunching my way through a forest of pine and eucalyptus trees towards grassy dunes and a vast, sandy beach, I look out towards a horizonless sea. There is no other sign of life, apart from the eagles and peregrines soaring above me.
It is the sort of wild, untouched beauty you’d expect to find in South Africa or Australia. But here we are in Sicily, the southern Italian island better known for its crazy, crowded cities, clanking costume jewellery and cocktails the colour of the lava that sputters sporadically from Mount Etna. But the summer crowds have disappeared and the island’s tranquillity has returned, even though I’m on the coast, only an hour south of the capital Palermo.
Until recently there were few properly lovely places to stay in this region, set between the towns of Sciacca and Agrigento and largely made up of wind-battered fishing villages and industrial ports. Last year that changed, with the opening of Adler Sicilia.
Slotted discretely into a hillside above a five-mile stretch of beach, the resort sits on the edge of the Torre Salsa Nature Reserve, a sanctuary for nesting sea turtles and migratory birds, including purple herons, honey buzzards, peregrine falcons and flamingos.
Guests are encouraged to make the most of this precious pocket, with organised treks through the reserve and into the hinterland on e-bikes. Or, like me, you can take the easy option and grab one of the hotel beach bags – containing a towel, sunbed mattress and water – and walk down to the beach.
On her visit to Sicily, Fiona McIntosh explores the colourful fishing port of Sciacca (pictured), with its narrow, colourful streets, seafood restaurants and ceramics shops
As the Adler group is known for its plush alpine spa hotels, the same Germanic rigour has been applied to fitting out the extraordinary spa in its Sicilian outpost. All stone and wood and super high-tech, it’s such a vast, bamboozling playground of wellness you don’t quite know where to start.
Should I laze by the indoor/outdoor pool or pound up and down the lap pool? Join a yoga or pilates class, or book one of 40 different massages in the labyrinth of treatment rooms? End the day supine in a sauna, a steam room fragranced with Sicilian herbs or in the bubbling thalasso pool overlooking the sea?
When you’ve finished filling your boots with wellness, you might just make it to the restaurant in time for the all-inclusive buffet, a description which rather underplays the bacchanalian vision that greets you every evening. For example, on Seafood Night, slivers of raw Sicilian tuna, red prawns, langoustines, clams, oysters and sea urchin were laid out so beautifully on their icy bed it looked like a piece of installation art.
Fiona stays at the Adler Sicilia, which she says is ‘such a vast, bamboozling playground of wellness you don’t quite know where to start’
Adler Sicilia sits on the edge of the Torre Salsa Nature Reserve (above), where visitors might spot birds such as purple herons, honey buzzards, peregrine falcons and flamingos
Wonderful wildlife: The Torre Salsa Nature Reserve is a sanctuary for nesting sea turtles (stock photo)
Beyond the hotel, the area is full of delights. Half an hour’s drive east is Agrigento and the Valley Of The Temples Archaeological Park, a collection of ancient Greek temples said to be the best-preserved examples of their kind in the world. An hour’s drive west, near the town of Menfi, is the Planeta Ulmo wine estate, where you can book a tasting and lunch.
Also worth visiting is the fishing port of Sciacca, with its narrow, colourful streets, seafood restaurants and ceramics shops.
After a few days exploring the coast I took a 90-minute journey inland, through orange and olive groves, past silent hill towns and abandoned farms into the agricultural heart of Sicily.
At the end of a bumpy, unmade road, surrounded by hills carpeted with wheat fields and wild flowers, sits the Susafa estate which was once one of the many masserias – farming communities – that had fallen into disrepair. Then, in the early 2000s, Manfredi Rizzuto and his family began a renovation project to restore the cluster of farm buildings and turn the estate into a unique hotel.
In Sicilian dialect, Susafa means ‘it can be done’, and that has been taken as a sort of mission statement by the family to return the estate to its self-sufficient roots.
Ancient: Above are the ruins of the Temple of Juno in the Valley Of The Temples in Agrigento
Double rooms at Adler Sicilia start from £308 per night half-board, with use of the spa (adler-resorts.com). B&B double rooms at Susafa from £368 per night (susafa.com). Return flights from London to Palermo from £74 with easyJet (easyjet.com).
Wheat and grains from the surrounding fields are used to make breads and pasta (you can join a class to learn how to make them). Cherries, apricots, oranges and strawberries grown on the farm are used in jams and tarts. Lamb, chicken and beef from the estate ends up on the evening menu with fresh fava beans, carrots and courgettes picked from the garden that day.
But although there’s a back-to-nature philosophy here, there’s nothing basic about the accommodation. From the outside it may look weather-worn, but on the inside Susafa has all the style, charm and comfort of a swanky Milanese hotel, from the enormous beds and rain showers to an infinity pool in the gardens and the magnificent, vaulted Old Granary where you can dine by candlelight on lamb, stuffed ravioli and platters of local cheeses.
From the roof terrace lounge, there are uninterrupted views of rolling hills, wooded valleys – and nothing else.
Palermo may be only 90 minutes away, but it might as well be another country.
SPEND A NIGHT AT THE LIVING MUSEUM
In a tranquil garden on the slopes of Mount Etna, near Taormina, lies what is rightly described as a living museum.
After ten years of restoration, the 17th Century Palazzo Previtera in Linguaglossa is now a guesthouse and one of the most extraordinary places to stay in Sicily.
The bedrooms are filled with pieces collected from the past 500 years of Sicilian history – from ornate Baroque beds (with new mattresses) to Neoclassical chairs and contemporary artworks.
Ornate: The 17th Century Palazzo Previtera in Linguaglossa is one of the most extraordinary places to stay in Sicily
You can also browse the palazzo’s collection of more than 2,000 books, including a 1758 edition of John Milton’s Paradise Lost.
Breakfast is made up of Sicilian delicacies, while wine tastings can be arranged at one of the 210 wineries nearby.
- B&B at Palazzo Previtera from £128 per night (palazzoprevitera.com/en).
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