Escape to a cool Sicilian villa with a view this summer and holiday in style
Words by Trish Halpin
Italy has long been my favourite holiday destination, thanks to the romance of cities such as Florence and Venice, and the beautiful vistas and coastlines of Tuscany and Puglia. I’ve adored each place for being undeniably Italian, yet so unique at the same time. Sicily, the island kicked into the Med by Italy’s boot, is just a mile and a half from the mainland. It feels like Italy, yet there’s something rough around the edges that, combined with its history, culture and people, gives the island an exciting vibe.
I’m spending a week exploring the Ragusa region in the south-east with my husband Neil and our 12-year-old twins Esme and Kit. It’s a three-hour drive from the capital Palermo in the north, but thanks to direct flights into Comiso, the province’s baroque towns and sandy coastlines are easily accessible.
Our base is the sleek Villa Atena, a modern three-bedroom house set on a hilltop, with views across villages to the coast. Light and airy with bright pink feature walls and sofas, the living space opens up via floor-to-ceiling windows to a stone terrace and sparkling pool. It’s perfect for super-hot Sicilian days, with our peace and quiet only interrupted by a choir of birds.
A five-minute drive further up the hill leads to the historic Castello di Donnafugata, which dates back to the 15th century. After exploring behind its beautiful white façade and gothic Venetian loggia, we stop for pizza and beer at the Il Gattopardo trattoria, named after the famous Visconti film shot at the castle in the 60s. A stracciatella gelato brings our bill to €15 (about £13) per head , and is our first taste of Sicily’s mouth-watering, yet great-value food.
Our most memorable meal, however, is unexpected. Agriturismi restaurant Rosacambra is on the recommended list in the villa’s welcome manual, but we’re directed to a small industrial area just outside Santa Croce Camerina, and met with plastic chairs around the trattoria’s entrance. It’s not the best of starts. Once inside, though, we’re warmly ushered to a table by the owners. There’s no menu; instead, dish after fabulous dish arrives from the kitchen. We count seven courses in total, including pasta, caponata, veal, grilled vegetables, fried cheese, dolce and fruit – all for €18 each (about £15), including wine. We’re even gifted the leftovers!
Next on our hit list is a day by the sea, so we make the 15-minute drive to Punta Secca. This small seaside village has a lighthouse, plus a handful of cafes and pretty houses, including the home of Inspector Montalbano (the Italian TV show was shot here). After a wind-blown walk along the beach we drive ten minutes south-east to Marina di Ragusa, a holiday town with beach bars, soft sand and crystal waters − we dive in.
Other beach options include the Vendicari Nature Reserve, which is an hour’s drive from our villa, plus a 15-minute walk from the car park. The large sandy cove is worth the trek, but be warned: there is nothing here, so pack everything.
Back on the culture trail, we head to Ragusa, one of several baroque towns in the region. Set on a hill between two valleys, it has two parts. Skip the new town, Ragusa Superiore, and make for Ragusa Ibla, where ancient stone houses and domed churches cling to the edge of the hill.
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We get lost exploring the cobbled alleyways and eventually come upon the piazza in front of the magnificent Duomo di San Giorgio, just as a white stretch limo pulls up to deliver a glamorous bride. How the driver negotiated the narrow lanes is beyond us, but we join the cheering crowd as the bride and her guests – all dressed in Sicilian black – climb the steep steps.
Downhill from the cathedral, we see the pretty Iblea gardens, and count more than 20 churches dotted around town.
Electricians are stringing up lights for a festival taking place, and we join the locals parading with statues of Saint George, before eating our last supper on the terrace of Quattro Gatti – a cute eatery serving home-brewed beer alongside a sophisticated menu. As we gaze up at the night sky, we thank our lucky stars for another Italian holiday.
Book now Return flights to Comiso from London Stansted with Ryanair cost from about £55. Villa Atena sleeps eight and costs from £1,260 for one week in May. Book with Wish Sicily, which specialises in holiday villas and apartments.