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August 2022 / Travel / by Penny Clements

Review: Under the Sicilian Sun

Hidden away from the hordes, these luxurious Sicilian sanctuaries are strictly for those in the know.

The first glimpse of Sicily from the aeroplane window takes my breath away. Sitting just off the shores of southern Italy, in the middle of the brilliantly shimmering Mediterranean Sea, its mosaic of undulating hills, covered with olive groves and vineyards is dizzyingly beautiful. It is easy to see why this little isle has been luring travellers for centuries; the warm weather and many hours of sunshine make Sicily one of the most popular year-round destinations in Europe. And, while the beaches are the stuff of holiday dreams, a trip inland is rewarding, too. This is a part of Italy that will satisfy most travellers’ desires – from the exquisite, farm-fresh cuisine to the island’s stimulating culture, and spectacular scenery, there is something for everyone.

Casale degli Erei

Arriving at Catania airport in the early afternoon, we are warmly greeted and ushered into a waiting air-conditioned private transfer. And before we know it, we are whizzing through the Sicilian countryside. While the scenery is stunning, the agitated Sicilian drivers take some getting used to, but as we pull onto the long, quiet driveway of Casale degli Erei, everything feels delightfully calm. We’re welcomed by the sight of prickly pear fields, Italian cypress trees, and pockets of perfectly farmed land, beautifully lit in the sunshine. 

Situated on a working farm in San Michele di Ganzaria in the Catania region of Sicily, this beautiful, traditional villa with its pretty stone courtyard is one of a collection of 70 meticulously selected properties across the island offered by Villatravellers. Boasting nine en suite bedrooms set across the main building and guest house, it can sleep an impressive 17 guests. And it has facilities that would be the envy of most hotels: a spa fully equipped with hydro-massage pool, jacuzzi, sauna, Turkish bath, and chromotherapy shower. There’s even a private chapel, making this an appealing spot for an intimate wedding.

Casale degli Erei: View from the spa

Set in multiple acres of privately owned land in the heart of the Sicilian countryside, this quiet little retreat offers the ultimate mix of luxury and rustic charm. I am staying in one of the comfortable rooms in the guest house, located just steps away from the main house, it is decked out in Mediterranean-inspired colours. And like the rest of the property, it has been decorated with intriguing paintings and antique objects. Indeed, the main house is a veritable treasure trove of historic finds, lending it authentic soul that fits perfectly with the traditional setting. 

While there is plenty to keep adventurers happy on the island – from visiting the majestic Mount Etna and UNESCO World Heritage sites of Sicily, to wine tasting and cultural tours (all of which can be booked through Villatravellers) – we are more than happy to spend our days soaking up the facilities on offer at the house. There is no scene here, just guaranteed calm; this is a place to disappear. We happily hop into our swimsuits and spend our days lolling around in the glistening outdoor swimming pool and very slowly moving between the sun-drenched terrace and the communal living rooms of the main house, which offer respite when the sun is high and hot.

Casale degli Erei: Guest house bedroom

We are reluctant to drag ourselves away come dinnertime, so Villatravellers come to the rescue one evening with a luxurious private chef dining experience, served al fresco under the stars. Maria and her husband blow us away with their farm-to-table-cooking. We dine on homemade pasta lovingly served in the villa’s handmade white ceramic bowls. Everything is made with the finest, locally sourced ingredients and washed down with Casale degli Erei’s very own wine.

It is difficult to imagine a more idyllic place for a hard-earned escape from it all – and it is hard earned, luxury like this does not come cheap. But there’s no doubt that it is money well spent, and we are reluctant to move on when the time comes. 

Il Borgo del Barone: Entrance hall

An hour’s drive from Palermo airport, and a short distance from the buzzy coastal town of Cefalù, our second island home is in Santo Stefano di Camastra, in the north of Sicily. We’ve seen the pictures, and are expecting great things, but we are not quite prepared for the beauty and size of our second Villatravellers property. Il Borgo del Barone lies high up in the green hills, overlooking the deep blue Mediterranean. The magnificent villa can sleep 14 across two separate wings and is set in an immaculately restored 17th century stone baglio. While the exterior remains true to the building’s origins, there are surprises to be found inside. The dramatic entrance hall, featuring concrete floors, stone arches and towering ceilings sets the tone – architecturally sleek, it could not be more different to Casale degli Erei, where the emphasis is very much on the traditional. 

Here, the design is modern, but the combination of natural materials used perfectly reflects the surrounding landscape, and the owners have shown the greatest respect to the building’s history – the villa features some jaw-dropping details, like the original ancient olive press wheel, the preserved storage room, and the quirkily upcycled furniture.

Il Borgo del Barone: Chill out area

The restoration has been beautifully orchestrated, and everything here has been artfully designed. The interiors are rich and minimalist; adorned with luxurious linens and custom-designed furnishings, every room and suite feels special. A pared-back, neutral colour palette runs through the entire villa, from the lounge area and study to the dining room and abundant chill out areas.

The design, including vast glass walls that let in oodles of light, and the layout, have been conceived to allow maximum enjoyment of the spectacular views, though these are best enjoyed from the large villa length balcony. 

Il Borgo del Barone: Down by the pool

As different as Villa Il Borgo del Barone is, it is still very much a place for low gears and downtime. We bask poolside on the comfortable loungers, and kick back in the shaded gazebo and charming inner courtyard, spending our evenings cooking up Italian feasts in the vast, well-equipped kitchen.

Our experience here is so superlative that it goes without saying that I want to stay for much, much longer than the allotted holiday allows. Our time in Sicily has made it abundantly clear that Villatravellers’ exceptional five-star villas offer the ultimate way to experience the island – traditional or modern, countryside or coastal, whichever you choose, you won’t want to leave. 

Casale degli Erei  sleeps 17 guests in nine bedrooms, with prices starting from 3,230 EUR per week. For details, see villatravellers.com/sicily/villas/casale-degli-erei

Il Borgo del Barone  sleeps 14 guests in seven bedrooms, with prices starting from 4,400 EUR per week. For details, see villatravellers.com/sicily/villas/il-borgo-del-barone

A variety of Sicilian tours and experiences are available for booking. For details and to book, see villatravellers.com/sicily/experiences