Romance, Sicilian style
Who says honeymoon heaven has to be long haul? In just three hours, we’re transported from a cloudy runway at Gatwick to the sun-drenched southeastern coast of Sicily, home to first-class beaches, picture-perfect sites (including the stunning Baroque town of Noto, pictured here) and food so good it will haunt your dreams. In Catania we marvel at Mount Etna, which towers over the city, then drive south to our home for the week: a seaside villa.<br /><em>Words by Julia Scirrotto</em>
And what a home it is! The Apolline is a spacious, stylish gem just steps from the Med that we found through luxury-villa specialists <a href="http://www.solosicily.com/" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">soloSicily</a>. It’s a family-owned corner of paradise, and on arrival we’re welcomed with a basket of local goodies (jars of seafood delicacies and pasta sauces; Nutella-like pistachio cream spread) from proprietors Franco and Mariella – who also help us out with recommendations on restaurants, gelaterias and bakeries in the area.
R&R is in abundant supply at the villa thanks to the private plunge pool overlooking the Med and magnificent garden in bloom with pink oleander, fresh figs and fragrant lavender. Next to the massive barbecue and oh-so-tropical outdoor kitchen, sage, rosemary and oregano are growing, ready to season whatever we throw on the grill. In bed at night, the only sounds we hear are the hum of the sea and the wind through the palms.
We’re lucky enough to have a Sicilian friend in the area who shows us the ropes with a traditional lunch in Noto. At Trattoria Fontana d’Ercole (just a short walk from the cathedral, shown here), we order up a feast of Sicilian specialities, all served family style. For the pasta course, there is a bowl of ricotta and eggplant; another of breaded sardines, fennel and sultanas (reflecting the Arab influence on the island’s cuisine); and a third of pistachio pesto with tiny clams (my favourite). Next come platters of grilled white fish, fried fennel and salty scamorza cheese, finished off with frothy lemon sorbet served in champagne flutes. Cheers indeed!
Baroque my world
Noto is an Intagrammer’s dream come true, packed from end to end with peachy-hued sandstone churches and palazzos set against pure blue sky. (It’s one of eight UNESCO World Heritage sites in the area, rebuilt in its current state of splendour after an earthquake leveled much of the region in 1693.) Get the full Baroque experience and admire frescoes, intricate balcony sculptures and ceramic floors inside the Palazzo Nicolaci Villadorata (pictured here).
A stylish address
You can also check in to the boutique hotel within the palace, the elegant <a href="http://www.7roomsvilladorata.it" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">Seven Rooms Villadorata</a>, and soak up the Baroque vibe as an insider. The rooms are evocatively named after the Sicilian winds: Austro, Zefiro, Libeccio, Borea and Schirone.
Room with a view
The interiors of Seven Rooms are done up in a mix of original details, antiques and modern luxuries, and feature incredible views of Noto.
Next on our list of must-hit towns is Modica, another of southeastern Sicily’s Baroque crown jewels. Modica defies gravity, with elegant townhouses and even a hulking cathedral cut into sheer cliffs. Don’t leave town without sampling some Modica chocolate, unique for its sandy texture – you can actually see the sugar crystals when you bite into it. We join the queue at world-famous chocolate shop <a href="http://www.bonajuto.it/en/" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">Antica Dolceria Bonajuto</a> and stock up on bars in a range of flavours (think peperoncini, lemon, vanilla …) to give as gifts back home.
Sand & sea
We offset all that sight-seeing with beach time and dips in the Mediterranean, which seems to change colour from deep sapphire to bright turquoise depending on the time of day. There’s a small beach flanked by pretty sandstone coves (shown here) just a two-minute walk from the villa, and we also fall hard for a deserted stretch of soft sand near Granelli, about a five-minute drive away.
A bit further afield is the Vendicari Nature Reserve – about 20 kilometers from the villa – where we trek through gorgeous wetlands to reach the beach and swim in the shadow of Hyblaean Mountains. If you visit in autumn, it’s also possible to catch a glimpse of migrating flamingos and storks (though sadly we missed them).
The fishing village Marzamemi is just a short drive south from Vendicari, and it’s an ideal spot for a romantic meal, moonlight meander through stone alleyways or evening spent sipping cocktails by the sea.
Take it outside
In Marzamemi, we choose an outdoor table at <a href="http://www.cortilearabo.it/" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">Cortile Arabo</a> (“the Arab courtyard”) and feast on more super-fresh seafood, including black-squid-ink risotto, fish and saffron stew served over green bucatini (a thick, hollow spaghetti alternative) and salty sardines served with sweet almond milk. The ricotta cupcake – yes, really – is also to die for.
We stayed with villa specialist <a href="http://www.solosicily.com/" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">soloSicily</a>, which offers accommodation ranging from apartments to aristocratic estates across the island. A week at our villa, <a href="http://www.solosicily.com/villas-in-sicily/sc167_apolline.aspx" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">Apolline</a>, starts at approximately £1500/week and sleeps seven.<br /><br /><strong>Honeymooners will also love …</strong> <br /><em><a href="http://www.solosicily.com/villas-in-sicily/sc98_badia-tower.aspx" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">Badia Tower</a></em>, a 16th-century hideaway for two just ouside of Marsala. <br /><em><a href="http://www.solosicily.com/villas-in-sicily/sc188_lilla.aspx" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">Lilla</a></em>, a beachfront apartment in stylish Taormina, Sicily’s most famous medieval town. <br /><em><a href="http://www.solosicily.com/villas-in-sicily/sc154_tanguera.aspx" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">Tanguera</a></em>, a modern-design villa with outdoor sunken bath, just a 10-minute drive from the centre of capital city Palermo.<br /><br /><strong>For a destination wedding, try …</strong> <br /><em><a href="http://www.solosicily.com/villas-in-sicily/sc61_barresa.aspx" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">Villa Barresa</a></em>, located on a magical citrus plantation. Think towering palm trees, poolside cocktails and a private tower bridal suite.