Cantania is one of those places where your heart skips a beat when descending from the plane - the air is filled with intoxicating scents and the anticipation of embracing “La Dolce Vita” for the days that lie ahead makes me giddy with excitement. An hour's drive through the countryside and I arrive at my destination, the “Donna Coraly Resort”, the perfect place to go off the beaten track in Sicily. The owner, Lucia Pascarelli waves in typical warm Sicilian fashion as we drive through the fortified gates of the estate. The San Michele estate has been in her family for centuries and is named after her great-grandmother Coraly Grande Sinatra, a French noblewoman who was enamoured with the arts and an avid supporter of women’s rights. Aside from the family’s deep roots, the estate is steeped in history with a moat, watchtower and a private family chapel all dating back to the 14th century.
To add to its illustrious past, this is where the Armistice was signed on September 3rd, 1943 between the Italians and the Anglo-American forces, when Dwight Eisenhower had requisitioned the land from the family for a short period during World War 2.
If history lies at every corner on the grounds of the estate, luxury and elegance envelop the interior. The boutique resort consists of five suites, each suite is cleverly designed and styled using locally sourced materials and fabrics. Each suite is distinguished by a beautiful, hand-painted tiled mosaic channeling a Moorish style. Remants of Sicily’s rich heritage are dotted around the room such as the majolica ceramics, ‘Teste di Moro”, symbols of an unrequited love between a Sicilian woman and a Moor merchant and its ensuing consequences...
The suites are the epitome of craftsmanship and creativity and coupled with sumptuous fabrics and linens there can be no better place to rest your head and dream of all things Sicilian.
The resort is a food lover's paradise. The Mediterrean garden is home to a vegetable and herb garden where you can find aubergine, courgette, tomatoes, peppers, rocket, basil, parsley.... while nearby walnut, olive, orange, lemon, avocado, fig trees gently sway in the warm breeze. I happyily spent my mornings there washing the chef pick the seasonal produce for our lunch and dinner - each day he visited the local fish market in Ortigia and the local farmers for that night's dinner, fully embodying the farm-to-sea-to-table philosophy of Sicilian cooking. Come sunset, it's time to join Lucia on the garden lawn and watch the sunset cascade behind the fortress while partaking in an aperitivo. Bliss.
While you will find it hard to venture outside the oasis of tranquility that is the villa, visiting the surrounding countryside is a must. Syracuse and Ortigia is a 15 minute drive way - I recommend going in the evening time as the sun sets and the locals step out in their crisp polo shirts gesticulating wildly to one another over a game of cards... walking through the town is like being transported back to an old art-movie set with Baroque splendour at every glance, framing the cobbled stoned streets.
Head to the Greek and Roman Amphitheatre to see a Greek tradegy or opera with the sun setting as the backdrop. Explore the nearby cavern in the Archaeological Park of Neopolis, which is 23 meters high, known as the “Ear of Dionysius” for its superb acoustics. It’s unusual to see a Caravaggio without enduring long queues but aside from being amazed by the little island, Ortigia and its enticing piazza, step in to the Church of St Lucia near the Duomo in the main square and here you will find the Burial of St Lucia.
As a day trip I would highly recommend visiting Noto, a 20 minute drive from the Donna Coraly Resort. This stunning Baroque town exudes charm and enchantment, known as the Baroque “Garden of Stone” and listed as a Unesco World Heritage Site. We walked along the Corso Vittorio Emanuele admiring the elaborate facades and wandered off and got lost in the labyrinthine maze of tiny back streets.
Image by Ingo Hamm, via Unsplash
If you are lucky enough to be there on the 3rd weekend of May do not miss the “Infiorata di Noto”. For two and half days every year in May, Via Nicolaci is taken over by local and international artists who work together on a set theme to create a kaleidoscopic carpet of petal mosaics using flowers grown especially for the event.
And I cannot but mention the stunning beaches along the South-Eastern coastline of Sicily, Porto Ulisse is a lovely spot with umbrellas and sunbeds dotted along the shoreline. I would also highly recommend Marzamemi, a fishing village dating back to the 10th century. The colour palette alone of sky blue doors and potted red geraniums has me yearning to return and is an Instagrammer's dream. It is worth visiting any time of year but it really comes alive in the high summer months and in July it often hosts an International Film Festival where films are projected directly on to the walls of the buildings surrounding the piazza. Is there anything more romantic than an al fresco film over an aperitivo in the balmy summer air?
Sicily is a highly evocative place and a place that will lure me back time and time again. With history and art brimming at every corner and heritage and culture injected in to every facet of life, there can be no better place to holiday.... buon viaggio.
Image by Davide Ragusa via Unsplash