Liz Gill spends an idyllic long weekend at a luxury hotel on this beautiful Italian island
The Valley of the Temples is a misnomer. Far from being tucked away at the bottom of a mountain the astonishing archaeological site of Agrigento sits proudly and dramatically on top of a hill, its wonderful ruins visible for miles. The word ruins is a bit of a misnomer too for these, in fact, are some of the largest and best preserved buildings of the ancient world.
The monumental temples of Juno and Concordia are remarkably intact but there are also enough columns and bases and steps from the other five, all built in the 5th and 6th centuries BC, to give an overall picture of the scale of this sacred space. The now more fragmentary temple of Zeus, for instance, is thought to be one of the largest Doric temples ever constructed.
In that time Sicily was regarded as the edge of the known world and it was deemed appropriate that this city of Magna Graecia, one of the richest of Greece’s colonies with a population of 200,000 during its golden age, should have suitably grand architecture. Today it is a UNESCO World Heritage site, so large – and archaeologists say there is still more to discover – that by the time we’ve walked from one end to the other we’re glad to pay a few euros to ride back to the entrance on the little shuttle cart.
The morning we’re spending here is our cultural input into what is otherwise a completely sybaritic long weekend at the Verdura Resort about a 40 minute drive away along the island’s south west coast.
This £125m project, part of Rocco Forte Hotels, which opened in 2009 was six years in the making – its 230 hectares belonged to 72 different owners – and involved not just the construction of the hotel, the spa and the sporting facilities but radical ‘renaturalisation’ of the landscape with native plants and shrubs. Today there are 2,000 olive trees plus 3,000 orange, 250 almond, 120 pomegranate and 50 lemon trees with an organic garden supplying fruit, vegetables and herbs to the resort’s restaurants.
There also is a wetlands area, created in conjunction with the department of botany at Palermo University, and used by nesting waterfowl and as a stopping place for migratory birds.
So big is the space – it’s a good couple of kilometres from the entrance to the reception – that although there are 203 rooms and suites the place never feels crowded. There’s over a mile of private beach and several miles of jogging or trekking tracks that weave around the resort.
Another feature I liked which adds to the general serenity is that the resort is carless. You hand over your keys on arrival and when you need your car you can be taken by electric buggy to the car park. Otherwise you just jump on one of the many bikes available all around the place.
One of Verdura’s big attractions is its championship golf courses designed by Kyle Phillips: two 18 hole and one nine hole as well as a driving range, putting green and academy for lessons. Other sporting facilities include football pitches, tennis courts and a variety of water sports like kayaking, kitesurfing, banana boating and stand up paddling.
At the other end of the active-passive spectrum the 4,000 sq m spa has 11 treatment rooms, an indoor lap pool, sauna, steam room, juice bar and relaxation areas. We particularly liked the four outdoor thalassotherapy pools each at a different temperature and with varying densities and mineral components. Guests can opt for three to seven day wellness programmes for stress management, detox, weight loss and better ageing.
The complex also has the first ‘spa for the mind’ I’d ever come across – a coolly decorated chill-out library with a selection of books chosen to help readers tackle feelings like anxiety or heartache. The resort has another literary connection: it’s named after the grand Verdura family who once owned the land.. The last duke was a cousin of the renown Italian write Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa and there’s a copy of his masterpiece The Leopard in every bedroom.
There are five bars and four restaurants ranging from trattoria style informality to fine dining. We also had an evening in the nearest town Sciacca which offers perfectly serviceable places to eat and drink but is much more a working fishing community than a tourist draw.
Verdura is an hour and a half’s drive from either Palermo or Trapani airports, themselves a just a three hour flight from the UK making the resort a feasible destination for a long weekend.
More information: www.roccofortehotels.com/hotels-and-resorts/verdura-resort