Sicily is too big an island to try to cover in a week. I recommend either going to Western Sicily (as I chose) with Palermo where one airport is, (with Monreale) and then the south-west (with Agrigento). Alternatively,  there’s Eastern Sicily (with flights to Catania) and comprising Taormina, Mount Etna, Syracuse and then the south-eastern baroque towns of Ragusa, Modica and Noto.


There’s much to see within the bustling city of Palermo and especially in the old town which felt heady, exuberant and theatrically baroque. Not to miss are the Norman Palace (with its stunning Cappella Palatina), the Fontana Pretoria and the baroque churches (of which the Gesu and La Martorana are very special). Somewhat neglected is the Teatro Massimo with its royal box and echo chamber all redolent of the Liberty years of the Belle Epoque. The Cathedral with palm trees outside is a wonderful combination of Norman, Moorish and Gothic architecture. I particularly recommend the 10,000 ceramic tiles at Rooms at the Museum of Majolica Genius (open only between 3 and 5pm).

HeraldScotland: Pretoria FountainPretoria Fountain (Image: Paul Baron)

Stunning positioned along the coast, looking out across the bay and fifteen minutes from the city centre is the majestic Villa Igiea This world-class hotel was revived by Rocco Forte to its former splendour. Originally designed to be approached from the water, the villa had its sand-coloured, crenellated façade extended to become a hotel. The Villa Igiea’s literature hails itself as a “small corner of Sicilian paradise” and unquestionably it has maintained all the glamour of its 1920s heyday. Swallows swoop over tiered lawns, terraces and pathways are lined with scented jasmine and immaculate topiary. The pool, set beside an original Greek ‘tholos’ temple, has a peaceful, airy expanse amid the soothing sound of yachts either on the move or tingling their masts.


The public rooms are sublime. There’s an impressive, vast ballroom, there’s the Art Nouveau, or Liberty Style, as Italians say, Sala Basile, with mural frescoes of languid maidens amongst meadows. And there’s my favourite: the splendid Florio dining room with its potted plants and light blue wicker chairs around beautifully spaced tables. Of the 78 rooms (starting from €620 per night) mine felt brand new: so high was the quality of its finishing. So crisp and classic the décor. It had stunning views over the garden, the yachts in the marina, the glinting sea and the misty mountains. Come evening and the drinks on the terrace felt sophisticated and romantic. It’s best to dine al fresco on the outdoor terrace if possible and at night it’s beautifully lit as a pianist performs from the vaulted bar As I dined I was lucky enough to witness a wonderful reflection of the full moon across the water.


Five mile south is Monreale, a picturesque town that’s charming and attractive. It’s set on the slope of Monte Caputo and overlooks the fertile ‘conca d'oro’ (Golden Shell), described by Oscar Wilde as “the exquisite valley that lies between two seas”. It’s home to orange, olive and almond trees, whose produce is widely exported. With its gorgeous Arab, Byzantine and Norman influences, the cathedral has to be seen. For it’s a testament to the human spirit and a glorious homage to Christ whose giant face looks down in his golden apse over the altar and congregation. Through the interior are intricate mosaics of biblical scenes and there’s so much wonder to absorb in wandering around the cloister with its palm and olive trees encircled by columns with a multitude of different mosaics and carvings.

HeraldScotland: Teatro Massimo BelliniTeatro Massimo Bellini (Image: Paul baron)

I left the mosaics of Monreale to journey through the patchwork of fields inland. For I was heading for the southern coast between Sciacca and Agrigento. The SS624 is the special slower route accessible in daylight but even the flyovers that comprise the SS115 are breathtaking. With rugged mountains in front of further mountains as an extra backdrop, the scenic views swept, undulating and dramatically, twenty miles or more. Such a contrast of wild contours and cultivated land. It’s rich in volcanic rock and ash producing extremely fertile soils. There are abundant olive groves in a landscape speckled with vineyards. The orchards of orange trees were so compact in their fight for light. All joyously fertile and yielding. The meadows of intoxicating wild flowers of many colours seemed as though a rainbow had descended on earth. It left me wondering how nature could be so pretty.


I came next to stay at Rocco Forte’s sister hotel Verdura Resort Indeed the sandstone echoes Villa Igiea and is reminiscent of Cézanne’s colours at L’Estaque along with its green foliage and the glintingly blue Mediterranean. Being only a 3-hour flight to Palermo and a 90-minute drive south it’s an easy trip for families who are brilliantly catered for. Located suitably close to Siacca of thermal fame, and set as a vast resort of 570 acres, it’s beautifully landscaped, with palm trees and orange and olive groves. The buildings have minimal impact on the surrounding countryside as they blend seamlessly. The rooms, as one or two storey cubic buildings, start from €450 per night and all have an indoor-outdoor feel. Inside Rocco’s sister, Olga Polizzi, has stamped her own signature neutral decorative style with lots of wood, stone, textiles and earthy colours. Mine came with a four-poster bed, and a whitewashed bamboo cane ceiling. I loved stepping out onto the spongy grass to behold what I knew to be Africa beyond.


The four restaurants kept my stay fresh with options and I loved Amare by the beach with its floor-to-ceiling glass structure and fresh seafood display. I felt aboard a boat so close was I to the sea and the sound of its lapping waves. At Zagara my gourmet dinner came with highly engaging waiters and produce picked fresh from the resort’s own organic farm. Verdura Resort is rich in attractions and distractions. For in this “stately pleasure dome” there are activities for everyone. Golf is especially catered for and the grounds incorporate a golf course, Verdura’s own boat, a fleet of bikes, e-bikes and golf buggies. The circular walk round the grounds’ spring flowers was exhilarating. The wellness centre declares on the walls of the spa’s entrance Plato’s quotation “the part can never be well unless the whole is well”. Inside this spacious, light and airy edifice are warm indoor and thalassotherapy pools. As for the treatments the spa features the specific holistic and organic approach to wellness of Irene, Rocco’s daughter using products from the family’s farm. As for my experience of the island I was left feeling how one Sicilian proverb has it: “Li ricchi cchiù chi nn'hannu, cchiù nni vonnu.” (“The more you have, the more you want”).


Travel facts:

"Adam had support from (0800 316 5678) who offer airport lounges at all major UK airports and many international destinations) and  was covered by multi award-winning travel insurer, CoverForYou,, 0203 137 8981”