Earlier this month, Lexi Newman and a few colleagues in our Mediterranean team visited our newest summer retreat, Verdura in Sicily home to our fourth Scott Dunn Explorers children’s club, which opened its doors in June.
Sunkissed Sicily, as Lexi quickly discovered, is an island to be visited with a very healthy appetite. Here she shares her gastronomic journey.
The largest island in the Mediterranean, Sicily extends from the tip of Italy’s boot, separated from by the mainland by the narrow straight of Messina.
Arriving at Verdura, following a short hop with Easyjet to Palmero, the view was simply breath-taking. Set in a low lying bowl with spectacular panoramics of the ocean, the property seemed tranquil and very private. On arrival we were met by our guide for the next few days local Sicilian, Angelo. Sicilians of course, being Italian, met us like long lost friends and we were immediately whisked off to for a poolside lunch destined to be my first experience of Sicilian cuisine.
We left ordering to Angelo who asked the chef to prepare a selection of local delicacies, which included the freshest tomatoes and the creamiest mozzarella I have ever experienced. Pistachio’s feature heavily on the Sicilian menu and are a tasty addition to the pasta we enjoyed for our main course.
After lunch, we headed to Verdura’s award-winning spa for some relaxation and to experience the Thalassotherapy salt pools. Whilst relaxing, I highly recommend sampling the refreshing drinks that are served from the spa bar – in particular the pineapple refresher. We all made the most of the indoor heated pool, steam and saunas, plus power showers that are quite an experience in themselves. The menu at the spa is certainly extensive and it’s easy to see why it has won so many awards, including a prestigious Conde Nast Traveler Readers’ Spa award.
Feeling pampered and relaxed we were then escorted by Angelo to the local go-karting track. It just so happened to be Monaco Grand Prix that day, so it was only fitting that we have our own mini grand prix tournament. The track was challenging especially for those of us who had never karted before. But the heat was on and the SD team can be extremely competitive, with some of us being nudged off the track! With only a few prides dented, we were awarded with our Sicilian Grand Prix trophies. The great thing about this outing is that it would suit the whole family with specially designed go-karts so that young children can ride with their parents at a lower speed to experience the thrills.
That evening, we made sure that we were at the Granita bar just in time to enjoy the sunset, drink in-hand. The bar manager, Vito, made us some delicious cocktails, including Vito’s special gin cocktail featuing Hendrick’s gin, fresh lemon juice, mint, cucumber, sugar syrup and apple juice. They say the sunset here is different every night, so make sure you take your camera to get some great shots.
Later, we enjoyed dinner at the beautiful “Zagara” restaurant where the menu is designed by Rocco Forte’s very own two Michelin starred chef, Fulvio Pierangelini.
When he’s in residence, Pierangelini hosts cookery lessons which are not to be missed. It’s not often you get to meet a such master chef and he’s so passionate about good, local cuisine and the quality of ingredients that he’ll chat for hours about the merits of the local pistachio!
Breakfast at Verdura is a casual affair overlooking the main pool. Make sure you try the granita and brioche for something a little different at breakfast; they say it’s what the locals eat to start their day, so we followed suit.
The resort grounds are expansive, so the best way to discover Verdura’s nooks and crannies is by bike. Guests can pick them up from anywhere in the resort, which is very handy as it makes you feel a little less guilty after indulging in such great and plentiful food! There are even adult bikes with baby seats, so the whole family can enjoy a cycle.
About an hour’s drive inland from Verdura is the La Dispensa Planeta winery located in the hills of Menfi. After a guided tour of the vineyard which gave a good introduction to Sicilian wine-making and the history of the Planeta family, we were treated to some great wine tasting of La Segreta Rosso created mainly from Nero d’Avola grapes and Cometa, a delicious white from Fiano grapes, ancient variety originating in Campania in Italy.
Definitely make time for to visit the winery and don’t forget make room in your luggage too to bring back a few bottles of local wine.
Moving from the vineyard we drove to Planeta’s sister hotel and restaurant, La Foresteria. Set on a hill amongst the rolling vineyards, with it’s very own herb garden, the setting is majestic and reminiscent of the rolling hills of Tuscany. The restaurant is a must; superb wines from the Planeta wineries, olive oils and a gastronomic feast in the most beautiful surroundings. A simple aubergine parmegiana for starter had me excited, but then the main of cod was served; it was melt-in-the-mouth delicious. Dessert was a homemade olive oil ice-cream with a crisp biscuit and divine.
The chef, a delightful Sicilian with two assistant chefs on work experience from Japan of all countries, took the time to explain all the foods to us with such passion and excitement. Who knew someone could talk about a local tomato for 20 minutes!
On the drive back to Verdura we took a detour through the local town of Scialla (pronuced Shaka) the second largest fishing port for Italy. Although a working port now, it has a real sleepy feel about it. here you can admire and purchase local ceramics, see fishermen bring in their catch and explore the winding side streets that lead through people’s backyards to quirky coffee shops.
Angelo and the team at Verdura have some excellent recommendations for authentic nights out in the surrounding areas, so don’t be afraid to ask. On our last evening at Verdura was set to be very special. We were collected from reception in two golf buggies and taken 10 minutes drive to the entrance of the resort . We then golf-buggied up the hill to a small pagoda, which was decorated in floaty swathes of cloths with a view to die for. With the view over Verdura, sounds of the ocean and the bright orange sun-set, the scene was set. There was even a Sicilian band! We supped our champagne, nibbled our canapés and danced and clapped to the infectious music. Nights like these don’t happen very often.
Still sated from lunch at La Foresteria, it was once again time to eat; the location was the informal ocean-fronting Trattitoria restaurant. Angelo, ever the people-pleaser, chose excellent cuisine for us to sample; fresh mussels, cheeses, cured meats and home made pizza’s with suitable white wines to match. We werealso reassured by one of the waiters that in Italy the food is so fresh and as it’s cooked in olive oil it isn’t that bad for us!
Short, but sweet, my time in Verdura was definitely an experience I’ll never forget. Be prepared to loosen a belt notch; the Sicilians really do know how to entertain!
For more information on our luxury family vacations to Verdura contact Lexi or one of our Mediterranean specialists on 020 8682 5040.