In May, I needed a holiday. My body ached for one, I was exhausted from working non-stop, typically six-day weeks. Yes, I’d hopped abroad for a city trip to Copenhagen in February but it was a working holiday with a whirlwind of interviews. By May, I was desperate for a break. I knew it needed to involve the three s’s (sun, sea and sand) but I yearned for more than your standard beach break. And so, after much research, it came down to Sardinia vs Sicily. If you caught the headline you’ll see that Sicily obviously triumphed, thanks to the extra pull of being culturally rich with Greco-Roman sites dotted across the island.
And what a brilliant decision that was, with Sicily proving to be a beautiful and interesting destination, combining everything I needed from a holiday. While the entire holiday was drenched in bliss, it kickstarted with luxury, thanks to two nights at a hotel that I never wanted to leave – and one my mind often flicks back to when I’m drowning in work and need an escape. That place is Monaci delle Terre Nere, a boutique hotel that was traditional yet contemporary and stood in the shadows of Mount Etna, where you could hear her rumbling on an evening.
We arrived and were bequeathed with samples of wine from the charismatic owners Guido and Ada, who had lovingly restored the property to create the most wonderful Italian getaway. In an hour I was slightly tipsy, and totally bowled over by the charms of the place. The rooms were all individual – some rustic and traditional (the first room we stayed in featured a former olive press) others modern and chic. A lavish breakfast set outside amongst the tall trees and with sweeping views of the coast, was filled with all kinds of delicacies – olive breads, lemon cakes, cheeses, fruits, meats and eggs. At Monaci delle Terre Nere I woke up at 5am to watch sunrise, I swam in the outdoor pool everyday, I relaxed in the hot tub. And while I could have spent the whole duration there just chilling with a glass of wine in hand, we escaped to Taormina where we sunbathed on Isabella beach and swam around large rocks before escaping up to the old town by cable car to walk around piazzas with pistachio and chocolate gelato and wander around the Teatro Greco, the old Greek theatre, which serves up magnificent views of the coastline and Mount Etna.
From there we headed south of the island and stayed on the pretty island of Ortigia, where you can get lost among the cute, cobbled streets. Here we watched (and tried to get our heads around) a Greek play in Italian, climbed down a very long ladder to head to the rock pools where we swam alone and hungrily got stuck into a packed lunch from the local market. The highlight was of course a super long baguette filled with mozzarella, oregano and salad that was knocked up by an old, well-known guy in the market who has been making the best sandwiches in town for years. Do visit the market and fill your bag with herbs and nuts to bring back home.
We stayed in the super-cute Le Lumie B&B in Modica, a beautiful city with sandstone ridges, and where we ate one of the best meals of our lives (I have never tasted ricotta so good). We visited the Baroque cities of Noto, where it was time for more sightseeing and gelato, and Ragusa, where the most welcoming Italian waiter supplied us with extra nibbles and lots of chat when we made a pit stop for coffee and cocktails.
By Sicilian standards, it was an almighty road trip around the island. From the Baroque cities we broke up the journey to see the Valley of the Temples in Agrigento, before reaching Castellamare del Golfo, in the north west of the island, late at night. Arriving tired and exhausted from a day of sightseeing and driving in the car, we were overjoyed when the owner of the apartment we had booked greeted us with a large pizza box (just 15 minutes before arriving we had discussed how we might order takeaway) and handed us the keys to the room with soul-stirring vistas of the mountains and sea. Oh, and we had a hammock (which admittedly, left me bruised me. Don’t ask). It was divine. During those last few days of the holiday we discovered small, isolated beaches, where we sunbathed and swam out to the rocks, and walked in the picturesque national park. It was bliss.
Thankfully, Sicily proved to be the respite I had craved for. Although we explored heavily, there was still lots of downtime at the beach, much much swimming, lots of gelato stops (pistachio was one of my favourites) and so many memorable lunches and dinners. I returned slightly sun-kissed and happy. What more could you ask for?