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In Sicily: Rocco Forte’s Verdura Golf & Spa Resort

March 10, 2010 By: Mary Winston Nicklin Luxury Travel Advisor
 


 

Classic Suites are situated in the Landscape Villas with private entrances, uninterrupted sea views and private terraces.

 

As the largest isle in the Mediterranean, Sicily has long attracted visitors, but not before Verdura Golf & Spa Resort did the island have a five-star resort of this caliber. Import the stellar service you’d expect to find in Rocco Forte Collection’s urban hotels, transplant it to a sublime seaside setting, and what do you get? A designer destination resort firmly planted in its Sicilian setting with top-notch facilities and a vibe of understated luxury.

Getting There: We were picked up in a private car at Palermo airport; from there, we zoomed through the sun-soaked countryside during the hour-long drive, admiring hilltop villages and sprawling olive groves. Our first glimpse of Verdura: the links-style golf course with its endless green abutting the vivid blue sea. The resort was designed to blend into the traditional Sicilian landscape, so the buildings are on a small scale, and incorporate traditional materials like volcanic tufa. Once there, we were treated to a refreshing fruit drink at a historic train station, charmingly restored as part of the resort, before being whisked away in a golf cart to reception.

The lobby is dramatic. Large walls of glass, gleaming marble and high ceilings create a sense of great space. The lobby flows into the bar and outside terrace where Massimo, the affable bar manager, invents personalized cocktails based on guest preference and mood. Our favorites?
The Verdino, made with fresh basil and gin, and the Ricotta Martini, crafted with fresh ricotta (think cannoli) to taste like a drinkable dessert. A veteran of the Burj Al Arab, in Dubai, Massimo has concocted specialty drinks for the likes of Michael Jordan and Saudi sultans. Hint: During the aperitivo hour, Massimo will give you a personalized recipe card to take home so that you can replicate your signature cocktail.

In fact, Verdura’s management staff—recruited from top hotels like The Ritz London—could be the shining star here. Guest Relations Manager Linda Cracchiolo (rcracchiolo@roccofortecollection.com; 011-39-366-676-8512), a Clefs d’Or concierge who used to work for Kempinski Hotels, holds a wealth of information about her native Sicily, advising guests about the numerous excursions available—from yachting on the Med to helicopter trips around Mt. Etna. Top Tour: Agrigento, the UNESCO World Heritage site showcasing the best preserved Doric-style Greek temples outside of Athens. Though some guests may be tempted to never leave the property, there’s too much of Sicily to see, and the resort makes it easy with an on-site travel agency to make arrangements. Note: There’s also an Avis rental car outlet at the resort.

Like all the accommodations, our Junior Suite (No. 140) had a private terrace with sweeping sea views. Director of Design Olga Polizzi, Rocco Forte’s sister, created contemporary Sicily-inspired interiors emphasizing comfort. There’s a smart combination of textures and colors: black designer furniture against white walls and stone floors, punctuated by tangerine and red accents. Propped on the beige couch: a row of colorful resort cushions, hundreds of which are found throughout the property. Nice Touches: A potted orange tree on a tile table, a Classical sculpture reproduction, hardcover books by Sicilian authors and a straw beach bag with Verdura flip-flops. The stone bathroom is a mini-spa in itself with Ortigia bath products and perfumed with native flowers.

 

Both Golf Courses are set amid olive and orange groves.

 

Spanning six categories of rooms (from Deluxe to the Presidential Suite), the accommodations are in two types of buildings: Courtyard and Landscape Villas. The Landscape Villas, housing the suites, are parallel to the beach, with the Courtyard Villas in a line behind them. Tastefully settled into the natural contours of the land, the Landscape Villas do not obstruct sea views for the Courtyard Villas. From our Junior Suite, we admired the palms and cacti surrounding the Landscape Villas, camouflaging the low-lying buildings.

The top accommodations are the two Ambassador Suites and one Presidential Suite. Positioned at the edge of the property for maximum privacy, the Presidential Suite (No. 50) boasts a kitchenette, three outdoor terraces with seating and an outside Jacuzzi. What’s more, this is the only room in the house with its own private pool. Walls of glass frame 360-degree views of the golf course and the sea. Like the other rooms, guests are treated to state-of-the-art technology and designer pieces (Flos lighting, tables by Driade, chairs by Bonacina). Note: The Presidential Suite connects to rooms No. 51 and 52 for VIPs traveling with an entourage. For VIP bookings, contact Reservations Manager Annalisa Pannuzzo (apannuzzo@roccofortecollection.com; 011-39-092-599-8180).

The spa alone makes a stay here worthwhile. One of the largest in Europe, the 43,000-square-foot spa is a gleaming vision in white stone. From the double-height hammam to the large gym and fitness studio, the spa has everything you’d expect—and more. Best of all: the four Thalasso pools outside surrounded by olive and orange trees with views of the distant mountains. Each of the heated pools has different minerals and sea salts to condition the skin. Need a massage? Book the popular Sicilian massage, which uses the highest-quality olive oil. For questions about the extensive spa treatment menu, contact Spa Manager Ana Manuela Coelho (011-39-092-599-2321).

Golfers will find bliss on the two championship courses described as the “greatest golf opening in Europe in 25 years” by Director of Golf Niall Cameron, a former European Tour player. Designed by Kyle Phillips, the 18-hole East and West Courses seem to come together in an interlocking embrace; the toughest holes on each course form a Composite Championship Course for the biggest challenge. Offering endless sea views, the rustic Sicilian links courses follow an undulating natural landscape fringed by olive and orange groves. Expect personalized private club service at the pro shop; the team of PGA-trained professionals gives private lessons and group clinics.

On Food: Meals at La Zagara are so delicious that you’ll want to meet the chef. Book a cooking class (a total blast!) and you’ll learn Salvatore Barbara’s culinary secrets and discover the local flavors of Sicily. We were encouraged to taste morsels of fresh sushi straight from the fish we prepared. Tips on ordering: the fish couscous is remarkable, as is the pan-fried silver crabber fish with chickpea biscuits. For dessert, the cannolis (of course) are downright addictive. Other dining options include Liolá, a prime spot for watching the sunset, and the beachside Amara Restaurant (not yet open at the time of our visit). You can grab casual snacks and drinks by the resort’s infinity pool.

Booking Tips: Verdura is a year-round destination, though spring and autumn could be the best seasons. The resort appeals to families with kids to couples seeking solitude. Business clientele will love the small outdoor amphitheater for presentations and events. Case in point: Spanish Vodafone booked the entire resort at the end of last October.

 

The Presidential Suite has a private internal courtyard along with its own swimming pool.

 


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