It’s 4pm on Friday afternoon and I’m sitting on a sprawling palm tree-lined patio, a flute of frothy prosecco in one hand, a hunk of garlicky bruschetta in the other. As I look out to a calm sea that’s shimmering silver in the sun, the sweet smell of orange blossom filling my nostrils, I can’t help but smile. This is exactly what I had been dreaming of since arranging my trip to Sicily back in miserable, rainy February.
Offering rugged volcanic landscapes, pristine beaches, unmissable cultural sites and sizzling summer temps, the ancient island has long been one of Italy’s top tourist destinations. But now, thanks to HBO hit series The White Lotus, Sicily is experiencing a major travel boom, with droves of visitors flocking to the region to live out their insta-worthy summer fantasies.
Unlike Jennifer Coolidge and co, who get up to their antics at the five-star San Domenico Palace in postcard-pretty Taormina, I’m staying at Villa Bellasia, one of rental company Villatravellers’ 70 properties on the island. The beachside bolthole is situated in the sleepy coastal town of Letojanni, just 20 minutes by car from the prestigious filming location, and it’s truly blissful.
Tell me more about this villa then
Fronting a pebbled beach lapping the Ionian sea, the 19th-century hideaway (where Greta Garbo and her celeb pals liked to party in the 1960s) is the perfect spot to decamp with your loved ones, whether you’re planning a pre-wedding holiday or a family reunion with littles ones in toe.
It’s capable of sleeping up to 16 people – spread between the main house, a guest house and a self-contained apartment – with plenty of space for everyone to spread out. Following a recent renovation, the decor blends classic and contemporary Sicilian style: think white-washed walls, wrought iron, wooden shutters and mahogany antiques.
The large, airy dining room, with exposed beams fringing the ceiling, a rustic wooden table and the villa’s original wine press, is the perfect setting for convivial gatherings over generous bowls of pasta and flowing glasses of fizz. The main kitchen has everything you need to whip up a feast, but if you get tired of fending for yourselves, you can hire someone to come and cook for the group.
We took advantage of this service on the final night and our incredible chef Maria laid on a true Sicilian feast: cold meats and cheeses, caponata, homemade bread, creamy courgette pasta and zingy lemon mousse, all washed down with glorious Etna wines. Villatravellers also offers a food delivery service, so there’s no need to panic if you run out of coffee or gelato.
Outside, the extensive garden is dotted with loungers for lazy afternoons devoted to soaking up the sun, a gazebo for long, wine-fuelled lunches and a raised terrace featuring a glossy pool, jacuzzi and an outdoor kitchen complete with a wood-fired oven for alfresco pizza parties. From the patio, there’s a gate which leads directly onto the beach, so you can mosey on down for an early morning beach stroll and dip before the rest of your group arises. Heaven.
If I can tear myself away from the pool, what else is there to do?
Bellasia is an ideal base for exploring the area’s hilltop villages, beaches and of course, Mount Etna, Europe’s highest active volcano. On our first full day in Sicily, we set off into the hills on a guided jeep tour, bookable through Villatravellers. The plan was to do an hour-long hike along the mountain trails before stopping for lunch at a cute little chalet, but unfortunately, the weather took a dodgy turn and our guide Salvo was worried it wouldn’t be safe. Still, we enjoyed sweeping views of the spongy black lava fields from the car and donned some hardhats to check out the icy lava caves beneath the mountain.
On our day-long adventure, we also drove through the Alcàntara valley, stopping off at the fairytale gorges – used as a filming location for 2015 film Tale of Tales – as well as the crumbling villages of Castiglione di Sicilia and Savoca, an iconic setting in The Godfather 2.
Naturally, a visit to glitzy Taormina is also a must. Wander through the winding cobbled streets and piazzas, hitting up the boutique shops and local pasticcerias as you go, and don’t miss the well-preserved Greek amphitheatre, which boasts sweeping views over the coastline and brooding Mount Etna.
What about a spritz or two at The White Lotus hotel before dinner? I regret to inform you that you won’t make it past the courtyard, no matter how much you plead with the porter…
How was the food?
Incredible and plentiful. I had planned to keep things simple in the mornings but our host Anna brought us traditional Sicilian breakfast treats to try: flaky apple pastries, chocolate cornetti and, most indulgent of all, granita alla briosca – essentially a fat brioche bun filled with thick, creamy sorbet. Delicious but seriously sweet.
Lunch each day while out and about was usually a three- or four-course affair. In Taormina, we stopped off at Trattoria Tiramisu for caprese salad and crostini topped with avocado and sticky caramelised onions, followed by ricotta-stuffed ravioli, a seafood stew with veg drenched in olive oil and, the restaurant’s namesake pud, tiramisu.
Despite our full bellies, we made room for the ginormous arancini from Antica Rosticceria da Cristina, a must-visit according to everyone we encountered in Sicily. Mine was oozing with aubergine, mozzarella and tomato sauce, and it was truly spectacular. I’d highly recommend a pitstop when you’re in town.
Eating out aside, my foodie highlight was an in-villa cooking class with chef Maria, another Villatravellers add-on. She showed us the art of pasta-making, from working the dough to fashioning perfect macaroni shapes (which was a lot harder than she made it look). The accompanying sauce was made with sweet, juicy tomatoes, fried aubergines and lashings of extra virgin olive oil. The finished product – pasta alla Norma, a Sicilian delicacy – was genuinely the best pasta I’ve ever eaten. And don’t even get me started on Maria’s sweet, ricotta-filled, chocolate-topped cannoli…
I’ve always been more of a hotel gal but after my stay at Villa Bellasia, it’s safe to say I’ve been converted to villa life. There’s something truly special about having your own domain to hole up for a week. I found I was able to properly relax and unwind, unlike on hotel trips when I’m always on the go. There’s no need to get dressed to go for brekky or rush down to reserve a spot by the pool, you can do whatever you fancy, when you fancy.
Whether you’re pining for a lazy sun-drenched villa holiday with the family or you’re on the hunt for a party pad for your pals, Villa Bellasia is an idyllic escape for the whole crew.
I’m sold. How do I get there?
It’s around three hours to fly to Catania, with regular flights operating from major UK airports. The villa is an hour’s drive from the airport.
Book Villa Bellasia from £6,562 per week. For more information, visit the Villatravellers website.
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