1. SAMBUCA DI SICILIA, THE MOST BEAUTIFUL VILLAGE IN ITALY
46 km from Verdura Resort
In 2016 Sambuca di Sicilia was awarded the title of The most beautiful town in Italy. This diminutive wonder of Arabic architecture, founded by the Emir Al Zabut after he disembarked in Sicily in 827, features a miniature kasbah comprised of “li setti vaneddi”, or the seven Saracen alleys. Right beside it there are Renaissance palaces, Baroque churches and a marvellous nineteenth century “jewel” of a theatre. And how long will it take you to get there from your room? Twenty minutes.
2. SANTA MARGHERITA DEL BELICE, IN THE GATTOPARDO GARDEN
41 km Verdura Resort
Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, author of the novel Il Gattopardo, spent many years of his life in the Palazzo Filangeri di Cutò, overlooking the main square of Santa Margherita del Belice, just a few kilometres away from Verdura Resort. How would you like to discover this mini paradise and perhaps sample some of Sicily’s most typical local products in the shade of trees that are centuries old?
3. AGRIGENTO AND LA VALLE DEI TEMPLI, UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITE
50 km Verdura Resort
“The most beautiful city inhabited by mortals”. That is what Pindaro wrote as he recalled his adopted city, Akragas, Agrigento, founded in 581 BC by some inhabitants of Rhodes and Crete. And we can’t blame the great Greek poet when we consider the magnificence of Valle dei Templi, a Unesco world heritage site.
The visit, which is like none other on earth, includes architectural masterpieces from the Magna Graecia nestling among centuries-old olive trees, as well as cypress, pine and exquisite almond trees. You go up a rock overlooking the sea and you reach the Tempio di Giunone. Next it will be time to see the Tempio della Concordia, one of the best preserved Doric temples in the whole of the Mediterranean, but also worth seeing because it was converted into a three-nave Christian basilica in the fourth century AD. A stroll to the Tempio di Ercole (Temple of Hercules) and then you begin the descent towards the Tempio di Giove (Temple of Jupiter) and that of Castor and Pollux. On the way it’s worth visiting Villa Aurea, home from 1925 to 1932 of the English captain Alexander Hardcastle, who financed the excavations and reconstruction of the Tempio di Ercole.
4. PIAZZA ARMERINA, UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITE
170 km from Verdura Resort
It’s a historical fact that the bikini was born in Sicily, and the first girl to wear one was a gymnast, who is depicted in one of the magnificent Roman mosaics in Villa del Casale, in Piazza Armerina, a UNESCO world heritage site.
The villa belonged to a farm in the 3rd and 4th centuries and is one of the most impressive archaeological sites on the entire island. The spectacular mosaics that embellish the master’s home were protected over the centuries by a layer of mud brought by a deluge which flooded the villa in medieval times. The first excavations were carried out in 1950 and we owe the discovery to the Italian architect Gino Vinicio Gentili, who began digging after the local inhabitants pointed the area out to him.
The visit to the villa includes the baths, the large peristyle, the long corridor of mosaics known as the “Grande Caccia” (“Great Hunt”), and ends in the rooms inhabited by the previous owners. The mosaics are brightened up by mythological creatures, like nereids, tritons and mythological heroes, such as Hercules, Lycurgus and Arion, who was threatened by his sailors and saved by a dolphin.
20 km from Verdura Resort
The name is Arabic, Qal’at Al-Ballut, “oak tree rock”, but it originates from the Sicanians and the Greeks, who built an unassailable stronghold on this imposing spur of rock, 900 metres above sea level. The view is breathtaking and takes in the whole of southern Sicily. But it’s equally delightful to wander through the medieval and sixth century streets of this tiny labyrinth, discovering the castle, the XI century Norman Chiesa di Maria Santissima Assunta, and the Chiesa di Sant’Agostino that houses Antonio Ferraro’s terracotta sculpture, the Deposizione, carved in 1552.
120 km from Verdura Resort
The most beautiful triangle in Italian architecture. That describes Erice, surrounded by ancient walls on three sides. The city, which is one of the most charming and best preserved in Sicily, emerges from the peak of Monte Erice, the name Erice comes from the mythological character Eryx, son of Venus and Butes, who was one of the argonauts. The historic centre, which is also medieval, with the Castle of Venus from the Norman era standing majestically at its top, is an absolute delight. You then walk down through cobbled streets, stone portals, tiny squares, and suddenly widening roads which beckon, inviting you to discover enchanting churches. One such church is the unmissable Chiesa Matrice, built in 1314, two years after its bell tower, which was previously a look-out tower. The Chiesa di San Giuliano is next on the list, founded by Ruggero in 1080, and unmistakable on account of its pink façade.
7. MAZARA DEL VALLO
57 km from Verdura Resort
Densely packed with Sicilian history. Overlooking the Strait of Sicily and situated just 200 km from the Tunisian coast, Mazara, built on the mouth of the Mazaro River, was colonised by the Phoenicians, who used it as a stopover en route to Spain. Then the Greeks arrived and the city came under the control of Selinunte. After that it was the turn of the Romans, the Vandals, the Goths, before it was conquered by the Arabs, who turned Mazara into a rich, flourishing city once again, transforming it into the most important legal centre in Sicily. In 1073 the city was conquered by Ruggero, who set up the first Norman Parliament in Sicily there. A memento from that era is the magnificent Norman cathedral, built on the ruins of a mosque. Take a leap forward by five centuries and you will find yourself before, and no doubt inside, the Chiesa di San Francesco, a masterpiece of Baroque art.
75 km from Verdura Resort
What is Admiral Nelson’s connection to Marsala? The famous naval captain was one of the greatest fans of Marsala wine, “invented” by the Englishman John Woodhouse and rapidly transformed into the emblem of the Sicilian city. Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Carthaginians, Arabs, they’ve all been here and they’ve all left their mark. For example, woven into the urban fabric we can see the mark of the Romans where the layout is well ordered, and that of the Arabs where the narrow streets twist and turn like calligraphy. And yet Marsala speaks another language too, English. Does that surprise you? Go to the centre of Piazza della Repubblica and you will discover that the Cathedral is dedicated to Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the English martyr who was brutally murdered in Canterbury Cathedral on 29 December 1170. The cult of the saint was introduced to Sicily as a result of its close ties with England, under the rule of William II, King of Sicily. Historical quiz: who was that famous monarch’s wife? Answer, Joan of England (Plantagenet), daughter of Henry II of England and sister of Richard the Lionheart.
90 km from Verdura Resort
Its history and the wealth of its artistic heritage make this city a world in itself. Palermo “demands” at least one full day, even if it’s just to give you a taste of its delights. Let’s start with its name, which is of Phoenician origin, Panormos, port, because the city was a bustling commercial centre. It fell into the hands of the Romans but it was under Arab rule that it enjoyed its first spell of glory. Oriental influence can still be seen in the architecture of its churches, in its city planning and in the flamboyant liveliness of its markets. The Normans made it into the capital of their kingdom. Then the second Golden Age flourished between the years 600 and 700. We have now jumped ahead to the Baroque era. Where gold, light, sun and the darkest shadows reign. That is Sicily.
We’d just like to make a few minor suggestions to give you a taste of what life and art were like in this incredible city. The cathedral, built in 1100, where the Romanesque style is interwoven with Gothic and Baroque touches is, naturally, a must. Then there is Giovanni degli Eremiti, founded by the Normans in 1132, but clearly bearing in mind the spatial concept of mosques. Move on to the Cappella Palatina, connected to the Palazzo Reale, a masterpiece of Norman art, covered from top to bottom with mosaics and golden tiles. And then a visit to Palazzo Abatellis is not to be missed, even if it’s just to admire the Annunziata, which is perhaps Antonello da Messina’s most famous work. If you should so desire you can lose yourself in the catacombes of the Convento dei Cappuccini, described in both enthralling and horrific terms by writers such as Guy de Maupassant and Thomas Mann. Out in the light of day once again, let yourself get carried away by the bustle of the markets. Which are the most famous ones? Vucciria, Capo and Ballarò.
10 km from Verdura Resort
The name Sciacca is Arabic, as-saqah, meaning division, because, right from the beginning of Muslim rule, the city marked the borders between the provinces of Marsala and Girgenti. A stroll through the serpentine streets of Rabato and Giudecca-Cadda will, even today, make you feel as though you’ve been transported to the magical environment of a kasbah. The beauty of the sixth century palace, known as “lo Sterepinto,” built in the Catalan Gothic style, is outstanding, and also worth visiting are the magnificent Chiesa di Santa Margherita and the cloister of the Convento di San Francesco. Traditional handicrafts such as ceramics, and the local coral, mentioned by Diodoro Siculo, are totally original and outstandingly beautiful.
80 km from Verdura Resort
According to legend it was founded by the Elymians, a people said to be descended from the Trojans. We would like to introduce you to Segesta, built on the slopes of Monte Barbaro, in the hinterland of Castellamare del Golfo. It became one of the most important centres in the Mediterranean, to the extent where it unleashed rivalry between the Selinuntians, the Athenians and the Carthaginians. Repeatedly destroyed and rebuilt, Segesta has been Roman, Arab and Norman. The archaeological park features the magnificent Doric temple, still intact today, standing isolated and majestic on the hill. Next on the list is a visit to an amphitheatre seating an audience of 4,000, built on the peak of Monte Barbaro, with the scenery facing the sea. Still to come are the ruins of the ancient city that was built on the mountain peak and was protected by a city wall from the precipitous rocks and the side that was most exposed.
35 km from Verdura Resort
Its name comes from the Greek word selinon, the celery which still grows wild in the countryside today. Selinunte, founded in 650 B.C, is today the largest archaeological park in Europe. In the 5th and 6th centuries the city was at the height of its glory. Involved in a series of wars against Segesta and Carthage, formerly an ally, it was completely destroyed in 409 BC. From 250 BC the city was no longer inhabited and the rivers Belice and Modione made the area unsafe. Then a tremendous earthquake in the Byzantine era razed the few remaining buildings to the ground.
During the Arab rule the chronicler Edrisi called Selinunte Rahl'-al-Asnam, the village of columns. And from then on it was plunged into darkness. The first person to rediscover ancient Selinunte, buried under sand and Mediterranean scrub, was the Dominican monk, Tommaso Falzella, in 1551. Then in the second half of the XVIII century the ruins were visited by French travellers, and, in 1822, two British architects, William Harris and Samuel Angell began the first excavations. Sixty years later the poet Algernon Swinburne wrote: “The river flows through a long line of hills which flaunt the most incredible collection of ruins in Europe, the remains of Selinunte”.
Now it’s time for you to visit the eight magnificent temples dedicated to Heracles, Apollo, Artemis, Athena and Hera, which, with their imposing Doric columns, comprise one of the most breathtaking skylines in Sicily.
13. SYRACUSE – UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITE
280 km from Verdura Resort
Once again, Pindaro is there to accompany us as we discover the UNESCO world heritage site, Syracuse, and its beauty. “I will tell the muses to remember Syracuse and Ortigia”, wrote the famous Greek poet from the 5th Century BC. Words which are still valid today, as this city has such a wealth of priceless assets, from Greek Neapolis to the island of Ortigia, from the magnificent museum to the surrounding areas.
To delve into the city’s distant past we begin at the Latomie, the caves from which Syracusian architects extracted millions of cubic metres of stone. The huge tunnels were also used as prisons. Of these, one of the most impressive is called l’Orecchio di Dioniso (Ear of Dionysius). According to legend, the perfect acoustics of this cavity meant that the tyrant could enjoy listening to even the faintest moans of the slaves confined inside it.
The most ardent physics and mathematics fans won’t miss the visit to the tomb of Archimedes, born in Syracuse in 287 BC and who died in the same city in 212. We will then carry on to the Greek theatre, perhaps the most impressive example of ancient theatre architecture. It was here that Aeschylus staged some of his tragedies for the first time. Here are some figures that might interest you: the theatre is 138 metres wide, and has 67 rows of steps divided into 9 sections.
In the 16th century most of the blocks of stone in the theatre were removed to build the walls on Ortigia island, which separate the basins of Porto Grande and Porto Piccolo and are today connected to land by Umbertino bridge. A miniature world in its own right, where Apollo’s temple, built in the 6th century BC, stands along with the 4th century Palazzo Greco, the Duomo, built in 700, and the Fonte Aretusa, from which the water cited by Ovid gushed.
14. MOUNT ETNA
Enjoy a thrilling helicopter ride to the summit of Mount Etna, which dominates the landscape. An expert guide will meet you at the top and lead you around the volcanic craters.