If you are looking for some R&R in a beautiful setting then the Italian island of Sicily has just what you are looking for, as Alex Jenkins discovers.
Stylish is a simple word that neatly sums up my stay at the Donnafugata Golf Resort and Spa.
Not only is this magnificent five star hotel the definition of that word – the chandeliers and beautiful sofas in the grand welcome hall set the scene superbly – but everything in Sicily oozes class and sophistication.
The food is incredible, the golf courses at the resort are top end, and the Sicilians themselves … well they seem to give the word style a whole different meaning.
This struck home when I saw a wedding held at the large Baroque cathedral ‘San Giorgio’ aka St George, in Modica.
With its 256 steps leading to its entrance that are known locally as the ‘Sicilian Spanish Steps’, this church was created for the ‘rich’ families in the area.
The ‘poor’ were given ‘San Pietro’ just down the road.
It was here at St George’s more than 300 well groomed guests had turned out for a wedding – my Italian guide Nicoletta Blundo explained it was only an ‘average size’ one – where it looked like no expense had been spared.
Think butterflies released, champagne on the steps and the biggest white dress you can imagine.
Donnafugata Golf Resort and Spa stands on the ancient landed domain of the Arezzo Marquises and is located a few kilometres from the UNESCO World Heritage sites – Ragusa, Modica, Noto, Scicli and Siracusa – at the southern part of the island.
This area of Sicily has only really opened up to tourism in recent years thanks to its new airport, International Comiso, which is located 15 minutes away from the resort.
In fact, agriculture is still the biggest money spinner and this is evident as you drive in between the towns, with the countryside boasting greenhouses and fields of produce.
In total 60 per cent of cheese and milk in Sicily comes from the Ragusa area alone.
Despite tourism being a new phenomenon here there is no shortage of things to see and do as I soon found out.
The hotel can organise numerous trips out to explore the area, ranging from city tours, boat trips, Mafia themed excursions and even a drive in the famous Fiat 500 (known in Italy as Cinquecento) which I saw a group of Americans enjoy.
The area has undergone many ‘invasions’ during its history.
This means you have plenty of history to absorb and the architecture is fascinating thanks to influences from the Normans, Greeks, Romans, Arabs and Spanish – all of whom have left lasting traces.
The Sicilian Baroque art was born and found its highest expression in the province of Ragusa and the Val di Noto, listed as a World Heritage site by UNESCO.
Cinema and television have taken advantage of the architectural features of cities such as Modica, Scicli and Ispica, with Inspector Montalbano, based on a book and aired on BBC Four earlier this year, one such show shot here.
Sicily is littered with churches and we saw a fine example of one in Scicli called Bartholomew Church, which has a permanent nativity scene.
Plus there was a very impressive church – also called St George’s – which towered over Regusa Ibla.
It was here we were able to get a real feel for the area’s history as we were invited to explore Palazzo Arezzo di Trifiletti, which overlooks the Piazza san Giorgio (St George’s Square).
The impressive home was rebuilt after the devastating 1693 earthquake – the earthquake is thought to have killed 60,000 people – and boasts a magnificent 19th century fresco on one of the ceilings.
Aside from the traditional sights Sicily has a wonderful relaxed and laid-back feel making it a great holiday destination.
The food is fresh and delicious and I enjoyed many great meals both out and about in the area and at the resort, which boasts three restaurants that cater for all requirements.
A favourite meal of mine was at Osteria dei Sapori Perduti in Modica where we enjoyed traditional aubergine and pasta dishes and gorgeous sweet Sicilian cannolo with ricotta cheese wafers.
Sicily certainly is a great place if you have a sweet tooth and the chocolate here is superb – if a little unique.
In Modica we paid a visit to the famous chocolate factory/shop Dolceria Bonajuto.
Started in 1880, the shop is run by the sixth generation of the Bonajuto family and is the oldest chocolate factory in Sicily.
Originally, cocoa seeds discovered in the ‘New World’ were brought back to Modica and made into a drink known as ‘bitter water’.
Since then it has moved away from the drink and following an Aztec recipe and using low temperatures (40-45°C) these cocoa seeds have been turned into chocolate bars.
No liquid – i.e milk, oil, or fat – is used in this chocolate as we learned when we watched the chocolate being made, leaving it with a strong granular texture.
The shop makes 18 flavours, one of which is 100 per cent raw, which I found far too bitter due to its lack of sugar.
Other interesting flavours include tuna chocolate, salt chocolate, and marjoram.
However, my favourite was the beef chocolate which had almond, sugar and cinnamon in it.
Wine is another thing you can enjoy during your stay.
I was lucky enough to take part in a wine tasting at Valle dell’Acate in Acate, Ragusa, a winery run by a seventh generation family.
The wine here is stored in 400 French Oak barrels and is incredible. The views from the winery are pretty spectacular as well.
After seeing plenty of sights I decided it was time to make the most of my fabulous resort.
In many respects I can imagine why some guests do not leave it at all during their stay – it really does have everything you could want.
This luxury five-star resort lies within a vast, almost 500-hectare prestigious estate frequented since the XIV century by Sicilian aristocracy.
Clever planning and design means it has managed to retain much of its historic charm, with the renovation of the old mansion, while still being very modern.
Aside from the afore mentioned restaurants it has a stunning outdoors infinity pool overlooking one of two golf courses the resort boasts.
Meanwhile inside the spa – an area guests have access to for an hour a day free of charge – there is a heated pool, hydro pool, sauna, steam room, gym, treatments rooms and a relaxation area.
It was here I enjoyed a bone-melting massage, perfect if you have been playing a round of golf or traipsed around the nearby towns.
The spa was one of my favourite parts of the resort as you could really unwind here.
It offers a wide range of treatments using mineral, organic products and this is also a great place to quietly admire the stunning setting the resort is located in.
Even the sauna has windows so you can overlook the golf course.
The resort has two 18 hole golf courses as well as a driving range frequented by amateurs and professionals alike.
The courses are held in high esteem, with the 2011 edition of the Sicilian Open stage of the prestigious European Tour golf tournament held here.
The 18 holes of the southern course, a Links, was designed by Franco Piras while the second course, a Parkland, was designed by one of the top golf players in history, the South African golfer Gary Player.
The resort offers an outstanding golf academy, equipped with driving ranges catering for up to 70 people, pitching and chipping greens, practice bunkers and putting greens, with quality teaching provided by head professional Davide Terrinoni.
If you just want some peace and quiet there are many areas where you can sit, whether that be the reading room, one of the many lounges or on one of the terraces.
Plus the rooms are so delightful you may just want to stay there.
The hotel has 202 rooms, ranging from the classic room up to the suite, and are all kitted out with the same furniture.
The only difference is that classic rooms are located on the first floor and feature a balcony with a view over the Ragusa countryside or the inner garden.
Meanwhile superior and deluxe rooms are situated on the ground floor, with the former enjoying a private 22-square metre terrace that faces the inner garden and the latter encompassing a patio with private garden and a magnificent view over the surrounding countryside.
The suites are great for families as they usually have two bathrooms and interconnecting rooms.
Sicily really does offer something for everyone, as I discovered to my great delight.
Whether you are looking for a spa retreat, top end golf courses, incredible food or want to soak up Sicilian charm and history then a stay here is a must.
Alex flew from London Stansted Airport to International Comiso Airport with Ryanair.
At the time of writing, a ‘Green Passion’ seven night stay at Donnafugata Golf Resort and Spa cost 1,840 euros per double room.
The package includes seven nights in a classic room, a daily breakfast buffet, five green fees and five days of access to the driving range per person, and golf club cleaning and storage.
It also includes seven days access for one hour to the spa, a 45 minute seasonal massage for ‘him’ and a 45 minute lotus flower massage for ‘her’ plus an alchemy treatment or hot stone therapy per person, and 15 per cent à la carte dinner menu at Il Carrubo Restaurant at the resort.
For prices, availability and to book, visit www.donnafugatagolfresort.com
The restaurant Osteria dei Sapori Perduti is in Modica and more information can be found at www.osteriadeisaporiperduti.it
The chocolate shop Dolceria Bonajuto is located in Modica. Visit www.bonajuto.it
To learn more about wine from Valle dell’Acate in Acate, Ragusa, visit www.valledellacate.it
To find out about Palazzo Arezzo di Trifiletti, visit www.palazzoarezzo.it
August 26, 2015 Travel and Lifestyle