Photos credit: Courtesy of Villa Igiea
Rocco Forte’s two Sicilian hotel properties reflect the variety and abundance of the Mediterranean’s largest island.
Sicily is having its moment. In truth, the Mediterranean isle is perpetually popular, but the visibility brought by a recent HBO hit show has shone an even brighter spotlight on this rogue region of Italy and is causing a boom in travel plans to Sicily. And though picturesque Taormina currently commands a majority of Sicilian attention, Rocco Forte’s Palermo and Sciacca hotels ensure that these other destinations receive equal billing.
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Timeless Elegance: Villa Igiea, Palermo
Glamorous Villa Igiea is the former haunt of Italian socialite Donna Franca Florio who opened the historic grand dame Sicily hotel at the turn of the 20th century. Over the decades, the villa has hosted royalty, dignitaries and Hollywood stars, each of whom has reveled in the resort’s Tyrrhenian Sea-adjacent gardens and Belle Époque interiors, originally designed by award-winning architect Ernesto Basile, Ettore de Maria Bergler, the greatest exponent of Art Nouveau in Italy, and the sophisticated designer Vittorio Ducrot.
The Rocco Forte hotel group purchased the property in 2019, restoring and enhancing its central areas, 78 guestrooms and 22 suites to new levels of sumptuousness, fit for those traveling to Sicily. The palazzo’s original tiered gardens and immense turreted villa remain. While Rocco Forte’s Deputy Chairman and Director of Design Olga Polizzi creatively reinvented the property, the location and history influenced the new design; inspiration was drawn from the influential Florio family as well as from the Edwardian and La Belle Époque periods in which Villa Igiea was built. The Sala Basile, the jewel in Villa Igiea’s crown, with its Sicilian Art Nouveau style murals by the revered painter Ettore de Maria Bergler served as a color chart for the hotel’s interior design.
The chic presence of Villa Igiea’s illustrious former guests is palpable within the Sicillian hotel’s stunning Terrazza Bar and patio, where cocktails are named in honor of Grace Kelly, Sophia Loren, Paul Newman, Gina Lollobrigida, Claudia Cardinale, Burt Lancaster and others. Evening aperitivo enjoyed within the vaulted bar or al fresco on the expansive zagara perfumed terrace evokes a nostalgic vibe, enhanced by a tuxedoed wait staff and bow-tied bartender who’s mastered their craft. Elegant Florio Restaurant and its Louis XVI hall retain the same charm that drew guests during the peak of the Belle Époque. Here, Chef Fulvio Pierangelini designs his decadent Mediterranean menus with inspiration from Sicily’s simple and fresh flavors. If you travel to Sicily, the Florio Restaurant is a must.
A Bay of Palermo-facing swimming pool, a tennis court, and Irene Forte Spa round out the rest, recreation, and rejuvenation options for travel guests. The Sicillian spa is infused with the intoxicating fresh scent of Irene Forte’s organic body products, made with nourishing Sicilian botanicals picked from the organic farm at Rocco Forte’s Verdura Resort, the citrusy aroma of which entices guests to visit to the brand’s spectacular golf and beach resort, directly south of Palermo. If you’re looking for timeless elegance and luxury, Villa Igiea is the place to add to your Sicily travel guide for 2023.
Beachfront Sophistication: Verdura Resort
Situated on the southwest coast of Sicily, between the Valley of the Temples in Agrigento and the fishing town of Sciacca, is Rocco Forte’s Verdura Resort. This Sicillian hotel is 568 zagara-scented, auto-free acres, which are best navigated via complimentary bicycles scattered throughout the property and available for the taking. A near total contrast to Villa Igiea’s classically grand design, Verdura’s modernist aesthetic allows the setting to be the star; two golf courses (one 18 hole and one nine), and more than a mile of private coastline provide the “wow” factor allowing people who travel to Sicily to be entertained and engulfed by nature’s beauty simultaneously.
At Verdura, Polizzi has again designed a tangible sense of place. While Villa Igiea exudes fabled glamour, Verdura is all about casual sophistication, and is an ideal escape for families. This Sicily hotel has an expansive indoor/outdoor, youth-centered Verdùland featuring fun, daily programming for children and teens, allowing parents the freedom to play a round within Italy’s number one course, take cooking or mixology classes, wine taste, or relax in the indulgent Irene Forte Spa, the largest in the Rocco Forte portfolio. As one of Europe’s most advanced luxury wellness centers, the spa offers a wealth of fitness programs and treatments as well as an outdoor thalassotherapy circuit consisting of four pools of varying temps.
Understated, yet luxurious and pampering, Verdura reflects Sicily’s rustic, rugged landscape with its strong forms and warm colors. Geometric structures that blend naturally with the landscape house the Sicilian hotel’s 203 modern rooms and suites, each oriented toward the sea. A massive swimming pool flanked by chaise lounges and daybeds provide a focal point, and the private beach with thatched sun umbrellas feature a Water Sport Centre offering wake and flyboarding, windsurfing, etc. In addition, jogging, trekking and cycling trails meander through the resort’s olive, orange and lemon groves.
Just as at each Rocco Forte hotel, the cuisine reflects the region, and at Verdura’s many restaurants the menus are connected to the authenticity of the island. Ingredients feature authentic Sicilian items such as freshly caught fish, extra-virgin olive oil produced by the Verdura Organic Farm, and vegetables, oranges, lemons, aromatic herbs and almonds from the resort’s organic garden. Breakfast at Buongiorno is particularly bountiful, featuring a lavish buffet starring freshly squeezed orange juice from the resort’s abundant orange trees. And don’t miss evening aperitivo (a particularly Italian custom) at Granita Bar where crafted cocktails are served with a brilliantly setting sun. This bar is sure to impress anyone traveling to Sicily.
Sicily is vast, and the hotel choices are innumerable. A visit to both Villa Igiea and Verdura is an ideal way to experience the bounty, variety, and the beauty of Sicily. If you haven’t already, add Sicily to your travel guide for the remainder of 2023.