Absolutely Mama discovers a luxury family villa holiday in Sicily
Sicily looms larger in the imagination than it does on the maps. Sicily offers various practical positives for families: Mediterranean climate, Western European infrastructure and great but reassuringly familiar cuisine. We eagerly awaited our family villa holiday in Sicily.
The largest island in the Med is still a bit of an afterthought, geographically speaking: a stone rolling off the toe of the Italian boot. But despite its comparatively small size and historical problems, Sicily has made its mark on the global culture.
Think of it and you probably think of glittering sea and lemon groves, elderly mafiosi holding court from sun-bleached villas, nonna’s cooking and la dolce vita, and happy families gathering under olive trees for al fresco lunches. You probably think of the young Vito Corleone in Godfather II – or a Dolmio advert. Yet contemporary Sicily isn’t quite the cliche the moviemakers and ad-men would have you believe.
What it is – and what a new generation of holidaymakers are realising – is a living, breathing island starting to dig out its true identity from under the rubble of the last century’s tumbled mythologies.
This means it has sore spots as well as strong-points. For every picturesque clifftop town and sleepy fishing village, there’s a concrete-colonised strip of shoreline that you’d really rather forget. But with a little research and preparation, it remains a great destination for a European family holiday – especially if you visit in June or September, just before or after the high season crowds.
For Londoners with babies, the three-hour flight time is a major attraction. The only flying we’d done with our daughter before this was a brief, 90-minute hop to France. She behaved like a tyrant much of the way and we were anxious about longer-haul trips in the future. Three hours to Sicily seemed a manageable next step in her training.
Another draw was The Thinking Traveller, the luxury holiday rental specialist through which we found our villa. The Thinking Traveller covers everything from advance booking of activities, experiences and pool heating to precisely how you’ll reach your villa on arrival. It meant there was little for us to worry about except the baby.
Before we left, we even received the company’s own book-length guide to Sicily in the post, alongside the most detailed information about our villa, its location and amenities that we could have hoped for. Even better, it was all written by local experts who are on hand if you have problems or questions during your stay – something with which mass-market publications just can’t compete.
After a little deliberation and with The Thinking Traveller’s advice, we chose Casa Luza, a large, modern villa at the top of a winding country track about an hour from Catania airport and ten minutes from the Baroque town of Noto. To say we were happy with our choice would be an understatement.
Contemporary yet homely, luxurious in the most chic and unpretentious way, Casa Luza married the best of modern Sicilian country living. It had a beautiful infinity pool, hill gardens, cropped lawn and stately courtyard entrance, complete with the kind of gadgets and amenities you’d expect in a state-of-the-art American pad.
With six bedrooms, seven bathrooms, indoor and outdoor kitchens and a master suite shower the size of a studio flat, the villa sleeps 12 people and benefits from daily housekeeping – so you don’t have to worry about who does the chores. This was just as well, because we were a party of four couples with three babies between us.
The children were very well catered-for: three sturdy travel cots were provided and the long settees in the lounge were covered with comfy yet easily replaceable cotton covers, in case of spills. We were also pleased to find that the pool had a large sunbathing platform at one end, so the little ones were able to acclimatise themselves to the water without getting out of their depth.
One upside of staying somewhere so beautiful is that you can forge an entirely memorable and relaxing holiday without having to do much: we spent a good two-thirds of our week enjoying huge group meals on the terrace and playing in the pool. One afternoon, we arranged via The Thinking Traveller for acclaimed Sicilian cook and culinary expert Katia Amore to visit and put the villa’s enormous kitchen to full and proper use. She taught us how to make incredible pasta and the infamously moreish local chocolate while detailing the history of each dish with an infectious relish.
Of course, when you do decide to leave the villa, Sicily offers more than enough to satisfy the curious. A few minutes from Casa Luza is Noto, an architectural wonder of honey-coloured stone and Baroque intricacies, while the road to the coast takes you past the Vendicari nature reserve with its seasonal flocks of flamingos. Some of the smaller local towns betray hints of the malaise inevitable in an island so bedevilled for much of the last century by crime and corruption. But the real Sicily shines through in the romantically dilapidated facades of central Syracuse (less than an hour up the coast) and the flowering piazzas of Taormina, a picturesque millionaire’s playground clinging precariously to the sea-cliffs ninety minutes to the north.
If you fancy a longer drive, there’s more further afield, but with fidgety little ones we kept to the island’s east coast, where there was easily enough to keep us occupied. Besides, a few hours exploration was all it took before a little voice in all our heads began to whisper: ‘Casa Luza, Casa Luza.’
We’re as adventurous as the next bunch, but not once did we regret returning for an al fresco feast at our home-from home. Perhaps that Dolmio advert was onto something, after all.