By Alice and Danny Scott
Sicily is a volcanic island off the toe of the Italian boot that is sizzling with seaside and mountain scenery. The first golf course built in Sicily in 1989 is an amazing layout at Il Picciolo Etna Golf Resort & Spa. This is not to be confused with the defunct Il Picciolo hotel a few miles away. We drove up to that locked gate with a woodpecker ornament, overgrown weeds and thought, “Oh no, we’ve been had.” Had we been more careful with our directions, we would have made the correct turn and arrived at the true spot where golf holes traverse blindly up and down the mountain with a smoking (literally smoking) view of the volcano, spewing fire or lava. Helicopter excursions offer a birds eye view of volcanic activity, if you dare. Like earth quakes in California (or Arizona?), another eruption is imminent and the occasional fireballs shoot this warning into the sky. Modern resort amenities include a pool with a view, spa, trails and elegant restaurant. The chef’s spiced gallinella fish complemented the Patria Rossi so well that we stopped at their winery for a tour where ancient French Oak barrels are climate controlled naturally in the volcanic underground caverns. The lava-enriched soil produces very fine wine grapes for both red and white varietals. We were Pina’s first tour. Her passion disguised any lack of training.
Danny shifted our Renault Twingo in Italian driving mode down the mountain around the sharp curves of Catiglione for breath-taking views. An elderly couple on a steep curve were picking herbs. It was such a quaint moving scene; we pulled over to say, “Buongiorno”. They were gathering wild dill and handed us a bunch, sharing that her brother now lives in the US. Sicilians are everywhere in the US, like our neighbors across the street in Gilbert who lovingly taught us to make limoncello from our lemon tree. This was like chatting with their parents on the mountainside of their homeland.
We drove on passing by the Gorge of Alcantara, the Sicilian version of the Grand Canyon with fissures formed by the fast river cooling of magma in overlapping lava flows for a period of 8,000 years. We hiked the trail in awe then continued our decent down the winding road to Taormino. a touristic enclave of boutique hotels perched high on the cliff side overlooking the Mediterranean. Parking is limited above so a Gondola transports guests to sea level.
Further south, Donnafugata Golf Resort and Spa in Ragusa is a relaxing retreat on 800 acres with well-manicured floral grounds and Italian Baroque architecture. Gary Player designed the Parkland and Franco Piras, the Links courses to be the best in Sicily. Sebastiana is the golf operations director who loves Americans and with his friendly staff accommodates golfers from all parts of the globe. He invited us to participate in the Audi Quattro Tournament, an offer we couldn’t refuse. Accommodations, cuisine and service are world class at Donnafugata. The day begins with an elaborate breakfast buffet inside or on the terrace with a golf course view. The wine bar serves lunch and dinner with subtle, romantic lighting in the evening. The floor has a glass covering to view the ancient wine press below. Upscale gourmet dinners are served in Il Carrubo restaurant. Split the courses if you want to still walk to the bar for an after dinner drink and perhaps a billiard game. Trust the concierge for recommended tours of Ragusa’s archeology sites, Baroque Palace, churches, wine cellars, and farmhouses or for seaside dining advice and private beach excursions. Lounging poolside and enjoying the spa amenities onsite at Donnafugata between golf rounds is a vacation in itself.
Before circling back to the Catania airport we serendipitously stayed in Siracusa, the city that defeated the Athens in 413. The Grand Hotel Villla Politi sits upon ancient Roman ruins, a few blocks from the beautiful blue bay where we savored our last pizza and pasta. Sicily is on our must return list. If you have a group of ten that wants to join us, contact us on our website and we can make it happen – www.americasgolfingcouple.com.
If you go on your own, remember a few polite Italian words before breaking into English. Please and thank you spoken as per favore and grazie, go a long way.
Fly direct from Phoenix or connect in Rome, a city that deserves months of exploration, but that is another story. Arrividerci.