Prepare to be seduced by Sicily
WHATa day. Breakfast in Bellagio, Milan by midday, then we fly south along the long leg of Italy, landing at Catania in Sicily, the island that, according to the saying, was kicked right out into the Mediterranean.
It is 9pm when we arrive at Des Estrangers Hotel & Spa in Siracusa. We cross the mosaictiled entrance and slump against the wood-panelled reception desk. ‘‘Of course the restaurant is still open and there is no need to rush. Shower, change and then head to the roof garden,’’ we are advised. Something tells us we are going to be very happy here.
The positioning of the restaurant on the rooftop, rather than at street level, is a masterstroke. We are seated, given a glass of prosecco and a chef’s welcoming treat (a tiny risotto ball) almost before we can gaze out the window.
When we do, our collective gasp marks the beginning of our Sicilian seduction. There’s the reflection of lights from the many boats on the Porto Grande, the beauty of the softly-lit crown of the Duomo, the centrepiece of the town.
There is a wraparound balcony with tables and chairs. Breakfast is served here too and during our three-day stay we move around the tables to sample the views. They are all good. So is the food.
Breakfast is the usual fare of cereals, scrambled eggs and bacon. There is also fresh fruit, including peaches that are clearly made of sunshine and have never seen a chilled room.
Dinner has straightforward components: eggplant, mussels, tomato, sardines, pasta and anchovies, and we wonder why we can’t replicate anything so satisfyingly simple at home.
Roaming around Catania, we discover the fresh food market, part of the secret of Sicilian culinary superiority. We grab bread, tomatoes, salami, prosciutto and cheese, and head to the foreshore below the hotel for a picnic.
Des Etrangers Hotel & Spa opened in 1889 and boasts that it was the first hotel on the isle of Ortigia, joined to Siracusa by two bridges and listed by UNESCO as a place of Human Patrimony. The five-storey hotel, closed for 30 years due to a family dispute, recently reopened and was refurbished and extended to 76 guestrooms with conference facilities, gym and spa. Our family takes up three guestrooms, all of which have a balcony with views of the harbour; our grown-ups’ corner room also has a view to the old fort of Castello Maniace.
Inlaid wooden bedheads, white linen, tiled floors and marble bathrooms give the spacious guestrooms a relaxed elegance. All have airconditioning, mini-bar, flatscreen televisions with cable channels and Wi-Fi access. Framed paintings of local scenes on papyrus are a feature of the guestrooms and the hotel lobby.
We don’t try the sauna, ‘‘emotional shower’’ or Turkish bath, nor take advantage of the proffered Californian, oriental or shiatsu massage. But we give the excellent gym equipment and the small indoor pool a workout. Strict rules about hair being covered in the pool have us giggling as we float around in bathing caps, but lying on sunbeds indoors is, frankly, weird.
On our second day we are off for a morning walking excursion to tick some cultural boxes with visits to the Greek and Roman theatres and the Orecchio di Dionisio (an ear-shaped carved cave with amazing acoustics).
Returning to the hotel and crossing the cool mosaic-tiled floor after our morning in the Sicilian summer heat, we feel like we are entering a haven for happy but weary travellers.
Siesta time, another element of the Sicilian seduction, we decide we want to bottle and take home.
Des Estrangers Hotel & Spa, Sicily