Category Archives: Sicily

Escaping crowds in Italy

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From up and coming destinations to alternatives of big tourist spots, here are three ideas on where to summer in Italy…

Camogli (instead of Portofino) – With the popularity of Portofino down the road, and the drowning crush of people visiting Cinque Terre, the fishing town of Camogli is not only where the Italians go, it is quiet literally a breath of fresh air. It also offers a taste of the real Italy which seems to fading more and more wherever you go. You will actually hear Italian being spoken. Quaint little restaurants offer the daily catch brought in that day and for those in search of luxury accommodation the old world style of the Cenobio dei Dogi will offer views of the sea and a stay very much like the grand hotels along the Amalfi Coast. Should you still want to explore the rest of the crowd filled Italian Riviera at Santa Margherita and Portofino they are only a half hour away. With the assurance you get to leave the madness behind and return to truly relax in Camogli.

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Palermo (instead of Rome) – Nothing is more on the cusp of the next big thing than Palermo. Its about time as this crossroad of many Mediterranean cultures is one of the most important historical cities yet has been ignored by modern travellers for too long. While it still needs to work on its luxury hotel game, the city is filled with landmark sights worthy of your bucket list. From Monreale to the Vucceria market the buzz is palpable. Plus there is a beach close by. All that along with great food and Sicilian tradition, Palermo is fantastico!

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Fasano in Puglia (instead of the Amalfi Coast) – While I agree nothing beats the Amalfi Coast Puglia is quite spectacular as well. Puglia also boasts views of a blue sea for as far as the eye can see, and here there are white washed houses proving this is the land where Italy and Greece meet. Unspoiled beaches, great food and wine, restaurants by the sea are all enjoyed with laid back living. One of the Italy’s most luxurious hotels Borgo Egnazia is truly a magical oasis while the very photogenic (and Instagramable) Masseria Cimino is wonderfully stylish. Not to mention there are lovely towns and villages in the area to visit and explore.

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I am by no means saying don’t go to the more popular places in Italy. But with mass tourism becoming more crushing, and the ‘tourist season’ having less defined dates so many people can get exhausting and change how you feel about your vacation. I just got back from Rome in Spring, a trip I was sure would be an easy bit of fun as I have been many times before so there was no pressure to see everything and I could just enjoy myself. However it seemed like all over town there was masses of kids on school trips, and still many tourists groups everywhere. Granted it was not as bad as in the Summer, but if it was that bad in the Spring how bad will it be by the Summer? I thought back to my Spring trip last year when I did a big journey around Sicily and how much I loved it. Crowds were less, the sights were places I hadn’t seen before, i felt like a traveller not a tourist. It was truly one of the best and most satisfying holidays I had ever taken. So definitely go to all our favourite places but when masses of people get too much, branch out and explore the other corners of Italy. Chances are that a few years down the line they will get popular too and you can say you went there before it got run over by tourists!

 

 

 

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Luxury oasis in the Valley of the Temples

Wake up with the gods…

The mystical Valley of the Temples in southern Sicily once belonged to the Greek gods.   Centuries old Greek temples still stand majestically in profile on a hill calling to the sea on the edge of the island. Not far from this ancient splendor lies a small luxury hotel fit for the goddess Athena.

viewvaRoom with a view… and what a view!

The Villa Athena is an oasis of comfort right on the archeological park grounds. Obviously the draw is its ease and access to the temples, but its appeal as a hotel is its sumptuous accommodations of airy design with traditional Sicilian accents throughout. Even with upmarket accents of glass and marble you always feel like you are in Sicily.

propertyvaThe hotel Villa Athena

And that view… From the hotel you get the best panorama of the temples. It would be worth it to splurge a little and get the room with the view as it is an incredible vision like no other hotel. Even if your room isn’t privy to the scene, the outdoor terrace is a great place to admire it over a glass of prosecco.

The property has an outdoor pool, restaurant, bar and spa and makes for a wonderful place to kick back and relax, especially if you have been doing a lot of sightseeing along the way. Once you are ready to explore the archeological site, the hotel desk will give you a key pass to access the hotel’s private path to the park. A short walk through groves of olive trees takes you right to the foot of the temples to explore at your leisure.

Lobby at the Villa Athena and private hotel pathway to the archeological park

Back at the hotel the tranquil rooms are comfortable and equipped with luxury bathrooms and in room coffee makers. Airy white linens in a classic but contemporary setting with black and white neoclassical marble bathrooms complete with the hotel spa products make for a crisp richness. It is worth waking up early to watch the sun come up.

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The high end restaurant offers a upmarket menu of regional Sicilian dishes with a sophisticated interpretation to pair with a wine list featuring some of the best wines of the island. In good weather cocktails and dinner are outdoors with that magnificent view of the temples. Here you do feel like one of the gods feasting in splendour, drinking wine and watching the mesmerizing colours of the sunset.

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This small hotel was such an enjoyable stay I wish I could have stayed longer. One can really relax here and just enjoy the surroundings, very friendly service, and wonderful food and drink. And while one could leave here completely satisfied with just seeing the Valley of the Temples, there are other sights such as the Scali dei Turchi a wonderful natural wonder of pristine white natural “steps” by the sea or the nearby town of Agrigento. The hotel is very helpful in setting up excursions or dispense information on the region. But if all that seems like too much, just lounge by the pool, or sit on the terrace, look at the Temple of Concordia right in front all while sipping a refreshing elixir and just be a Greek god or goddess if only for a day…

sunsetTemple of Concordia

 

Extras: The hotel has a private entrance and path direct to the archeological park of the Valley of the Temples giving personal access to the site. Please note you cannot take any bags or purses with you to the archeological site. Cameras are of course allowed but you must carry the camera in hand.

 

Please note I paid for my own stay and my review is based on that stay.

Villa Athena Valle dei Templi, Agrigento