Overlooking a sweeping stretch of the Ionian Sea, Rocco Forte Verdura Golf Resort & Spa is a luxury property encompassing 230 hectares of gently undulating land in south-west Sicily complete with golf courses, sea sports, swimming pools and clay tennis courts among many entertainment options for guests.
Costing around 140 million euro, the resort project is the brainchild of hospitality entrepreneur, Rocco Forte, and is designed by architect Flavio Albanese. The five-star, multi-building property comprises 230 rooms and suites with Latin terracotta and ochre exteriors and ecologically-friendly features such as solar energy and water-recycling, especially important in Sicily where rainfall is minimal and concentrated around short periods of the year. It is one of 11 hotels and resorts in the Rocco Forte hotel Group established in 1996.
While the complex is spacious, transport is convenient, and fun, with easy-to-ride bicycles at special stands throughout the property plus open, chauffeur-driven buggies and regular-service mini-buses. Such means of transport are not really necessary as Verdura’s restaurants, spa complex, private beach, swimming pools and children’s play areas are within easy walking distance.
Located in a separate building across from the main reception area, the 4,000-square foot spa is a delight, offering both indoor and outdoor choices. Both mens’ and womens’ changing rooms have their own saunas and there is also a large common steam room. Next to it is a 20-metre swimming pool, long enough to provide for satisfactory aqua exercise. There is also a 170-square metre, fully equipped gym. In addition, Verdura has harnessed the qualities of local thermal underground streams and has installed four separate outdoor hydrotherapy pools with Jacuzzi-like jet streams to ease tired muscles. Its spa has 11 treatment rooms, which use local natural resources such as salt from Trapani, olive oil, blood oranges, volcanic clay and almonds.
Outdoor sports are plentiful, with six floodlit tennis courts, soccer fields and a 1.8 kilometer beach with sailing and wind-surfing opportunities, organized boat-trips (with picnics) and road-trips to various destinations including ancient sites and a special wine excursions, as well as helicopter tours. Children, too, are well catered for, with their own DVD library, Sony Playstations and a ‘Kid’s Club’ and ‘Teenagers Club’ open every day. A private baby-sitting service is also available.
Golfers are in high heaven at Verdura, with a 80-yard wide tees driving range; two 18-hole courses designed by California-based Kyle Phillips – East (7,221 yards) and West (7,474 yards) – and a 9-hole course (1,056 yards) to choose from, all meandering around orange and olive groves and a mélange of indigenous flora. Tee times are arranged at 12-minute intervals to ensure free-flowing play and the clubhouse is built around a small piazza. So respected is the venue, the Sicilian open championship was held here. Niall Cameron, a much-experienced and friendly Scotsman directs this aspect of Verdura’s operations, offering one-to-one lessons or group clinics with his PGA qualified staff. A former European circuit player with wide-ranging international knowledge of the game, Niall – an Ambassador for Celtic genes – is a natural born ‘seanchai’ (storyteller) with golf techniques accompanied by fascinating anecdotes that help one remember the tips he offers on bringing down that obstinate handicap.
The property’s design is the work of Rocco Forte Hotels’ design director, Olga Polizzi, with one striking highlight being local handcrafted tiles, made by Sicilian company, Caltagirone, featured throughout the property.
Bedrooms are of pared-down, contemporary design in venge and white, complete with a four-poster-like bed (without the posters) in dark wood with sensual white muslin curtains on all sides and along the top. Throws, lampshades and cushions of various shades ranging from ochre to violet granted a sense of cozy warmth and framed collages of Sicilian ceramics decorated the walls. A short walkway between bedroom and bathroom is lined with generous cupboard and shelf space either side. The bathroom itself is sandy-colored with built-in bathtub, a separate, open-style shower and a large, rectangular-shaped sink. A broad mirror covering most of the wall permits plenty of preening. A soft, narrow bench between bath and sink, large enough to sit or lie upon, encourages one to rest there momentarily after ablutions.
Resort guests have a choice of five restaurant options – Zagara, with a distinctly Mediterranean menu; Amare, a seafood restaurant at the beach; Liola, offering traditional Sicilian cuisine; Buon Giorno, where breakfast is served; and Granita, a casual dining and cocktail venue (Verdura specials such as Sicilian mojito, Kalos and Coppola are well worth trying).
Buffet breakfast at Verdura’s it is one of the most varied – with forty to fifty different menu items to select from, including a large range of local cheeses, cold cuts and smoked local fish. There was even artichoke paste, an item one doesn’t often see at a breakfast buffet.
The wide variety of cuisine styles, a highlight of a stay at Verdura, means guests can enjoy quite different types of meals on any given day, from delightfully crisp cutlet Milanese and grilled cuttlefish (sepia) at Granita, to the flavorsome traditional pasta con le sarde, sea-bass baked in salt and Sicilian cassata dessert at Liola, to the flamboyant flower-decorated walls of Zagara.
It’s not just by day that Verdura impresses. At night, it is equally – if not more – charming. Sitting outside on the open terrace of one’s room, it seemed there was a world suspended high above on air – Caltabeltotta, a mountain town 1,000 meters up, its glittering lights glowing like so many stars. In front there was a fine view up along the coast while all around were lighted palm trees and the sweet scent of orange blossom (a theme present in room toiletries also, which were natural and locally produced).
Verdura is a suitable resort for parents with children, couples seeking a romantic getaway or individuals or groups seeking sports or golfing outlets. The property offers a multitude of choices in terms of activities and diverse dining options, as well as a location close to Agrigento, home to the Valley of the Temples, an ancient Greek archaeological site, as well as to one of the most scenic rural drives in Sicily on a winding road up to Caltabeltotta and back down along the coast to Sciacca.