Sicily is my idea of heaven it groans with history, is absolutely beautiful, the food and wine are fabulous, and, when I was there, I was lucky enough to stay in two of the best hotels in the world.
With The Godfather theme playing in my head, I recently headed back to Sicily after a 32-year gap.
Last there with a backpack in my student days, I couldn’t wait to re-discover this beautiful island off Italy’s southern tip.
I took an easyJet flight from Edinburgh first to Gatwick and then on to Catania.
I was headed for Taormina, which was discovered by winter-sun seekers back in the 18th Century.
I had the good luck to be guided by Mario who runs bestsiciliantours.com.
An experienced multilingual guide, he offers tours, airport transfers, and will tailor-make an itinerary just for you.
Mine was pretty clear apart from wanting to get to Europe’s tallest active volcano, Mount Etna, it was a tour of the locations used in those wonderful Godfather epics.
The towns of Savoca and Forza d’Agro, close to Taormina, were the relevant places.
In Savoca you find Bar Vitelli where Michael Corleone asks Appollonia’s father’s permission to court her, and is also where the church they married in is located.
The village where Vito Corleone started his life and where Kay and Michael re-visit in The Godfather 3 is pretty Forza d’Agro an unspoilt gem.
I loved it all and can’t recommend Mario highly enough. He knows Sicily inside-out and his English is word-perfect.
So, where to stay?
Well that’s easy if this is a truly special trip for you.
You have two choices. One is the fabulous Belmond Grand Hotel Timeo, the other is its sister hotel The Belmond Villa Sant’Andrea.
The views from the Timeo are breathtaking.
Overlooking its own gardens and the amazing Sicilian coastline, the backdrop is no less than Mount Etna itself.
Enjoy an Etna Spritz cocktail on the balcony and take in one of the great views of the world.
This five-star hotel has been welcoming guests since 1873. It has superb bedrooms, is decorated with Sicilian baroque flourishes and is furnished to the highest standards.
It also boasts a superb restaurant offering Sicilian specialities such as Pachino cherry tomatoes, Bronte pistachios, capers from Salina, red garlic from Nubia and fine regional wines such as Nero d’Avola and Moscato di Pantelleria.
I can’t say enough good things about this hotel it’s one of my absolute favourites anywhere.
After a couple of nights there I headed for the beach setting of the Belmond Villa Sant’Andrea, set on its own exclusive beach.
It’s relaxed and family-friendly, with a kids’ club, and the rooms are spacious and beautifully furnished.
Built by an aristocratic family in 1830 among lush, subtropical gardens, this secluded retreat retains all the charm of a private residence.
Both hotels have heated swimming pools and spas, and the cuisine and service are among the best in the world.
An excellent restaurant to try is the Osteria Nero d’Avola at Via Spuches.
Everything served is fresh, local and delicious. Fish is a particular speciality and expect to try several varieties of olive oil.
Chef Turi rounds off the evening by playing the piano while you enjoy a complimentary digestif.
Sicilians love life and trust me you’ll love Sicily.
Villa Classic Village View Rooms at Belmond Grand Hotel Timeo start from £234 per night, including taxes and breakfast. Classic Garden View Rooms at Belmond Villa Sant’Andrea start from £247 per night, including taxes and breakfast. To book or for more information, please call 0845 077 2222 or visit belmond.com. easyJet flies from Edinburgh to London Gatwick from £28.99, and from London Gatwick to Sicily £32.99 per person. See easyjet.com.