Many of our guests are content to spend their time relaxing in the gardens or by the pool with a book from one of our libraries. And just by staying at our villas you immerse yourself in history. Santa Maria and the surrounding land was once the site of a monastery attached to a nearby Norman church. The present building dates back to the 17th century. Built as a fortified farmhouse – a “baglio”, a type of building unique to Sicily, it has high walls and castellation designed to keep out marauding brigands. Within the grounds there is a separate watchtower bearing the name of the architect and the date of construction – 1584. However the surrounding territory has so much to offer that we urge you to venture out and explore.
For beautiful landscape, historical sights and excellent wine and food, Sicily is hard to beat. Our villas are just two miles from the nearest beach and the fishing port of Mazara del Vallo. To the east of Mazara lies the long sandy beach of Tonnarella with its lidos, lines of sun loungers and beach umbrellas. To the west the shore is fringed with rocky coves and smaller beaches where the water is a limpid turquoise. Kite surfing and scuba diving are popular here.
The ancient Greek settlement of Selinunte, the largest Greek archaeological site in Italy is just a 30 minute drive from our villas. And even closer to home are the Cave di Cusa, the quarries that supplied the tufa stone for the temples. After exploring Selinunte you can swim from the beach below and feast on pasta or seafood at one of the many bars and trattorias in the nearby village of Marinella.
If your taste is for medieval architecture or sweet pastry, the hilltop town of Erice beckons. Perched high above the sickle shaped peninsular of Trapani, it offers stunning views of the western coast and waters as far as the Egadi Islands. Inhabited long before the Greeks arrived in Sicily, it became the site of an exotic cult of sacred prostitution where mariners from all over the Mediterranean came to pay their respects to the Goddess of love. Over a thousand years on Erice was conquered from the Arabs by Norman invaders, who built a castle over the remains of the temple of Venus. Now it is a unique medieval town with spectacular views and famous for mouth- watering almond pastries.
Neighbouring Marsala, once the Roman town of Lilybaeum and famous as the landing point for Garibaldi, gave its name to a well known fortified wine. Thanks to a handful of English entrepreneurs it became the centre of a flourishing wine industry in the nineteenth century. Local wineries including famous names such as Florio and Pellegrino, are open to the public for tours and wine tasting.
Just beyond the town of Marsala is the Stagnone, an amazing lagoon where saltpans have existed for hundreds of years. Piles of harvested salt are lined up at the edge of the basin and the coastline is dotted with windmills introduced by the Spanish. One of the four islands in the lagoon is now known to be the Punic island of Motya, a Phoenician trading outpost until it was destroyed by the Greeks in the fourth century BC. A visit to Mozia is not to be missed. Take a ferry boat across the lagoon, wander about the island from the port to the necropolis where the victims of child sacrifice were interred and marvel at the extraordinary marble statue of the Charioteer, discovered in the lagoon and now housed in the island’s museum.
Mazara del Vallo is now the major fishing port in Italy and the centre of a thriving wine industry. It offers a wide range of shops and excellent restaurants where you can savour the freshest seafood and fish as well as all the delights of traditional Sicilian fare. The town centre boasts an elegant promenade, the remains of a Norman castle, two charming piazzas and a lovely baroque cathedral. . The jewel in Mazara’s crown is however the beautiful bronze statue of a dancing satyr, a masterpiece of Greek classical art discovered by a local fisherman in the waters of the Sicilian Channel. Now on display in a dedicated museum it is n absolute must–see for any visitor to western Sicily.
And there is more – much more to see and explore on the western part of the island. Nature lovers will head for the Nature Reserve of Zingaro and the nearby beaches of San Vito Lo Capo. Culture vultures will visit the mysterious Elymian temple of Segesta and its open air theatre or make for the magnificent string of Greek temples at Agrigento. And how could you come to Sicily without visiting Palermo to marvel at the world famous mosaics in the cathedral of Monreale and the Palatine Chapel, both built by Norman kings?
As if glorious landscapes and a fascinating history were not enough, any stay Sicily is enhanced by the varied and delicious cuisine. Blessed with many months of sunshine interrupted by a short wet winter, the climate is ideal for olives, grapes, tomatoes and many other fruits and vegetables, while the deep waters around the island produce an abundance of exquisite fish and seafood.
Dominated by a succession of foreign masters for two thousand years, the Sicilians learned from them all and blended the foreign flavours of the moment into their own eclectic cuisine. Sicilian bread made from durum wheat flour and sprinkled with sesame seeds is considered one of the best in Italy. Only in Mazara and the province of Trapani will you be able to order the exquisite fish couscous, as it is only here that couscous is served with fish. The Arabs brought many innovations including the knowhow to make both pasta and ice cream. The Arabs brought sherbert to Europe via Sicily and Sicilian ice cream is still the best, rivalled only by Sicilian granita – water ice in delicious flavours from traditional lemon and coffee to esoteric mulberry and almond flavours. The Spanish brought tomatoes, thus inspiring Sicilian cooks to conjure up a myriad of pasta sauces. They also introduced elaborately decorated cakes like cassata, a joyous combination of ricotta, marzipan, sponge cake and candied peel. I could go on but it would need several volumes to do justice to the subject of Sicilian food.
We grow olives at Santa Maria and Santa Rosalia and harvest them early in the season to obtain the intense flavour. The results are spectacular and we are happy to provide guests with sample bottles.
Some reading suggestions for anyone who would like to do their homework before visiting Sicily:
- The Companion Guide to Sicily by Raleigh Trevelyan
- The Cadogan Guide to Sicily
- Motya by Gaia Servadio
- Sicilian Food by Mary Taylor Simeti
- On Persephone’s Isle by Mary Taylor Simeti
- Made in Sicily by Giorgio Locatelli
- Sicily, A Cultural History by Joseph Farrell
- Midnight in Sicily by Peter Robb
- Sicily, A Short History from the Ancient Greeks to Cosa Nostra by John Julius Norwich
If you would like to know more about the history behind Santa Maria and the family who lived there, you can read Caroline’s book “Casa Nostra, A Home in Sicily”. Published by Harper Collins in the US in 2007, it can be ordered on Amazon and many other websites online. Copies are also available for sale in both villas.