Mediterranean languor is as abundant as plump citrus fruit at Donna Coraly Resort, in the south east of Sicily, where Moorish-tiled and terrace-blessed suites are set in acres of fertile farmland. The rustic environs inspire fabulous feasts crafted from farm-fresh produce, and when you’re not busy eating (very) well, you can swim in the pool, take drinks on the veranda, play with the friendly resident dogs or visit historic hubs Syracuse and Ortigia. Or, just take sun-kissed country living in your unhurried stride…
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A special handmade Donna Coraly ornament or accessory to take home
Noon, but flexible, on request. Earliest check-in, 3pm.
Double rooms from $241.80 (€218), excluding tax at 10 per cent. Please note the hotel charges an additional local city tax of €2.00 per person per night on check-out.
Rates usually include a Continental breakfast buffet (with home-made cakes, bread, jam and marmalade, fresh fruit, eggs, locally sourced cheese and ham, yoghurt cereal, coffee and juice squeezed from the farm’s oranges) and an apéritif.
Come summer, piano recitals in the gardens and various food-themed festivities are planned. The minibar in your room may look a little bare – owner Lucia prefers to serve guests fresh drinks and snacks herself – but you only have to ask if you want a glass of wine, fresh orange juice, strong coffee or aperitivo.
Annually from 1 November till Easter.
At the hotel
Farm, gardens, pavilion and covered veranda, free WiFi. In-room: Flatscreen TV, selection of books, minibar, bathrobe and slippers, Ortigia bath products.
Our favourite rooms
Suite Carmela is large and beautifully dressed – the bright-blue iron bedstead and blue-and-gold Moorish tiles dazzle against white walls; there’s also a little sitting room and a phenomenally well-stocked bathroom. Suite Angelica’s four-poster bed adds an extra hit of romance.
The heated lap pool – the focal point of the immaculate gardens – has beachy sides to lounge on, and a smattering of white sunloungers. There’s little shade, but if it gets too hot you can retire to the pavilion a few steps away. Peckish? Wave over a member of staff and request a plate of tropical fruit and candied orange peel or a chilled glass of local wine.
Bring your trusty flip-flops or perhaps even a pair of jellies – the pool sides can overheat in the sun. An Italian phrasebook might come in handy (not all the staff speak English), and consider some scuffed-up footwear for farmyard rambles.
The working farm next door is lovely to wander around. Pick windfall oranges from the groves, get acquainted with the resident goats or, if you’ve picked up a few words of Italian, chat to the farmers.
There’s lots for children to love here, but grown-ups may love the peace and quiet a little more.
Suites have been designed to be as energy efficient as possible. Solar panels heat the hotel’s water, and the owner is dedicated to zero-kilometre food: fruit and veg are grown in the gardens and surrounding farmland, cheese and extra-virgin olive oil are made onsite, and everything else comes from producers nearby.
Sit close to the restaurant windows for restive pastoral views, or sip wine curled up in the cushioned cane loungers on the veranda – the dogs might trot up to say hello.
Glamorously dolce far niente.
The window-walled restaurant overlooks the courtyard gardens; in summer, they’re opened to let in the sunshine, gentle breezes and a heady floral scent. In cooler months, a heater keeps guests comfy. The hotel’s acres of fertile farmland and well-tended gardens are abundantly fruitful, and chef Giuseppe crafts zero-kilometre produce into tempting menus. Dishes change daily, depending on what’s been harvested that morning: expect modern takes on typical Sicilian fare, such as pasta alla Norma (with eggplant, tomato and salted ricotta), Ionian-netted swordfish and gamberoni, and citrus-infused desserts. There’s a lavishly tiled breakfast room in the main building, but it’s only in use when the weather’s especially chilly.
There’s no particular bar area; tipples can be taken in the gardens, on your suite’s terrace or in your room. Come sundown, aperitivi are ferried out to the veranda.
Breakfast from 8am–11am; lunch from 1pm–3pm; and dine from 8pm–10pm. However, with a maximum of 10 pampered guests at any time, the resort is fabulously flexible: late breakfasts – and later nights – are no problem.
Dishes the chef’s rustled up using that day’s farm goodies can be served in your suite. If you ask nicely the night before, a member of staff will whisk breakfast goodies to your door come morning.
The San Michele Estate where Donna Coraly resides encompasses a farm surrounded by orange groves and artichoke fields. It’s remote and peaceful with swathes of greenery. The historic city of Syracuse and island of Ortigia are a 25-minute drive away.
Catania Fontanarossa, roughly an hour’s drive from the resort, is the nearest airport. From the UK, fly direct, or connect via Rome Fiumicino and Milan Linate. Flights from the US are via London or Dublin, and flights across the Pacific connect via Abu Dhabi or Rome. Smith24 can arrange flight bookings or hotel transfers on request.
On-site lazing is encouraged, but you may want to hit the road to see the region’s beaches, timeless country tableaux and Syracuse’s ancient treasures. There are car-hire booths at Catania Airport, and parking is free at the hotel; take care when edging your rental along the unpaved country lane that leads to the hotel.
TTT Lines and GNV run ferry services from Naples to Catania seven times a week; the journey takes around 10 hours.
Worth getting out of bed for
The province of Syracuse is lapped by the Ionian Sea on Sicily’s south-east coast. It’s largely patchwork fields planted with vines and groves, surveyed by crumbling villas, but the ancient Grecian remnants add historic intrigue to the area, and it has beaches worth packing your bikini for. Arenella beach – a sheltered inlet with calm waters and a bank of parasol-shaded loungers – is a 10-minute drive away (it’s closer to some resorts, so it can get crowded). Port town Syracuse, a 25-minute drive from the hotel, is a hub of ancient Greek grandeur and Roman decadence in a cosmopolitan setting. Old Town Ortigia’s origin story is rather bizarre: it was allegedly formed when the goddess Asteria turned herself into a quail to flee Zeus’ amorous advances, then leapt into the sea and transformed into an island – naturally. (The fountain of Aretusa has a sculpture depicting the event if you’re curious.) Despite inauspicious beginnings, Ortigia is historic and handsome, famed as the birthplace of math-whizz Archimedes, and home to the ruined Temple of Apollo, piazzas filled with grand follies (the Fountain of Diana on Piazza Archimede, the acanthus-leaf-studded cathedral in Piazza del Duomo) and a rare Caravaggio (The Burial of Saint Lucy) in the Santa Lucia alla Badia church. Between the ancient landmarks are cafés, osterias and upmarket boutiques (MaxMara and Marella womenswear), and sea views from the harbour. Inland, morbid kicks can be had in the Roman Catacombs of St John (+39 93 166 571), and there’s a well-preserved amphitheatre in the Neapolis Archaeological Park (+39 93 166 206) where it’s rumored that teens gather after dark for full-moon parties. Further north lies the Ear of Dionysius, a limestone cave that looks sort of like the godly appendage if you squint. Fshing village Marzamemi, an hour's drive south of the resort, dates back to the 10th century and has enough history (and excellent fish restaurants) to warrant a day trip; if you want to scale Etna, it's an hour's drive away – be sure to pack sturdy footwear.
Sicilian dining – influenced by a rich agricultural heritage and gastronomically inventive invaders (French, Arabic, Greek) – has a strong regional identity that differentiates it from that of mainland Italy. Fish is a staple, pizza has a thick crust, and oranges and almonds – and liberal amounts of sugar – make dessert the most anticipated course (well hello, cannoli and cassata). Palazzo-set Regina Lucia (+39 93 122 509) in Piazza Duomo is a grand setting for sampling seafood and home-made pasta (there’s an in-house cannoleria if you want to take a box home). Find excellent antipasto and a modern menu at Oinos on Via della Giudecca (+39 93 146 4900), and the sea urchin- and cuttlefish-laced dishes at Ristorante Don Camillo (+39 93 167 133) and Apollonion Osteria da Carlo reels in gourmets with excellent fish dishes and a reasonably priced set menu – as long as you’re not too squeamish about its freshly-caught decor. Tucked-away trattoria Dionisio on Via Claudio Maria Arezzo (+39 093 124 679) serves melanzane mille-feuille and other restyled traditional dishes. Further out, Ragusa comune, roughly a 90-minute drive inland from the resort, is noted for celebrated chef Ciccio Sultano; dine at his Ristorante Duomo (+39 93 265 1265) and you'll see why.
Caseificio Borderi is a renowned deli and cafe, its well-deserved reputation earned by its home-made cheeses, generously stuffed paninis and sharing boards.
Sicily’s social scene revolves around aperitivi and clinking wine glasses late into the night. Monzù, just around the corner from the cathedral, has a lemon-tree-flanked terrace and flavourful house liqueurs to sip (+39 95 836 0485).
Once upon a time, a Sicilian maid spied a man from her balcony and fell in love. They embarked on a passionate affair, until she discovered he was already married. This was pre-Tinder, so instead of cutting him loose, she cut off his head and upcycled it into a flowerpot. It became the interior-design trend of the 11th century, and soon the island’s balconies were gussied up like a warlord’s trophy cabinet.
You may ask: what does this have to do with luxury hotels? Well, these heads are still in vogue in Donna Coraly Resort (majolica versions, thankfully) and in Syracuse’s souvenir shops. One watches me as I sleep in my suite, two stare as I brush my teeth and a gang rests stoically on the resort’s tranquil terrace – it’s as if George R R Martin’s moonlighted as an Italian interior designer. They’re oddly fitting; this beautiful Sicilian stay, built around a 13th-century fort amid orange groves and artichoke fields on the San Michele estate, stands head – and shoulders – above other resorts on the south-east coast. It’s sun-bleached and attractively weathered, Neapolitan-ice-cream-hued and – aside from some warbly songbirds (AM) and amorous crickets (PM) – whisper-quiet.
I arrive unfashionably late; on the drive from Catania airport, the sleepy moonlit streets of Syracuse diminish into bumpy, black-out-dark country lanes – the sort of rustic environs that inspire a lifelong, fantasy-prone city dweller to mentally calculate their net ransom worth (around €50?). Cheerful and immaculately coiffed Milanese owner Lucia (granddaughter of formidable aristo, socialite and women’s rights activist Donna Coraly Grande Sinatra) is waiting by the gate to greet me. Plane-weary, I look a little like a ‘down on my luck’ backpacker by comparison, but Lucia graciously ushers me into a lushly planted, perfumed courtyard bedecked with sylphlike palms and in-bloom rosebushes; I quickly and wholeheartedly embrace Stockholm Syndrome.
Each suite (there are five in total) has a semi-private garden with a stone path leading to a softly-lit terrace. Interiors deftly showcase character and serenity, and Moorish and Med design: a peacock-blue iron bed frame and tiling in gold and lapis lazuli enlivens white walls. If your toilette’s diminished by the 100-millilitre airport-security rule, the bathroom’s a cornucopia of hotel minis: the Etnian-stone counter is lined with Marvis toothpaste, beaded pots with razors and shaving foam, make-up pads, cotton doodads and nail files. It’s so lavishly stocked that, come check-out, I’m torn between squeezing the body lotion or conditioner into my already-crammed airport baggie. Giddy, I throw open the minibar, expecting a boozy Tardis of Italian treats; to my horror, the contents amount to two bottles of mineral water. Lucia later explains that guests are offered drinks on arrival – unfortunately, my tardiness leaves me staring into a wine-free fridge, wondering why bad things happen to good people.
By morning the outlook is sunnier, blindingly so – just right for bikini-donning and pool-dunking. While sunbathing on a beach-style bank, I’m reminded that British ‘fire up the barbecue’ weather is the Med’s polar vortex; natives wearing five layers of cashmere look on in alarm. Refreshed, I take a 20-minute taxi ride to Syracuse and Ortigia island. My poor knowledge of Sicilian history amounts to knowing that Garibaldi and the Bourbons were humans before they were biscuits, so this Unesco world-heritage site fills in some of the gaps. I amble by the Grecian Temple of Apollo, ornate cathedral and Church of Santa Lucia Alla Badia. I’m smitten with the coral- and apricot-coloured alleyways, sparkly blue Ionian and aperitivo stops in bombastic piazzas.
If you’re fatigued, or have scurvy, Sicily is a one-stop curative: imbibing vitamin C is a national pastime. I get my fix from Donna Coraly’s house marmalade and orange cakes, candied peel and ripe fruit from the farm. Alongside freshly-squeezed OJ, this fertile region has extra-virgin olive oil and Nero d’Avola wine running through its veins; and locavores are in luck: you can trace the lineage of the restaurant’s ingredients to within a five-minute walk of your room. At the end of the resort’s cacti-and-palm-edged park, planters overflow with fat bean pods, strawberries like puckered lips, giant, frilly cabbages and more. I’ve compiled a list of things to repatriate to London: resort hound Regina (we played fetch, it was special), the wine-delivering manservant… After dinner, I add chef Giuseppe. He turns 0-kilometre produce into magical feasts: pasta with farm-fresh salted ricotta, aubergine and tomatoes; delicate swordfish rolled in pecorino and mint. I’m full, and content. Lucia asks if I’d like to see her dog’s newborn puppies; ‘Yes, yes I would,’ I reply.
Sicily can keep its ceramic noggins; I prefer their majolica pine cones, a traditional symbol of hospitality and immortality. My suite has a family of them on display in the living room and they’ve proved prophetic: I certainly feel well looked after, if not immortal – yet.
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