Sicily: Your new favourite golf destination
One of my happiest travel memories is of devouring a delicious crispy pizza and smooth red wine by the Colosseum in Rome.
In fact it is very difficult to have a terrible time in Italy. With arguably the best food in the world, beautiful cities and amazing architecture, it’s not surprising that so many people fall in love with this boot-shaped country.
However, while it might be the obvious destination for a culture-filled city break, you might not have considered Italy as the setting for your next golfing holiday.
But when you think about it, golf in Italy is a genius idea. A round in the sunshine helps you to gently work off the pasta bulge, and the secluded fairways provide a welcome peace that would never be found in the packed squares of Venice.
So I decided to explore the five 18-hole courses that the island of Sicily has to offer.
These took me along rugged coastline, through groves of lemon trees and prickly pears, and even onto the dramatic slopes of Mt Etna, one of Europe’s highest active volcanoes.
So while the largest island in the Mediterranean doesn’t have an overwhelming choice of courses, each round is a superb experience.
Alive with colour and charm, Sicily is home to secluded beaches, quaint towns and fascinating historical sites; plenty to keep both golfers and non-golfers happy for at least a week’s holiday.
My first destination was Verdura, a sleek and stylish resort that is surrounded by rolling hills on one side, and the meandering coastline on the other.
Located on the south-west side of the island and just a short drive from Palermo airport, the vibrant blue of the glittering sea is the first thing that strikes you as drive into this private stretch of coastline.
The three courses make the best of the striking surroundings and were designed by Kyle Phillips, most famous for creating Kingsbarns.
The way East course’s 18th hole hugs the craggy coastline is particularly reminiscent of the Scottish masterpiece.
Starting from an elevated tee, the sea runs down the entire right-hand side of the par 4. So if you’re likely to hit a slice, you will probably be in trouble.
One of the quirks of the resort are the bicycles that are dotted around the place. These are designed to make getting around the 230 hectares of the complex that bit easier; they definitely helped make the journey from the room to the clubhouse more interesting.
A round here can be finished off with a visit to the beach, or by spending a relaxing few hours in one of the many pools and saunas in the tranquil spa.
Next on the list was Donnafugata, found in the Ragusa territory to the south of the island.
While the names of the Links and Parkland courses may not be overly inventive, the rest of the peaceful resort certainly sparks the imagination.
On a hot day it’s tempting to abandon the golf in favour of a dip in the infinity pool, but the Gary Player-designed Parkland course is a fun round for players of all levels.
The natural landscape is littered with distinctive stone walls, olive groves and carob trees, and you can even add a cultural element to your round by stopping to view the 6th century B.C. Greek necropolis, found just 100 metres from the 6th hole.
The pristine rooms come with your own private balcony or patio, perfect for soaking up the last rays of sunshine after an afternoon of golf. It’s also essential to experience the piles of fresh seafood that are served in the on-site restaurant.
The spa’s treatment rooms overlook the courses, giving you chance to define the strategy for your next round while being treated to a well-deserved massage.
Third on my itinerary was I Monasteri, a complex built on the site of what was once a Benedictine monastery. Since then it has stepped up the luxury levels and the off-course services include a swanky spa, pool and multiple bars and restaurants.
The course leads you through orchards of lemon trees and a particularly deadly looking patch of prickly pears on the 6th hole. Lose your ball in here and it’s best to give it up straight away. My playing partner had the unfortunate experience of discovering exactly how sharp the spines on these unusual fruits are.
After this we headed to La Saie, designed by Franco Piras and opened in 2014. Not overly challenging and with Mt Etna looming in the background, this was an excellent warm up for my visit to Il Picciolo Etna Golf Resort & Spa, the spot that I was most looking forward to.
Il Picciolo was the first course to be built on Sicily. It was founded in 1989 and since then it has hosted the Sicilian Ladies Italian Open, the European Senior Open and the Ladies Italian Open.
Winding its way up the slopes of the towering volcano, it’s easy to see why such a dramatic and impressive spot has enticed so many people.
The narrow fairways mean you need to be particularly brave to get your driver out. This course is all about precision rather than distance. The 11th and 13th certainly leave very little room for error, while the three-tiered green on the 15th makes for some very interesting putting.
But with such an awe-inspiring background, you’ll soon forget about all those balls you lost as you reward your efforts with a post-round G&T and yet another platter of tasty arancini balls.
I returned from my trip vowing to go on a strict low-carb diet, but thoroughly relaxed after experiencing the best of this charming and laid-back island.
Away from the golf
Sicily has an abundance of cultural treasures and national parks to explore.
The Valley of the Temples, found in the Agrigento area, is amongst the island’s most enthralling historical sites. These perfectly preserved masterpieces date from the 6th century B.C and were added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1997.
There are also many countless charming and character-filled towns to explore. Get lost exploring the endless cobbled streets of Ragusa Ibla before stopping to enjoy a coffee in one of the many sun-drenched squares.
If you’re itching to take a closer look at the geological wonder that is Mt Etna, a chairlift runs right up to the moon-like surface at the top. Or if you’re after some more adrenaline-filled activities, Mount Etna national park is an incredible spot for skiing, caving, trekking and rafting on the Alcantara river.
A trip to Sicily isn’t complete without tasting some of the region’s many local delicacies. The highlights include arancini balls (stuffed and fried rice balls), Pasta Alla Norma (pasta with aubergines, tomatoes, cheese), Seafood (including octopus, muscles, squid) and Cannoli tubes (pastry tubes filled with a sweet and creamy ricotta filling).
Visit www.italygolfandmore.com for more information.