Seeking out unspoilt Sicily

Sicily is famous as the serene setting for the iconic Godfather trilogy, in which the rocky landscape appears uncorrupted by any signs of modern life. Fast-forward seventy years and the scene is much the same.
Coloured by its mafia roots, Sicily still has one of the richest histories of any European destination.

A trip around the triangular shaped island will unravel 30 centuries of history, boasting Phoenician settlements, Punic cities, Greek temples, Roman amphitheatres, Aragonese churches and Norman castles.

Driving along the remote, winding Sicilian roads, you will catch glimpses of lush green forests, orange, lemon and almond orchards, as well as rocky mountains which tumble into the green Mediterranean sea.

If you are unaccustomed to a siesta, it may be a little disorientating to discover that between 1pm and 5pm, Sicily falls eerily silent as the locals disappear from sight, shop shutters go down and towns become completely disserted. Not even cafes or restaurants stay open in rural regions.

One such region is Western Sicily, which is virtually a tourist-free zone. It was with this in mind that a local businessman recently set about building a hotel, with a long-term vision to create a new tourist destination.

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The Kempinski Hotel Giardino di Costanza, which opened in March 2005, is hidden away in the Mazara del Vallo. In fact the location is so remote that it is easy to miss this gem, but that may well have been the intention of the hotel group which acquired and now operate the property.

The German-founded Kempinski Group, which purchased its first property in 1897 and have since expanded throughout Europe, Middle East, Africa, Asia and South America, have a history of building properties in unusual locations.

A Kempinski spokesperson revealed: “Western Sicily is the lesser known part of the island, but it has an extensive cultural, archaeological and historical heritage.  The hotel is a peaceful retreat surrounded by vineyards, only an hour away from Palermo.”

Its surrounding area is home to archeological Greek sites of Segesta and Selinunte. Also in close proximity is the small Phoenician island of Mothia and the medieval town of Erice,

The five-star property, which is a member of the Global Hotel Alliance, is named after the Queen Costanza d’Altavilla, mother of Frederic II, the former ruler, and was designed to compliment the rural architecture of the area.

Popular among Italians, Brits, Germans, and Americans, rates begin at 194 euros including breakfast and taxes. Honeymoon packages are also available from 980 euros.

91 spacious guest rooms and 13 suites blend typical Sicilian decor with warm colours and use natural materials such as marble, wood, wrought iron and Egyptian cotton. Hints of previous Greek and Arabic influences are visible in some of the furniture details.

Depending on the room location, views overlook the inner garden with its water features, fountains and pools, or you can enjoy a vista of the olive groves and breathtaking mountain views.

Standard features include high-speed Internet access, individually controlled air conditioning, plasma screen television, video on demand and an electronic safe.

Facilities include a 2,100 sqm full service Daniela Steiner Beauty Spa, an outdoor swimming pool, heated indoor swimming pools, a sauna, a fully equipped gym, tennis courts and Mountain Bikes.

A new private beach will be opening in the spring of 2007. Located ten minutes from the hotel, a free shuttle service will be available for guests.

One main attraction in the hotel is the Saffron Bar, which invites guests to relax after dinner with live music and international cocktails, while soaking up the vibrant d├ęcor which consists of blues, greens, oranges and limes as well as zebra patterned furniture.

The Enoteca del Mediterraneo bar offers an impressive selection of more than 500 bottles of wine, mostly Sicilian and Italian, meanwhile the Hotel Lobby & Terrazza Costanza serves a “gelato” or traditional Sicilian pastries.

If you have not yet been to Sicily and are considering an inexpensive trip to a warm European destination, I would highly recommend paying this charming, friendly, rural country a visit before it is discovered by the masses.

By Anna Goudman

Kempinski Grand Hotel Des Bains St. Moritz recently won Switzerland’s Leading Spa Resort and Kempinski operated Emirates Palace won Middle East’s Leading Presidential Suite, Middle East’s Leading Conference Hotel, World’s Leading New Resort and Abu Dhabi’s Leading Hotel at this year’s World Travel Awards.

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