(an oasis in a not so lovely desert)...
We had been told that the southern part of Sicily, west of Vittoria, was a rather sad and dangerous part of the island. In fact, most of these warnings came from people who had themselves grown up in the area. Still, I have to admit I was surprised by just how bad (and yes, sad) it became around Gela and extending all the way to Agrigento. Mamma mia.
Busloads of tourists flock to Agrigento for one purpose. To visit the incredible Valley of the Temples that sit strangely out of place in front of the hillside concrete jungle that makes up the city. The “Valley” is the remains of a greek settlement dating back to the 5th century b.c., including 7 temples built out of the tufa rock below them. It is an amazing site and a must if you are spending a good amount of time in Sicily.
The big problem is where to stay. Villa Athena, recently re-opened 5-star hotel is located about 200 meters from the main entrance of the Valley and had amazing views of it. Not bad for a quickie one-night stay, see the Temples and then "get out of dodge".
But for a truly pleasant and relaxing experience, just a sort 1/2 hour drive away is the very lovely Mandranova agriturismo. In located in the midst of hactares upon hectares of olive trees (olive oil is there main product), you will find a high-end bed and breakfast with 12 rooms and suites, all decorated differently with a touch of class. The owners, Giuseppe and Silvia, are warm and welcoming hosts, who love to show you around the property, telling you fun stories of its evolution as well as the history of the surrounding area. Dinner is served nightly by Silvia who, in my opinion, makes the best cassata in all of Sicily. Two huge pieces were necessary to make that statement! :)
It may not be located in the greatest of areas (and there is some noise from the superstrada nearby), but between the gardens, walks through the olive tree farm, two wonderful hosts, a divine kitchen and lovely rooms, it gets my vote as the place to stay when visiting Agrigento.
An add-on to your stay in the area, can be a visit to the Morgante winery featuring some of Sicily’s most excellent Nero d’Avola wine. It’s not a fancy place, but the Morgante brothers are thrilled to have visitors and teach them the wine making process, and of course, give you an opportunity to enjoy the “fruits of their labor” ~ Cin, cin!
Contrada Racalmare, 92020 Grotte
Tel: 0922 945 579