Verdura Resort, Italy17/06/2015, Mark Sumpter
Wellness consultant Mark recently returned from a stay at Verdura Resort in Sicily. Here is his review of the experience.
Travel and First Impressions
After flying in to Palermo, and clearing immigration, we found the driver waiting for us as we came through to arrivals. He led us to a modern and comfortable mini van, loaded the luggage, and commenced the one and a half hours drive to Verdura. The journey went quickly as the bumpy and occasionally windy roads rocked me to sleep. Those that stayed awake commented on the breathtaking scenery.
The arrival to Verdura at night was unimposing and not what I expected but in a good way. From clearing security at the entrance the road winds down a hill to the reception four kilometres away. At night all you see are the illuminated buildings in the distance and small lamps shedding light on the road to follow. It is this journey from entrance to reception that highlights how much space the Verdura has available to it, encompassing two eighteen hole golf courses, a nine hole golf course, a driving range, football pitch, tennis courts, spa, free form infinity pool, thalassotherapy pools, accommodations and restaurants.
The spacious reception leads through doors on to a raised terrace that overlooks the free form infinity pool. There is a restaurant on both the left and right and stairs leading down to the gardens and pool. To the left and right of this central complex you find individual low-rise blocks of twelve rooms each with their own terrace or balcony. In front of each and dotted around the resort guests can use bikes to get around (a personal highlight for me). For those that are less mobile golf carts can be hired for around £50 a day or requested as required to transport them between the various buildings.
The style reminded me of constructivist architecture but felt less imposing and integrated well with the surrounding landscape. All of the rooms from the Deluxe through to the Presidential Suite follow the same style and design and have very similar amenities from the luxurious four poster bed, to the large walk in shower and fabulous views. The suites are more spacious and have a lemon tree by the bathroom, larger day beds in the bathroom, and the Presidential with a large pool and Jacuzzi.
Whilst luxurious and well appointed, these were not without fault. Limited hallway entrance lighting meant that if you did not put the key card in quickly the lights would go out and you could not see what you were doing. The lamps over the bed had a push button design but had to be twisted to be turned off, a little confusing at first. There was no master control for the lighting (or I just did not see it) which was a minor inconvenience. The curtains to hide the walk in wardrobe kept catching and the window in the bathroom was tiny and with no view.
As Verdura was preparing to launch their mobile app there was next to no written material in the rooms. Some could be obtained from the main reception but this meant that it was difficult to see at a glance what was happening around the resort on a daily basis and what one could participate in. Moving towards mobile technology for activity updates and news could be less rewarding for those looking to digitally detox but this will be for the minority.
Beach and Gardens
Vast gardens front the free form infinity pool at the heart of the resort. The space is ideal for picnics and I doubt that it would ever feel overcrowded, even in the height of summer. A small path through the grounds leads down to the beach. Whilst the sea is tranquil and a pontoon to offer easy access to its waters is constructed for the summer months the beach is one of the least impressive aspects of Verdura. The sand is coarse and large areas are rocky. There are a number of loungers and parasols offering shade and a wide range of water sports to choose from but during summer the space could become rather limited. I would recommend it to those looking to swim in the sea but not to those that ask for a beach holiday.
A restored historic tower building provides facilities for golfers including a restaurant terrace overlooking the course. From here it is easy to reach the various fairways and the driving range. Verdura’s golf pro, David Waters, is always on hand to offer tips and advice on how to improve your game. During our time on the golf driving range, it was his calm and professional instruction that had us hitting the golf balls cleanly and in a short space of time.
The spa area is a compact low rise building within close proximity of the various rooms. For those wanting to focus on treatments the Deluxe and Superior Deluxe rooms are the nearest.
Steps lead up to an outside relaxation area with the spa reception on the left. A small path to the treatment rooms is off to the side and steps at the far end lead down to a terrace and then down further to the open-air thalassotherapy pools. On the right there is a small shop boutique next to the entrance to the main building housing the changing rooms, gym, sauna, hammam (which is massive), indoor pool and relaxation room.
Guests can bring a gown and flip flops from their room or, to save the hassle, can pick up a key to a pre-stocked locker from the spa reception. This was not explained by concierge or by the spa receptionist the first time that I went, and I only discovered this when I forgot my towel.
With no printed material or input from the team, I was never made aware of any classes taking place or activities that I could participate in. I used the gym every morning but never once saw a member of their fitness team. Despite these minor gripes, nice touches included a bottle of water and towel placed on each piece of gym equipment in addition to complimentary energy bars, apples, and extra water both still and sparkling. There were even magazines to browse in between sets. The facilities were immaculate.
Restaurants and Healthy Food
The restaurant for breakfast, Buon Giorno, has a large outside terrace with sweeping views across the free form infinity pool, gardens and beach. It serves a satisfying buffet-style breakfast made up of seasonal fruits, homemade Bircher muesli and granola, artisan breads, and freshly baked pastries and pizzas. A wide selection of nuts, seeds, meats, smoked salmon, fresh honey and Italian cheeses add even more variety. There is an omelette cooking counter for those looking for hot food. To drink there are freshly squeezed fruit juices, Italian coffee or prosecco. I was a little surprised that there was not an a-la-carte menu offering a wider range of hot food.
Liola is a typical Sicilian trattoria with its own pizzeria and a large outdoor terrace. We dined here one evening sampling everything from Sicilian Caponata to Arancini and Pannelle. The Sicilian Pasta alla Norma, supposedly named for the opera Norma by Vincenzo Bellini, was a highlight.
The bar, Granita, is located on the first floor boasting expansive views of the grounds, sea and mountain. The terrace is shaded making it a pleasant spot to relax during the heat of the day. Being elevated makes it a perfect spot to enjoy the glorious sunsets. There was no evening entertainment during our time at Verdura and many retired to their rooms early, however I understand they do offer more entertainment during the busier months.
Due to the tranquil location of Verdura it is not possible to walk to any local restaurants or even out of the resort easily. One evening we took the 20 minute drive to Sciacca, the nearest town, to dine at La Lampara. Named in recognition of the lights used by sailors, the restaurant spans a number of floors overlooking the harbour. The food was impressive and restaurant design modern. If I were to return I would visit earlier in the day to explore the town and sample more if its local restaurants.
Italy is well known for its wine and Planeta is one of largest producers in Sicily. We journeyed through the countryside to “La Dispensa”, the historical heart of the Planeta family. The vineyard, in the hills of Menfi, covers over 120 hectares and is their largest estate and winery. After a short guided tour we sampled a variety of their wines and settled for a traditional Sicilian lunch in one of their rustic courtyards. Whilst we did not have the time or opportunity, Sicily has a wealth of places worth visiting. Those within easy reach of Verdura by car include Erice, Segesta, Agrigento, and Palermo.
Cooking Class with Gianluca
This is an experience I would recommend to anyone visiting Verdura. Chef Gianluca ran us through the preparation of two dishes, insalata di fagiolini e gamberoni rossi and caponata siciliana before demonstrating the cooking method and sharing some of his ‘tricks of the trade’. His knowledge of the science of cooking was vast and he is certainly capable of adapting menus to suit dietary and nutritional needs.
Verdura is immaculately clean with good facilities and a beautiful location. The food is exceptionally fresh and staff warm and inviting. The only let down is the poor beach. What the pictures cannot convey is the abundance of space surrounding the Verdura, and it is this space that makes many photos that you take feel empty rather than impressive. With barely another building in sight it is this space that I think sets the scene and adds to the relaxed atmosphere at Verdura.
I will certainly look forward to a return visit and to exploring Sicily further.