Architectural treasures, delicious food and a wealth of cultural remnants from invasions over the past couple of thousand years or so are what give the Sicily of today its unique identity. Part of Italy it may be, but this sun-drenched island –the largest in the Mediterranean – has a heritage that includes Greek, Roman, Arab and even Norman infuences.
Traces of these vastly different cultures are everywhere on this sun-drenched island, from its distinctive, flamboyant architecture to the world famous Sicilian cuisine. The major attractions here are well known – Europe’s most active volcano, Mount Etna, sent spectacular columns of lava high into the air as recently as a couple of months ago.
And its cities – such as Syracuse and nearby Catania – are packed with sunny squares and glorious historic churches. But for our summer holiday, we decided to explore Licata, a city on the south coast between Ragusa – where BBC Four’s popular Inspector Montalbano series is filmed – and Agrigento, home to Sicily’s most famous historical attraction, the Valley of the Temples.
It put us within reach of a cornucopia of cultural sites and beaches, although Licata is not well known itself – except by Second World War buffs as a landing point for invading Allied forces in 1943. It has its share of pretty churches as well as a castle and a two-Michelin-starred restaurant, La Madia, that attracts fine diners from all over the world.
After flying into the capital, Palermo – and driving our rental car three hours south – we reached our rental villa, Masseria Falamandrina, a renovated farmhouse with a glorious pool, all nestling in an olive grove on a working organic farm. The owner, Giulia, kindly presented us with a bottle of olive oil made on the premises. It was gorgeously fruity when poured over the caprese salads we made each day for our alfresco lunches on the villa’s shady terrace.
Licata’s attractions included an historical centre with imposing buildings and cafés offering refreshing coffee and gelato. Impressive edifces included the grand Palazzo Frangipane and Palazzo di Citá, an art nouveau building that overlooks the town’s central road crossing. Also worth seeing is the 18th-century Church of Santa Maria La Nova, which houses the famous ‘Black Crucifix,’ blackened during a fire set by the Turks during the 15th Century.