Sicily's secret south: Casa d' Eraclea - 10 October 2009
THE GUARDIAN: Excuse me," says Gioacchino Sortino – who looks every sharp-suited inch the Sicilian businessman – reaching for his mobile. "It's my mama, she worries about me." And Gioacchino is worried about us. Wild, beautiful, unpredictable – and a little bit scary, Sicily has lived up to its tempestuous reputation by staging the most spectacular electrical storm. During the night, our villa – a glass hymn to modernism – felt as insubstantial as one of those plastic snow-storm domes as the elements raged about us. It's not hard to see why the ancient Greeks chose to settle in Sicily on this imposing cliff top facing Africa – or to imagine what portents they might have read into the furious display from the gods above. This morning, though, all – with the exception of Gioacchino's mama – is calm, the horizon as straight as the crease in his trousers.
Gioacchino used to work as a sommelier at Gordon Ramsay at Claridge's, but came home to set up SoloSicily – with his brother, naturally – to prove to visitors that there's more to his country than the mafia. Compared with the manicured elegance of its most popular destinations, fashionable Taormina or charming Cefalu, southern Sicily is still undoubtedly the scruffy relation. It might not be as conventionally pretty as its neighbours, but the south coast has its own rugged beauty and plenty to recommend it that still seem to be something of an inside secret, remaining largely untouched by the tourist explosion that followed the arrival of cheap flights to Palermo and Catania around a decade ago.
Casa d'Eraclea perches on the edge of Europe, its magnificent infinity pool dropping, apparently seamlessly, into the Mediterranean below. A modern architect-designed house, everything is clean lines, light and glass. Pool and sea dominate. It is like waking up to find oneself in the bright, deliquescent world of a David Hockney LA painting. Even the cactus-studded, hammock-slung garden is all symmetry and pleasing shapes. Its surroundings may be a little rough around the edges, but Casa d'Eraclea most certainly is not.
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