An offer we couldn’t refuse sent us to golf in Sicily and the southeast coast of Italy where Justin Timberlake and Jessica Beale were married at Borgo Egnazia. They rented the whole property but you can secure a room or a villa for 14 people costing up to $60k beside the San Domenico Golf course – a challenging track along the Adriatic Sea. We stayed at the DoubleTree by Hilton Acaya Golf Resort, 45 minutes away, more understated but elegant under the nightlights with spacious accommodations.
Dana Fry designed the property’s Acaya golf course, host of European Challenge Tour events, with excellent routing through natural vegetation. Fly into Brindisi or Bari or take the highspeed train as we did; a five-hour hillside tour of vineyards, olive groves and the sea from café seats with snack service. Raileurope passes work with Tren Italia and throughout Europe. Rome is a perfect hub for transportation and historical sites between the many regions of Italy. Hotels are abundant in walking distance to everything on the tourist map. We checked in at 10pm and stepped right into the cobblestone street scene. Passing cafes and shops, a couple blocks and the Trevi fountain was lit like a movie scene, igniting romance. Never were we more awestruck in our travels as in the heart of Rome; the magnificence of ancient architecture, standing at the forum and coliseum where gladiators entertained Romans to their death.
A short train trip transports from Rome’s throng of tourists to tranquility as “Under the Tuscan Sun” draws us all to Cortona. We were under the Tuscan umbrella but the essence still shined. Both author and actress Diane Lane frequented Portole’s restaurant and hotel, where we stayed. Owner Franco pointed out the famous villa on our mountain descent to hop the train to Florence. A pilgrimage of art aficionados line up for cathedral and museum entrances but a whole day can be spent admiring the outer art and intricacies of Florence. Inside is Michelangelo’s little David but outside the masters’ dominating sculptures are magnificent to behold in the piazza. Across the river is Michelangelo’s rose garden.
Renting a car is the way to really see the sprawling vineyards and olive groves in artistic rows with grand villas that define the beauty of Tuscany. Roads are narrow and stick shift is standard so put on your driving gloves and go, not slow. While this could be the most famous wine trail, we discovered exquisite Sicilian wines due to the lava enriched soil from the active volcano Mt. Etna. Il Picciolo Etna Golf Resort & Spa has the first course built in Sicily, a short flight from Rome and situated on the lower slopes of Mount Etna. The holes traverse blindly up and down the mountain with a smoking (literally) view of the volcano, spewing fire or lava. Helicopter excursions offer the birds eye view of volcanic activity if you dare. Il Picciolo’s spiced gallinella fish paired so well with Patria Rossi that we stopped at their winery for a tour where ancient French Oak barrels are climate controlled naturally in the volcanic underground caverns.
Danny shifted the Renault Twingo expertly around sharp curves and breath-taking views, stopping to hike the Gorge of Alcantara. The winding road leads to Taormino, a touristic enclave of boutique hotels perched high on the cliff side overlooking the Mediterranean with Gondola transport to sea level. Further south, Donnafugata Golf Resort and Spa in Ragusa is a relaxing retreat on 800 acres with well-manicured floral grounds and Italian Baroque architecture. Gary Player designed the Parkland and Franco Piras the Links courses to be the best in Sicily. Accommodations, cuisine and service are world class. Back in Rome before home, we were honored by a private tour of St. Peter’s Basilica with Father Richard Wolak. Passing over our apostles’ tombs, taking in all the sculptures, murals, mosaics and domes; to discover the origination and interpretation of each is an enlightening experience, Catholic or not.
The best Italian farewell came with dinner at Ivan Torresi’s Il Tartarughino (turtle) restaurant. His son Sergio in Indian Wells insisted that sister Serena and husband Marco take us to their Daddy’s restaurant. Aperitivos, pasta, seafood, desert and wine made us friends forever. Limoncello led to laughter and singing, “Volare” in the piano bar with the soccer nationals. In Italy the pasta-bilities are endless. What’s not to like when a “Bar” sign means, food, alcohol and gelato, the creamiest of ice creams? Arrivederci Roma and Grazie.WHAT'S YOUR REACTION?