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A SUBLIME SICILIAN ADVENTURE – AGRIGENTO AND BEYOND

James Andrew, Temple of Concord, Agrigento

James Andrew, Temple of Concord, Agrigento

Agrigento was a most breathtaking drive from Palermo, particularly because our scenic route was laid out by Maria Carolina Castellucci who was invaluable in organizing so much of our trip!

Our hotel, Villa Athena, is located right at the Valle dei Templi park, giving it tremendous views any time, day or night. The Hotel is an old manor house and could be rather fab with a proper refurbishment – I immediately had the room emptied of most of its furniture and was much happier with less clutter. The cuisine was so sublime and the staff very helpful!

Relatively contemporary sculpture by Igor Mitoraj compliment the ruins at Agrigento.

Relatively contemporary sculpture by Igor Mitoraj compliment the ruins at Agrigento.

Hotel Villa Athena was the perfect spot from which to explore Valle dei Temple. We really took our time to explore every inch of these ravishing ruins. The 5th and 6th century BC temples here were dedicated to Olympian Zeus, Heracles, Concord and Hera. Needless to say, it is quite something to be amidst so much history.

The proximity of the hotel made it an easy thing to have a leisurely breakfast, explore the ruins, come back for a relaxing lunch and head out again. Dinner provided views of the Temple of Concord all lit up at night after the most sensational sunset.

The next day we were off at dawn – en route to Noto with a few stops along the way. Our impossibly chic friend Antonio Sersale recommended that we visit Piazza Armerina and particularly the 4th century Villa del Casale. Every room of the estate is decorated with magnificent mosaic floors. A flood in the 12th century buried the villa in mud, preserving the mosaic floors until they were rediscovered seven centuries later.

Villa del Casale- mosaic detail

Villa del Casale- mosaic detail

While we visited with the Marchesa di Spedalotto she suggested we stop in on her son Nicholas Paterno di Spedalotto who has an olive grove, Domus Olivae. We are so thrilled we did! We had a delightful time with Nicholas and his wife and were given a tour of the manor house they have restored so perfectly. His award winning virgin olive oil, Tondo Olive Oil, is certainly the most delicious I have ever tasted. We can’t wait to return.

Nicholas Paterno di Spedalotto's Domus Olivae

Nicholas Paterno di Spedalotto’s Domus Olivae

Next stop: the Jacques Garcia Resort, Noto.

For my exploration of Valle del Templi I am sporting my Lock & Co straw panama hat, Tom Ford era Yves Saint Laurent black cotton poplin banded collar safari shirt, white cotton shorts, a Kiel James Patrick belt, vintage Rolex, Louboutin sandal espadrilles and my fragrance is Tom Ford Neroli Portofino.

A SUBLIME SICILIAN ADVENTURE – PALERMO

james Andrew Grand Hotel Villa Igiea

james Andrew Grand Hotel Villa Igiea

Palermo was the first stop on our Sicilian adventure, and I was quite pleased that we were able to tour nearly all of the palazzos we had on our list!

Certainly at the top of said list was the exotic Chinoiserie fantasy, Palazzo Cinese, an absolutely delicious example of 18th century taste for the exotic and all things Eastern.

Palazzo Cinese

Palazzo Cinese

Palazzo Cinese ceiling detail

Palazzo Cinese ceiling detail – click to enlarge

Palazzo Cinese interior detail

Palazzo Cinese interior detail – click to enlarge

James Andrew Palazzo Cinese exterior

James Andrew Palazzo Cinese exterior

Another dream realized, was our visit to Palazzo Valguarnera-Gangi, which you may recall provided much of the backdrop for Visconti’s masterpiece, Il Gattopardo. It was also captured in several iconic photos by Slim Aarons. There we were received by the ravishing Princess Carine Vanni Mantegna who gave us a tremendous tour of the Palazzo and a marvelous lesson in its history. Sadly, no photos were allowed. I did go prepared just in case – with leopard espadrilles no less, to be photographed in the beautiful ballroom there. But Alas.

Another highlight was Palazzo Mirto – a nobleman’s mansion preserved with its original furnishings. Think: a Palerm version of New York’s Frick. The 18th century palazzo was lived in by its last heir until 1980. It was interesting to see that some of the walls had been upholstered in silk damask which had disintegrated over the years revealing original painted frescoes underneath.

Palazzo Mirto – interior detail

Palazzo Mirto – interior detail – click to enlarge

Another palazzo of note was del Normanni with its fascinating Arab-Norman architecture.

When traveling, one must also allow time to wander and get lost. Often one stumbles upon some real gems, which is an easy thing in Sicily.

Our very favorite restaurant in Palermo was certainly Lo Scudiero, an old school establishment serving Sicilian delights which we asked to be paired with the best Sicilian wines. Bliss!

Next stop Agrigiento!

For our last dinner in Palermo we dined al fresco on the terrace at the Grand Hotel Villa Igiea, a rather fabulous farewell to Palermo!

Dressed for dinner in a Tom Ford linen silk floral dinner jacket, black linen pants, white cotton shirt, fushcia silk pocket square, fuschia ikat velvet slippers, shell cuff links with pink tourmalines, Cartier Tank Divan watch, black suede espadrilles, and my fragrance is Tom Ford Neroli Portofino.

A SUBLIME SICILIAN ADVENTURE

Anna Paterno Monroy Marquesa di Spedalotto and James Andrew.

Anna Paterno Monroy Marquesa di Spedalotto and James Andrew.

I acquired the tremendous Rizzoli tome, Palaces of Sicily, many years ago and ever since I’ve been mesmerized by the unusual and magnificent architecture. Not too long ago our super chic friend Jean-Charles de Ravenel gave us a book on Sicily…and my obsession mounted. The place is so rich in ancient history, with the most ravishing ruins throughout – it goes without saying that Sicily and its most important houses has been at the top of our list to visit for some time.

Having announced our intention to finally go, our friends connected us to Marchesas, Princesses and Barons who welcomed us to take private tours of some of the most tremendous villas and palaces of Sicily. But even if you aren’t blessed with the connections, don’t be dissuaded from visiting yourself! Access to many of these homes is available through www.stsitalia.it – get in touch with the managing director Maria Carolina Castelucci and she can arrange tours for you.

Our first stop was Palermo where we made the Grand Hotel Villa Igiea our base of operations. Located a bit away from the town center, it offered us a blissful place to collect ourselves while still being reasonably handy to town.

Our exploration began with a trip to Bagheria – which was once the most fashionable among the great aristocratic families of Sicily.

The extraordinary Villa Gravina di Palagonia was magical, and the mirrored ceiling of the ball room certainly influenced my own opalescent dining room ceiling. One should never forget the 5th wall!

Villa Gravina di Palagonia

Villa Gravina di Palagonia

Ceiling detail - Villa Gravina di Palagonia

Ceiling detail – Villa Gravina di Palagonia

Villa Gravina di Palagonia

Villa Gravina di Palagonia

Villa Gravina di Palagonia

Villa Gravina di Palagonia

 Villa Gravina di Palagonia

Villa Gravina di Palagonia

Next, we were welcomed to Villa Paterno di Spedalotto. Many of you may recall the legendary Slim Aarons’ images of Donna Anna Monroy di Giampilieri in the early empire drawing room of the Villa Spedalotto. Somehow we spent a heavenly hour and a half together with the the Marchesa there, despite the fact that she only spoke French and Italian (and we knew only a few words of each). It was an absolute dream to visit – certainly one of the most important house-museums in Sicily and still in the hands of the original family. Very few have had access to the home making this a rare treat indeed. To top it all off, we departed with a jar of the most delicious apricot jam from the Marchesa’s own garden!

At top, I’m photographed with the lovely Marchesa di Spedalotto. She is certainly a rather iconic beauty and an absolute delight!

Dressed in a Tom Ford era Gucci black linen denim jacket, Tom Ford white cotton shirt and pink floral silk pocket square, Seaman Schepps shell and pink tourmaline cuff links, Dior shocking pink jeans, Tom Ford fuchsia ikat velvet slippers, Cartier Tank Divan watch, and my fragrance Tom Ford Neroli Portofino