Cefalu, western Sicily
Head to Cefalù for long beaches, sunset and pizza by the slice
Cefalù, perfectly angled to catch the sunset, is a long strip of beach backed by resorts, a sand-coloured cathedral, and a picturesque mountain over which rambles distant crenelations. It’s a blissful first beach day of the year. Pizza by the slice, beautifully clear—and bracing—water that’s shallow for ages, and UNESCO-listed mosaics in the duomo that, alas, will be open two days after our visit.
Wary of child burnout, we left much of Palermo undone—the souk-like markets, the Norman fortress, even the beef spleen sarnies. Equipped with a rental hybrid Fiat Panda we beetled through the inscrutable traffic system and out into the surprisingly lush, hilly interior bound for Segesta.
Spring wildflowers, Segesta, Sicily
Segesta seduces with grand temples and tall tales
A stop on the 19thcentury Grand Tour, Segesta is a former city of one of Sicily’s indigenous peoples, the Elymians. Influenced by classical Greece, the remains of this hilltop city are mesmerizing, its centrepiece temple like a more intact Parthenon.
An historical mystery surrounds this golden-stone colossus: why did the Elymians never add a roof? We devise a novel new theory: perhaps it blew away? The warm Sicilian sun had become obscured by swathes of black cloud funnelling in from the coast. The winds pulled at the children’s hair. When the sun flashed on, the pathways glowed with hummocks of vivid wildflowers. Ada took photos on her compact for her flower-loving grannies back home.
The children did well with the temple, although by the time they’re on the shuttle bus to the top section of ruins, interest has begun to wane. After absorbing the panoramas at the stunningly sited theatre, we slammed the car doors on the gales and charted a southerly, sun-seeking course to the Rocco Forte Verdura Resort.
Rafe, Rocco Forte Verdura Resort
Try to schedule in some days of indulgence in Sicily
A long scheduled few days of indulgence, the 230-acre resort is a family and golfer’s paradise. There’s an extensive Kids Club, two championship golf courses (the East Course was refurbished in 2022), and even a PADI Dive Centre should you wish, for some reason, to leave the spa. We arrived at this Forte fiefdom in late afternoon, having stopped off at nearby Sambuco di Sicilia for garlicky bowls of pasta alla Norma and a tear around its Arabic tangle of streets.
The swiftest way to transit between beach, spa, and bar is by bike (or by summoning the van if it’s raining). With even training wheels available, trips to dinner became confidence-burnishing opportunities for Rafe to practice his pedalling.
Superior Deluxe Sea View Room
Ice cream for breakfast? Don’t mind if we do
On the first night in fine-dining Zagara, we felt like we were the most unstable quantity in a well-oiled machine. There were plenty of other families, but ours was the youngest by a few years. Happily, throughout the stay, Verdura’s kitchens were well-drilled in the importance of the children’s food arriving swiftly. No such concerns at the breakfast buffets, however, the children sweeping through the pastries like conquering Carthaginians. Ada also fulfilled her dream of “ice cream for breakfast” (actually slushy granita with a brioche for dipping) from the buffet’s comprehensive Sicilian section.
Rain spoiled play the first morning. From our golf course and sea view veranda, we watched the bunker sand darken while, further out, the ocean phased between emerald green and saturnine blue beneath the rainclouds blowing in from the direction of North Africa. Although, the downpour was well timed: our spacious suite was the ideal bolthole to wait out the weather, the superfluity of outsized cushions ideal structural fodder for competing dens in the living area.
Kids Club, Rocco Forte Verdura Resort
Kids clubs and soothing spa days
Beneath afternoon sunshine, we gingerly, guiltily delivered the children to super smiley Giovanna and Elisa in the Kids Club, where children aged four to 12 have free access to its facilities and schedule of activities. Swifts skimmed the limpid surface of the children’s heated pool before arrowing into nests built in the eaves. As we backed out of the door for our spa appointment, even the more delicate Rafe barely gave us a backwards glance.
After we’d brined ourselves in the quartet of Thalasso therapy pools and coveted the Sicilian ceramic clocks on the walls of the 4,000 square metre spa, we returned refreshed and pink with sun to find two children with painted faces—Ada a rainbow, Rafe a snake. They’re tired but it’s still hard to drag Ada away from a game of Buckaroo with Giovanna. “I love it,” she whispered as I picked her up. A guilt-free drop off followed the next day.
Ada & Rafe racing to the sea, Sicily
From luxury resorts to gourmet glamping in Trapani
Verdura was always going to be a hard act to follow. To fend off pouts, we had booked glamping at Duca il Castelmonte—an agriturismo (farm stay) on the anonymous outskirts of Trapani. After two hours along a westerly highway that felt as if it’d been resurfaced by a fracking company, we pulled in beneath the shady pines and crooked cactus trees of the agriturismo. We felt instantly immersed in a bucolic escape despite being only a few minutes’ drive from an expressway exit and a sizeable Lidl.
Our accommodation—one of three on the olive-oil producing farm—was more of a fabric-covered, tent-shaped cabin rather than something a scout master would approve of, complete with its own deck, kitchen, and bathroom. Ada swiftly secured the high bunk in the eaves. Despite money-saving, self-catering good intentions, we ordered takeout from the agriturismo’s highly rated restaurant. The busiate alla Trapanese pasta—a local tomato-and-almond-take on Genovese pesto—was probably the most delicious dish of our trip. We ate it on the terrace, wrapped up against the cool of the evening, listening to the “va be-ne, va be-ne” of the pigeons in the gathering dusk.
Tonnara di Scopello, Sicily
Picturesque Scopello woos us in north west Sicily
From here, we made day trips to Sicily’s north-west corner, home to some of the island’s most untouched and attractive coastline. Outrageously picturesque Scopello with its sea stacks; the pristine sands of the Zingaro National Reserve; and the resort of Castellammare del Golfo for a deserted, shell-rich beach and superb hazelnut gelato. Overhead, the breeze strummed the knitted Easter decorations and ribbons criss-crossing overhead on the main street.
Another half-day highlight was the historic hilltop village of Erice, reached by child-delighting cable car, and where my wife endured every souvenir shop in its antique patterned streets to fulfil a promise to an indecisive Rafe.
Pace yourself for the wonders of Misteri di Trapani
In this fashion, Good Friday rolled around. We moved into a flat in Trapani’s lively centro storico, located on the same street as the church where the Misteri di Trapani procession begins and ends. We gathered with the crowds and bands in formation, straining to see. The drums took up.
To stay on theme, if you’re built like Samson then it’s definitely best to remain amid the intoxicating throng with your children held shoulder-high. However, running on cannoli fumes, I collapsed like a Philistine temple beneath Rafe mere minutes into the brass band’s lament. We retreated to the flat, intent on pacing ourselves. As the wobbling sculptural platforms passed by, we caught tantalising glimpses of them from our balcony. In need of distraction, Ada and Rafe, missing the freshly squeezed orange juice at the hotel, made their own as the brassy laments echoed along the narrow, marble-paved streets.
Bands gathering, Misteri di Trapani, Sicily
A magical end to the sweet side of Sicily in spring
Our vitamin C levels dangerously high, we made brief forays into the crowded streets, Ada enthusiastic to see all twenty platforms (in the end we managed a respectable eight). However, retreat was finally sounded in the face of four-year-old overstimulation and the nonchalant penny sweets and balloon hawkers that drew our children like whiny moths.
The best part? This will sound like madness, but it was being woken at three am when the night procession returns on its loop through the city. The drums infiltrate your dreams (and earplugs). You think: surely they can’t strike up the brass at this hour, can they? Simply put, yes. Yes, they can. Wrapped up and watching them from our balcony, the strange spectacle gave us goose bumps. It reminded my wife and I of our pre-family existence, prior to a time when sleep had become such a rare and precious commodity and the phrase “wee hours” was fun, Scottish, and not at all to do with bed-wetting.
Best of all, while the procession may have woken the dead, it didn’t wake the kids.
Plan your trip to Sicily
How to get there
Direct UK flights to Palermo, Sicily take from 3 hours
Where to stay
Rocco Forte Verdura Resort, family rooms, B&B, from £969 per night (2 adults, 2 children)
Good to know
Esplora Travel is a Sicily specialist organising family-friendly travel from £1,950 per week (2 adults, 2 children)
Guided tours with Isola de Persefone, from £132 for 4 hours