It is easy to end up on the wrong side of this typical Sicilian coastal town, with its narrow one-way systems and arbitrary observance of traffic lanes. Google Maps led us away from the centro storico to the port, lined with shanty-like workshops where fishermen were sluicing the pavements with buckets of cloudy water, the odd raw prawn sizzling on the tarmac. This fishy quarter is in fact home to perhaps the best granita bar on the island: octogenarian Zio Aurelio has been serving up lemon granita at Bar Roma for many decades. A plastic cup of the sweet, zesty iced concoction is reason alone to visit Sciacca — although it is reputed for its painted ceramics, which were a little lurid for my taste.
The pretty seaside town of Mazara del Vallo, on the other side of Menfi, has the largest fishing fleet in Sicily, and a daily fish market that perfumes the salty air. It is known for a special type of red prawn, trawled from a 700-metre-deep seabed, as well as another more mysterious attraction, also trawled from the ocean. In 1998 Captain Francesco Adragna and his crew were out at sea one night when, to their astonishment, they netted an ancient 7ft bronze statue of a dancing satyr, rising up head-first from the watery depths. This whirling figure, head thrown back in bacchanalian glee, has been dated to between the 1st and 4th centuries BC. Housed in a small museum and remarkably well preserved, it is one of the most enthralling archaeological finds on the island.
Ancient treasures aside, the south-west is best known as the region where rich Palermitani used to keep farms for oil and wine. Now, that mantle has been largely passed on to second-homers, producing small amounts of both, for personal consumption. Menfi is Sicily’s biggest wine region, where the winemaking Planeta family have worked the vines for 17 generations. Planeta’s classic chardonnay is produced in the region, and it is also home to the family’s boutique hotel, La Foresteria, a laid-back hilltop haven with restaurant, and a discreet guest-only lido down on the coast.
Tangled telegraph poles aside, the south-west has its pockets of luxury, which wine-loving foreigners have already cottoned on to. Google has been recently holding its annual three-day “Camp” at Rocco Forte’s Verdura Resort, near Sciacca, much to the excitement of the local press. One can just imagine a steady stream of choppers zeroing in on the helipad, Larry, Sergey et al talking shop on one of its two 18-hole golf courses, or languishing in its 4,000 sq metre spa. The tech company even hired out the temple at Agrigento for a spectacular dinner and concert, flying in the likes of Elton John, Lenny Kravitz and even Prince Harry.
But floodlit VIP extravaganzas aside, Marco the guide was right in his pithy summation of this glorious part of the island: “No crowds, no discos.” What more could you possibly want?
Rebecca Rose was a guest of the villa. Angheli is rented exclusively through The Thinking Traveller, and costs from €6,050 per week.