More often than not, Italy is defined by its mainland. But across the Tyrrhenian Sea, a short flight from Naples, the island of Sicily promises an entirely different landscape.
Lemon trees, as abundant as grass, sprawl down from the hilltops to the impossibly blue coast and fill the humid air with the scent of citrus.
Mount Etna, swathed in clouds, dominates the skyline, keeping watch over pastel-hued towns and ancient ruins.
It was precisely this alluring scene that inspired Rossella and Huw Beaugié to start The Thinking Traveller in 2002. Rossella, a cell biologist, and husband Huw, a marketing exec, were on holiday in the Aeolian Islands when they realized there was a gap in the market for like-minded travelers looking to discover the islands. Over a decade later, the London-based duo and their steadily growing travel agency offer more than 150 exclusive, high-end villas for rent in Sicily, Puglia, and the Ionian Islands. All of the properties, vetted by the Beaugiés, come equipped with a concierge service catering to the whims and desires of travelers, whether it’s arranging for a poolside yoga lesson, a 4x4 excursion to Mount Etna with a volcanologist, or a delivery of Nero D’Avola from the nearby Planeta Winery. Maids and on-site chefs are available by request.
High on a hilltop with an uninterrupted panorama of Mount Etna and the Ionian Sea, Rocca delle Tre Contrade represents a recent and unique addition to The Thinking Traveller’s portfolio. Built in the 1850s, the villa was a winery and country retreat for an aristocratic family, but had fallen into disrepair in recent times.
“We had a clear view of the sky where the roof had once been!” says Jon Moslet, who purchased the villa as a second home with partner Marco Scire. Over the course of three years, the two restored the dilapidated property, adding modern-day comforts while respecting the integrity of the original structure.
The professional-grade kitchen is fully equipped with Liebherr appliances and an Illy espresso machine, and 12 en-suite bathrooms include stone-clad floor-level showers.
Some of the bathrooms feature freestanding tubs that look out onto the grounds. A gym and steam room will be completed this year, although Jon suspects guests may be more inclined to relax than to exercise: “The American guests are particularly fond of the king-size beds!”
The villa offers the amenities and understated elegance of a five-star hotel, but possesses the collected, lived-in look of a family home, thanks to the carefully appointed furnishings. Muted upholstery from the Belgian company Flamant blends comfortably with antiques, Moroccan rugs, and contemporary Sicilian art Jon and Marco have collected over the years.
Every bedroom, simply but smartly decorated, is outfitted with lightweight and luxurious Frette linens, towels, and cashmere throws. Reclaimed materials such as lava stone (as ubiquitous as lemons in Sicily), marble, and terra-cotta are strategically placed throughout the house, and local craftsmen used old wooden beams and door frames to make the dining room table and frame the bathroom mirrors.
“It really was love at first sight,” says Jon. “Sicily is an adventurer’s paradise, and we hope our guests embrace Rocca as a home away from home.”
Rocca delle Tre Contrade
This refurbished 19th-century estate, available for rent, exudes aristocratic charm. Five spacious living areas on the ground level are connected by wide arches and vaulted ceilings. An 80-foot infinity pool, reached by traversing a lava-stone tunnel, overlooks the vegetable garden, lemon grove, and orchard. A private wine cellar will be added this year.
Get In Touch Rocca delle Tre Contrade Is on the east coast of Sicily near Santa Venerina, 30 minutes from Catania airport. The villa sleeps 24. For more information and to make reservations, call 800/490-1107 or visit thethinkingtraveller.com.
Photography: Francis Amiand