This November we booked a last minute flight from Rome to Palermo for a Sicilian getaway! First stop: Agrigento or The Valley of Temples (Valle dei Templi), it may just be the 8th Wonder of the World if you ask me. This was our second trip to the UNESCO World Heritage archaeological site and we wanted to do it right with only 2 nights we didn’t have any time to waste.
First things first – book the hotel.
Look no further than the historic and luxurious Hotel Villa Athena. Yes, it’s gorgeous, yes I loved the bathroom (seriously, loved it), yes the sheets were like silk, yes the staff was incredibly hospitable – but the real reason to stay here is it is 200 meters from the Temple of Concordia (the crown jewel of the temples) & this was the view from our room:
Done. Book it.
The Hotel Villa Athena is the only 5-star hotel situated within the Archaeological Park of the Valley of the Temples with an exclusive direct entrance. (Thanks to ISIS, that special entrance is closed.) The grounds were beautifully maintained, it would be an ideal setting for a wedding with the Temple of Concordia as your backdrop surrounded by fragrant citrus trees. AND a rare find in Italian hotels – a proper breakfast buffet spread is included the stay! (I’m a sucker for what I call, ‘first breakfast’).
I’m not sure what was better – waking up to the view of the temples or watching the sunset over the valley…At night, we’d take a bottle of wine and a few pastries from the bakery in town, sit outside under the stars almost silently in awe of what was before our eyes.
Here’s a timelapse at dusk I shot on my iPhone:
There is really only one reason to visit Agrigento (OK the centro storico is pretty cool too) – The Valley of the Temples. It is one of the most outstanding examples of Greek architecture dating back to the 5th Century BC. It’s history is mind-blowing!
On our first visit here 5 years ago (pre-smartphones & apps) we did a self-guided tour with guide book pages ripped out in hand. However this time we knew we wanted a proper guide plus we were traveling with friends who had never been to Sicily before. With only 2 days before our trip, I quickly jumped on TripAdvisor and scoured the web for a tour guide for the one full day we had available hoping someone would get back to me on such short notice. (Note: This is Italy, in November.)
Thankfully Michele Gallo replied that very evening! (Note: No one else even responded. Again, This is Italy, in November.) He was highly recommended and for good reason. There is so much information to process that with a professional guide you can ask questions, delve deeper and walk away with a better grasp of this history you are surrounded by. Three hours flew by (as did the storm clouds) – it all still blows my mind.
Traveling in the low/off season in Italy is great for finding a last minute hotel room or cheap flight but not always for dinning at the best restaurants (or at least following Yelp/TripAdvisor recommendations) because the low/off season is when many restaurants are closed or on holiday. However, sometimes a local diamond in the rough is found in the least expected places…like on the side of the highway in an unmarked, half-deserted building with all the windows and shutters closed! This may have been our best meal in Sicily, seriously. If you can find it – bring an appetite to Ristorante Scacciapensieri, where the locals go for freshly caught fish. I suggest you get the pasta with ricci (sea urchin) one of the house specialties along with a bottle or two of Grillo, a perfect Sicilian white wine!
Wander the streets for an evening aperitivo or to grab a few hot arancini (fried rice balls with meat, cheese or peas & sauce). Arancini are a Sicilian specialty, when made well (not greasy) & eaten hot – they are addictive! We found the perfect steamy windowed bakery over flowing with locals on a cold night – I couldn’t help but make way in and order way to much… and don’t regret it!
Then make your way back to the hotel for another magnificent sunset!
STAY: Hotel Villa Athena Via Passeggiata Archeologica, 33 Agrigento 92100 Sicilia
EAT: Ristorante Scacciapensieri SS 115 Siculiana (AG) 92010
tel. 0922.818490 or 329.2038732
SEE: The Valley of Temples