Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Golf, food, wine and Europe's largest active volcano: a weekend out at Palmerston Golf Etna & Spa

To inaugurate our so eagerly awaited summer break from a very hard month (and a very hard year!) we (some friends, Enzo and I) decided to spend a weekend on Mt. Etna, the largest active volcano in Europe. Close to home, about 30/40 minutes driving, a beautiful area that of Castiglione di Sicilia, located on the north-east side of the volcano, a Medieval village which still retains a certain charm in its old centre. An area where vineyards and wineries shape and define the landscape, surrounded by black cold lava flows and hazel groves, which make this part of the volcano one of the most interesting in Sicily for its oustanding wine production. A natural setting like no other.

Dominated by the white cap of the 3300 mt central crater of Mt. Etna, stands the imposing figure of the Palmerston Golf Etna & Spa - recalling somehow the old massive lavastone farms so widely diffused at the foothill of the volcano - surrounded by vineyards, orchards and hazel groves and facing on the back some awful uncompleted villas which sadly brutalize the gentle and overbearing view.

There was a specific reason for chosing the Palmesrton Golf Etna and Spa during those days from August 8th to 10th: on the occasion of St. Lawrence some nice events were planned in the area as the hotel management was organising a wine and food tasting on Aug 8th while the Municipality of Castiglione di Sicilia the annual "Calici di stelle" on August 10th.
Is there anything better to start your holidays enjoying nice folks, delicious food, drinking quality wines and gain all this thanks to a special offer the hotel decided to place on the market trying to revitalize their August attendance?

At arrival, the staff at the lobby gave us a warm welcome and the key of our room on the first floor (the hotel has two). Equipped with just two travelling bags, we kindly refused the help of the bellboy and run to our room as I cound't wait to relax at their Temple Spa. Our room was comfortable enough but not that large, with a small terrace and enchanting view both over the top of the volcano and a nearby vineyard abrutptly interrupted by those awful uncompleted villas (and which should be part of the hotel once finished to attract passionate golfers and business men).
Furniture is a bit disappointing but the interior decoration is embellished with quality curtains and superbe original paintings and drawings by Maria Leonardi Pennisi, a local painter and one of the owners of the estate). The whole hotels shows more than 700 of her paintings and I'd loved to buy one but - poor me - none was available.
Chilling out in the calm and sober-styled Temple Spa was exactly what I really deserved and desired most.

Despite the lack of useful and professional information given by the person in charge on duty, we indulged for 3 hours doing all our personal try-outs of all those therapies and treatments included in the fee which grants your access to the Spa: colour therapy and aromatherapy showers, hydrotherapy pool with jacuzzi, sauna and hammam, a zone for relaxation with chaise longues, magazines, herb teas and infusions. We only missed to try massages as the only masseuse on duty was fully booked and - shame! - we did not in advance.
Restored from all this, I was ready for our first gourmet date just that evening right there at the hotel, so no effort to reach the lawn where everthing was settled for a perfect tasting event, its evocative title being "2009 Taste Routes: wine, oils, flavours": a rich seventeen course buffet menu (yes, 17! Just to count some: from typical summer soup with peas and broad beans, to, home-made macceroni pasta with a strong meat ragout, to a selection to Sicilian cheese deliciously matched with honey, jams and wine jellies and more ... two variants of cou-cous, one with vegetables and one with meat as a tribute to our Arab heritage, then tagliata di tonno, a sort of thinly sliced grilled tuna steak with sweet and sour red peppers as side-dish, plus ... a dainty black pork from the Nebrodi Mountains on the spit, and three different type of desserts among which my favourite one, a Malvasia wine aspic with  sweet-smelling local peaches and again ... a final surprise for all the bystanders a sumptuous chocolate tasting which was definitely th knockout blow for all of us! ), all rigorously local ingredients, each dish matching a great Sicilian wine for a total of 15 different wineries representing the best wine-making Sicily can offer. The food and the selection of wine was superb, I cound't eat all 17 courses but the whole group did and this was the final response. The service was not that great, actually needed a bit more of coordination and staff.
A very professional jazz trio refined the atmosphere with the right music and the right voice, a gentle woman with a vibrant and emotional touch. It was one of those rare events where the right people is exactly at the right place and everyone truly enjoys each minute of it.You could easily breathe the feeling of full satifaction and total pleasure delivered by participants' attitude, no matter if they were 9 or 90 (two kids od ten shared our table and my God! They ate all courses with such a qualified appetite to dliver now and then their personal and fun opinions as authorities on food! I was truly amazed  and a bit envoius they had space enough for everything and I didn't ... or coundn't!).
I coudn't exempt from congratulating the management for such a pleasant evening and promise not to miss the next one on 2010.
The next day was entirely devoted to hanging out at the pool (why no bar there ...we waited for one hour before the bartender delivered our drinks), except for time devoted to meals.
Breakfast was not you would espect from a 4* hotel which would like to attract skilled travellers from all over the world both in terms of quality, quantity and presentation of food, expecially if compared with the night before.
We had lunch at the club house of the golf course as the hotel restaurant was closed. A' la carte menu was really basic, dishes not always well-cooked, wine was terrible and quality of service sufficient. But, prices were adequate and the atmosphere very relaxed.
Somehow it may sound clashing with positioning the managment aims to and clients' expectations but all in all you fell comfortable and make no effort to adjust yourself quite easily.
Now, folks, do you think my friends there at the Palmerston Golf Etna & Spa, the hotel manager Filippo Catania and the sales manager Federica Eccel, will continue to talk to me?

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