Sicily is the spiritual and material heart of Irene Forte’s world. She’s been visiting the island since 2003, when she explored the area that later became Verdura Resort, one of her father Rocco’s hotels, and is now home to the organic farm from which the principal ingredients for her skincare line are sourced.
‘It’s steeped in history, having been at the crossroads of so many civilisations, so there’s so much to see,’ says Irene. ‘You also have mountains, islands, sea and even a volcano in the landscape. The people are the very best hosts and have retained a strong sense of family tradition, while the food is all about the highest quality ingredients cooked in the most deliciously simple way.’
Here, the skincare entrepreneur gives C&TH her guide to secret Sicily.
Irene Forte’s Guide To Sicily
‘Verdura Resort is my absolute favourite place to go, located on the south-west coast of Sicily. It has 230 hectares of olive groves and Sicilian countryside, bordering 1.2 miles of coastline. I worked here, we have our organic farm here, it’s home to our biggest Irene Forte Spa, and I also had my wedding here. It’s extra special to me.’
‘I recommend the Bar Turistico in Palermo for arancini. You can also get a delicious cannolo at Piana degli Albanesi in the province of Palermo; its cannoli are quite big, with a light but crunchy crust, and super fresh ricotta cream. In Caltabellotta, there is Mates, a delicious family-run restaurant; you can expect all the Sicilian classics, such as Pasta alla Norma [aubergine, marinara and basil].’
‘Caltabellotta is a beautiful town built on the hill in the rock face. I love the romantic Norman cathedral at the top – I got married there so it has a special place in my heart. The 360-degree views are unrivalled.
The Valley of the Temples is certainly the most important testimony of the ancient, classical culture of Sicily. It brings together the temples of gods, goddesses, as well as the area of the necropolis and sanctuaries outside the walls. It is a magical place to visit.
Just outside Palermo, the cathedral and cloisters at Monreale are frequently cited as the island’s greatest Norman buildings – and with good reason. It is one of the most beautiful cathedrals and cloisters I have ever visited. The interior mosaic decoration is just breathtaking.
In Palermo, the Cappella Palatina has often been described as “mini Monreale” – and indeed, it is, with the same spectacular mosaic decoration.
The island of Ortigia is one of the most romantic places I have ever been. It is walled all the way round, with the sea gently lapping the mediaeval brickwork. The streets of Ortigia are narrow, with charming little restaurants and cafes throughout. The heart of Ortigia is Piazza del Duomo which features the church which was built on the site of an ancient Greek temple; parts of the temple can still be seen, and it’s just incredible.
It’s a fun experience to hike to the top of an active volcano. On Mount Etna, you might have the chance to see the lava flows, while enjoying a sea view over the Mediterranean. While I’ve never been during the winter, there’s also the option to ski then, which would be amazing.’
Inspired By Nature
‘I knew that Sicily’s rich organic ingredients and the bountiful produce of Verdura’s organic farm made the perfect base for a skincare line,’ explains Irene on how Sicily came to be at the heart of her skincare brand, from its packaging (which is inspired by Mount Etna) to its ingredients.
These include prickly pear, which is harvested from the leaves of the Sicilian cactus, and has hyaluronic acid-like properties due to its abundance of specific polysaccharides found within its leaves. There’s also white wine, which comes from the Di Giovanna vineyard located near the farm; it’s a vegan and organic wine, rich in proanthocyanidins that hydrate the skin and act as an antioxidant, protecting the skin against free radical damage and promoting cellular renewal. Also from the Forte farm comes olive oil, which is rich in fatty acids, enabling the skin to retain vital nutrients.
Irene’s skincare is used in the spa treatments in hotels Villa Igiea and Verdura Resort, which include the inhalation of orange blossom scent and the ringing of Burgio bells, which are handmade in the local Virgadamo Bell Foundry, a family run workshop that dates back to the 16th century.