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Review 2336: thinkSicily, Conca d'Oro


Review by Dorothy from CA

5bed/5bath house near Palermo, Sicily

We even had a ruin in our wonderful view!, photo by Saralyn Ready


May 20-June 3, 2006, 2 weeks


Located in the private, gated development of Poggio Ridente (laughing hills) among other large homes and estate properties, Conca d'Oro is a spacious, modern villa high in the hills, perched on a hillside overlooking Palermo. It is officially part of that large metropolis, but its location, above the main Palermo boulevard to Monreale, is quite separate from the crowded city center. This affords both privacy and quiet - along with a stunning view of city, mountains and sea.

Importantly, you don't need to travel through Palermo to get to the autostrade, making it a superb hub location from which to access the north and west coast regions and the island's interior. On the other hand, driving into Palermo centro is relatively simple - 10 minutes by car down the boulevard brings you into the inner city; the hard part is finding parking once you are there! You don't need to go into town to access supermarkets, internet store, banks, restaurants, however, as many are located along the boulevard, a five-minute or so drive from the house.

This home was custom-built in the late 60's by its charming owner, Signora Caterina, who lives in an adjacent apartment with her husband. The home is kept in excellent shape by her supervision of a daily gardener and a house-boy, included in the rental. There is parking for three or four cars just outside this home's gate, and a pathway leads to stairs which lead to the villa entry.

On the main floor, in addition to a hall/ foyer, is a formal living room, a formal dining room with adjacent cozy sitting area with TV (including CNN) and balcony with the fabulous view, a guest powder room, large eat-in kitchen with an excellent array of equipment, appliances, and dishes, and a pantry/washing machine (which guests may use - drying area is outside in a side yard).

Upstairs, there are three bedrooms, each with bathroom, and a master suite, notable for its size and spacious bathroom ensuite - this with both stall shower and separate tub. There is also a family sitting room on this floor, which we didn't use as in the summer it is quite warm there, for cooler nights it would be lovely. Finally, quite separate & private - located outside and downstairs from the house itself is a fifth bedroom and bath. Quite simply furnished and rustic in ambience, this would be especially suitable for young adults or staff. The bathroom with shower is very small, the furnishings spartan but adequate and very clean. The bed was fine. In the Palermo heat this was the coolest room of all, as it is built against the hillside!

The home's outdoor area is accessible from the front stairs and entry and consists of a nice-sized lawn adjacent to a beautiful pool and tiled surround space. Lounges, chairs and umbrella tables make sitting outdoors, enjoying the pool, adjacent hillside gardens and the view quite special. There is also a barbecue center.

The interior of this home is filled with beautiful, often antique but livable furniture and stunning collections, attractively displayed. One feels as if the owners still lived there full-time - no "rental" furnishings here! All is kept nicely in order by the house-boy; the condition of the house and furnishings is commensurate with what a full-time homemaker would expect for her valuable home and possessions. Quite amazing for a rental, even at the high-priced end, but Signora Caterina told me she has never had a problem with her guests!

The bedrooms were lovely, as was each bathroom. All had either a stall shower or tub/shower, plenty of hot water. Linens and towels were especially nice (the owner has a beautiful bed and bath store on the fancy shopping street downtown-well worth a visit). Beds were excellent, and all in the main house were divisable into twin configuration if needed. Each bedroom had air-conditioning, but this was at extra cost (and quite expensive as always in Italy).

Signora Caterina loves to cook; it shows in the kitchen she designed. It had a large amount of prep room, excellent appliances, equipment and a slightly larger than usual refrigerator. It's a beautiful room, with copper pots adorning the walls and lots of air and light, and we enjoyed preparing meals and eating breakfast and snacks there.

We were pleasantly surprised to find an independent land line phone in our villa, which we used for local calls, incoming and phone card calls at no charge. One note of caution: here, as elsewhere in Italy, the bed linens and towels are changed once per week. If you wish more frequent changes, be prepared to pay very handsomely for this service. We found it best to wash towels as needed ourselves (if weather permits line-drying) but to sleep with the sheets for the week.

The booking service is London-based and gave very courteous service, including prompt responses to our pre-booking questions. Their documents and materials were extensive and informative, professional and accurate. I would certainly use their agency again. They also had a man in Sicily should we have on the spot concerns (which we didn't).

Shortly before our stay was over, Signora Caterina made us a fabulous meal, accompanied by wonderful wine. (And we could not have dined out similarly for a price close to what she charged.) With her array of family china, crystal and silver, this was an abundant and elegant feast from the kitchen of a Palermitana whose family history is long and fascinating. As we finished our desert(s) and after-dinner aperitif, she joined us and spoke about her family's past and also her children , now grown and living elsewhere in Europe with their families. They all gather each Christmas in the family home where they grew up - their photographs are all over the house. It was a special evening to mark the end of a very special villa stay.

This review is the opinion of a Slow Travel member and not of slowtrav.com.

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