Thanks to the recent flurry of TV series set in Sicily – ‘The White Lotus’, ‘From Scratch’, ‘Anton and Giovanni’s Adventures in Sicily’ – the stunning Italian destination is deservedly enjoying a moment in the spotlight right now and there has never been a better time to visit.
The largest island in the Mediterranean, Sicily is rich in art, culture and history, spectacular scenery, quiet medieval villages, excellent food and wine, literary traditions and legends, making it the perfect backdrop for memorable meetings and incentives.
It’s the perfect destination for a two-centre itinerary combining city and resort vibes, giving MICE groups the best of both worlds. Rocco Forte’s Verdura Resort (right), set in 230 hectares of sun-kissed Mediterranean coastline, and the brand’s more recent addition, Villa Igiea, an iconic palazzo in the vibrant city of Palermo, work well independently but also complement each other perfectly and give delegates the opportunity to experience two completely different sides to Sicily.
US-based events and incentive agency Creative Group rewarded its own top performers with a trip to Sicily in April this year, while a group of UK buyers also got the opportunity to experience both properties on a fam trip to the destination in early June. Here, Glenn Darlington, executive VP, Business Development at Creative Group, and Mike Parrott, head of incentives at UK agency Strata, give the lowdown on what they loved about Sicily after seeing it first-hand…
Darlington says that when deciding on a destination for their top performers’ incentive, finding somewhere unique and different, that has motivational appeal both for their well-travelled salespeople and their spouses, is essential.
“The great thing about Sicily is that while most of our group had been to Italy before, they hadn’t ventured over to Sicily so that was a huge plus. The airlift is good – there are two main airports and daily connections to London and Rome, which make it easy to get there from the US and Canada. The fact that we have a great relationship with Rocco Forte Hotels was also a consideration. The ease with which Rocco Forte Hotels works with our team, and helps design, plan and execute our programmes is one of the things that makes them stand out as a brand,” he explains.
Parrott had also not visited Sicily before, so the fam trip gave him the perfect opportunity to discover the destination. “The history of Sicily is fascinating. I loved the fact that there were stories behind everything that we saw, which is great for incentives. On the first day of the trip, we were told that Sicily is like lasagne because of its many layers. From the Phoenicians to the Greeks, Romans, Normans and many more, all the different rulers of Sicily over the years have had their influence on the island, and all those influences shine through,” he says.
“The food is amazing, and I was really impressed with the whole farm-to-plate mentality that throughout the destination. Every restaurateur we spoke to was proud to share that much of the food we were eating was not only grown in Sicily, but often within a few kilometres of where it was served.”
Best of both worlds
Creative Group stayed three nights at Verdura followed by two nights at Villa Igiea. “They are two very different properties and experiences that work well together as you have the relaxing resort experience, contrasted by the faster pace of the city,” says Darlington. “Verdura is more sedate and peaceful, with the spa and golf, and going there first allowed our top salespeople to recharge and reacquaint themselves with their spouses before we headed to Villa Igiea. In Palermo, you can really dive into the history and culture of Sicily. I love the location of the hotel and the view out onto the water and marina is stunning.”
Parrott was also impressed by both properties, and excited by the opportunities that they offer. “Villa Igiea is a classic Rocco Forte Hotels property. Like many of the brand’s other properties, the building has so much history – it was a palace, and at one point a hospital, and you feel that history when walking around it. The design and layout are lovely, and it feels like every corner you turn, there is some beautiful stained glass or something that catches your eye. The food is stunning – we were all blown away by how simple, yet delicious it was,” he explains. “I think Villa Igiea would be perfect for a senior leaders’ retreat or an indulgent luxury incentive.”
He adds that Verdura works well for conferences and incentives because there is so much space, and so many activity options that you don’t even have to go off site. “One of the things that makes Verdura stand out is the meeting space. It’s so airy and light and there are lots of lovely open spaces indoors and outdoors, as well as the outdoor amphitheatre. I’d love to do a takeover for a larger group as you could create some unique memorable experiences, such as barbecues and fire pits on the beach or an outdoor dinner in The Olive Groves surrounded by festoon lighting.”
One of Darlington’s trip highlights was a tour around Palermo in Ape cars – mini motorised vehicles that are common in Italy – that enabled the group to take in all the sights of the city in an authentic way, with stops at key sights including the market and museum. “We also had a private puppet theatre showing, which was one of the highlights. Another highlight that our group loved and rated highly in their feedback was our final night gala dinner in a palace, which was stunning and a great finale for the trip.”
Parrott enjoyed a visit to Burgio, a hilltop village, and meeting the local artisans living and working there including a sculptor, as well as a tour of The Palatine Chapel: “I’ve never been to a cathedral or chapel that was so intricately decorated with religious artwork depicting the old and new testaments from floor to ceiling,” he says.
Another highlight was the backstage visit to the Teatro Massimo. “It’s the third largest opera house in Europe and it’s such an impressive space. We had the opportunity to go backstage while they were rehearsing, which was amazing, and only possible because of the exclusive connection between Villa Igiea and the theatre. That’s exactly the sort of thing we are looking for when it comes to incentives – experiences that people wouldn’t normally do or have access to if they were to visit on their own, that can elevate an incentive to the next level and make it totally unique.”