Palma di Montechiaro| Mandranova

Luxury-grade Sicilian hospitality of the genuine, farmhouse variety is what they do at Mandranova, a country district just outside Palma di Montechiaro. And if these sound like fictional names from a romantic novel, rest assured that the farm, the location, the cordial welcome and the food are as real as they are seductive. We’re not far from Agrigento here, with its incredible UNESCO-listed Greek temple cluster, and only a few kilometres from some gorgeous beaches on the southern coast of the island. But Azienda Agricola Mandranova is also a working olive farm, where producing top-quality, single-varietal oils and preserves is a labour of love. And no less so, for growers and hosts Silvia and Giuseppe, is sharing all that bounty with travellers from afar.

They have 16 rooms including suites in the old farmhouse, surrounded by patios, gardens and luscious Mediterranean vegetation in spite of the arid Sicilian landscape beyond. Original architectural features and furniture that’s been in the family for generations define the décor and add depth to the experience. And there are two independent holiday homes in similar style, one which used to be the local railway station and the other a wine press. A former stone-built reservoir for irrigation water, perched on the hillside above the main house, has become a small but panoramic pool.

The other highlight of Mandranova is all to do with Silvia’s culinary passion and skills. Hers is the home-cooking served in the informal restaurant, based on traditional local or even family recipes and produce grown in the vegetable garden or not much further afield. And when not on restaurant duty she’s happy to show you how it’s done, with cookery classes daily, even on a one-to-one basis. Giuseppe, not to be outdone, finds time to accompany his guests on a tour of the olive groves and the press, and rounds it off with a flash course on the finer points of olive oil tasting. He can also fix you a boat trip along the coast in the dog days of summer, or mountain-biking excursions inland when it’s not quite so hot.

To have seen Italy without having seen Sicily is not to have seen Italy at all, for Sicily is the clue to everything