The exterior of Villa Romana del Casale, just a couple of kilometres from the town of Piazza Armerina, looked ordinary. On arrival, we were puzzled as to how the seemingly random collection of stone walls and modern shed-like buildings could possibly warrant classification as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
But once we entered the seemingly ordinary buildings, we were stunned by the extent of the most magnificent mosaics we'd seen during our stay in Italy.
The villa, built during the height of the Roman empire in 350 AD, is regarded as containing the richest and largest collection of Roman mosaics in the world. The site reopened to the public two years ago after under going extensive reconstruction of the shelters protecting the architectural remains and incredible frescos and artworks.
We arrived at lunchtime, that very important time for Italians, which meant we didn't have to cope with crowds and could enjoy the villa at our leisure. We marvelled at the detailed scenes of the Great Hunt, the largest and most complete of the mosaics. It portrays the capture and transport of wild animals from the far reaches of the Roman empire to the circuses of Rome.
In addition to the mosaic scenes of life in this outpost of the Roman empire, the villa incorporates a series of Roman baths. Some of the most charming mosaics decorate these wet rooms. The most famous of these mosaics features young women competing in various sporting events dressed in what appear to be bikinis.
These photos don't do justice to the enormous scale, delicate intricacy and glowing colours of the mosaics. If you are ever visiting Sicily, add this Villa to your list of 'must sees'.
After a most enjoyable couple of hours at Villa Romana del Casale we departed just as the afternoon tour buses were arriving, and made our way into the heart of Sicily.
Our destination was Tenuta San Giovanni, an agriturismo 20 kilometres from our next destination, the Valley of Temples outside Agrigento. After a challenging drive, we finally located the argiturismo where we gratefully accepted a welcoming glass of the house wine. It was a pleasant way to end the day, watching the last rays of sunlight disappear over the valley of vines.
Agrigento is Sicily's most popular archaeological tourist site for a very good reason. It is incredible.
In preparation for our visit I'd done a little research and learned that the best way to tour the Valley of the Temples, Valle dei templi, was to hire a local guide. We usually avoid tour groups, preferring to do our own thing, but this time we were very glad to be led along the low plateau overlooking the sea by Nicola, a local secondary school history teacher who works as a guide during the tourist season.
Doric-style temples anywhere in the world, including Greece.
Once again we were delighted to be visiting Sicily in spring. The Valley of the Temples is an exposed site so in summer it would be blisteringly hot. Luckily we enjoyed a warm spring day, perfect for touring this memorable archaeological park.
Although we'd had a long day of walking and sightseeing, we couldn't resist a quick detour on our way back the agriturismo.
Prossima fermata, Cefalu per un lungo dormire.
Where we stayed:
Tenuta San Giovanni, an agriturismo set in the hills about 25 kilometres from Agrigento.
CLICK HERE for information
CLICK HERE for reviews.
What we saw:
Villa Romana del Casale
Open throughout the year but times vary according to the season. Tickets 10E.
For more information about Villa Romana del Casale CLICK HERE. In peak season it would be essential to visit early in the day to enjoy this stunning site in relative peace.
For opening times and more information CLICK HERE
San Biagio Platani
The Easter festival at San Biagio Platani lasts for a month. CLICK HERE for more information.