You won’t find much in the guidebooks about Menfi and there is a reason for this. It is a small, unremarkable and not especially attractive town in the Southwest of Sicily but there are several excellent reasons to put it on your itinerary. The first and foremost is that is the Planeta family, known for their highly regarded wines, has a very lovely, small hotel called La Foresteria www.planetaestate.it located just a few kilometers outside of town. This peaceful oasis is between Menfi and Porto Palo, a small seaside community with beautiful, pristine beaches–more on that later.
La Foresteria has simple, well-appointed and comfortable rooms. Our’s, named Timo (thyme), had a large bed, small sitting area, ample closet space and a bathroom with a double shower and very nice toiletries. The room also had a mini fridge and a safe. Depending on location, each of the 14 rooms has either a patio or balcony with views out over the vineyards and fields to the sea—very tranquil. Besides birdsong, the only other sounds you’re likely to hear are distant tractors working the land. It is a very peaceful place.
There is a gorgeous infinity pool if you’re up for a swim or for just lounging around and enjoying a sunset cocktail. The hotel has plenty of comfortable public spaces to relax and read, chat or enjoy the peace and quiet. There is also a small gym on the property.
During the summer season through September, La Foresteria has a private beach club for guests. Friends have given it good reviews and really enjoyed the onsite massage service and lunch. Both of our visits have been in October, after the beach club was closed. The weather was still perfect though, and the hotel provided us with beach chairs, towels and umbrellas to use at the nearby beaches. The beaches in Porto Palo are among the cleanest and most pristine in all of Europe and proudly sport the blue flags awarded by the Foundation for Environmental Education proclaiming this. We practically had the beach to ourselves and the water was crystal clear and gloriously warm. Take some time off from touring to relax by the sea.
Another reason to stay at La Foresteria is the incredible cuisine prepared by Chef Angelo Pumilia. He takes full advantage of the fresh seafood and abundant vegetables from the area. The menu, which changes seasonally, features classic Sicilian dishes and while we were there, a number of crudos—raw fish dishes that were all excellent, along with artfully prepared pasta and meat courses.
Everything we ate, and we each had three courses most nights, was superb. During our two stays (12 nights) we sampled most items on the menu– swordfish, prawns, mullet, chick pea soup, linguine with sardines, ricotta and mint ravioli, different lamb, beef and pork preparations– all were delicious– but Chef Angelo’s couscous was especially outstanding.
Guests may choose from several prix fix options or order a la carte. Whichever choice you make, save room for his sublime desserts. The olive oil ice cream and the Cerasuolo di Vittoria (wine) ice cream were my favorites.
As expected, the reasonably priced wine list is heavily populated with Planeta labels and vintages but other producers’ wines are available as well. La Foresteria’s knowledgeable staff will gladly guide you.
Breakfast is a lovely affair with a bountiful buffet featuring fresh fruits, cheeses, hams, hard cooked eggs, pastries, cakes, juices, coffee drinks, and tea– all enjoyed on the expansive terrace.
Both breakfast and dinner were served outside on the patio on our last visit—a fine way to enjoy the great views and warm weather. On our first stay, only breakfast was available on the patio. Dinner was served inside at a large communal table, which was very convivial, and a great way to meet other guests—from Italy, France, Belgium, England, Japan and New Zealand.
While guests have priority for dining room seating, in the morning you should let the front desk staff know if you plan to dine at La Foresteria. I would also recommend booking if you plan to enjoy dinner the evening you arrive. You wouldn’t want to miss out on Chef Angelo’s outstanding cuisine!
If you’d like to learn more about Sicilian cuisine, the hotel offers cooking classes with Chef Angelo. Our schedule couldn’t accommodate a full class so we opted for a “Chat with the Chef” one evening for an hour before dinner. We enjoyed a wonderful conversation in the kitchen with Chef amid the hustle and bustle of the evening’s dinner preparation. The front desk will arrange either of these options for you as well as a visit to Planteta’s nearby wine estate. We had an informative tour, terrific wine tasting and a delicious lunch with Chiara Planeta. It was a memorable afternoon, which ended with a relaxing dip in the pool and a well-deserved nap.
If you choose to dine off property, try Da Vittoria www.ristorantevittorio.it. This local favorite is less than a 10- minute drive from La Foresteria and is right on the beach. The restaurant specializes in seafood and whole fish dishes in particular. We enjoyed some wonderful pasta dishes including shrimp and pistachios, a red mullet pasta and other equally good seafood pasta combos. Our least favorite was the house pasta combination. The grilled fish was simply prepared but so fresh and delicious —the swordfish in particular.
The portions are huge at Da Vittoria. Do not be shy about sharing—just say, “Uno per duo, per favore!” We had several lunches and dinners here and enjoyed the food, the view and the people watching each time. Even though the restaurant is quite large it fills up, so do book in for lunch or dinner.
Next up, day trips to consider.