Specialists in Southern Italy, Sicily & Sardinia
From £488 pp
A small agritourist country hotel in an utterly authentic Sicilian baglio, set in vineyards. With a real soul, an intimate atmosphere, breathtaking views from a glorious pool, amazing food and wine. So much about it is absolutely striking and romantic.
Near Marsala and only about 15 minutes from Trapani airport, Baglio Donna Franca is a perfect stop for any itinerary. Truly an undiscovered Sicily, colours seem more fierce and striking. The landscape can be flat, challenging the eye with sights not seen before and not to be missed – windmills, salt flats, offshore islands within touching distance, hovering in the heat. This is full-on Sicily and we love it.
Drive along “The Salt Road”, between Trapani and Marsala and see the uniquely haunting beauty of the saltpans. Pale expanses of shallow water, divided by strips of land, make a patchwork quilt of pools, with glinting salt heaps and abandoned windmills. They change colour as the day goes on and, at sunset, they glow red. Tunisia is less than 100 miles away and here it seems as if Africa is meeting Europe. Visit the Museo del Sale or the WWF saltwater nature reserve, where migrating birds stop to feed and rest before their challenging flight across the sea to Africa. Take a boat over to the tiny island of Mozia. Originally a Phoenician colony of Carthage, there are remains of a causeway under the shallow sea, but it would take a brave man to risk the walk! See the museum of Joseph Whitaker, the famous producer and exporter of Marsala wine. Hop aboard a ferry for the Egadi Islands, western Sicily’s “secret” islands. Have a passeggiata around Marsala’s narrow, shiny, stone-covered streets, lined with Baroque houses and dotted with impressive piazzas, marvel at its stunning cathedral or tour one of its famous Marsala wine cantine. In less than an hour, go to mediaeval Erice or the captivating slice of Magna Graecia at Selinunte, and a little further still to spectacular Segesta.
Set amongst 10 hectares of vineyards, Baglio Donna Franca was just a small part of the famous Florio estates. In the mid 1800’s, the Florio family built the baglio around a 15th century watchtower and surrounded it with vineyards of the best quality grapes. Their aim was to compete with the first producers of Marsala wine, who were Englishmen. Why should the English be the only ones to gain from such exceptional Sicilian grapes? So, an opportunistic entrepreneur from Calabria set out to provide market competition, with the aim of eventually taking over altogether, and he succeeded. Vincenzo Florio finally bought out his English rivals, thrived and became ridiculously wealthy until the Florio cantina’s ultimate demise, when it was bought by a consortium of producers and exists as such today.
Baglio Donna Franca is no longer owned by the Florio family either, but it pays tribute to an amazing Florio lady, Franca Florio. Known for her extraordinary beauty and style, she was a fashion diva and icon of Italian and Sicilian Art Nouveau. She married Ignazio Florio and they were a glamorous couple indeed. In the early 1900’s she was the constant topic for gossip columnists, who loved nothing better than to report on their extravagant spending and grand society parties in Palermo, when they surrounded themselves with Russian Tsars and other royals, as well as artists, sculptors and writers. At times Franca pushed the boundaries of polite society behaviour and did wonders for the image of women in Sicilian society. However, the couple’s extravagance was their downfall and she died in the 1950’s having lost everything, it is said, “except her spectacular beauty and elegance”. She was quite a woman, it seems.
The current owners of Baglio Donna Franca produce wine on a smaller scale, but of no less impressive quality. Their small production is totally organic, using typical grapes of the region, such as grillo, zibibo and moscato for the whites, and pericone and nero d’avola for the reds. Whether you are a connoisseur or not, these wines are wonderful and far too drinkable for your own good! One of the many reasons for choosing Baglio Donna Franca has to be for its link with such special wine, which lies at the passionate heart of this agriturismo. Try the regular tour of the cantina and wine-tasting sessions in the purpose-built tasting room. Visit one of the owner’s cantinas, which is at the agriturismo, to see the modern production. Step into an enormous oak barrel to descend a spiral staircase to a huge cool cantina, where immense oak barrels are lined against the walls and contain some incredible vintage wines. Or, relax and don’t do any of that. Just sip the wonderful wine, as you dine in the baglio courtyard, under a tented pergola, by romantic candlelight. Then, pick your favourite wine and get it sent home.
The cuisine at Baglio Donna Franca is also delicious. Continuing their passion for zero kilometre and seasonal ingredients, where possible, for anything and everything consumed, the chef produces some amazing dishes. We ate the famous Couscous Trapanese and other Sicilian traditional dishes, which were amongst the best we have ever savoured - washed down with the fantastic wine, of course. Breakfast was a delight too.
Whilst the architecture and structure of Baglio Donna Franca will inevitably “wow” you, the style of the rooms might not. They are quite spacious and perfectly comfortable, with good shower rooms, but they have gone for a fairly typical traditional agritourist style. The furniture is very solid and of good quality, quite heavy and dark wood, and the fabrics are mostly deep reds and sombre colours. We can see where they’re coming from, as it suits the rather manorial atmosphere of the whole place, but it feels marginally old-fashioned. However, so long as you go not expecting a designer style, you will be perfectly happy, as we were. Even the large bar and lounge are a bit like an old gentleman’s club, with brown leather chairs and chesterfields and dark furniture, which are undeniably comfy.
Outside the main baglio walls, on an open terrace, with far-reaching views over the vineyards to the sea and the Egadi Islands, it is difficult to describe how breathtakingly dramatic the views from the pool area are. At first, it seems stark and maybe too open, even though there is a shaded gazebo for shade. Then, you realise that they could not have put the pool anywhere else. At sunset, the colours change completely. The neutral stone wall glows orange. The baglio and its palm trees are reflected in the glassy turquoise blue water. The sun setting over the islands delivers a National Geographic type photo like no other. Unforgettable!
Baglio Donna Franca provides refuge, as it has for centuries, in a truly romantic, magical setting. It is a haven of comfort and friendliness, a true agriturismo and a genuine experience from start to finish. Intimate, candle-lit courtyard dinners and superb wine are a treat. Love it, love it, love it!
Whilst the architecture and structure of Baglio Donna Franca will inevitably “wow” you, the style of the rooms might not. They are quite spacious and perfectly comfortable, with good shower rooms, but they have gone for a fairly typical traditional agritourist style. The furniture is very solid and of good quality, quite heavy and dark wood, and the fabrics are mostly deep reds and sombre colours. We can see where they’re coming from, as it suits the rather manorial atmosphere of the whole place, but it feels marginally old-fashioned. However, so long as you go not expecting a designer style, you will be perfectly happy, as we were.
Five rooms and the Suite are accessed from the baglio courtyard, via a particularly narrow steep stone staircase. Mostly, these have a distant sea view, over vineyards, through a window. There are other rooms accessed via another small courtyard and some are on the ground floor.
The Suite is well worth the extra. It has a small sitting room, with a sofa (double sofa-bed) and shower room, just off it. Also from the sitting room, a couple of steps lead to the spacious double bedroom, which has French doors to a standing balcony, with views over the vineyards towards Erice and, in the distance, the sea and the island of Favignana.
"Baglio Donna Franca was something else. With a view from our window overlooking the vineyards with the sea in the background with no sound except the bells on a herd of goats and the odd rumble of lorries carrying vast quantities of grapes for pressing. Your description mentions dark furniture but the suite is beautifully furnished in light bright colours. The staff were all lovely especially the young lad who went to great trouble to print off our boarding passes and Angela who seemed to find me a source of amusement, I know not why.
Our one tip for any traveller going there is “do not eat anywhere else.” The food without exception was some of the best if not the best food we have ever tasted in Southern Italy or Sicily, not nouvelle cuisine or any of the other fancy methods of cooking but good honest local ingredients obviously prepared by a chef who loves his job and who loves to show off how the most simple of ingredients can be turned into magnificent memorable meals. The wine I thought travelled extremely well, probably because the grapes were grown, harvested and processed within a distance of a hundred yards. Both red and white were exceptional with I think the white just edging ahead. And on a mercenary level the prices were remarkably reasonable. The breakfast was up to the normal continental standard although Thelma was very taken with the cherry marmalade, and they even had real orange marmalade, all obviously home made.
Finally if you want a quote for your brochure Thelma said - in fifteen years of travelling with Longs, Baglio Donna Franca is probably the best place we have stayed at.” Geoff & Thelma, Fleet
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*10% discount for reservations confirmed more than 60 days prior to arrival.
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