I might never have visited Fontes Episcopi if it had not been for the wildfires across Sicily the day preceding our arrival in Cefalu on the north coast. Forced to change our plans and knowing the property was a new addition to the Massimo Villas portfolio I decided to visit and review it.
From the outset I fell in love with the place. We drove up the tree lined drive way to what I can only describe as a manor house. To the right were olive groves and to the left a grove of citrus trees laden with lemons and oranges. The farm implements lay on one side, an indication that Fontes Episcopi had once been a working farm. After parking the car we walked along a path through flower beds and an entrance gateway into a wonderful courtyard with climbers growing up one wall and artefacts that anywhere else would have made it into a local museum. There was no sign that this was a hotel, guesthouse or any other kind of accommodation for holidaymakers.
Once inside there was just a hint, an old desk with a computer screen, that this was something more than someone’s house. Indeed that is the impression they are trying to create for guests at Fontes Episcopi; you are a friend and guest in what was a home. Everywhere you look there are reminders of the properties past. Old doors displayed as art, farm tools repurposed as lights or some other piece of domestic furniture.
Our room was on the corner of the house with great views across the citrus and olive groves to distant farms. In the distance the faint sound of tinkling bells could be heard. The lamb that would be served later was sourced from this herd of local sheep and would be garnished with the produce from Fontes Episcopi’s gardens and fields.
The decor of the room was the muted colours of the earth in a kind of rural chic. Everything was restful to the eye, no harsh strident colours, just the browns, beiges and creams of the landscape visible through the open shutters of the windows.
“Everything is kept natural and relaxing; not even the colours excite the senses.” said one guest.
The ensuite bathrooms follow the natural and muted colour scheme of the rooms. The toiletries are natural with the soap being made on the premises from their own ingredients including the plentiful olive oil.
Fontes Episcopi is built in the local vernacular of honey coloured rough hewn stone and rendered walls. At the front of the house there is a real sun trap of a terrace with a plunge pool extending out from the wrought iron gateway. In one direction you view the house in the other you look down the avenue of trees or across the citrus and olive groves. As you relax in the cool water the tinkle of the sheep’s bells in the distance provide a backing to the gentle hum of insects searching out the nectar offered by the profusion of flowers that border the terrace.
The idea that the fields and groves you look out across from every window in the house supply all the food served at Fontes Episcopi is immensely satisfying. The proof of the pudding is in the eating and our first meal certainly proved that Fontes Episcopi’s reputation was well earned. Sicily is blessed with a fusion of cuisines that were brought in by the numerous invaders. For me there is Sicilian food and then there is Sicilian food cooked well. Using food from the gardens and fields surrounding the house and ingredients sourced from the neighbouring farms means you are served what is in season. ‘Honest cuisine’ is what I call it – a term which Fontes Espiscopi have now adopted.
Bread baked in the wood fired oven, tomatoes from the gardens with herbs from the hedgerows. Olive oil made from the olives grown not ten metres from the dining-room dressed the salads and lamb that came from less than half a kilometre down the road. Homemade gelato with pistachio and almonds grown in the fields behind the house. Truly ‘Zero Kilometre’ food.
Breakfast the following morning was a sumptuous affair. In Sicily breakfast is always accompanied with pastries stuffed with almond paste, conserves or chocolate. These were present along with many other Sicilian sweet delicacies all made on the premises and fresh fruit harvested that morning. We were spoilt for choice at breakfast.
All too soon our stay at Fontes Episcopi came to an end. It truly is a place to unwind and de-stress. They do have a small spa where you can book treatments but time didn’t allow me to try this out as you have to pre-book.
Fontes Episcopi synchronises with the rural rhythms of southern Sicily and is one of those places that truly embraces the organic and green credentials that many only claim to do. A stay at Fontes Episcopi can be booked direct, or through trivago.com (£) or Trip Advisor (£).