10 luxury Sicily hotels for fans of The White Lotus
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The HBO series White Lotus has certainly shone a spotlight on the luxury hotel life of Sicily, though you may – or indeed may not – be relieved to know that the reality is very different. Guests are better dressed, décor cooler -- those gruesome passion-killing testa di moro ceramic heads are rarer -- and murders unlikely. Indeed Sicily has an extraordinary and original portfolio of luxury hotels, ranging from recently refurbished grand hotels like Villa Igiea in Palermo, and the San Domenico Palace in Taormina, where series 2 of White Lotus was filmed, to hip-luxe retreats on small islands, on vineyards, on the slopes of Mount Etna and in the bijou Baroque town of Noto. Here are the best luxury hotels in Sicily.
Dating back to the 14th century, this magnificent former monastery, which has been a hotel since 1896, stands on the cliffs overlooking the Ionian Sea in Taormina, with Mount Etna to its right and the city’s ancient Greek theatre to its left. Although Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts added a good dollop of 21st-century luxury when they took San Domenico over, redecorating the rooms in the 19th-century wing and adding private plunge pools to some of the terraces there, they have been careful to retain the many impressive historical elements, from the statue-filled courtyards to the stone doorway you enter through. The charm that enticed Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, Greta Garbo and Humphrey Bogart among many other celebrities of their day, remains, as does the hotel’s links to the screen – most recently as a setting for the Netflix series, The White Lotus.
A sumptuous boutique hotel in the Baroque heart of Noto, with unparalleled views of one of the most extraordinary townscapes in Sicily. An elegant residence created as a feast for the eyes, where the ‘common spaces’ – including the elegant reception lounge – feel like rooms in a private home. Walls are deep Pompeiian red – a nod both to the favourite wall paint of the Romans and to the traditional grey, cream and oxblood encaustic tiles salvaged from the Aeolian islands and used throughout the hotel. There are just nine rooms, each different, ranging from spacious doubles to three huge master suites – all of these have balconies; one has an original Baroque frescoed ceiling. Friendly staff act like hosts rather than employees, and exude goodwill and enthusiasm, putting everyone at ease.
Sant’Andrea is suffused with good, old-fashioned class and style, without ever being stuffy or outdated. Although a fairly sizeable hotel – it has 71 rooms – the feel is intimate and personal – think English country house by the Sicilian sea. The original 1919 villa forms the core of the hotel, with opulent – but never ostentatious – marble floors and staircases, while Baroque paintings and family heirlooms scattered around the light airy lounge, reception hall and bar act as conversation pieces rather than recreating a stately home atmosphere. The hotel runs a free hourly shuttle up to its sister hotel, the Timeo, in Taormina (below), making Sant’Andrea the ideal choice for anyone wanting to combine beach-time with sightseeing, shopping and dining in town.
The term 'boutique hotel' may have lost its meaning, but Seven Rooms Villadorata is the real McCoy, a devastatingly gorgeous feast for the senses housed in a wing of the most extravagant Baroque palazzo in Sicily. The philosophy of Seven Rooms is to give guests everything they require within the privacy of their rooms – a thoughtfully stocked mini bar, artisan teas and kettle, Nespresso machine – while the spacious bathrooms, with a plethora of Villadorata's own range of body products made from natural Sicilian ingredients, make a long bath as relaxing as a spa treatment. Expect high ceilings, soaring windows with white shutter doors and heavy linen curtains, original encaustic tiled floors, and on your supremely comfortable beds, delicately puckered white silk quilts and blue alpaca throws.
An intimate country house hotel with outstanding food and charming staff, looking out to sea over the exquisite vineyards of one of Sicily’s leading wine estates. There are 14 rooms, all spacious, with French windows opening onto terraces, terracotta tiled floors, subtle kilims, and traditional Sicilian iron beds dressed with white, hand-stitched Indian eiderdowns. In good weather dinner and breakfast are served outside; in bad weather you sit inside at a communal table, long and broad enough to not make conversation with fellow guests obligatory. Cooking courses with the chef and wine tastings by members of the Planeta family offer fascinating insight into the world of Sicilian food and wine. (N.B. Hiring a car is essential here as the property is in a hard-to-reach corner of western Sicily).
Halfway between Taormina and Catania, high up on the eastern skirts of Etna, where ancient bush-trained vines spring out of the dark, lava-rich soil on dry stone terraces sits this country hotel. The mood is adventurous barefoot eco-chic, with the looming volcano conferring a special energy. Much of the food served at breakfast or dinner in the handsome, artsy in-house restaurant, Locanda Nerello, is grown right on the estate, and the part that isn’t is carefully sourced from smaller, mostly organic producers. Owner Coffa is an authority on the upcoming Etna wine scene and the estate now has its own 15-acre winery, with tastings of its own production and other Sicilian wines led by two in-house sommeliers.
This is a sophisticated Aeolian island retreat, with a design that makes it virtually indistinguishable from the rest of the island's smattering of villages. Its 27 rooms are all in individual, Aeolian-style whitewashed houses – simple, single-storey cuboids, each with its own terrace – scattered around the wine estate, and in the just-restored lighthouse (Faro) that gives the hotel its name. Architecture, landscape and unfailingly discreet service combine to create a place where guests truly can take time out from the world. As well as the freshwater pool, there is a massage pavilion, a padel-tennis court and a clubhouse. Chef Ludovico de Vivo applies eclectic creativity to both Sicilian and international traditions, with a fierce loyalty to local produce (including home-grown vegetables and salads from a garden above the pool, and Tasca d’Almerita’s own olive oil).
Lying between Mount Etna and the sea – and with glimpses of both – what really makes this place special is the feeling of being far away from the world, fully immersed in an exotic paradise. Rooms with plunge pools occupying spacious individual bungalows hidden within the subtropical gardens may make you think you are in Bali – yet the hotel is just an easy drive from Catania airport. The ‘eco lodges’ (bungalows) are huge, softly lit and minimalist, with sliding glass doors opening onto a greenery-shaded terrace. Rooms in the main house bring a minimalist touch to more traditional spaces, featuring natural stone, white tiles and shades of cream and pale green. Most have some private outdoor space, while the ‘Jacuzzi Exclusive’ suite has a terrace (with plunge pool) and views of the sea and Mount Etna.
Taormina may be overrun with tourists in high season, but there’s no denying how picturesque it is, and the Timeo stands only a few minutes’ walk from the main drag and right next to the entrance to the magnificent third-century BC Greek amphitheatre, making it one of the best luxury hotels in Sicily. The Timeo started life in 1873 as a five-room guest house occupying what is today the main building of the hotel, and was popular with artists, writers and European aristocracy. Belmond acquired the hotel in 2010 bringing their super-high service standards with them; from the porter who takes your luggage on arrival to the front desk staff, everyone is reassuringly charming and courteous. There is a spa and a heated pool set in the lovely gardens and plenty of terrace space, plus sitting rooms with huge windows from which to enjoy the magical views.
Returned to its former splendour by family-run Rocco Forte Hotels, this Art Nouveau palazzo, originally designed by Ernesto Basile for the rich Florio family, overlooks the Gulf of Palermo. It offers 78 rooms and suites, two restaurants which showcase Sicily's rich cuisine, a spa and a pool. Much of the hotel spills out onto terraces above the gardens where the Igiea Terrazza Bar offers a perfect spot for a martini and both the pool restaurant and the main restaurant offer al fresco dining. The painted walls of the Basile Room, meanwhile, are not to be missed. The concierge team have created a series of itineraries which will take guests to any of Palermo’s eight Unesco heritage sites or through the vibrant markets to buy ingredients for a cooking lesson.
Frequently asked questions
Where was The White Lotus filmed?
The second series of The White Lotus was filmed in and around the north east-coast of Sicily. The Four Seasons hotel named San Domenico Palace was where most of the story took place – and is the location of the fictious 'White Lotus' hotel that the series is named after.
Can you stay at the White Lotus hotel?
The White Lotus is not a real hotel, but you can of course stay at San Domenico Palace, you will however need a substantial budget as, like the show suggests, it is the type of place high-end travellers book for luxury holidays (with a starting room rate from around £1,000 a night).
Contributions by Mary Luissiana, Lee Marshall