All eyes are on Sicily this week during one of Italy’s most historic and glamorous festivals, Taormina. At the festival’s opening on Saturday was Claudia Cardinale, the unforgettable actress who starred in The Leopard, filmed on Sicilian soil. Also arriving at the festival were Bo Derek, Melanie Griffith, Eva Longoria, Pamela Anderson and Paz Vega.
The Taormina Film Festival has been hosted over the years by many stars of international cinema, including Elizabeth Taylor, Marlene Dietrich, Sophia Loren, Cary Grant, Robert De Niro, Marlon Brando, Charlton Heston, Audrey Hepburn, Gregory Peck and Tom Cruise, amongst others.
I was lucky enough to stay at two of Sicily’s finest hotels – Hotel Timeo and Villa Sant’Andrea, which are two of Hollywood’s A-listers’ favourite destinations.
THE GRAND HOTEL TIMEO
Adjacent to the ancient Greek Theatre, which was founded in the third century with Mount Etna as a backdrop, The Belmond Grand Hotel Timeo, set high in the hills, really has spectacular views over the Sicilian coastline. No doubt the stars of this week’s festival will be enjoying their champagne or Aperol spritz on the terrace before dining in their fine restaurant.
The English writer D.H. Lawrence stayed at the Grand Hotel Timeo, and was inspired by its view. It is said that he wrote Lady Chatterley’s Lover during his time in Taormina. I took my husband, and I can attest to the romance of the hotel.
The hotel consists of 140 units, rooms and suites. At the top of the hill, the presidential suite features two elegant bedrooms, a lounge and dining room, and a large terrace with a private jacuzzi.
Dining by candlelight, the hotel restaurant blends into the Sicilian hills, and the mixture of Sicilian and Mediterranean cuisine gives us a sense of why the famous come back time and again. The food is delicious and our highlights were thin sliced cod fish on watercress salad with olive capers and tomatoes (which was very refreshing) before having rack of lamb au gratin with sweet almonds. Both are utterly delicious.
My colleague tried eggplant gnocci with tomato and fresh oregano sauce, and Carnaroli rice with zucchini flowers, sea urchin eggs and goat ricotta cheese. I wasn’t sure about the sea urchin but apparently it was an exotic and mouthwatering dish!
Their speciality is “Razza Modicana,” thinly sliced grilled Sicilian beef served with a selection of sauces.
Our evening ended in the early hours when the piano player finished his finale of the evening – time to retire to its sister Hotel Villa Sant’Andrea, we thought!
I have stayed at many top hotels over the years and as one of Belmond’s sister hotels (The Splendido in Porto Fino) is one of my very favourites, I was expecting similar exemplary service. The Villa Sant’Andrea certainly did not disappoint.
Set on its own exclusive beach amongst subtropical gardens, it was built by an aristocratic family in 1830 and has retained all the charm of a private retreat. Red and white geraniums surround the entrance to the hotel and with a warm greeting from the staff, you really feel as though you have come home. The light marble white walls and fine arts give you a feeling of cool and simple elegance. This is not overbearing, but restful and calm. Remember to find Mario, who will give you the “insider’s track” on all the local happenings (and a little gossip besides!).
With the Grand Hotel Timeo a cable car ride up the hills and situated in the centre of town, the Villa Sant’Andrea is an escape away from the hustle and bustle. A honeymooners’ choice, I would say.
With romance their priority, they think of everything – a little Evian bottle to spray over you on the beach when the temperatures get too much and a bookmark when you doze off on the sun lounger by the heated pool if you prefer that to the sea. In their Wellness Centre, they even offer a Full Moon massage in an open air gazebo. Definitely for honeymooners!
I stayed in one of their recently opened suites, which was light and sophisticated, and whose turquoise ceramics set off the pool and clear blue sea below. The furnishings were cool marble, soft grey leather and contemporary art work. Cashmere blankets and linen sheets were definitely a plus compared to hotel sheets and duvets.
My favourite pastimes? Breakfast of eggs Benedict on the terrace overlooking the sea, a dip in the ocean followed by salade nicoise, enjoying a bottle of rose with my friends, an afternoon lazing on the sun bed, catch-up time with a book, cocktails on the hotel suite terrace before dressing for dinner, and taking the cable car into Taormina town. For those who need to explore, the Isola Bella Natural Reserve is perfect for snorkelling, and a boat ride on Mazzaro Bay can take you around the caves of the Grotta Azzurra of Sicily.
Frankly, I found little fault with Villa Sant’Andrea and for a touch of Sicilian history (Mafia included!) romance and utter tranquility, I would definitely recommend this hotel.
Drawbacks? Well, not many. The shopping, restaurants and nightlife are a taxi ride away but then, who needs any of that when you can just melt away to the sounds of the sea….?
Villa Sant’Andrea Via Nazionale 137 98039 Loc. Massaro
Reservations: +39 01 852 678453
Fax: + 39 01 852 678458
Grand Hotel Timeo, Via Teatro Cgeco 59 98039 Taormina
Reservations: +39 01 852 678452
Fax: +39 01 852 678457