In this blog, you have already met two Italian Orient Express hotels: a Florentine villa San Michele and romantic hotel Caruso in Ravello. I want to tell you about two more recently opened in the town of Taormina, in Sicily. We have already discussed with the creator of this wonderful blog that a lot has been written about Italy lately, maybe even too much … But both agreed that the passion for Italy is nothing more than natural for anyone who is passionate about deluxe travel, and this country is on fascinating is inexhaustible.
If you are flying direct to Sicily, Catania Airport is a forty minute drive from Taormina. What is easier!
Our idea to go to Taormina by car, leaving early in the morning from Amalfi and going down the “alliance” of the Italian boot to the ferry to Messina, we first tested on Italian friends. The most used word in relation to our plan was “pazzi” – crazy. And then followed the whole range of Italian emotions from “it’s so far away” to “there is no road there at all.” The fact is that the famous autostrada del sole, which conveniently connects the main cities of Italy from Milan to Naples, ends in Naples. For the construction of the section from Naples south to Reggio di Calabria, money has been allocated by the government many times over the past thirty years, but each time it was elegantly plundered by the mafia, so that the motorway is still unfinished. But this does not mean that there is no road. In fact, there is, and one of the most beautiful in Italy: entirely bridges and tunnels, endless green hills, golden heather, and in some places bursts of Mediterranean blue when the road is pressed against the sea. The feeling that you are flying over the heather and the sea, and you want to sing out loud some very Italian songs.
… Messina, where we crossed by ferry, seemed nondescript and dusty, even the thought crept in, and whether it was in vain that we had been carried to Sicily from the cozy towns of Amalfitana, but there was no time to dwell on this thought: traffic in Messina is not for the faint of heart drivers, and we were insanely happy to have made it (on the third attempt, because the GPS does not know how to choose the right lane, and once you get into the wrong one, you can’t break out of the continuous stream humming with horns and creaking brakes) to the freedom of the toll freeway.
Taormina did not disappoint us, but charmed us. Immediately and forever. Even those who got tired after eight hours of travel and immediately upon entering the city got stuck (in the literal physical sense of the word) in a street so narrow that even our authentic, undersized lunch was clearly and unequivocally not squeezed into it. A good friend of GPS in Italy often takes for a road what is a very conditional road: before we had to ford rivers and fold mirrors, but this time we were physically stuck, like Winnie the Pooh in Piglet’s house. We were saved by a kind Taorminian, whom we blocked the way: he got behind our wheel and pushed the car through the narrow neck of the street. How? Miraculously, apparently. Because the street was clearly narrower than cars.
My Sicilian friends do not consider Taormina Sicily, but a more authentic Sicily is not for everybody. And, frankly, I’m not sure that I’m this very amateur. But that I am a lover of Taormina is beyond doubt.
The photographs of the city are like staged shots: the walking crowd is so picturesque, the facades of buildings are decorative against the background of the sky and mountains, the squares opening directly into the sky and the sea … not that I settled there permanently, as I sometimes want to in the small towns of Tuscany and Umbria, but the idea of spending a couple of weeks in Taormina is quite tempting. The city is almost ideal from a tourist point of view: everything is within walking distance (and as our Winnie the Pooh experience shows, it would be better to actually walk), but the winding streets provide enough colorful material for leisurely walks and leisurely exploration: antique shops and a colorful local ceramics, Sicilian sweets and spices famous all over Italy, picturesque fruit shops, countless restaurants with fresh seafood, tiny tables piled right on the stone stairs (all side streets consist entirely of steps) – it’s really good to walk here, and you won’t get bored in a couple of days , as is sometimes the case in resort towns.
It must be understood that Taormina itself (its historical and most attractive part) is not located on the sea. The sea is visible from everywhere. But it is far below. That’s why I like the concept of two hotels so much: one, Grand Hotel Timeotook the most strategic place next to the Greek Amphitheater at the very top of the hill (the view from your room may well compete with the one from the amphitheater, and you don’t have to pay for entrance), in the historical center, and all the sights, shops, restaurants are around .
Second, Villa Sant’Andrea, idyllicly located on a picturesque private beach, in a small bay at the foot of the mountain, in the town of Taormina Mare. There is only one street in Taormina Mare, and even that one is passing, but from a beach point of view, the place is simply unique for Europe, because Villa Sant’ Andrea is not located next to the beach, but right on the beach, private, almost unbelievably beautiful.
A comfortable minibus runs between the two hotels, and each guest of any of the two can freely enjoy the delights of the location of both. Guests of the Grand Hotel can use all the services of the Villa and vice versa. In addition, they are connected by the city funicular, if this is more to your liking. In the winter of 2009-2010, after the purchase of the hotels by the Orient-Express company, they underwent a multi-million dollar restoration. Now they are another chic example of Italian hospitality classics, combined with all the modern amenities of a five-star deluxe.
I stayed at these hotels in the spring of 2010, five days after the completion of the restoration and opening, and my trained professional eye found some rough edges. But the same gaze constantly stumbled upon the magnificent direttore Luca Finardi (before the opening of the Sicilian hotels, successively headed Caruso and Villa San Michele), who fluttered tirelessly here and there in his perfectly polished Italian narrow-toed boots, harshly giving instructions to the staff … in general, I have there is reason to believe that now everything there resembles Luka’s polished shoes – stylish, immaculate and without creaking.
Grand Hotel Timeo and before it was bought by a rich network, Orient Express was the hallmark of Taormina, the personification of Sicilian chic, Audrey Hepburn and Sophia Loren stopped here more than once. But to understand the level of Orient Express, you need to live in Orient Express. It doesn’t come cheap, but it’s worth it.
For me, the ideal service is when you feel like a welcome and long-awaited guest in a hotel, serving which is not an obligation, but a real pleasure. Not every five-star hotel can offer such luxury. Next, it’s all about the little things. For example, when at breakfast I just swung to attach my bag under the table (and where else?), and the waiter, smiling from ear to ear, already gracefully puts a special bench under it. Or, for example, the art of timing so that prosecco in ice appears in the room a minute before the arrival of guests (and does not float in the water, put there too early), and luggage exactly a minute later, while you are still admiring the view from the window. Well, as a bonus, the concierge not only knows you by name in advance and smiles at you like a best friend, but is also ready to share a homemade limoncello recipe. This is the Orient Express style, small and traditional hotels in the best sense of the word, more like luxurious private villas than hotels: each room is unique in layout and details, every corner, both in the building and in the garden, invites you to sit down, order an aperitif , a cup of coffee, chat. And, I assure you, you will take out your camera more than once to capture yourself against the backdrop of the exquisite interiors and garden of the Timeo Hotel. Especially at those points where the majestic Mount Etna is visible.
(I will say that if you like super-modern interiors and professionally impregnable staff – you are not here.)
… Moving from the Grand Hotel to Villa Sant Andreapaying tribute to long delicious walks, baroque churches, Trussardi shops, cheerful Sicilian ceramics, romantic Taormina restaurants, a magnificent pool overlooking Mount Etna … I dreamed of the sea.
I was promised that I could dive into it almost from the balcony of my room. Coming out on this very balcony (decorated with picturesque geraniums against the background of breathtaking azure, with a bottle of prosecco in ice on a small wrought-iron table), I exhaled: here! it!!! The ideal European hotel on the sea has finally been found! It was a little embarrassing that no bathers could be seen in the perfectly transparent bay. The beginning of June is cold for Italians, my husband and I optimistically assumed and rushed to the beach (not straight upside down from the balcony, but along a charming stone staircase through a well-groomed garden full of blooming bougainvilleas, of course). Why there were no bathers, it became clear pretty quickly: the sea looked like a soup of jellyfish painted in soft violet color. This did not stop me – just think, jellyfish! My first step into lilac-azure transparency ended with a cry worthy of Canadian Indians: for the first minute it seemed to me that I had played football with a hot frying pan, for the second a crimson scar bulged on my ankle.
“Sicilian tattoo” remained for six months. But! Attention! Starting this season, there is no place in Sicily more guaranteed from the invasion of jellyfish than the beach of Villa Sant’Andrea: the picturesque bay is blocked by a net impenetrable for these lilac creatures. I won’t claim that this useful innovation is a direct result of my elegant “tattoo” on the ankle, demonstrated to the vice president of Orient Express at a conference in Las Vegas, but perhaps this played a role: now you can dive into the azure sea directly from a balcony decorated with scarlet geraniums (although it’s more convenient all the same from an impeccable private beach).
It should be added that Taormina, despite all its undeniable advantages, is still quite reasonable in terms of prices in comparison with the more “promoted” Italian resorts. A suite at Villa Sant’ Andrea, with a huge terrace overlooking the sea, is cheaper even in high season than a standard room at Costa Smeralda or at Forte dei Marmi.