World Traveller September 2019


This page: Fischetti at the foot

of Mount Etna

Opposite: Isola Bella cuts a shapely

figure in the Mediterranean Sea


jumped from the rocks, and explorers

made their way along the narrow

pebble beach to the lush Isola Bella.

As the famous German writer Johann

Wolfgang von Goethe said of Taormina

in 1787: “We could not tear ourselves

away until after sunset. To watch this

landscape, so remarkable in every

aspect, slowly sinking into darkness,

was an incredibly beautiful sight.”

Celebrating its 100 th anniversary this

year, Belmond Villa Sant’Andrea tells

a gripping tale, with all the glamour

you’d expect of an exclusive Sicilian

retreat. Built by an aristocratic family

in 1830, the villa was bought by the

Trewhella family in the 1920s (the

same Englishman who’d come to help

develop the Circumetnea railway). They

set about expanding the villa, adding

palm trees to the gardens and filling the

house with antiques and oil paintings.

Following a lockdown period during

WW2, the family reopened the villa as

a small hotel in 1950. The place quickly

became known as a celebrity hotspot,

welcoming a roster of high-profile

guests, including Sir Winston Churchill

and his wife Clementine, Richard Burton,

Elizabeth Taylor, Al Pacino and Francis

Ford Coppola. And while the Trewhella’s

waved goodbye to the property in 1985,

this stunning hotel, once just a small

house in an olive grove by the sea, still

exudes star quality. You don’t have to

look far to find the party – even the

chefs are at it, regularly transforming

the kitchen into a nightclub for foodies,









complete with DJs in chef whites.

Indeed, sparkling fountains and

evenings spent dancing along the shore

comprise a standard night ‘in’ here.

The estate is just as alluring during

the day. The aromas of orange blossom,

neroli and jasmine fill the air (a

trademark so cherished that Belmond

has introduced three dedicated suites

inspired by the scents). Eager to seek

out my own keepsakes, I made the

short stroll to the base of the Taormina

Cableway, which whisks passengers

up to the town centre in just three

minutes. And while this creaking

communal zipline may be bad news

for those with no head for heights, it

is by far the fastest route to the top –

and costs just US$6.8 (€6) return. This

picturesque hilltop town has plenty to

discover, including an ancient Greek

theatre that’s still used today. Tourists

come to soak up the sweeping Ionian

seascapes and, in my case, to shop.

Follow in the footsteps of Orson Welles,

D. H. Lawrence and Truman Capote and

browse the bustling main thoroughfare

and narrow backstreets lined with shops

selling gorgeous mementoes to those

with money to burn. From beautiful

ceramics to vintage travel posters, I was

very quickly relieved of all my euros.

There’s plenty to distract you from

spending too much, however. From

private walking tours of the town to

catching an opera at the amphitheatre.

For something a bit different, the

Belmond-organised Ape Tour of

Taormina takes you on a whistle-stop

tour of the sights in a three-wheeled

Ape Calessino (imagine a Europeanstyle

tuk tuk). You’ll visit Casa Cuseni,

a beautiful honey-stuccoed residence

built by British painter Robert Kitson

in the early 20th century, go for a picnic

on Isola Bella beach, and stop for a

drink at Wunderbar, one of Tennesse

Williams’ favourite watering holes.

If you’re eager to explore the

sparkling sea, a boat trip to the

Aeolian Islands is sure to impress.

Plot a course for Lipari, the largest

of the UNESCO-protected, ruggedly

volcanic islands that grace the coast.

Suitably relaxed, I couldn’t help

but wonder if life would be richer in

Taormina. Admittedly a dramatic change

of pace compared to Dubai, the idea

is not entirely beyond the realms of

possibility. In January this year, the town

of Mussomeli launched an initiative

inviting foreign investors to buy a

historic home there for just US$1.1 (€1)

– talk about making me an offer I can’t

refuse. No joke, however, the

initiative was designed to help regenerate

and breathe new life into the area, which

is situated just a few kilometres from the

beach and is home to just 11,000 people.

The only catch? You must renovate the

house within three years of buying it – a

task that could rack up a six-figure bill,

according to my Italian friends. So while

I may not have found my permanent

slice of Sicilian serenity just yet, the

seed has definitely been planted.

Inspired to travel? To book a trip, call

+971 4 316 6666 or visit


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