6 magical spots to visit in Sicily (with a touch of The White Lotus)
The White Lotus, HBO's smash hit, has made Sicily more popular than ever but luckily there's plenty to see across the island.
Sicily is one of Europe's most fascinating destinations, an Italian island in the centre of the Mediterranean ‒ a whopping 35 times the size of Singapore ‒ which has been at the crossroads of history and culture for more than 8,000 years
The Greeks, Romans, Phoenicians, Arabs, Normans and Bourbons are just some of the peoples to have called Sicily home, all of whom have contributed to its remarkable ancient sights, traditions and cuisine.
Sicily. the Med's largest island, has also been immortalised on the silver screen and TV, notably in iconic movies like The Godfather and The Talented Mr Ripley but most recently, in the smash HBO hit, The White Lotus.
Equally hilarious and poignant, the sharp satire won millions of fans around the world and has caused high-end tourism in Sicily to skyrocket ‒ especially so in the elegant cliffside town of Taormina, where the series was based.
Here are six ways to get the most out of Sicily ‒ while channelling some White Lotus action along the way.
SAN DOMENICO PALACE, TAORMINA, A FOUR SEASONS HOTEL
Given that the vast majority of White Lotus was shot here and in the surrounding town of Taormina, there's simply nowhere else to start our Sicily immersion. But even if the show hadn't turned it into one of Italy's most sought-after places to stay, it is still a stunning property in its own right.
San Domenico ‒ Saint Dominic ‒ refers to the hotel's original 14th century role as a convent and to this day multiple surviving elements include ancient cloistered courtyards and incredible handcrafted furniture.
First converted into a hotel in 1896, over the years Oscar Wilde, DH Lawrence, Audrey Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor are just some of the galaxy of stars who have stayed within its elegant walls.
Another draw which has remained unchanged is the truly jaw-dropping views, not only over the azure waters of the Mediterranean below, but to the stunning hilltop Greek amphitheatre to the west and snow-capped Mt Etna, Sicily's legendary volcano, which is often smouldering gently just to the east.
Stunning palazzo accommodation includes 111 rooms and suites, while the infinity pool, the citrus-filled gardens and famed restaurant terraces are some of the biggest draws.
For fans of the show, however, it's as much the reception desk, the hallways and perhaps most of all the bar which are the most iconic spots. Happily no one amongst the relaxed and friendly staff bats an eyelid if you take a selfie in any of them.
Italy boasts plenty of Michelin stars for its legendary cuisine, but Sicily feels under-represented given the legendary status of its produce from volcanic soils and rich culinary traditions. Of 19 stars on the island, only three places hold two stars, one of them being the sublime Duomo.
Meaning 'cathedral', it takes its name from the beautiful Baroque place of worship towering above the medieval hilltop town of Ragusa, some two hours' drive south of Taormina on Sicily's southern coast. The chef behind it is a true Sicilian culinary hero, Ciccio Sultano.
The setting is perfectly, elegantly Italian, with contemporary art complimenting the ancient walls of Palazzo La Rocca which serves as home. Sultano champions producers across Sicily, from cured meats, spices and honey, through to sustainable fish from an aquaponic producer whose circular model sees him grow fabulous vegetables and herbs using wastewater.
On the alluring menu this translates into highly evocative dishes such as spaghetti with sea urchin and almond butter, a breath-taking warm ricotta with caviar and prawns or a meatless 'lasagne of leaves' which had us scratching our heads how no meat was involved in its creation. A spectacular wine list accompanies, more than half of which comes from Sicily.
CAPOFARO ESTATE, AEOLIAN ISLANDS
A short ferry ride from Sicily sit the Aeolian Islands, another part of this Mediterranean jewel that has to be seen to be believed. Stromboli is well-known for its fiery volcano and hardy locals who live underneath it, but 35km away sits gorgeous Salina.A compact and rugged island, it is home to the Capofaro Estate from the famed and historic winemaking family Tasca d'Almerita. Just 27 charming rooms and suites are dotted across the 4.5 hectare property which is decked in Malvasia vineyards and pink bougainvillea flowers to gorgeous effect.
If you're lucky, the suites under the old lighthouse which gives the estate its name will be available, letting you sip on vintages as Stromboli smokes on the horizon. If you can pull yourself away from those views, the world-class food and wines like sweet and aromatic Malvasia, then visits can be arranged to experience the island's finest artisanal food producers.
After being driven along vertiginous roads overlooking azure blue seas, a chance' to see Salina's prized capers being harvested is a remarkable lesson which will ensure you never take these hand-harvested salty jewels for granted again.
LE MAMME DEL BORGO
If there's one way to guarantee that you're learning about and tasting truly traditional Sicilian recipes, it's when they come from the hands of an exclusive group of ladies known as Le Mamme del Borgo.
These fabulous women ‒ sometimes grandmothers, the famed 'nonnas' of Italian culture, sometimes local homemakers or professional women earning extra income ‒ guarantee that the flavours, ingredients define authentic.
Passionate about their traditional recipes and dishes, they open their doors to guests keen to learn the real way to craft pasta alla Norma, fragrant and moreish pistachio arancini or deliciously decadent cannoli, the famed Sicilian dessert of ricotta-stuffed cigars of pastry. The extra ingredient they add of love? That comes as standard.
The Mamme have a Facebook page, while the elegant and renowned Belmond Grand Hotel Timeo in Taormina can assist their guests in organising these unique culinary experiences ‒ where mamma always knows best.
Kapuhala may be a familiar name to some in Asia as they have two properties, one of which is on the popular Thai island of Koh Samui. Their sister resort Kapuhala Sicily has quickly built a reputation by doing things differently, notably in opening Vivi Vinu, one of Sicily's few restaurants to focus on vegan and vegetarian cuisine.
With a menu developed in conjunction with Sauro Ricci, executive chef of Milan's one-starred Joia Milano, much produce comes directly from their 60 acres of organic farms, vineyards and olive groves. Their Nero d'Avola grapes, an indigenous Sicilian classic, are crafted by winemaker Salvo Foti.
Wellness is another key element, so fans of yoga will enjoy their botanic yoga studio, while the resort's self-sustainable ethos sits well with those intent on low-impact travel.
Kapuhala is located in Sicily's south-eastern corner, south of Syracuse, in a dreamy fishing village called Marzamemi which has become a hot spot for an international fashion crowd ‒ a major fashion show held there last year by Dolce & Gabbana shows the allure of Sicily is stronger than ever.
Fans of White Lotus will know the key role played by a villa in the show, as Villa Tasca was the stunning retreat where Harper Spiller and Daphne Sullivan (played by Aubrey Plaza and Meghann Fahy respectively) checked into for some girl time away from their partners.
The 16th century beauty is in Sicily's northwest near the capital city of Palermo and is now available to rent on Airbnb for around S$8,300 per night ‒ although it does sleep eight guests.Another option for an idyllic villa comes in northeast Sicily at Villa Dionisio where an olive grove provides the backdrop to a magnificent space sleeping ten. As is often the case in Sicily, incredible coastal views come as standard from your pool and wraparound terraces.
For those seeking local immersion, the owners can arrange cooking and yoga classes, boat trips or visits to the dramatic natural wilderness of the Nebrodi mountains and their hidden villages.