Travel to SicilySicily – The Simple Life
Perhaps it’s those 8am meetings or your thrice-weekly Booty Boot Camp commitment. Or maybe you’re just battling a fierce addiction to Snapchat. Whatever the case, the simple life sometimes sounds very appealing – especially when it involves a week in Sicily. Here, it’s all about an old-school Italian experience sans the over-indulged oligarchs and pretense.
Good For: Couples – hello romance. A lifetime trip for almost anyone looking to unplug, enjoy Italian culture, and spend quality time with your travel companion(s), including large family reunions. Sicily is one of Italy’s most beautiful and historical regions.
- Checking in to the Grand Hotel Timeo, which even for luxury hotel afficionados is one of the most exquisite hotels in the world. Dinner here is not to be missed. The view could easily overtake any cuisine, if the chef here wasn’t so skilled.
- Spending the day in Mazzaro at the Villa Sant’Andrea, which of course has its own boat. And it’s no small dinghy; the hotel ride gives new meaning to “I’m on a boat.”
- Strolling through Taormina from the early morning hours, when locals line up for a brioche and granita at Bam Bar, to late in the evening when the town gelato stands close at 1am.
- Catching a performance at the Teatro Greco; it doesn’t matter what you see, though performances range from Sting to Rigoletto.
- Wandering through the old town of Castelmola, the quintessential medieval town that has prime views of Mount Etna on a clear day.
- Experiencing Mount Etna – the highest active volcano in Europe. Skip the tortuous hike and take a van up to the top where even in the summer, it snows.
- Enjoying the simplicity of Sicily by having no other purpose but to unplug and relax, just for one day. You could get used to this. Trust us.
Recommended Stay: Optimally a week, but we focus on Taormina, which can be properly done in three days. Don’t be surprised, though, if your end game becomes retiring in Sicily.
A Place to Call Home
The Orient Express took over the Grand Hotel Timeo and the Villa Sant’Andrea and reopened them after a gut reno in 2010. Even for hard-core OE standards, they’ve outdone themselves. The Timeo is in the heart of Taormina, calling the Teatro Greco, a Greek Theater, its neighbor. There’s even a secret entrance from the Timeo to the theater; just ask Russell Crowe and Amy Adams, who were shuttled through for the Taormina Film Festival. From the terrace, which has the best aperitivo hour in town, you’re in a prime position to take in views of Mount Etna, the highest active volcano in Europe. Don’t be surprised if you have life revelations from this vantage point, as this is what it’s all about.
Rooms define exquisite, especially if you book room 320, a junior suite with its own wraparound terrace. Nothing but a corner apartment will do after this. While the hotel was completely renovated, top to bottom, rooms are lavishly comfortable, as if you were a guest in a noble friend’s home.
The “unplug, relax, and gelato” therapy begins at the hotel pool, where they serve up some of the best almond granita and the vintage gelato truck is just a little too close to your lounger to not be on a three-gelato-a-day diet. As for service, you won’t find anything better. Unlike most hotel concierges who’ll send you to the nearest restaurant where fanny packs are all the rage, Steven will point you to the best local pizza joint, and top tables you’re not going to find in the guides.
For those who travel with entourage, the most luxurious villa to rent in all of Sicily is the Don Arcangelo all’Olmo. Owned by Italian nobility – how is that for old-school Italian? – every piece of furniture down to the details of art books has been personally curated by the owner, Donna Marina and her husband. Fit for an entourage, the 12-room villa has views of Mount Etna, along with a pool that necessitates lounging and having the full-service staff cook and cocktail for you all day. A short 30-minute drive to Taormina, the Olmo is also located close to tiny towns like Santa Maria La Scala, where at La Grotta, they one-up farm to table with sea to table. Think Sicily, the brilliant thinking behind the luxury villa rental concept in Sicily, essentially makes anything possible, from private boats in the Aeolian Islands to watching Stromboli erupt from a relatively safe distance to helicopter rides, scuba excursions, and simple luxuries like cooking classes and wine tastings. You name it, you got it.
Simplicity defines Sicilian food, but the intensity of the volcanic soil and Mediterranean sea take flavor up to the next level. For the best pizza, locals go to Shelter, which doesn’t sound Italian, but serves up a perfectly thin-crust house special, the Mount Etna pizza. Low-key nights are spent over Sicilian family-style dinners at Maffei’s in their garden, which has the traditional sardine pasta topped with breadcrumbs, a gorgeous branzino, and flaming Crepes Suzette to end the meal. For mama’s classic Italian trattoria, head to Lorenzo’s, which is no frills but is known to bring even the most discerning diners back for multiple precious meal allotments in a short trip. If you want to turn up the romance factor, Vicolo Stretto has an intimate terrace where you can wile away the hours over a melting pot of Sicilian cuisine from all over the island. For the buzzed-about meal, head to Nero d’Avola to experience the mad scientist chef, who hunts for his own food. Since the New York Times covered the restaurant, dinners have been in chaos, and you lose the essence of the experience with a frazzled chef. The insider secret? Book a terrace table for lunch instead. Second piece of insider info? Your curiosity of the claims of luxury will likely overtake you to check out the San Domenico Palace Hotel across the street. Expect this to be a quick stop. Even in the height of the season, you’ll mainly find 12-year-olds on their iPads trying to escape Mom and Dad in the courtyard bar.
You’re on a Boat
The essence of experiencing Sicily is to get on a beach and boat for a day. The Timeo’s sister hotel, Villa Sant’Andrea can get you both, with its own private beach and very large hotel boat. Even better – it’s included gratis as part of your stay at either hotel. Sign up for the afternoon excursion, which will allow you to spend the day at the beach and enjoy a lunch of lobster and grilled prawns. All this against a backdrop of azure Mediterranean waters. Sure, you may be up for the occasional table dancing at Morgana Bar, which, by the way, makes the best cocktails in town, but the real beauty of Sicily is its simplicity and the option to do nothing at all.