Like most, we will be desperate to escape once the Covid lockdown has ended. On the top of CELLOPHANELAND’s luxury travel list is the Belmond Grand Hotel Timeo, Sicily. The Italian island is offering major incentives for autumn travel in a move to reboot tourism. The regional government will cover half the cost of visitors’ flights and a third of their hotel expenses, as well as free tickets to all of the many museums and archaeological sites.
With appealing temperatures all year round, an intriguing history, unspoilt countryside, glorious architecture and a stunning coastline, it really does take some beating at the best of times. With this offer, it is top of our latest travel list.
Built in 1873, the Belmond Grand Hotel Timeo, a member of The Leading Hotels of the World Group occupies a fantastic position in the historical centre of Taormina and is certainly the most luxurious hotel in Sicily. The Belmond Grand Hotel Timeo is surrounded by five acres of tropical parkland, is furnished with beautiful Sicilian antiques and rugs and its fabulous Wellness Centre is perfumed by the scent of pine trees and jasmine wafting in through the open window.
We stayed in a Belmond Grand Hotel Timeo suite decorated in cream and gold with rich oils decorating the walls, an abundance of marble and a view to die for. Hotel rooms are located either in the Timeo Building or in Villa Flora—just a 50m walk away – both locations are excellent. Decorated in impeccable traditional Sicilian style, they feature lovely polished wood floors, heavy cream and red fabrics and good sized carrara marble bathrooms. Many offer stunning views of Etna and the coast. Do not hesitate stumping up any extra charges for the view – it is well worth whatever extra is charged.
We were most impressed to have followed in the footsteps of Robert De Niro and Sophia Loren who stay at the hotel during the Taormina film festival held in June each year. Many of the events are held in The Teatro Greco; an ancient Greek theatre that is one of the most celebrated ruins in Sicily which conveniently sits right next to the Belmond Grand Hotel Timeo and during festival times, occupiers of this suite have their own private entrance into the theatre, built in 3rd century BC.
The Timeo Restaurant at Belmond Grand Hotel Timeo is a truly magnificent place to dine. Grab an alfresco table on the hotel’s hillside terrace and embark on a culinary journey at the most scenic restaurant Taormina – or almost any other location for that matter – has to offer. Backdropped by Mount Etna and Naxos Bay, the Restaurant’s striking views are complemented by a superb menu of locally sourced favourites.
Sicillian specialities include pachino cherry tomatoes, bronte pistachios, capers from Salina, red garlic from Nubia and the finest wines including the exquisite Moscato di Pantelleria.
Belmond Grand Hotel Timeo’s huge Literary Terrace, with its heart-stopping views of Mount Etna, was named after the any literary figures who have been drawn here. D.H Lawrence wrote Lady Chatterley’s Lover at the hotel whilst writers and artists including Truman Capote, Oscar Wilde, Dali and Gustav Klimt amongst many others have also stayed.
Just a few yards from the hotel’s front entrance is the Corso Umberto I – the main street in Taormina, lined with exclusive luxury shops and cafes. Why not try a cocktail at The Wunderbar on Piazza IX Aprile; a place which Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton used to frequent regularly, so regularly in fact, that they had cocktails named after them.
The coastal resort of Taormina which sits on a beautiful buff above the Ionian Sea in northeastern Sicily is the jewel in the Sicilian crown, and was once a favourite stop on the Grand Tour. We travelled here in November and at this time of the year, the air is still filled with the scent of orange and lemon blossoms and Mount Etna is snow-capped.
If you are feeling energetic then a trip to this iconic mountain is a must. A mere 45-minute drive away from Taormina, the volcano covering 143,260 acres offers numerous opportunities for excursions suiting all levels. One of the most popular spots is the Valle del Bove; the spectacular hollow whose shape was changed by the 1992 eruptions and the hike up to the large craters at the summit is not to be missed.
Destroyed churches and moss-covered rooftops peeking through giant grey crusts of ancient lava flows are a constant reminder that Etna could erupt at any given moment making this volcano one of the most active and dramatic in the world.
For fans of The Godfather, the Belmond Grand Hotel Timeo also offers a fantastic guided tour of locations used in the film. You can visit neighbouring village Forza da Agro which boasts an imposing 16th century castle, incredible views and charming medieval streets. This is where Michael Corleone first sets eyes on his ancestral home of Corleone (the real town, south of Palermo, could not be used in the film as the Mafia demanded a payment!).
Savoca is another pretty hillside village where you will visit the Church of Santa Lucia where Michael marries his first wife Apollonia.
Bar Vitelli, a favourite of director Francis Ford Coppola, is an 18th century stone-flagged building looks exactly as it did in the film and is filled with pictures and mementos from the production.
Elsewhere on the island, Syracuse should be seen for its stunning baroque architecture and its classical Greek Theatre. The latter being one of the most important examples of ancient theatre anywhere in the world.
Noto is another Baroque gem. After the 1693 earthquake an ambitious programme of reconstruction was introduced throughout eastern Sicily and architects chose 17-century Baroque as their blueprint. Grandiose cathedrals and monuments flanking opulent squares are testimony. Noto is also a nirvana for ice-cream lovers. Caffe Sicilia is known as the world’s best gelaterie and has been in business since 1892. Try the mouth-watering coffee, almond or mulberry flavours.
Then with ice-cream at the ready, it is time to sit back, relax and admire those magical ready made film sets.
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For more information visit Belmond Grand Hotel Timeo
CELLOPHANELAND* were guests of the Belmond Grand Hotel Timeo
Recommended reading: The Godfather Notebook. To purchase visit our bookstore.