Sicilian Splendor at Villa Sant’Andrea
With Mount Etna towering over the hillside town of Taormina on the East Coast of Sicily, there really is no better European holiday destination to visit this summer, writes Natasha Eddery.
Located in the Province of Messina, about midway between Messina and Catania, the small town of Taormina is a haven for tourists – and it’s not hard to see why. With its heavenly warm Mediterranean waters, pebbled beaches, one of the most active volcanoes in Europe and exquisite food, Sicily should be on everyone holiday destination list. When it comes to choosing where to stay, for me, there are two five-star hotels in Taormina that you’d be mad not to want to anchor yourselves to – the Grand Hotel Timeo and Villa Sant’Andrea.
Both hotels are part of the outstanding Belmond Group, but each hotel is equally unique from the other. The Grand Hotel Timeo has an unsurpassed location at the very top of Taormina – boasting an ancient Greek Amphitheatre towing behind the hotel, while also indulging guests with spectacular views of Mount Etna and Cape Taormina. The Timeo is a place of elegance and grandeur, but my hotel of choice had to be its sister – Villa Sant’Andrea.
Located on the enchanting Bay of Mazzaro, Villa Sant’Andrea is set in a magical scene. The hotel curves around its very own private beach, which makes it incredibly safe, especially if you have children. You can throw open the doors onto your personal balcony, breathe in the clear ocean air and look out at the glorious aquamarine Mediterranean glistening in the sun by day and by moonlight in the evening.
When I arrived at Villa Sant’Andrea, it was cloaked in darkness. I took a moment to take in the scene from the hotel gates over looking the bay below where lights glimmered over the shallows. Standing there, I breathed in the heady scents of citrus fruits floating up from the hotels cascading tropical gardens beneath me. The sights, smells and gentle sound of water lapping intoxicated my senses.
The main part of the hotel dates back to 1830 – it was once the private home of an aristocratic English family. However, I was staying in the newest part of the hotel where the suites have a modern yet elegant ambiance in comparison to some of the authentic fashions in the old building. Overtime, the hotel has grown, sixty rooms to be precise, to become a luxury five-star destination, but it still commands the atmosphere of a charming private residence, which is no wonder celebrities like to stay here. This calm, serene retreat is akin to staying with an extended family – a family you are a part of during your short stay. This warming sense of acceptance is in part due to the enchanting hotel staff, always ready to be of assistance or just have a friendly chat – there is no pretention here.
My first morning was spent sipping coffee on the terrace at the waters edge. What could be more perfect than taking a leisurely breakfast, feeling the warmth of the sun on your skin, while over looking the Ionian Sea. I spent my days relaxing on a sun lounger, wallowing in the sea or the hotels heated infinity pool. But the complimentary daily boat tour is worth booking. You can spend a couple of hours soaking up the sun as you cruise around the Sicilian East Coast and taking a refreshing dip in one of the coves that are teaming with marine life.
If relaxing in the sun isn’t for you, there is plenty to do during your days spent at Villa Sant’Andrea. There is a private complimentary shuttle to the Grand Hotel Timeo that departs every half-hour. Here you can dine on a delicious meal at the sister hotel, soak up the history of the Greek Amphitheatre and explore delights in town. There are also day excursions to Mount Etna, which, if you have the time, is worth doing.
However, if it’s utter relaxation you are after, the Spa at Villa Sant’Andrea is the perfect oasis for winding down after a day in the sun. In-room massage or treatments can be arranged, but for pure indulgence, why not take to the open air and revitalize body and mind with a massage in the tranquil exotic gardens over looking the ocean – treatments can be undertaken by day or by moonlight. Once you are completely relaxed, stroll over to the hotels very own salon where their expert stylist will have you looking glamorous on no time at all.
When night falls, you can dine under the stars and take full advantage of the fresh Italian and regional cuisine. The Grand Hotel Timeo’s restaurant is unparalleled to any of its competitors in Taormina, not just for the exquisite food, but due to its location, too. This magical terrace restaurant boasts breathtaking views. You can sit back with a Bellini in hand and watch as the sun goes down, the stars slowly appear and the town below lights up all the way down to Cape Taormina. During my first evening dining at the Timeo, Mount Etna was erupting in the distance. I could see the river of lava flowing from the volcanoes mouth – it was truly spectacular sight to witness.
And as for the food and the wine, well, you won’t be disappointed. If you are interested in sampling regional wines, the sommelier is on hand to help you make the perfect choice to compliment your meal. The ‘Cod fish salad Sicilian style,’ a traditional Sicilian cuisine sounds rather plain, but was utter perfection. However, the finest dish I have ever eaten in any Italian restaurant, was the ‘Linguine pasta with spiny lobster, pachino cherry tomatoes and fresh dill.’ A dish so exquisite I returned on my last night and ordered it again.
Villa Sant’Andrea’s Restaurant Oliviero opens up only in the evenings. It has a wonderfully relaxed feel – the soft lighting and gentle sea breeze adds a touch of romance to the setting. There is a variety of traditional Sicilian appetizers and pasta dishes prepared and, of course, fresh market produce of the day. My antipasto of choice was the ‘Stewed octopus and prawns with candied cherry tomatoes,’ light and sweet, it was the perfect starter. Pasta is my weakness, so I could not resist the ‘Cuttlefish Linguine’. The black inky bowl of pasta, lightly seasoned with fresh black pepper, was heavenly.
For those wishing to stay in, especially if you’ve flown in late and don’t want to fuss of eating out, the room service menu is exceptionally good. Dine indoors, in the comfort of your air-conditioned room, or out on the balcony under the night sky.
One of the main components of living the dolce vita was immersing oneself in beach life. I stayed only four nights at Villa Sant’Andrea – it was the perfect short break to live out my little piece of the good life and discover some of the enchantments Sicily has to offer.
Booking information: There are direct flights from London Gatwick to Catania airport and the airport transfer time is one hour by private transfer from Catania airport. Accommodation details can be found at http://www.belmond.com/villa-sant-andrea-taormina-mare/