What do Oscar Wilde, Audrey Hepburn and Truman Capote have in common? Probably not much, except that they all sought inspiration in beautiful Taormina, an eastern Sicilian town set along the cliffs of Mount Tauro, overlooking the Bay of Naxos.
Intellectuals, artists and Hollywood’s elite wintered here for generations, but by the millennium day-trippers and package tour groups had rendered Taormina more of a mid-market, summer-only spot. Happily, the glam is now coming back — thanks in large part to a re-boot of two iconic properties by Orient-Express Hotels: the cliff-top Grand Hotel Timeo, which launches its first full season on March 25, and the beachside Villa Sant’Andrea, re-opening on April 15.
Given its spot-on success with other Italian properties like the Hotel Cipriani, Hotel Splendido and Villa San Michele, it’s only right that Orient-Express brings its brand of relaxed-luxury to this re-emerging location. At the Timeo, originally built in 1873 as Taormina’s first hotel, the overhaul has resulted in refurbished public spaces, an enlarged poolside eatery, and 70 expanded, completely redone rooms, many with terraces overlooking still-active Mount Etna.
A new spa, nestled among the terraced gardens, uses indigenous ingredients like olive oil, orange blossom and volcanic ash in its treatments, while the panoramic terrace restaurant highlights edible Sicilian products like Bronte pistachios and Salina capers. With the town’s famous second-century Greek theater, which is still used for concerts and Taormina Film Fest screenings, set right behind the hotel, the Timeo has served as a base for visiting performers like Elton John, Robert DeNiro and Colin Firth.
Connected to the Timeo via free shuttle (or a quick funicular ride), the former private residence Villa Sant’Andrea has been turned into an elegant, 60-room resort complete with private beach access to the Bay of Mazzarò. More intimate than its town-center sister, the Villa’s vibe is sandy-chic and family-friendly — think lively piano bars and outdoor pizza ovens.
Still, the sexy quotient has been upped for 2011 with the addition of a new seaside infinity pool (consider the gauntlet thrown, Hotel Caruso). With many guests splitting their vacations between the two five-stars, together the hotels are helping to draw discerning travelers back to Taormina.
Now if only they would stay open through the winter.