Don’t credit me with the term—Four Seasons are the ones who polled more than a million social media followers and dubbed “Wandermust” an official trend: the insatiable need felt by travel-deprived globetrotters to indulge their wanderlust with newfound urgency and passion. That sounds about right to me, and perhaps explains why on a recent jaunt to Sicily—an island I’ve dreamed of visiting for years—nothing short of a palace would do.
Enter San Domenico Palace, Taormina, A Four Seasons Hotel. The 14th-century convent became a luxury hotel in 1896, hosting the likes of Oscar Wilde and Audrey Hepburn. Now the Four Seasons have taken it over and transformed it into one of the most exquisite, dare I say perfect, properties I have ever checked into—so much so that when I checked out three days later, I felt haplessly ejected from the Garden of Eden. Behold the magic ingredients.
THE DESIGN It’s the consummate marriage of old and new. Remnants of the historic convent that was are everywhere, from the nave-like corridors and vaulted ceilings to the Medieval art. But insanely plush rooms are pristine and new, with modern décor that pays homage to a storied past; in the seaside suites, private plunge pools are pure joy. One room in the lobby, though, won my heart: It has the magnificent gall to have nothing in it but an antique desk, two gargoyles and a glorious ocean view.
THE LOCATION Speaking of that view, Taormina specializes in them. There’s a volcano (feted Mt. Etna). An ancient Greek theater. Mountains that plunge into cerulean beaches. Local art fueled by Sicilian mythology. And charming cobblestone streets filled with bars and restaurants and shops. It’s no wonder Taormina has lured big-name travelers since the 19th century. If you have just days to spend in Sicily, as I did, spend them here.
THE VIEWS Mt. Etna is at your breakfast table, a surreal backdrop to the hotel terrace. While swimming in the divine infinity pool, there’s that majestic island landscape that those tourists peering down on you have come all this way to snap shots of. And from some rooms, gaze on the ancient Greek theater while lounging in bed. Even if you never leave the hotel, you’ve seen it all.
THE FOOD You came to Sicily to eat. Of course you did; 56% of respondents to the Four Seasons “Wandemust” poll were eager for a getaway that’s “all about the food.” San Domenico Palace knows this—and does not disappoint. The property’s delectable eateries specialize in Sicilian delights and locally sourced food and wine; I don’t think I sipped a single variety that was not from the slopes of Mt. Etna (and in three days I sipped many a glass!). Breakfast is on the terrace: Sicilian omelets, freshly made cannoli, a decadent spread of cured meats, cheeses, fresh fruit and pastries. Lunch at Rosso is an elegantly casual affair—eggplant tartare with vinegar and steamed carpaccio octopus; eggplant parmigiana; slices of “Cinisara” beef with rocket, pachino tomato and cheese flakes—or, on the pool deck at Anciovi, a salute to all things of the sea: Sip a Grapefruit blow fizz while indulging in seafood masterpieces like linguine with lobster, cherry tomatoes and courgette flowers. The hotel’s crown jewel is Principe Cerami, a fine-dining celebration of Sicilian cuisine courtesy of Etna native Chef Massimo Mantarro. Both the tasting and a la carte menus are choc-a-block with gems: raw Mediterranean langoustine, vegetable pearls, ‘cola’ apple jam, steamed wheat and ‘calvisius’ caviar; cuttlefish ink spaghetti with marinated cuttlefish tagliatelle and zucchini flowers fondue; roasted lamb loin with Tropea red onion, smoked ricotta cheese and parsley sauce; for desert, hazelnut from Etna with mascarpone, Earl Grey and lime. Grant yourself five pounds to gain on this holiday.
THE LUSHNESS What did I say about the Garden of Eden? It’s outside your door, above the pool deck: a Medieval-style garden ripe with orange and lemon trees and rows of aloe and lavender, bursting with scent. It’s in the courtyard in the hotel lobby, too, where an herb garden flourishes and couches welcome guests to sit and, after all we’ve been through, pause to take in all this flawlessness.