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Our driver, Vincenzo met us in Catania for the most beautiful 45 minutes drive north along the east coast of Sicily to Taormina. On the one hand all the beautiful foliage blocking the view of the Ionian Sea is frustrating, but the flowers fill the warm air with fragrance, which is a lovely start. Often a resort is in the middle of nowhere and it is not exciting or beautiful until you get there, but in Sicily the journey is exciting in itself. There are little fairytale, medieval towns that seem to grow organically out of the hilltops; flowering plants trail alongside the main road and the landscape is full of grassy hills covered in gardenia trees.

Australians are a hardy bunch
when it comes to travel - we are used to long distances - but after traveling for 36 hours, Sheira and the kids were asleep in the car while I videoed and took it all in.

I absolutely loved
the character of the narrow, one-way streets as we approached Taormina and felt a mounting excitement that cut through my jet lag fog. After so much planning, I am always curious when I travel to finally see the reality. We arrived at our destination, the San Domenico Palace. Statues of monks on the old 14th century wall are there to greet you and it is pockmarked with a carved crest in roughly hewn stone. It is just magical as you pass into the serene world on the other side.

You cross the giant paved courtyard with tubs of geraniums, trailing vines and big, squat palms. As you make your way through cloisters to the cool of the arches, you drink in the sense of peace that would have been the main aim of the religious people that created this place.

The cloister architecture with vaulted ceilings, colonnades and inner courtyards has such a mystical atmosphere. There are quite a few old crosses, statues of monks or saints and church pews lining the walls, but the effect isn’t intimidating; even if the artwork had no religious meaning for us we were still struck by its beauty and presence. You can really picture the medieval monks in long robes walking around.

The walls, rooms and main structures
of these buildings are up to 700 years old so all the public spaces are on a grand scale, with very high ceilings. The look is impressive - but the actual passageways and corridors would have been very chilly and drafty back then. For a Catholic monk, ‘suffering is redemption’ - they were not here for luxury treatment, unlike today’s 21st century guests!

The modernisation elements are brilliantly done - just simple things that take away the medieval privations and add a few decadent comforts while preserving the ambiance. When you walk through the lobby now, sheer glass covers the entrance between arches, fitting beautifully against the old stone and creating the insulation to keep the warmth in, but it barely looks any different than it would have hundreds of years ago.

As we entered the lobby we were welcomed by a lovely man well into his 60’s, by the name of Michael d’Angelo. Michael showed us to our 2 rooms in the newer wing called the Grand Hotel. By the way, the “new wing” here is still hundreds of years old - that’s what I love about Italy! Michael is an institution who has worked here for 33 years. He really suits the old-world charm of this place so full of history. We loved trying something so different in this historical town. This is not just travel but time travel!

SUITE DREAMS

Michael d‘Angelo led us down
stone corridors with rich, red carpet runners up the stairs, past lovely oil paintings and ornate metals standing lamps. I had booked 2 DOUBLE DELUXE CONNECTING ROOMS with balcony and sea view - means at 450 euros each. While Michael was opening up the connection between our two family rooms I noticed big palm trees partially obscuring our view: we had a ‘tunnel view’ of the beautiful Ionian Sea through the trees rather than a wide expansive one. I went into my “got to fix it” mode when I am not quite happy with a suite and it is just not doing it for me

I asked the porters to hold the luggage that was already coming up the stairs. While looking out the window I had seen rooms all the way to the right on the corner of the hotel that would have superb, wrap-around panorama and sea views - so I said to Michael that although the room sizes were perfect, I was after something a little better …so could we talk down at reception and see if we could find a better option? Amazingly, the prime, corner suite I had pointed to him earlier from the rooms he had just shown us was available ! Michael was happy for us to switch over to the old monastery section, the ‘ANTICO CONVENTO’ wing, and take this, their most prestigious suite – The Truman suite.

A large percentage of people would accept the room blocked by the trees but I believe that if you keep pushing for what you want you can always find the win-win that keeps both you and the hotel happy.

THE TRUMAN SUITE 201

This corner, “Truman Suite”
- named after President Harry Truman who once booked but never ended up visiting - is like a big European apartment. It has a completely separate bedroom, lounge and really long bathroom - and the most incredible 270 degrees views. It was exactly what we wanted.

The great thing about the suite is its wrap around position: it not only gives you a stunning, wide view over the town, down the hill and out to sea but also around the corner. You can see over the gardens with beautiful splashes of purple and fuchsia, all the way over to the next bay Giardini Naxos.

There is nothing slick or urban
about the suite itself - it’s a tasteful, fresh take on ‘old Europe.’ The décor has kept the original integrity and stayed true to itself. The cupboards have the original strong brass rods inside; the old-fashioned phone still has switch buttons for the bellman. There are classic Persian rugs on very cool, polished tiles, ruby red side lamps, over-stuffed chairs and a beautiful wrought iron bedhead. One modern touch has slipped in - a flat screen TV on an antique chest!

It is amazing to open your shutters
to this classical Mediterranean scene - blue sky, hills covered in silvery-green olive trees, red tiled roofs, old balustrades and the windy road below.  I felt so energized to be in this suite that even though I set my alarm for 7.30am to go for my early morning run, I woke up even earlier – at 6 am. I was happily sitting on the floor of the anteroom (outside the bathroom) uploading photos onto Facebook. Cold floors and 6 am starts… the spirit of the monks lives on!

MONASTERY SUITES 713 – 2,070 Euros

NOAH’S ROOM


Our suite was at the end of a long passage-  way that lead to about 25 or 30 small rooms. Noah’s was 6 down from us at 209. As the hotel is a re-imagined monastic space the design brief is for simplicity with added comfort, and you really get a feel for the past here. These smaller rooms are the original monks’ quarters- tiny studios with a double bed, a small bathroom and a closet. Originally the windows would not even have glass in them and the doors are so low that even we had to duck to get in. They are perfect for one person and Noah loved having his own little nook. Do not be put off by the description, as these rooms had fabulous views and are truly authentic.

COST CUTTER

These rooms are also a great way for a traveler on more of a budget to enjoy a luxurious, special hotel at a fraction of the price you normally have to pay for five star in the European high season.

175 - 250 Euros

I realised that we were indeed “blessed” to actually stay in what is essentially still a historical attraction. People were often standing outside, looking at guidebooks about this unique monastery and we were actually staying here! The hotel is only open to guests, and you are surrounded by museum pieces. The frescoes, religious statues, courtyards with crumbling old walls where lush garden is taking over and bees are hovering are all so unique. You are much more likely to find a reclining medieval lord in the garden than a business man in the lobby.

We only went to the POOL once, which is the hotel’s only weakness – the pool area is a little too small and lacking ambience. A full renovation to this area could turn sitting at the pool into a truly memorable experience.






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SAN DOMENICO PALACE HOTEL| Piazza San Domenico, 5 , Taormina | +39 0942 613111 | View web site
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