I first fell in love with the scenic drama and culinary riches of Sicily more than a quarter-century ago, long before the second season of “The White Lotus” enhanced the island’s allure. Culturally, Sicily is astonishingly complex, with Greek temples and theaters from classical antiquity (most notably at Segesta, Agrigento, Syracuse and Taormina), Norman churches and cathedrals, and elaborate baroque architecture in the towns and cities of the Val di Noto, an area in the southeast that appears on UNESCO’s World Heritage list. For many visitors, a highlight of their stay is an escorted tour to remote mountain villages, where the atmosphere has changed little in the past 100 years. (Corleone, famous from the “Godfather” movies and notorious as the birthplace of a string of real Mafia bosses, is a hill town situated 35 miles south of Palermo.)
Since my first visit, Sicily has emerged as a destination in its own right, not just an add-on to an itinerary focused elsewhere. Of course, it’s also easy to connect a Sicily itinerary with one covering the Amalfi Coast, Calabria and/or the unspoiled Aeolian Islands. (If you are planning to do that, you may wish to refer to the October 2019 and April 2020 issues of the Hideaway Report, which feature Calabria and the Aeolian Islands, respectively.) But I felt no need to stray from Sicily. This time, I was drawn to a quintet of new and freshly renovated resorts that promised to provide international standards of luxury, not just adequate comfort.
Villa Igiea, a Rocco Forte Hotel
We started our Sicilian expedition with a stay at the newly refurbished Villa Igiea, located 30 minutes from Palermo’s airport and a 15-minute drive from downtown. The property is housed within a grand, turreted 19th-century palazzo on the coast. Both in the years prior to World War I and in the 1950s, the hotel received a glittering cast of international aristocracy and cinematic royalty. Unfortunately, it later lost much of its luster. In 2019, Villa Igiea was purchased by Rocco Forte Hotels and subsequently refurbished by the company’s celebrated director of design, Olga Polizzi.