Coming back to Sicily after 16 years was a pandemic dream, and I realized on Italy’s most famous island that choosing the right hotel can transform an entire experience, creating memories that last a lifetime. Set in areas ripe for exploration, gain a deeper appreciation for Sicily’s diverse landscapes by staying at these boutique hotels that offer intriguing history, mouth-watering traditional cuisine and undeniably breathtaking views.
Pro Tip: Consider visiting Sicily during shoulder season (spring and fall) when temperatures are less extreme and crowds less intense.
1. Casa Cuseni
Considered a national monument of Italy, this yellow villa in the hilltop town, 200 meters above the Mediterranean Sea, can now be experienced as a living museum paying homage to its alluring past. Casa Cuseni hosted artists and scholars from around the world in the first half of the 20th century, including Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, Roald Dahl, Daphne Phelps, Henry Faulkner and Tennessee Wiliams. Ernest Hemingway wrote his first short story there. The property’s spectacular location, surrounded by tiered historic gardens, was designed and built by British artist Robert Hawthorn Kitson in the 1900s. Along with the stunning ocean-top cliff views with Mt. Etna flaming in the distance, this hotel is a short walk from the romantic town of Taormina, covered in bougainvillea, full of shops, restaurants, cannoli and ice cream shops and the ancient Greco-Roman theatre. still used today.
Sleep where ancient greats created great ideas and marvel at the works of these masters who shared their travel experiences here as the hotel is Taormina’s official Fine Arts Museum. Soon guests will be able to bask in a swimming pool in the lower gardens with panoramic views. Recently, Casa Cuseni was the hub of Taormina Film Fest 2022, while Christian Dior and many other notables held events here.
Since the villa is located on a steep hill, staying at Casa Cuseni is advisable for those who are comfortable climbing a good number of stairs to reach the hotel. The short walk to town can be strenuous.
Pro tips: Book the Greta Garbo Suite (with its original chair), open up an exceptional (and reasonably priced) Sicilian wine in the Etna Room, and watch the pastel colors of the sunset melt across the expansive sculpted terrace. And don’t miss the hearty homemade breakfast with Italian treats served on the top floor with an even grander view of earth, wind and fire.
2. Hotel Gutkowski
In ancient Ortygia, an island connected by three land bridges from Syracuse in southeastern Sicily, find the quaint, trendy Hotel Gutkowski by the sea in the city center, where the location makes it easy to travel the maze of narrow streets to explore many attractions. Two thousand five hundred years of history exist here with many ruins and magnificent churches like the Cathedral of Syracuse.
The Piazza Duomo dates from the 5th century BC and is within walking distance, as is the Temple of Apollo, the shops of arancini (fried stuffed Italian rice balls), the famous fountain of Arethusa, the Jewish baths , a seaside promenade, museums devoted to papyri, puppets and the innovations of Archimedes and Leonardo da Vinci, and much more.
Former fishermen’s houses in 19th century buildings, the hotel’s two restored establishments share 25 rooms. Foyers are filled with eclectic furnishings and artistic, intriguing decor. The rooms are simple but equipped with incredibly comfortable beds. The free breakfast is loaded with local delights like traditional cheese plates and milk biscuits, seasonal fruit and cherry tomato salad, organic eggs and honey, homemade yogurts and jams, and a wide choice of cereals and breads. At the end of a long day of admiring Ortigia’s Greek heritage, rest your weary legs on the hotel’s open-air terrace above the sea, perfect for the sunset aperitif.
Pro tips: Book a room with a sea view. Don’t miss dinner outside the hotel on the street, where guests feast on aubergine millefeuille, pasta with anchovies and lemon breadcrumbs, grilled sea bass and of Sicilian Brut from Etna. Parking can be tricky so best to walk from the train or get dropped off.
3. Giardino Sul Duomo
First, your car spirals through tightly carved roads to the top of the Baroque town of Ragusa Ibla in the southern part of Sicily, then your mouth may drop as you enter Giardino sul Duomo. This sanctuary, perched on top of a cliff with a panoramic view of the old town, is a short walk from the historic city center, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Marvel at the palaces, park-gardens and churches dating back to the 17th century. Today the area is famous for the television series Inspector Montalbano.
An included continental breakfast is served by the pool under the lemon trees in this extraordinary old setting and is an exciting way to start the day. Listen to the church bells as you are transported back in time and cool off from the Sicilian heat with a refreshing dip in the pool for sundowner aperitif. For less than 120 euros a night, you may quickly realize that one day here is not enough.
Some rooms hang over the winding alleys with balconies offering a direct view of the church in Piazza Duomo. Shops, restaurants, and cafes abound, making it easy to sample Italian dishes like pasta a la norma, mussel soup, lobster pasta, arancini, and mortadella pizza.
Be prepared to sweat as the narrow streets require some climbing.
Pro tips: Book your dinner in advance at the Duomo Ristorante, the 2-Michelin-starred restaurant which is just opposite the hotel. Ask for a room above the charming streets. If the hotel is fully booked, neighboring sister property Neropece Suites offers stylish rooms with private terraces located in what looks like an old wine cellar but is actually where farmers lived and housed their livestock.
4. Whitebay Complex
You might think you’re in the Caribbean at the beachfront enclave of Fontane Bianche, located about 7 miles above Syracuse on the Ionian Sea. The seaside resort and spa called “7 steps from the sea” was a surprising discovery because we wanted to be located a little near Catania airport.
A nearby stroll through the adjacent neighborhood gave the impression that luxury homes had been abruptly abandoned long ago, although many estates and a yacht club still exist here. Although there is no central business district, there is no need to leave Whitebay Resort. Dive into the calm aquamarine water and appreciate the beauty of the secluded sandy section with small white coastal cliffs in sight – where we saw locals breaking off pieces to use as natural mud masks in the sea.
Throughout the property, guests can admire massive and colorful elaborate paintings by artist Alessandro Sanfilippo that make the viewer think. I met him on the beach for a free sunset yoga, taught in Italian, of course, where he told me that the painting in the lobby hallway had taken over 5 years.
At the top of the resort, guests happily dine on traditional Sicilian fare at the sprawling terrace restaurant with sparkling ocean views. A continental breakfast buffet offers seemingly endless options, making it a great way to try local cuisine. Platters of fresh seafood arrive with olive oil and the famous prawns. Enjoy stuffed seafood cannolis, various pastas, and Sicilian Frappato red wine.
Pro Tip: Ask for a sea view room with terrace and direct access to the beach. To enhance your stay, book the Spa Suite with private access to the sauna, hammam and view of the ocean from the indoor swimming pool which belongs to you from 10:00 p.m. until the morning.
5. ADLER Spa Resort SICILY
This newly opened oasis puts the natural environment in the spotlight. The ADLER Spa Resort SICILIA sits on a plateau overlooking the Mediterranean Sea with a fragrant pine forest and a ribbon of golden sand separating it from the sparkling waters. Located next to the Salsa Nature Reserve, flora and fauna abound on this unspoiled coastline in the province of Agrigento, one hour and 40 minutes from Palermo and Trapani.
The environment and construction have been carefully thought out to create a perfect harmony with the landscape, reminding me of the clean lines, neutral colors, rectilinear shapes and earthy materials of Nobu hotels. Each modern style room in natural wood has a private terrace with access to the gardens and swimming pools, offering both seclusion and sea views. For those who want to put their toes in the sand, guests can access a sheltered private sandy beach below.
Find the utmost zen at every turn, whether it’s fine Sicilian cuisine with sunset views or a massage at the contemporary spa complete with stunning views of the coast and azure waters below.
Pro Tip: Book a one-of-a-kind stay, like a yoga retreat, gourmet tasting experience, detox days, romantic getaway, and more.