With Italy slowly lifting lockdown restrictions, we shine the spotlight on Sicily – one of the regions least affected by Covid-19 – where the stunning new Villa Igiea, a Rocco Forte Hotel, was due to make its grand debut in picturesque Palermo this month (June).
Named one of 2020’s most hotly anticipated openings by the luxury travel network Virtuoso, this former refuge for royalty and Hollywood’s elite occupies a unique location overlooking the azure waters of the Gulf of Palermo. When it does reopen, the iconic palazzo will showcase a fresh design while maintaining its timeless splendour.
Ideal for inspiring Italian incentives, Palermo boasts Baroque palaces and gold-stone palazzos, broad promenades and piazzas, serene gardens and centuries-old churches, which hide magnificent mosaics and fabulous frescoes. To really get under the skin of Sicily’s colourful capital, Villa Igiea’s knowledgeable concierge recommends eight enticing experiences – from opera performances to sweet pastries – to enjoy once the destination reopens to tourism.
While visiting Palazzo dei Normanni in the city’s historic quarter, be sure to immerse yourself in the breath-taking surrounds of this royal chapel. Glittering mosaics featuring precious stones recount Old Testament tales, while wooden muqarnas ceilings – that are carved to form attractive honeycomb-style decorative elements – are unique to this Christian church and reveal the city’s Arabic influences. The Islamic aesthetic continues underfoot in a carved marble floor, studded with gems.
GALLERIA REGIONALE DELLA SICILIA
Swap the palatial surrounds of Villa Igiea for Palazzo Abatellis and spend an afternoon soaking up works by Sicilian artists dating from the Middle Ages to the 18th century. This Catalonian Gothic marvel was transformed into a captivating exhibition space in the 1950s by one of Italy’s most acclaimed architects and is today home to frescoes, paintings and sculptures.
TEATRO MASSIMO VITTORIO EMANUELE
Add a musical element to your escape with an evening at Palermo’s neoclassical opera house. Taking more than 20 years to construct, its ornate gold-and-red auditorium is one of the largest in Europe, while its dazzling painted ceiling might just distract your attention from the graceful ballet performances and enthralling concerts taking place on stage. For a closer look, a 30-minute guided tour (available in a number of languages) promises an intimate encounter with this Art Nouveau masterpiece.
Discover prêt à porter pieces from a number of Italian and international labels at this smart boutique. Sitting in a handsome 19th-century building on Via della Libertà, its stylish shop assistants have been ensuring Palermitans look their best since 1964. A number of rails are dedicated to Dolce & Gabbana, while sculptural silhouettes from Gianluca Capannolo and Roberto Collina’s iconic knitwear-based collections add to Torregrossa’s effortlessly chic edit.
Home to thousands of wine labels, this charming bar and bottle store is run by the fourth generation of the knowledgeable Picone family, who are committed to matching their recommendations perfectly to every customer’s preference. Let us organise a themed tasting and you are guaranteed to discover something special.
ANTICO CAFFE’ SPINNATO
Coffee and cannoli are the sweetest way to start a busy day of Italian exploration. Situated on the pedestrian precinct of Via Principe di Belmonte, this historic café’s al fresco tables are the perfect place to sit and watch the world go by. Inside, the counter is stocked with mouth-watering pastries. If you visit in the afternoon, order a slice of cassata – this traditional liqueur-soaked sponge cake is layered with candied fruit, sweetened ricotta and other ingredients introduced to Sicily over the centuries.
I SEGRETI DEL CHIOSTRO
What began as a project to protect the secret recipes of Sicily’s ancient convent bakeries is today a delightful pasticceria on Piazza Bellini that’s crammed full of sweet souvenirs such as frutta martorana.
To see a different side to Sicily, leave the city behind and take a trip to Mondello. Once the favoured seaside escape of local aristocracy, the sandy beach is best observed from the striking Art Nouveau building that sits at the end of the pier. Enjoy a dip in the sparkling water or rent a paddle boat before tucking into delicious fresh fish dishes on the terrace or in the piano bar at Antico Stabilimento Balneare. After lunch, visit the delightful chapel dedicated to Palermo’s patron saint, Santa Rosalia.