Go for the chance to explore Palermo, Sicily’s wild and wonderful ‘capital’ city. Stay for a classic, old-world hotel packed with character and a feeling of gilded sophistication.
This is most certainly a hotel to base yourself in as you explore the wide-ranging delights of Palermo. Whilst it is not a resort as such, with a large pool or beach, it is still an oasis of calm, set apart from the bustling metropolis. The grounds, bars and restaurants are as picturesque as they are excellent and the rooms are unparalleled in their stylishness.
Villa Igiea has an old-school vibe: a classic city break hotel which is bursting to the rafters with history and Art Nouveau glamour. Head here for pristine luxury of the highest order and a well-heeled crowd spanning multiple generations. You’ll get superlative service that is matched by the view of the glittering Mediterranean, seen peeping through the trees of the villa’s lush Italianate gardens.
Set the scene
When we stepped inside Villa Igiea, via its grand entrance way, the valet told us “this is the best hotel you’ll stay at.” I remember smiling politely at him and then, when I was leaving a few days later, wanting to find him again to say: you were right.
The luxury of Villa Igiea is of the traditional variety. It leans into its history and draws from it a sense that you are in experienced hands every step of the way. From the marble and dark wood entrance way, to the subtle Sicilian nods in its decoration, the wide arched windows leading out on to the terrace and the gorgeously atmospheric bar with its faded frescoes (and a starring role in The White Lotus to its name, no less) you are drifted along to another age.
Step outside and to your right is the city’s thriving port and ship dock and ahead of you is nothing but blue skies and the sun-glistening off the sea. Tearing your eyes away from the view, you will be rewarded with the verdant splendour of the Villa’s gardens. Cut into multiple layers, stone steps will lead you down one enchanted path after another, featuring blossoming trees, intriguing statues and Ancient Greek follies, all in the shadow of the hotel’s impressive façade.
Villa Igiea’s 72 rooms and 28 suites all received the same glorious refresh as the rest of the hotel in 2022. Rocco Forte’s Deputy Chairman and Director of Design, Olga Polizzi, in collaboration with renowned architects Paolo Moschino and Philip Vergeylen of Paolo Moschino, Ltd, led the preservation and creative reinvention process of the property and the results are delicious. The aesthetic is classic with a Sicilian flourish: think wood panelled walls and cream and subtle shades injected with the island’s ubiquitous coloured pine cones, Moro vases and splashes of colour on cushions and blankets.
We stayed in one of the 28 suites and it was one of the most beautiful rooms we stayed in on our honeymoon. With a comfortable living area complete with large TV and a fully stocked library, a luxurious marble bathroom, a grand bedroom with double doors and a view over the sea and the gardens that took your breath away, it felt a little like staying in an impeccably-designed apartment that just happened to overlook the gulf of Palermo.
Food & Drink
Lunch is best taken at Alicetta, the hotel’s sunny poolside bar, which has a curious, but not not unwelcome, Old Hollywood vibe. The pasta here is great, as are the pizzas- though big appetities beware- these are somewhat on the small side.
Your evening must begin at Florio, Villa Igiea’s main restaurant, which sits at the centre of the hotel and is a resplendent destination in its own right. Indeed, the atmosphere each night was wonderful- as much a hotspot for Palermo’s most discerning locals as it is for the guests. The main dining room is a stunning Belle Epoque hall in Louis XVI style, and tables spill out onto the shaded terrace (where breakfast is also served) where you can overlook the port and gardens as you sip Italian sparkling and dine on Sicilian delicacies set on note-perfect Luke Edward Hall plates.
The food here is wonderful. The ricotta ravioli, snapper and linguine are standouts and the desserts – particularly the ice creams- are delectable. Our sommelier was particularly attentive and opened our eyes and palettes to some extraordinary Sicilian wines; a growing market thanks to its volcanic terroir. After dinner you must retire to the sandstone vaults of the Igiea Terrazza Bar, which famously moonlit as a Taormina restaurant in The White Lotus. It is as dark and moody as any self-respecting hotel bar should be, and as well stocked.
The Florio family originally had the idea, when buying this small villa in 1899, that it may serve as a retreat for their sick daughter. They were motivated by the building’s proximity to the Acquasanta (Saint Water) neighbourhood, which was historically believed to have restorative properties. Their plans changed when they decided to open it as a luxury hotel in the early 1900s. It quickly became a destination for celebrities and royalty alike. Famous guests of the period even included Edward VII of England, Queen Alexandra, Princess Victoria and the Tsarina Maria Feodorovna who disembarked the iconic Victoria & Albert yacht to lunch at Villa Igiea.
Though the hotel suffered during the war years, by the 1950s it was once again hosting galas and began to attract stars of the big screen and major Hollywood players. Claudia Cardinale, Burt Lancaster and Alain Delon stayed during the shooting of The Leopard, and stars such as Sophia Loren were also captured on film here.
Now a Rocco Forte hotel, and one of the gems in this iconic brand’s crown, it maintains the feeling one must have had back in its initial glory days. The luxury here is timeless.
All Rocco Forte hotels practice a rigorous sustainability programme, which includes using mostly local producers to reduce carbon footprint, electricity saving technology, rigorous recycling, almost totally paperless administration, plastic reduction and the use of biodegradable materials. They are also constantly expanding these, currently experimenting with a rainwater harvesting system.
A first glance, Villa Igiea feels nothing like a kid-friendly resort. Yet a closer look reveals a wonderfully detailed and dedicated programme: with myriad excursions designed especially for families and adorable turndown services for children featuring octopus teddies, mini bathrobes and rubber ducks.
One imagines a spa in this setting is something truly special and this assumption is correct. The products are all Irene Forte and, trust me, using them (they are all over the rooms and her night cream pops up by your bed at turndown service) will convert even the most ardent skincare cynic. All the ingredients are Sicilian botanicals – picked from the family’s Verdura Organic Farm in Sicily and – top line- they smell and feel incredible.
The spa itself (with brilliant views over the gulf) comprises of four treatment rooms for their menu of varied facials and body treatments, a double treatment suite with a private relaxation terrace and a fully functioning beauty salon.
Villa Igiea is the perfect base for exploring Palermo’s cathedrals, catacombs, bars and restaurants and soaking up its distinct atmosphere. Away from the rush, this hotel is an idyllic garden nestled on the edge of town, overlooking the diverting port and the azure sea, all in the shadow of the Pellegrino mountain. It is your metropolitan paradise.
Villa Igiea is just under an hour’s drive from Palermo airport. There are regular flights from London to Palermo on British Airways, Easyjet and Ryanair.
To Book: roccofortehotels.com
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