In the late 1800s, a young English aristocrat named Florence Trevelyan was expelled from polite society for taking up with Queen Victoria’s flirtatious son, Edward VII, who was known as “Dirty Bertie.”
She made a new home for herself in Sicily, first purchasing a small island below the hilltop village of Taormina, and then, around 1890, marrying Salvatore Cacciola, its mayor, and moving into town.
Trevelyan was a passionate and talented gardener, and today a portion of her estate is Taormina’s Giardino Pubblico. Her former home is now the site of Belmond’s Grand Hotel Timeo. Tiers of landscaped lawns and stone walls, reminiscent of Trevelyan’s native Northumberland, lead up to the hotel, popping with color.
It is not only flora and fauna providing this effect but the new site-specific “Coloring the World” installation, from Cameroonian artist Pascale Marthine Tayou. At the hotel, some stones in the walls have been painted so that colors like lemons, red geranium, blood-orange granita, and almond milk are interspersed among the gray. As Tayou explains, the palette is intended to “bring good vibrations, to give energy.”
(It is a bold move to paint these UNESCO-protected stones, but they aren’t even the most noteworthy ones in the area. Just a bit higher up the hill sits the ancient Greek Theatre, made of rock that dates to around the third century B.C. Still in use, it often hosts concerts and opera performances.)
Tayou is well known for his totems; there are several in the Tate Modern’s collection, and some of them are situated around the hotel as well. The idea for these came to Tayou in Venice, when he saw what he thought was a tribal mask made from glass. Moving closer, it wasn’t that at all, but the idea stayed in his mind. He went on to develop a series of masks and totems alongside master Murano glass-makers more accustomed to making vases than human figures.
They will be well looked after at Grand Hotel Timeo. The morning deliberation is whether to laze by the pool or the sea, or to venture out on a bespoke trip. An excursion to Noto to visit a Baroque palazzo and taste the dolci at Caffè Sicilia (of Chef’s Table fame) is always a popular idea.
As guests return home in the early evening, a pianist plays on the terrace, which looks out over the Bay of Naxos to Mount Etna and beyond. D. H. Lawrence, Truman Capote, and Sophia Loren have all spent an aperitivo hour at the hotel, where the fragrant air hangs sweet with oranges.
At dinnertime, three different experiences await. More formal affairs call for a table at Otto Geleng, the hotel’s Michelin-starred restaurant named after the 19th-century artist. At Il Giardino di Bacco, chefs are stationed under the pergola, where they cook organic dishes for a captive audience. Classic Sicilian cuisine is offered in abundance at the alfresco Ristorante Timeo.
At night, retreat back to the guest rooms, which feature marble bathrooms, elegant furnishings, and writing desks. From many suites, a glimpse through a bedroom window will reveal lava erupting from the volcano.
Daisy Allsup is the editor of the newsletter A Little Bird. Her writing has appeared in numerous publications, including CN Traveller and House & Garden