San Domenico Palace Hotel, Taormina

by Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Steven Ceschia is the Head Concierge at the Leading Hotels of the World property, San Domenico Palace Hotel, in Taormina, Sicily, in southern Italy. Taormina is carved into a rocky hillside overlooking both the glittering Ionian Sea and Mt Etna, an active volcano. The town is known for its Teatro Antico di Taormina, an ancient, Greco-­Roman Amphitheatre which is still in use today as an entertainment venue. The hotel itself has a glamorous – and religious – past, counting actresses Marlene Dietrich and Audrey Hepburn among former guests. The luxury lodgings are housed in a former 14th-Century monastery, with an original, classic façade and soaring ceilings. Let’s enjoy an insider’s guide to getting the most out of a stay in one of the Mediterranean’s most geographically spectacular holiday spots…

Most popular request…

I would have to say that the most requested assistance is in regards to restaurant recommendations and site discovery in and around Taormina. During the summer season, we often are required to find last minute tickets for Opera, concerts and other events at the Greek/Roman amphitheatre.

Favourite locale when enjoying a day off…

I particularly enjoy escaping on Mount Etna on my day off and doing some wine tasting and a rustic lunch away from the heat and the crowds and my favourite spot is the Restaurant Veneziano at the Parco Statella. Alternatively, I enjoy going south to the beaches in the area of Marzamemi and Portopalo, where the sea is warmer than our areas. Last but not least, I enjoy getting away from everything and spending a day on the Golf Course at the Picciolo Golf Club on Mount Etna.

Best coffee…

The best coffee is available only at my house! 😉 since I use a handmade coffee machine made by a Sicilian Artisan called Kamira. When I am in town, I get my coffee at Licchio’s bar, where the coffee is above average and I enjoy looking at people passing by. A great alternative is to have a Coffee Granita at Bam Bar – the best place to have any and every Granita in Taormina.

Where we must go for lunch…

I don’t believe that just one restaurant can suit everyone, so I usually require some information from our guests before recommending a place. Personally, my favourite place in town is the Giardini di Babilonia restaurant; a private garden set on a beautiful staircase between the amphitheatre and the public gardens of Taormina. The owner, chef and staff are amazing and they are all foodies, so they decided to open a restaurant and propose great quality local food and a professional-yet-friendly service. Over the last few years, it has proven to be one of my guests’ favourites as well. If I want a more upscale and romantic venue, my choice moves to the 5 Archi restaurant; a panoramic restaurant set on the main square of town, offering great pasta and fresh fish with a view over the piazza IX Aprile and the bay of Naxos.

It’s a rainy day outside but we want to explore, what we should do…

On a rainy day, I could only recommend a day in Catania to visit some indoor sites such as the Benedettini Convent or the Duomo church or visit the Castlello Ursino – all of that mixed with some city-centre shopping. A great alternative is to plan a driver to take guests to visit the Roman Villa del Casale in Piazza Armerina, to see some of the best-kept mosaics in southern Europe. A visit of the Museum of Aidone is the perfect follow up to the Mosaics as it is located about 20 minutes away. Should one want to visit the biggest mall of Sicily (Sicilia Outlet Mall), it is conveniently located 20 minutes from Piazza Armerina and is a great place to shop for Italian high-end brands.

An absolute must-do or must-see before leaving Taormina… 

Certainly, visiting the Greek/Roman theatre, first during the regular opening hours and most of all for a special venue at night (concert, opera, ballet). Another very pleasant experience is the walk up to the Madonna Della Rocca sanctuary, using the ancient Via Crucis, until you reach the view point and the small church built in the mountain rock. Another highlight of the city is to take the scenic cable car ride down to the beach area and take a walk on the beach in front of the private Island of Isola Bella.

What he loves about his hotel…

I truly love the fact that it is an historical landmark building, strongly linked to many periods of the life of Taormina: First as a monastery and then as the flagship hotel of Taormina. Being back at the San Domenico knowing that we will have a very intense refurbishing period over the next two years is certainly a very challenging and stimulating experience, especially considering the results and goals we want to achieve in the near future. Step One has been the purchase and opening of our own private beach for our guests.

Anything else we should know when visiting Taormina…

Driving in and around Taormina is quite challenging as the streets are very narrow and the signs are not the best, so I would recommend renting smaller size cars and always add the navigation unit as it makes everything easier. Avoid most restaurants on the main street as they are mostly touristy places offering mid-to-low food quality. In my experience, Taormina – and Sicily in general – are not the kind of destinations where I would recommend reserving everything in advance, especially excursions and restaurants. Most of the excursions are based on weather and often people under estimate the amount of food they will have and regularly ask to cancel pre-made bookings. This is one of the few places left where we work best last-minute (with the guests here already). Personally, I believe that listening to the guests and making the right questions allows me to create a more personalised set of activities and restaurants rather than recommending the same things to everyone, hence achieving that sought out WOW EFFECT.

To find out more information about the Leading Hotels of the World property San Domenico Palace Hotel in Taormina, Sicily, or to book, click here.