The boutique Hotel Signum on Salina in the Aeolian Islands is a set around a series of tiled, landscaped terraces bursting with scented lime-trees, bougainvillea and honeysuckle. Many of the light and airy rooms have their own private terraces with views of the Mediterranean. The hotel restaurant serves delicious Aeolian fish dishes and sweet Malvesian wine.
Get this when you book through us:
A welcome drink on arrival; members staying in a Deluxe room or Suite will also get one free entrance to the spa (normally €25)
Double rooms from £727.39 (€800), including tax at 10 per cent.
Rates include breakfast.
The hotel is closed from 5 October until mid-March.
At the hotel
Spa, solarium, massage, library. Vespa hire can be easily arranged at the hotel. The staff are also happy to organise sailing and diving trips.
Our favourite rooms
Rooms 11 (a Suite with a separate living room) and 12 (a Deluxe) both have terraces with sea views, and are located slightly away from the rest of the rooms, offering a bit more privacy and seclusion. Room 25 – a large suite – has a private terrace; Room 34 is also very spacious.
There is an infinity pool.
Signum's spa, Salus per Aquam, specialises in geothermic water treatments, as well as a particularly invigorating ice massage. Some treatments are conducted on a bed of thermal rose salt, others in a 19th-century copper tub. Managed separately from the hotel, there's a charge of €25 for a half day. There's a traditional Aeolian, open-air steam bath, water therapy in tubs with varying jet pressure and a Jacuzzi. Facials and massages take inspiration from the luxuriant green surroundings, using almond milk, bitter orange and prickly pear to leave you smelling like a Grecian Goddess.
It's best to leave plenty of space in your suitcase for a batch of the island's world-renowned capers and a few bottles of Malvasia wine – it's the only place where it's produced.
Hydrofoils ferry guests to Milazzo from Salina, a 90-minute ride (6:30am–7pm).
Welcome, although the atmosphere is one of quiet relaxation.
On the terrace or, if it’s a chilly evening, by the window.
Dress up for dinner.
Mediterranean food with a international twist; we love the four-course tasting menus of Aeolian specialities. You are encouraged to let the hotel know by lunchtime if you plan to dine in the restaurant.
Fly to Catania Airport, and grab a taxi or hire car to the Sicilian port of Milazzo, less than two hours’ drive away. Then take one of the regular ferries from Milazzo to Santa Marina port on Salina, which is a 15-minute drive along the panoramic coastline to Malfa. You can pick up a taxi from Santa Marina for about €20. Our Smith24 team are on hand round the clock to organise your travel.
There’s a station at Milazzo, on the Sicilian mainland, but it’s easiest to get around Salina by road (or water). A reliable bus service connects the main villages, and you can rent a car or a moped to zip around Salina in style.
You can rent a car at the airport or from the hotel itself. Taxis on the islands tend to be rather sporadic, so ask the hotel to arrange a service on your behalf.
If you’re thinking of making a day trip or two, there are regular ferries from Salina to the other main islands in the Aeolian archipelago. For more intimate expeditions, you can hire your own boat from the various operators in the harbour (or ask Hotel Signum to arrange one for you). And for the adventurous, there’s always a ride in a chopper. A helicopter from Catania Airport to Salina will set you back €1,800, or you can take one of the sight-seeing flights around the Aeolian islands (ask the hotel for more details).
Worth getting out of bed for
The hotel can organise boat excursions around Salina and to the other islands: ask about he fisherman’s boats available for you to escape in à deux. On dry land, you can head up to the mountains with trained guides. There are tennis courts at guests’ disposal a few kilometres from the hotel. You can even hire a helicopter to take you back to the mainland or, even better, give you a tour of the other islands: how about stopping off and climbing Stromboli volcano (ask at the hotel)? Many of Salina’s beaches feature boulders, rather than sand. Steps from the hotel, Scario Tip is recommended. Near the town of Pollara, you’ll find the most magical bay in the Aeolian archipelago, famed as the backdrop to Il Postino. Descend a few hundred steps, and you can dive off the rocks into the deep plunge pools. The beach at Rinella is another favourite, and good for snorkelling: follow the paths to the Tre Pini campsite.
For lazy lunches, Porto Bello in Santa Marina serves up fine seafood and classic Italian dishes. In Lingua, also within walking distance of the hotel, A Cannata on Via Umberto (+39 090 984 3161) has a sunny terrace where you can try fantastic penne alla salinara with peppers, pine nuts, capers and olives. When you want a change from delectably fresh fish, head round the corner to Pizzeria a’ Lumeredda on Via San Lorenzo for a simpler supper.
A stunning all-white outdoor bar, Santa Isabel Lounge is a two-minute stroll from Hotel Signum, and great for sunset G&Ts to chilled-out beats. In Lingua, Da Alfredo (+39 (0) 90 984 3075) serves the best granitas on the island.
Travel is a mixed bag. With it come many delights, great adventure, a measure of disappointments, small mercies and insights, some of which only make sense when you’re back home.
Let’s start with the delightful part: Hotel Signum, in the commune of Malfa, is a 20-minute winding drive around the mountain from the main port of Santa Marina on Salina. It looks out across the Tyrrhenian Sea to neighbouring Panarea and the smoking Stromboli – the perfect picture of a volcano.
In a way, the sea journey to Signum prepares you well: these are the waters and islands of Odysseus’ epic voyage. Salina is a dream. An island in the Aeolian group just above Sicily, it was formed by two volcanoes, which the locals describe as breasts (of course they do!). Ms Smith swears she can also make out a Cyclops.
After enjoying the exquisite delights of Puglia, we’ve driven across Basilicata – around the arch of Italy’s heel – through Calabria, and crossed the Messina Strait to Sicily. Catching the hydrofoil to Salina, we get a weather warning at the ticket office: ‘Il mare e mosso!’ Fortunately this turns out to be nothing more than hand-waving melodrama – a national pastime: considering it’s October, the crossing is surprisingly smooth, and we watch with anticipation as Salina finally hoves into view.
Our three-hour transit has become an adventure. The taxi we have taken from the port stops, and the driver points down a track. We walk down scented laneways, passing houses with cherry tomatoes drying in bunches on verandas. In small increments, our state of mind has shifted to local time – over sea, on road and with that final perfumed walk to Hotel Signum’s door.
Simple, without being spartan; one window framing a Mediterranean view, another revealing olive and lemon trees. The detail has been handled with a light touch, with an ease that belies the amount of informed thought needed to achieve this effortless-looking style. In the bathroom, traditional tiles add a splash of colour. A roughly moulded soap looks like a large lozenge of butter, and is cupped in a glazed blue-and-white butterfly-motif dish. Olive oil is the main ingredient, as it is for the body wash, enhanced with a zing of cedro (ancient lemon). Wild rosemary and mint plucked from this very island make the shampoo another pleasure.
Ms Smith has found a fluffy robe and she is lying on the bed perusing the spa menu. I’m contemplating lunch. We’ve been here all of 30 minutes and we feel right at home. Soon we’re being seated in the dining room by Signum’s sommelier Vincenzo Minieri. It’s late in the afternoon and we’re the only table, but we feel welcome and relaxed: the mark of a great hotel.
One dish in – a fist-sized mozzarella di bufala, by itself, on a plate, next to a salad of blood-red cherry tomatoes tossed with wild herbs – and we decide to eat in-house for our entire stay. A bottle of local olive oil is chosen from a sideboard holding a selection of Sicilian varieties. I pour a little over the mozzarella, add a pinch of salt, and cut into it. Immediately it oozes. We groan with glee as we dunk pieces of crusty bread into the milky, virgin slurry.
Seafood, vegetables, grains and pulses make up most of Michele Caruso’s menu. Food is deceptively simple but cooked with supreme skill. Spaghetti is tossed with a little oil, bottarga (dried tuna roe), wild fennel and breadcrumbs; couscous is served with finely chopped mussels and tomato; fish stew is flavoured with eggplant, anchovies, olives, tomato and capers. Vincenzo doesn’t miss a beat. We’re in his hands and his wine choices are perfect.
After lunch, we make a pact. I book a couple of hours with Vincenzo in the Signum cellar pulling out bottles of rare, foot-crushed Etna Rosso and planning wines for the following days of our stay, while Ms Smith signs up for a treatment in the Signum Spa.
The spa area is a secret stone garden with pools of geothermal water connected by channels and various igloo-shaped buildings for different treatments. Water trickles down a moss-laden wall. Ms Smith emerges glowing, and scented with the sweet herbs, capers and citrus of Salina.
The island itself also offers much to see. We catch the local bus on occasion, but mostly we amble through Malfa’s stone and terracotta laneways. Ms Smith even manages a dip in the warm Mediterranean and a has close encounter with some local marine life. One evening, we stroll to a little bar in the piazza to drink Salina’s fabulous sweet Malvasia, and watch Milan play Juventus.
The many photos we took that show much of what I’ve described still don’t come close to capturing the essence of this magical place. As Italo Calvino put it, aromas and flavours are elements you cannot transmit vicariously or convey electronically. And that is why we travel.