Escapism rarely materialises quite so vividly as it does at Villa Igiea. A Sicilian villa with turrets, colonnades and classical statuary, made noteworthy first by the dynastic Florio family – one that’s played host to royalty and A-listers alike for over a century since their noble home was built in 1900 – and then the esteemed Forte family of hoteliers. Perched amid terraced gardens and gently swaying palms on a rocky coastline overlooking the Med, with power-dressing from design-whizz Olga Polizzi, authentic Sicilian menus, here is where impeccable hospitality and Belle Époque-era luxury combining to form the high-watermark of a visit to this sun-drenched Italian island.
Check-in from 2pm, check-out at 12 noon. Luggage can be stored and the spa’s fitness facilities are available for on-the-fly freshen ups.
Double rooms from £450.92 (€520), including tax at 10 per cent. Please note the hotel charges an additional local city tax of €5.00 per person per night on check-out.
All rooms include a buffet breakfast (pastries, fresh fruit, yoghurts, cereals, cold cuts, scrambled eggs and more).
The ultimate destination wedding? The hotel has some swoonsome spaces for your nuptials, including the Belle Époque Ballroom and Mare Terrace. That view alone is sure to have every great uncle and fourth cousin express-posting back a cheeky RSVP.
The hotel will close for winter from 21 November 2021; the reopening date in 2022 is yet to be confirmed.
At the hotel
Terraced gardens, two restaurants, bar, pool with bar, spa, tennis court, concierge, laundry, free WiFi. In rooms: Smart television, free WiFi, power points with international adaptors and USB chargers, minibar, Carrara marble bathrooms, Irene Forte Skincare toiletries. All suites have a private terrace with sea views, a separate living room, double shower and guest bathroom.
Our favourite rooms
If you enjoy falling asleep with the shutters open, and then waking the next morning to a gentle sea breeze rustling the curtains and filling the room with fresh ocean air, it’s worth indulging in any of the rooms or suites with a sea view. All pay homage to the villa’s history and Sicilian location with thoughtful contemporary design, but only the King George V suite is so named for a particularly well-known guest who visited in 1925. Sip an aperitivo on its private terrace while musing at how Georgie almost certainly did the same.
There are few more pleasant places in all of Sicily than Villa Igiea’s pool. Floating about with a crumbling classical ruin at the water's edge, the palazzo towering behind you, and a view over the private marina and out across the sea afar is pure fantasy. The Alicetta Pool Bar offers pizzas, fresh fish and shellfish cooked on a large open grill, with desserts, cocktails and an in-the-know sommelier’s choice of southern Italian wines at the ready.
Villa Igiea’s spa spans that hazy chasm between wellness and indulgence, with a truly impressive program of wellness treatments spanning facials and body treatments, massage, beauty services, fitness, yoga and pilates, and a consulting osteopath and nutritionist. Elements as varied as volcanic stones from Mount Etna and Trapani sea salts are deployed alongside Irene Forte’s own range of organic skincare products, many produced locally in Sicily. Plus there’s a 24-hour fitness centre filled with Technogym equipment (book in advance to work out here). The decision to choose a Pilates class and a full face and body ritual, or to simply relax with a massage and a glass of wine overlooking the Tyrrhenian, will be the most difficult you face all day.
Pack your chic beach escape gear. Gents, Dickie Greenleaf is your style inspiration here. Shorts are not permitted at dinner, though, making immaculately pressed chinos borderline mandatory.
Special and Forte suites come with in-suite check-in, Mercedes transfers to the airport or station, and a choice of free experiences such as city and theatre tours.
Kids under three stay free, and those under 12 enjoy a 50 per cent off in the restaurant. Extra beds can sleep one adult and one child in the master bedroom, and one child in the second bedroom, but the Family Room and Suites are best for larger broods.
Children under three stay for free and all are welcome, but teenagers aged 13 and over will get the most from the experience.
The Family Suite sleeps five adults and one child, and the three largest suites can be connected to other rooms and suites.
Bottle-sterilising facilities, high-chairs, booster seats, beakers and feeder cups, kids cutlery, and soft toys are available on request.
A babysitting service is available, priced at €25 an hour, for a minimum three hours. One day’s notice must be given.
No need to pack
Pushchairs, buggies and strollers are available to borrow on request.
Nappies, baby wipes and child-friendly snacks are available to buy onsite.
The ingredients used in the restaurant, cocktail bar and spa are sourced from local farmers where possible.
If the sun is shining in Palermo – which, as one of the sunniest cities in Europe, it surely will be – dining on the terrace is a must.
Smart casual, but no shorts at dinner.
Steeped in Belle Époque splendour, the villa’s Florio Restaurant is named after the entrepreneurial Florio family who commissioned its construction. The seafood-heavy, meat-dense menu (this is coastal Italy, after all) is the latest creation of double-Michelin-star-awarded Fulvio Pierangelini and draws not only from the local terroir, but also the Palermitani values of simplicity, quality, and freshness. The humble menu is offset by the sheer opulence of the surroundings, be it the Louis XVI-era hall, the winter garden room, or the terrace with its expansive views across the Tyrrhenian.
Aperitivo hour is the most important part of the day, and you’ll want to spend it at the Igiea Terrazza Bar. The vaulted, frescoed indoor space feels almost medieval, yet it opens onto an vast terrace, overlooking the deep-blue Gulf of Palermo. There’s a selection of Florio spirits and a madcap choice of cocktails from maestro Salvatore Calabrese (allegedly the creator of the World’s most expensive cocktail – but don’t worry, there are more affordable options). Perhaps try the Cucchitella, with a base of zucchini jam, alongside absinthe, rum, pumpkin and agave; the Incanta clarified-milk punch; or the savoury Martini Isolano, with caper-infused vermouth, seawater and a tuna ball to garnish. A little too adventurous? Well, we get the impression that an afternoon negroni here is practically mandatory, and you’ll hear no complaints from us.
This is Italy, don’t forget, so the bar is open till late. Breakfast is served from 7am to 10.30am.
There is a dedicated in-room dining menu, with à la carte breakfast options, plus sandwiches, salads, pastas, small plates and heartier mains throughout the day.
Villa Igiea gazes over the Tyrrhenian Sea from central Palermo, the historic Sicilian capital situated on the island’s northwest coast.
Palermo’s Falcone-Borsellino Airport is 30km away, takes 35-minutes by car, and is connected to many major European hubs. Transfers to the hotel can be arranged for €105 each way. Catania Fontanarossa Airport is better connected but is on the eastern side of the island, 213km away.
Even though Sicily is an island, yes, you can arrive by train. Depart from Milan, Genoa, Naples or Rome, and your entire train is shunted onto a special ferry at Villa San Giovanni, before you continue onwards from Messina to Palermo. This is the last route in the world to offer such a service – take it for the novelty value.
Only the truly committed would drive all the way here. Fly in and collect a hire car instead; Sicily is made for circumnavigational road trips. Petrolheads will want to retrace the route of the historic Targa Florio road race, too.
Charter a yacht and dock at Villa Igiea’s private harbour to really arrive in style.
Worth getting out of bed for
If you can muster the dedication to steal yourself away from the palazzo, one of Europe’s oldest and most intriguing cities awaits your discovery. The Phoenicians founded Palermo over 2,700 years ago, and since then the Greeks, Romans, Arabs, and Normans have all called it their own. They have each left an indelible influence on the region’s culture, art, architecture and gastronomy, giving the city a distinct and truly unrepeatable feel.
The Teatro Massimo Vittorio Emanuele is the largest opera house in Italy, and if your visit is timed around a show, an evening here should be a priority. Its main auditorium is dominated by the so-called ‘symbolic wheel’ ceiling, where 11 frescoed trapezoidal elements open to provide natural ventilation during the harsh Sicilian summer. If your visit doesn’t coincide with any of the concerts, operas or ballets scheduled, guided tours of the theatre are available every day from 9.30am to 5.30pm.
Sicily is seemingly made for ambling road trips. Hire a car (all of the regular brands have outlets in Palermo), buy a paper road map, roll the windows down and get a little lost in the parched rolling hills, all filled with crumbling hilltop villages and groves of olives, oranges and almonds.
The town of Monreale might be only 14km inland from Villa Igiea, but the journey to it, up the slopes of Monte Caputo, and an hour spent aimlessly wandering its bygone alleys will have you feeling as if you’ve stepped into the Sicily of old. Monreale is most famous for its cathedral, which dates to 1174 and is one of the greatest surviving examples of Norman architecture to be found anywhere. Fill your gold quota for a decade with aureate mosaics that cover a surface area of 7,600sq m. And with plenty of tunnels to explore, little smiths may enjoy it even more than you do. Cool off at the neighbouring Bar Italia, an almond specialist serving up all the Sicilian classics; think granite, cannoli, and brioche con gelato (yes, that’s an ice-cream sandwich) with a mandorla twist.
After such cultural diligence you’ll have earned an Aperol Spritz by the sea, and for this there’s no better option than Mondello Beach, a 10-minute drive away around the foot of Monte Pellegrino (you can drive or hike over the mountain on the serpentine Via Bonanno Pietro for commanding vistas of Palermo and out to sea). Here there’s white sand, turquoise water, and a hell of a lot of Instagram going on.
You’re on holiday which means you’ll have no problems beginning with dessert first. Pasticceria Cappello describes itself as a haute pâtisserie, where Italian pastry superstar Salvatore Cappello wows with his creations. Casa Del Brodo serves a mighty fine lunch. Known locally as ‘dal dottore’, Salvatore Catanese’s signature broth became famous among residents in the plague-ridden 1900s as a hearty antidote to Cholera. Today, it’s his great-grandchildren running the show, serving up tried and tested dishes passed down through generations. The super central Lo Scudiero is sure to satisfy seafood lovers with their herculean oysters and salt-crusted sea bass. Elsewhere, rustic Osteria Al Ferro Di Cavallo doesn’t take reservations, but the pasta is worth queuing for, and convivial eatery I Cucci is set in the buzzy piazza of your Mediterranean dreams.
It’s not about the actual coffee, it’s the act of taking coffee that matters. Life moves slowly here. We recommend Bar Pasticceria Sampolo, but you can find a table in the sun at many of the area’s thriving corner cafés, order an espresso, and observe the world going about its business around you. For unpretentious daytime bites, try the port-sideBar Turistico, an authentic little locale five minutes from Villa Igiea with arancini (ham and cheese, veggie or bolognese) the size of cricket balls, which we can happily confirm are among the best in Italy.
Villa Igiea is home to one of Palermo’s best bars, the Igiea Terrazza Bar, which makes choosing a drinking spot for the night all the easier. Arching sandstone vaults, frescoes painted by Sicialian icon Eugenio Morici in the 1950s, live music during the summer evenings, its own locally-inspired cocktail menu and a terrace that spills out into the Gulf of Palermo. Pure magic.
Every hotel featured is visited personally by members of our team, given the Smith seal of approval, and then anonymously reviewed. As soon as our reviewers have returned from sumptuous waterside stay Villa Igiea in Sicily and have packed away their jars of local olives, a full account of their bella Italian break will be with you. In the meantime, to whet your wanderlust, here's a quick peek inside Villa Igiea in Palermo…
Life moves at little more than a steady canter in Palermo, with palm trees swaying in the hot Med breeze as sun scorches the blushing pastel walls, most of which are crumbling here and there. There are few super yachts or Ferraris in sight, and while there is a small-scale Louis Vuitton outlet in town, you really need to hunt it out.
There’s no manufactured super-luxury here. Palermo is honest, authentic, down to earth, and Villa Igiea has been the most revered address in town since its conversion to hotel in 1900. It’s always been the place that royals, rulers and A-listers have stayed when they, too, came to experience Sicily. From its opening season until today, the great and grand have sipped champagne on its terraces and called its suites a temporary home. King Edward VII saw fit to command the royal Victoria and Albert yacht for a lunch stop at its harbour in 1907, and the King of Siam saw the dark days of the Great War approach a few years’ later. Under sunnier skies, the Hollywood heyday of the 1950s and 1960s brought swathes of glamour, and the likes of Roberto Rossellini and Sophia Loren were often spied gracing its bars.
The villa, fresh from a sympathetic restoration led by interior design luminaries Olga Polizzi, and Paolo Moschino and Philip Vergeylen from socialite and interiors whizz Nicky Haslam’s studio, retains that homey, laidback feeling, with punchy colours and a contemporary, classic feel inspired by the charmingly nonchalant island. The voluminous space created by high ceilings, the abundant natural light from towering windows, and those breathtaking views out across the sea lend a feeling of sincere luxury before the first bottle of champagne has even been popped.
To stay here is to truly feel like real friends of the Florio family must have a century ago. Despite being audaciously regal enough for a king, there’s a down-to-earth attitude that will make anyone feel at home.