When the world shut down in March, Italy was one of the worst hit countries on the planet. Any thought of a Sicilian summer looked fanciful in April and May, as vision of families locked inside apartments in Milan, Rome and beyond beamed around the globe.
But unlike Melbourne, Italy has found a way to coexist with COVID-19 – rightly or wrongly – and that means a postcard summer wasn’t cancelled this year. Although it has looked different, very different.
For an Australian who unexpectedly found himself in London in July, the opportunity to travel to southern Italy was simply too great to resist. I found myself at Catania airport within weeks, without any Australians in sight – or Americans or English, for that matter.
And while the weather was characteristically sizzling in late August – never falling below 30 degrees and regularly hovering close to 35 degrees – this was an Italian summer unlike anything seen before.
Face masks and hand sanitiser were in; foreigners were mainly out. Italians from the north, who typically flock to Spain, France or Croatia during the holidays, migrated down south, exploring a patch of their homeland usually reserved for those from abroad at this time of year.
While the path to international travel is still shrouded in mystery in Australia – there are much more pressing matters right now, let’s be honest – the new normal isn’t so different to the old reality.
When the borders reopen and the opportunity arises to return to Italy, there are far worse places than Taormina to reacquaint oneself with the beauty of the country that is shaped like an elegant designer boot.
Man of Style has identified four spots you can’t miss when you visit this corner of Sicily next.
You wouldn’t know a virus clenched its grip around this country earlier this year if you wandered down to this popular beach spot. The stunning stone beach makes a skinny path from Taormina out to a nature reserve that was originally owned by a 19th century gardener and pioneering conservationist and remained a private property until 1990. Isola Bella translates to ‘beautiful island’ in Italian – and that’s precisely what it is. One of the most idyllic beach locations down south.
Principe di Salina
Looking for a luxury, boutique hotel that isn’t brimming with people? Look no further. In a tiny pocket on a tiny island north of Sicily sits Principe di Salina – Salina is one of the seven Aeolian Islands. The 12-room hotel is a slice of heaven that stands out from the crowd.
Anita Motta spent her summers holidaying with her family on the island and pounced on a gap in the market when her parents decided they wanted to spend the twilight of their lives involved in a hotel. Turning her back on a marketing career that moved her from Milan to Bangkok to New York and to Tel Aviv and beyond, Motta has quickly proven how good she is as a hotelier.
Her mother, Silvana, cooks every meal in the kitchen, serving guests who sit on the balcony, along one long table that looks like something out of the great hall in Harry Potter. While her father, Francesco, is Principe’s Mr Fix-it, who spent the COVID period on the island renovating parts of a hotel that has been built to feel like a home away from home.
When a season that looked doomed before it started but eventually transpired only moderately affected comes to an end in October, Anita will turn her attention to another role she fulfils in the hotel. And that’s interior designer. We can’t wait to see what she has in store yet.
Tenuta di Castellaro
You simply can’t visit the Aeolian Island of Lipari without heading to this winery. It is a non-negotiable. It may be small, but Tenuta di Castellaro definitely fights above its weight division. The Piana di Castellaro – where the vineyard is located about 20 minutes from the port – is 350 metres above sea level on volcanic sand rich in minerals that are the cornerstone of the wine, along with the wind and climate.
Sign up for a wine tasting and settle in for the sunset, after picking a bottle or two of your favourites. You can’t go past the Nero Ossidiana, which has received global acclaim. It is a deep ruby red, with intriguing aromas of spice and musk derived from the volcanic ground. Walk through the vineyards with a glass in hand, before you know it hours will have lapsed.
When you know Israeli-English Yotam Ottolenghi makes a pilgrimage here every time he visits Taormina, you know you need it on your list. And it doesn’t fail to deliver. The menu brims with Sicilian specialities, including the famous Sarde a beccafico – butterflied deep fried sardines in breadcrumbs – and Maccheroni alla Norma. Reservations are difficult to secure – even when you can spot vacant tables at 8.30pm – so you will need to book in advance. You won’t be disappointed.