In this highly curated series, we spotlight stylish hotels with a story. This week, Anastasia Miari checks in to Villa Igiea. Sitting between the Pellegrino mountains and the gulf of Palermo, Villa Igiea became a touchstone for high society in the early 20th century. Today, its rattan-filled interiors, by Paolo Moschino nod to the Belle Epoque, while its cocktail terrace is legendary. 




Conceived by Sicilian socialites, Franca and Ignazio Florio at the tail end of the Belle Epoque, Villa Igiea was intended to be the most luxurious sanitorium of its kind. Dedicated to their daughter, Igiea, who was in ill-health during the renovation period, the stately palazzo opened in the early 1900s as a hotel instead. Sitting between the lush Pellegrino mountains and the gulf of Palermo beyond the chaos of the Sicilian capital, Villa Igiea fast became a touchstone for high society in Sicily.

Actors, musicians, wealthy heirs and magnates joined the Cercle des Etrangers club to rub shoulders; most notably, just two years after the hotel opened in 1905, King Edward VII, along with Queen Alexandra and a gaggle of Russian royalty, arrived for lunch on the Victoria & Albert Yacht. Once upon a time, it was a place for the wealthy to party with wanton abandon; Sophia Loren, Burt Lancaster, Harrison Ford and Grace Kelly, Princess of Monaco have all graced its vaulted bar.

Imposing in size with 78 rooms and 28 suites, the hotel is best viewed from the sea. Arriving into the neighbouring marina filled with yachts and sailing boats, the hotel’s palatial expanse can truly be taken in, along with its sun-soaked garden terrace.

Vestiges of Villa Igiea’s illustrious past have been preserved. The hefty German safe, which once housed Queen Alexandra’s tiara while she lunched, can be found tucked neatly next to the reception, its heavy wooden doors flung open in memory of the hotel’s most moneyed guests and their long-gone possessions.

Sala Basile, the art nouveau hall dedicated to the hotel’s famed Palermitan architect, Ernesto Basile has been left untouched, painter Ettore de Maria Bergler’s richly detailed murals of frolicking pagan nymphs cover the walls. An impressive one-piece murano glass art installation runs the entire length of the ceiling while curved and sloping wood borders frame the mirrors, doors and windows of the grand hall.

Architect Paolo Moschino and director of design, Olga Polizzi, have not strayed far from Sala Basile for interior inspiration. A swatched color palette of gold and navy is repeated throughout the rooms, but extravagant flourishes are kept to a minimum in favour of clean color blocking and the odd rattan furnishing or brass-framed mirror that nods to the Belle Epoque. Enormous marble rimmed bath tubs and sculptural poured-plaster light installations give everything a fresh and clean feel, contrasting nicely against hand-painted wall-paper from San Patrignano artisans.



Beyond the suites, the gem in this hotel’s crown is its cocktail terrace, packed with Palermitans and international guests seeking a distinguished dinner. Overlooking the glimmering Tyrhhenian Sea, this place comes alive once aperitivo hour strikes and those in the know come to sip on the best negroni this side of Sicily.

A far cry from the gritty edge that Palermo is best known for, Villa Igiea is where you can experience what it might have felt like to live in a ‘golden period’ for the city. If you’re going to dress for dinner anywhere, it’s here. Order the tonarelli pasta with mazara red prawns, it cannot disappoint.

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