White Lotus season two is a masterpiece! Mike White’s dark comedy/drama murder mystery outdoes itself in the second season, expertly weaving gritty realism with black humor and character driven story crafting – but fear not, no spoilers here.
The setting of Taormina, Sicily, is also a holiday destination of unparalleled beauty and the five-star hotel where the characters play out their dramas is a study in self-indulgent luxury. Ironically, given the dark twists of fate the characters experience on their holidays there – the hotel has been googled the hell out of since season two aired. Clearly Sicily is indeed seductive.
So, here’s the deal, White Lotus are a fictional chain of hotels, but the hotel itself is in fact a real place. Come as we look through its doors but – should you choose to visit yourself – the only harm you’ll experience is a knock to the wallet and they’ll – most assuredly – be no need to die for its beauty.
The Dramatic History of the San Domenico Palace
The brief history of the San Domenico Palace we get in the opening episode of White Lotus season two is but a half-truth. Appropriately since the hotel has its own dramatic backstory.
The hotel did not start out as a convent as we’re told, but instead the house of the wealthy baron Damiano Rosse d’Altavilla. His abode was the oldest in all Taormina and even then, was easy on the eyes. Its location upon the high cliffs overlooking the nearby Sicilian landscapes and Ionian Sea made the Baron the envy of the region. Upon his death – perhaps hoping to buy a fast-track ticket into heaven – the baron left his house to a Dominican religious order, who only then converted the building into a – rather lavish – convent.
It remained in the order’s hands for the better part of four hundred years until the Italian state attempted to put the religious orders in check by confiscating their assets, including the lauded convent building. However, the Dominican order were an obstinate lot, and had secretly hidden the original will of Rosse for such an eventuality. They used the will to find a loophole stating the property had only been lent to the Dominicans and wasn’t officially theirs to be requisitioned by the state. With the help of a descendant of Rosse’s, they managed to hold onto the property, at least until the singular priest who stubbornly remained there passed away years later.
Ultimately, though, it passed into the hands of Prince Cerami – who the hotel’s restaurant is named after – and in 1896 he metamorphosed the convent into a hotel – replacing monk cells with guest rooms and expanding the wings into the grandiose Italian style building we see today. Since then it has survived two world wars – during the second the German army used it as a base while the allies bombed it –; its guests have included the likes of Oscar Wilde, Audry Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor; and it has been used as the site of many infamous parties. All this makes it the perfect setting for White Lotus’s tale of decadence and deceit.
LARPing as Rich People
The view from San Domenico Palace is every bit as stunning as the panning shots that open each episode of White Lotus make it appear to be. The hotel seems to naturally blend into the clifftop it rests upon, and its views take in the adjacent Mount Etna – an active volcano – and overlook both the Ionian Sea and ancient Greek theater below. Everything in the hotel seems poised to capitalize on this view from the infinity pool – the favored chill out zone of the cheeky hotel crashers Lucia and Mia in the series – to the rooms themselves.
All the hotel rooms are as classically elegant as they appear in White Lotus, with panoramic views from their balconies or terraces. For those with a much cash to spare as the characters in White Lotus, there are suites with pull-out sofas, dining rooms, whirlpool tubs and some even having their own private pools – all the better should you be entertaining guests or hosting parties that hopefully won’t get as out of hand as Ethan and Theo’s does.
There’s not one, but three restaurants on site – although the Principe Cerami restaurant is where the guests eat every night in White Lotus. The Michelin-starred food is to die for, as of course is the view. Then there’s the Anciovi restaurant by the pool – a great place for a cocktail or five – and the Bar & Chistro, where at night there’s live music to rival even Mia’s singing talents.
Other facilities in the hotel not showcased in White Lotus include a huge gym, two bars and three luxury treatment rooms!
Sicily Can Be Seductive
Just as the hotel is real, as are the nearby locations the characters visit as the plot dramatically unfurls. The bad news is the frequently visited beach of the series isn’t part of the hotel grounds but found in the seaside town of Cefalu further along the island. However, the beach is easily reachable via a short drive – or why not try your skills on a vesper, assuming you’re a better driver than Greg and Tanya.
The Greek theater below the hotel is an obvious escapade from the hotel, as is a hike up Mount Etna – or exploring the streets of the Corso Umberto. You can also actually visit the village of Noto, where the Di Grassos go to learn about their heritage, for a taste of authentic Sicily.
The Godfather tour that Portia and the Di Grassos discuss is another day trip possibility, including the 18th century estate Villa Corleone from the first two movies. Finally, Sicily’s capital, Pallermo, is but a short trip away via boat or car, where you are free to enjoy the opera like Tanya – and her gays – or explore the winding men-filled streets of the old town. You can even take a tour with Quiiky to explore all Sicily has to offer.
Whether you’re a fan of the White Lotus or not – and whether you’re fortunate enough to have the hard cash to stay in the San Domenico Palace itself – Taormina makes for an unforgettable holiday experience. Just hopefully unforgettable for more fortuitous reasons than those of White Lotus’s protagonists!
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