(CNN) – With luxurious baroque villas, exotic gardens, dramatic landscapes, ancient art and a seductive atmosphere, Sicily seems to be the perfect location for the second season of the dark comedy series “The White Lotus”.
The award-winning show depicts the tangled, erotic and sometimes dangerous adventures of super-rich vacationers staying at the beautiful cliff-top San Domenico Palace, a five-star resort operated by the Four Seasons in the city of Taormina.
A former 14th-century monastery with unique views of the Etna volcano and coastline, the hotel is as much a star of the show as its Hollywood actors and Italian A-listers. And, says her real-life manager, Lorenzo Maraviglia, she’s a match for her fictional counterpart.
“The true ambition of the resort is very similar to what you see and feel in the series,” he told CNN Travel. “It’s vibrant, it’s about Sicily — romantic and sexy — and about our incredible guests who this year included Madonna and Sharon Stone.”
Created for HBO (which, like CNN, is part of Warner Bros. Discovery), the series is filmed around Taormina, Noto, Cefalù and Palermo, but the San Domenico Palace is at the center of the steamy intrigues and liaisons that develop over the course of the season. with seven episodes.
And while guests seeking their White Lotus escape may not have the same wild experiences, Maraviglia insists his hotel will offer at least the same level of service enjoyed by the show’s characters.
“The success of the series is based on the reality of what happens in a luxury hotel; the interactions between staff and customers, and between customers, are very real,” he says.
But “extreme situations like the two local attendants coming and going to entertain the guests are part of the drama and theatrics that add a layer of spice,” he adds, insisting that things generally happen at a more leisurely pace — as long as he is. aware.
“We can notice if there are strange movements if a situation becomes apparent, but Taormina and our resort are places where such things do not usually happen. It is for families and couples on their honeymoon. Even if one can have an adventure weekends, it is not perceptible by us”.
Visitors to San Domenico Palace will find it exactly as described in The White Lotus. Those connecting doors between the suites really do exist. There are lush gardens for sunset drinks, beautiful cloisters, a panoramic pool and a terrace overlooking the bay where guests have breakfast and a Michelin-starred restaurant where the show’s characters often argue.
Not that Sicily is a stranger to frisson. The island has an ancient Greek heritage of sexual liberties — a past reflected in the series, with pagan statues and religious frescoes silently witnessing the extravagant activities of wealthy guests.
Saints and whores
The second season of “The White Lotus” was filmed at the San Domenico Palace Hotel in Sicily.
Taormina is seen in all its glamour: the impressive ancient Greek theatre, the panoramic piazzetta, the pastel-coloured flats, the elegant alleyways with glitzy cafés and boutiques, the elegant restaurants like Baroness where the dinner scene of a quarrelsome couple is filmed.
The best suites in the hotel, where most of the show’s sex scenes take place, have plunge pools and paintings of saints made by the monks who once lived there.
“The decor, the rooms, everything is original, what you see is real, even the uniforms of the staff,” says Maraviglia.
While Maraviglia may not have had to field some of the more outlandish guest requests that appear at White Lotus, he says he has had to deal with extravagant requests since San Domenico opened last year as part of the Four chain. Seasons.
“Some guests wanted to visit the Aeolian Islands in a private helicopter and charter a yacht to Syracuse, which is only an hour’s drive away,” he says.
Physically, there are only two real departures from reality — the beach scenes and the shots depicting the guests arriving by boat. The resort, located 400 meters on top of the high rocky plateau of Taormina, has no access to the sea. The private deck of a nearby fish restaurant, La Cambusa in Giardini Naxos, was used to film the sea arrival scenes.
And since the hotel doesn’t have a private shoreline, the nearby Unahotels Capotaormina resort is where guests can enjoy sunbeds and umbrellas at a beach club carved into a reddish cliff surrounded by rock arches and sea stacks, overlooking the tiny island of Isolabella.
The island, which also features in The White Lotus, is connected to the coast by a narrow strip of sand and is one of Sicily’s most beautiful and popular snorkelling spots thanks to its calm emerald green waters . It is part of an archaeological park and has a villa surrounded by exotic plants that hosts a botanical museum.
Most of the bathing and underwater scenes were shot on the public beach of the picturesque fishing village of Cefalú, between Taormina and Palermo.
Taormina Bay witnessed real-life intrigue in 1955, when a Polish heiress was allegedly drowned by her husband in mysterious circumstances said to be related to an inheritance.
The fights between the couples in “White Lotus” are also true to life. In 1967, an apparently enraged Elizabeth Taylor smashed a mandolin over Richard Burton’s head on the terrace of their suite.
Plant pots and phalluses
The hotel building is a former monastery from the 14th century.
San Domenico Palace, The Four Seasons
There’s plenty of Sicilian lore in The White Lotus, alongside references to the island’s mafia connections.
A ceramic sculpture of the head of a bearded Moor appears frequently in the show as a symbol of betrayal, a nod to a local legend dating back to medieval times. One of the Arab conquerors of Sicily is said to have had his head cut off and used as a plant pot by a woman he had an affair with.
“This story embodies the Sicilian essence of love, passion and revenge, all of which are represented in ‘The White Lotus,'” says Sonia Bonamassa, San Domenico’s public relations coordinator. “She cuts off Moor’s head because she loves him, but he has betrayed her.”
These testa di moro ceramic heads are used by Sicilians today as vases, lamp holders, citrus bowls and flower pots or simply to decorate rooms.
Mori are emblematic of Sicily’s Arab heritage. Other local souvenirs include colorful ceramics in the shape of pine nuts, believed by Sicilians to bring good luck.
“Director Mike White was incredibly receptive to these local things, we would joke about them, and he incorporated a lot of our suggestions into the season, like the Italian songs, adapting his approach to reality,” says Maraviglia.
One tip that didn’t make the cut, perhaps because it was too extreme even for such an erotically charged show, was a local watering can the actors called “penis grass.”
Bar Turrisi, in the picturesque medieval village of Castelmola near Taormina, is filled with phallus-shaped objects. “Bottles, watches, cups, everything,” says Maraviglia. Even stairs and floor tiles have penises.
Waitress Giorgia Ponturo says (real) hotel staff and crew regularly visited after a hard day of filming, and hopes the series will attract tourists to quieter, lesser-known places around Taormina like Castelmola.
“This bar dates back to 1947, it used to be a brothel and hot spot for gays,” says Ponturo. “Then the owner decided to adopt the motif of the phallus, which was an ancient Greek symbol of sexual power and fertility, to reaffirm the virtue of Sicilian men. It also brings good luck.”
Wild parties and luxurious mansions
The hotel manager says real-life guests can expect the same level of luxury seen on the show.
San Domenico Palace, The Four Seasons
Some scenes were filmed in a Renaissance palace called Villa Tasca, which is actually located in the town of Monreale, near Palermo. Set within a lush park, it has sumptuous frescoes and statues, king-sized rooms and an exotic swimming pool with fresh spring water. Rented out for weddings and private events, German composer Richard Wagner is said to have stayed here while creating one of his masterpieces.
Another extravagant residence featured in “The White Lotus” as the scene of an orgy is Villa Elena, which is located among olive groves near Noto. It is decorated with old tapestries and pieces of marble and has a large pool that emerges from a temple.
“The White Lotus” pays homage to the mafia movies “The Godfather”, featuring the location of a classic scene — Castello degli Schiavi in Fiumefreddo, an elegant castle with a monastery. It is a private property open for guided tours and event bookings.
The best Sicilian food is also featured in the series. Guests devour ricotta-filled cannoli, cassava cakes, gelato and arancini rice balls. The characters regularly drink rosé and the local Martini. Two couples spend a day tasting wine at the Planeta canteen on the flanks of Mount Etna, where the volcano’s fertile black soil produces tall bottles like Eruzione (“eruption”).
Since the 1800s, Taormina has been an international VIP hotspot known for its wild parties and sexual freedom that harkened back to pagan Greek days when homosexuality was the norm. Anglo-Irish playwright Oscar Wilde was a frequent visitor.
Taormina is said to have been the birthplace of DH Lawrence’s novel Lady Chatterley’s Lover. The author and his wife were guests at San Domenico Palace in the early 1920s and the book was apparently inspired by an affair between Mrs Lawrence and a local donkey rider.
In the global spotlight
Unlike the show, guests cannot arrive at the hotel by boat.
Locals hope Taormina’s global “White Lotus” promotion will further attract tourists to Sicily and increase its appeal as a Hollywood set.
Giacomo Chillé of the Discover Messina travel agency plans to organize guided tours of the series’ locations. “There is tremendous potential in cine-tourism (film-related tourism), we already take Americans to ‘The Godfather’s’ locations with customized tours,” he said.
Not everyone is happy. Enzo Anastasi, owner of Hotel La Canna, on the quaint island of Filicudi in the Aeolian archipelago, is worried about “the desperation of Sicily in a rich man’s Disneyland”.
He said: “These American series promote and portray ordinary super-rich people and their glamor spots, which are not the true, authentic spirit of Sicily, where traditions and simple ways of life survive.”
Taormina local Giuseppe Quattrocchi, owner of Le Bistrot du Monde restaurant, thinks the series will be a godsend for Taormina tourism, but says he didn’t appreciate how Sicily was sometimes portrayed.
“When three guests go in search of their ancestors in a remote village and are driven away by their supposed relatives, it is the opposite of our inner hospitality,” he says. “Also, associations and references to local criminal organizations paint a negative image.”
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