With lavish Baroque mansions, quaint gardens, dramatic landscapes, ancient art, and a charming atmosphere, Sicily seems like the perfect location for the second season of the dark comedy series “The White Lotus”.
The award-winning show follows the tangled, erotic, and sometimes dangerous adventures of super-rich travelers vacationing at the beautiful cliff-top San Domenico Palace, a five-star resort run by Four Seasons operates in the town of Taormina.
Once a 14th-century convent with unique views of the Etna volcano and coastline, the hotel is the star of the show as well as its A-list Hollywood and Italian cast. And, its real-life manager, Lorenzo Maraviglia, said, it fits its fictional counterpart.
“The real vibe of the resort is very similar to what you see and feel in the series,” he tells CNN Travel. “It’s vibrant, talking about Sicily – romantic and sexy at the same time – and about our incredible guests who include Madonna and Sharon Stone this year.”
Produced for HBO (which, like CNN, is part of Warner Bros. Discovery), the series is filmed around Taormina, Noto, Cefalù, and Palermo, but the Palace of San Domenico is at the heart of intrigues and wet communications. growing around the world. the course of season seven episodes.
And while guests looking for their own White Lotus escape may not be able to get the experience quite right, Maraviglia insists his hotel will at least provide the same level of service that other staff members offer. favorite movie character.
“The success of the series is based on reality happening in a luxury hotel; the interactions between staff and guests, and between customers, are very real,” he said.
But “extreme situations such as two local escorts coming and going to entertain guests are part of the film and the stage add a layer of spice,” he added, noting that things often work out. out at a softer pace – as far as he perceives.
“We can notice if there are weird movements if a situation becomes apparent, but Taormina and our resort are where such things don’t usually happen. It’s for families and honeymoon couple. Even if someone can have a weekend adventure, it’s impossible for us to feel.”
Visitors to the San Domenico Palace will find it exactly as depicted in “The White Lotus”. The connecting doors between the suites actually exist. There are lush gardens to enjoy sunset drinks, lovely cabanas, a panoramic swimming pool and a terrace overlooking the bay where you can have breakfast, and a Michelin-starred restaurant, where the characters in the movie often argue.
Sicily is no stranger to frisson. The island has an ancient Greek legacy of sexual freedom — a past reflected in the series, with pagan statues and religious frescoes silently witnessing far-flung activities. flowers of rich guests.
Saintess and prostitute
Taormina is to be seen in all its charms: majestic ancient Greek theatres, panoramic squares, pale-colored houses, elegant alleys lined with chic cafes and shops, quaint houses. Luxury stores like Baronessa where a couple’s dinner scene was shot.
The best suites in the hotel, where most of the show’s sex scenes take place, have plunge pools and paintings of saints by the monks who once lived there.
Maraviglia said: “Decoration, rooms, everything is original, what you see is real, including the staff uniforms.
While Maraviglia may not have to accommodate some of the more exotic requests from guests like in “White Lotus,” he says he has had to deal with lavish requests since San Domenico opened in 2014. last as part of the Four Seasons series.
“Some guests want to visit the Aeolian Islands by private helicopter and charter a yacht to Syracuse, which is just an hour’s drive away,” he said.
Physically, there are only two real deviations from reality – the beach scene and the footage depicting guests arriving by boat. The resort is located at an altitude of 400 meters on the top of the Taormina rocky plateau, with no access to the sea. The private deck of a nearby fish restaurant, La Cambusa at Giardini Naxos, was used to shoot scenes arriving at sea.
And since the hotel doesn’t have its own private beach, the nearby resort of Unahotels Capotaormina is where guests can enjoy sun loungers and parasols at the beach club carved into red cliffs with rock arches. and the surrounding beach, overlooking the small island of Isolabella.
The small island, also featured in “White Lotus,” is connected to the shore by a narrow stretch of sand and is one of Sicily’s most popular and beautiful snorkeling spots thanks to its calm emerald green waters. . It is part of an archeological park and has a mansion surrounded by exotic plants, which hosts a botanical museum.
Most of the bathing and underwater scenes were filmed at the public beach of the picturesque fisherman village of Cefalú, between Taormina and Palermo.
Taormina Bay saw a real-life conspiracy in 1955, when a Polish heiress was drowned by her husband under mysterious circumstances believed to be related to the inheritance.
The quarrels between couples in “White Lotus” are also very real in life. In 1967, an enraged Elizabeth Taylor apparently smashed a mandolin on Richard Burton’s head on the terrace of their suite.
Potted plants and penis
There are many Sicilian legends in “The White Lotus”, along with references to the island’s mafia connections.
A ceramic sculpture of the head of a bearded Moor is often displayed in the show as a symbol of treachery, an agreement with a local legend dating back to the Middle Ages. It is said that one of the Arabs who occupied Sicily was beheaded by a woman with whom he had an affair and used as a potted plant.
“This story embodies the essence of Sicilian love, passion and vengeance, all expressed in ‘The White Lotus’,” said Sonia Bonamassa, public relations coordinator for San Domenico. ‘. “She cut off the Moor’s head because she loved him but he betrayed her.”
These testa di moro ceramic heads are used today by Sicilians as vases, lamp holders, citrus bowls and vases or just for room decoration.
The mori are symbols of Sicily’s Arab heritage. Other local mementos include colorful pigne pine-shaped ceramics believed by the Sicilians to bring good luck.
Maraviglia said: “Director Mike White was extremely receptive to these local things, we joked about them and he made many of our recommendations during the season, such as Italian songs, adapt his approach to reality.
One trick that didn’t work out, perhaps because it was so extreme even for such an erotic performance, was a local watering hole that the actors nicknamed the “penis stick”.
Bar Turrisi, in the picturesque medieval village of Castelmola near Taormina, is filled with phallic-shaped objects. “Bottles, watches, cups, everything,” says Maraviglia. Even the stairs and floor tiles have penises.
Waitress Giorgia Ponturo said hotel staff (real) and film crew regularly visit after a hard day of filming and hopes the series will lure tourists to quieter, lesser-known places Come over around Taormina like Castelmola.
“This bar dates back to 1947, it used to be a brothel and gay hotspot,” Ponturo said. “Then the owner decided to use the phallic motif, an ancient Greek symbol of sexuality and fertility, to reassert the masculinity of Sicilian men. lucky.”
Wild parties and lavish mansions
Some scenes were shot at a renaissance palace called Villa Tasca, which is actually located in the town of Monreale, near Palermo. Set in a lush park, it features sumptuous frescoes and statues, king-sized rooms and a quaint pool with fresh spring water. Hired to host weddings and private events, German composer Richard Wagner is said to have stayed here while creating one of his masterpieces.
Another lavish mansion featured in “The White Lotus” as a scene of riot is Villa Elena, set among olive groves near Noto. It is decorated with old tapestries and pieces of marble and has a large swimming pool that juts out 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’s a private property open for guided tours and event bookings.
The best of Sicily’s dishes are also featured in the series. Visitors gobbled up ricotta cannoli, cassata, gelato and arancini rice balls. The characters regularly drink local rosé and martinis. Two couples spend a day tasting wine at the Planeta canteen on the slopes of Mount Etna, where the volcanic black soil produces fine wines like Eruzione (“eruption”).
Since the 1800s, Taormina has been an international VIP hotspot known for its wild parties and sexual freedom that dates back to pagan Greece when homosexuality was the norm. Anglo-Irish playwright Oscar Wilde is one of the regular guests.
It is said that Taormina may have been the birthplace of DH Lawrence’s novel “Lady Chatterley’s Lover”. The author and his wife were guests at the San Domenico Palace in the early 1920s and the book appears to have been inspired by the love affair between Mrs. Lawrence and a local donkey rider.
Locals hope the global promotion of Taormina in “White Lotus” will attract more tourists to Sicily and increase its appeal as a Hollywood stage.
Discover Messina’s Giacomo Chillé plans to organize guided tours of the series’ locations. “There’s huge potential in cine-turismo, we’ve brought Americans to ‘Godfather’ sites with tailored trips,” he said.
Not everyone is happy. Enzo Anastasi, owner of the La Canna hotel, on the unusual island of Filicudi in the Aeolian archipelago, is concerned about “silenting Sicily before Disneyland by a rich man.”
“These American series promote and portray the usual super-rich and their charms, which are not the true soul of Sicily, where tradition and a simple way of life persist,” he said. in.”
Giuseppe Quattrocchi, a Taormina local who owns restaurant Le Bistrot du Monde, thinks the series will be a godsend to Taormina’s tourism industry but says he doesn’t appreciate the way Sicily was portrayed in those times. point.
“When three guests go searching for their ancestors in a remote village and are kicked out of their homes by their relatives, it’s the opposite of our innate hospitality,” he said. “Also, those who escort and allude to local criminal organizations portray a negative image.”