Villa Beau Séjour (Bel Soggiorno)...
...was built in 1908 at one of Taormina’s most panoramic spots. The hotel came into being when tourism was in vogue among the aristocracy and it played host to an international clientele. The building was set in an almond grove, with wide terraces descending to the road below; agaves and prickly pears – typical Sicilian cacti – grew on the low stone walls.
The Beau Séjour was one of the first purpose-built hotels in Taormina and it welcomed travellers from Central Europe who came to spend the winter in Sicily.
Every afternoon, visitors gathered in the drawing room, the place for reading and conversation, where, at the traditional teatime, they were able to “enjoy a cup” and partake of the hotel’s selection of dainties. The guests of the Beau Séjour often made excursions to Castelmola, Mount Ziretto and Mount Venere. Mules and donkeys, the only form of transport on the narrow tracks that criss-crossed the surrounding countryside were an integral part of the local way of life and, at the same time, a popular tourist attraction.
After a few years, the almond grove was turned over to the cultivation of citrus fruits: lemons, oranges and mandarins. In the Thirties, with the advent of Fascism, a law was passed to enforce the translation of foreign names into Italian and the Villa Beau Séjour became the Bel Soggiorno.
During World War II the Germans set up a military command post at the Hotel San Domenico in Taormina and a detachment was posted to the Bel Soggiorno. Following the War, the building was renovated and adapted to meet the needs of the tourist industry that accompanied the economic boom of the 1960s.
That was when Taormina witnessed the private drawing rooms of the beau monde give way to late-night entertainment. Nightclubs very soon became a tremendous centre of attraction for foreign tourists; regular visitors included celebrities from the decadent Sicilian nobility and millionaire tourists in search of new experiences.
The new guests had new requirements; unlike those of the early years of the century, these new clients did not come to Sicily for the winter but for the summer and Taormina became established as a seaside tourist resort. Since the 1990s the hotel management has carried out annual improvements to ensure that guests enjoy their stay even more. Nevertheless, the Bel Soggiorno has retained its Moorish style and all its early 20th century glamour: the mullioned windows and ogival arches add to the charm of its enviable panoramic location with views of Etna and the Bay of Naxos. The lush garden with citrus, olive and almond trees, bougainvillea, agaves and prickly pears delights guests from all over the world.
And what a magical display there is to watch from the hotel’s terrace when, each new day, the glimmering lights of the night fishing boats make way for the first rays of the morning sun. In the summer months, as dawn breaks and the engine hum of these little boats fades, the cicadas burst into song against the backdrop of the volcano and the hotel’s fairy-tale umbrella pines.
The splendid scenery, a true nonpareil thanks to the hotel’s highly desirable location, is bathed in a triumphant spectacle of light and colour that leaves the enchanted onlooker breathless. Our hope as we celebrate our centenary is that the goal we have reached will become the starting point for a new lease of life, just like the first gleams that brighten the new day as they illuminate the views from the hotel’s windows each morning.