We only partner with brands we love and use. In this occasion, we were a guest of Belmond Villa Sant’Andrea. All opinions are always honest and our own.
They are also, without a doubt, the most historical of the accommodations in Sicily, both boasting a century’s old tradition in welcoming guests on the island. In fact, Villa Sant’Andrea turned 100 years old in 2019 and it still preserves its 1920s charm and the many anecdotes to fill the books.
A beach hotel in a bourgeois vacation home
Before it became a Belmond property in 2010, the hotel was already the place to see and be seen, a regular in the summer circuit of the wealthy and famous celebrities like Liz Taylor or Richard Burton. But originally, Villa Sant’Andrea was the vacation home of the Trewhella family.
Robert Trewhella came to Sicily from the UK at the end of the 19th century hired by the Italian Government to help build the Circumetnea train that runs around Etna mountain.
In Taormina, he met his future wife and got married, slowly building a vacation home in Taormina Mare, which was completed by his son in 1919. The family continued to enjoy the beach property until WWII when they left for the UK and the villa was used as a German Officers’ Mess.
It was the husband of the founder’s granddaughter, a member of the British Intelligence, who took the villa back when Allied forces arrived in Sicily. After WWII the family opened the villa as a small hotel and it was passed down to the great grandson in 1965.
At that time, Villa Sant’Andrea was already the destination of choice for wealthy British who came to enjoy piano evenings, seaside dinners and balmy afternoons under the shaded trees. It even welcomed famous personalities like Winston Churchill.
The Godfather crew stayed at the hotel during the filming of all three movies and the staff still remembers a young Al Pacino. After all, Corleone is in the movies Savoca and Forza d’Agro, two villages located right above Taormina, very near the hotel.
The Trewhella family finally left in 1985 and Belmond took over the property in 2010. While the luxury hotel brand expanded the hotel since its addition to the portfolio, added a pool and renovated some of the rooms and facilities one still has the same feeling of visiting a (very wealthy) friend’s home.
Arrival and check in
Belmond Villa Sant’Andrea is located on Taormina Mare, the portion of beach that is below the beautiful town of Taormina, and faces its very own private beach. Access to the hotel is done through the private path off the main national road that follows the coast.
While the road is probably one of the busiest ones on the entire island, the hotel enjoys complete peace thanks to its sheltered location at one end of the small bay, below a small rocky cape.
Many guests will arrive via a hotel pick up from the airport or another accommodation on the island, but we drove ourselves as we were already in Sicily for a few days. For guests who self-drive, the hotel offers valet service and you can recall your car whenever you need it.
Upon arrival at the hotel’s entrance, we left the car and the suitcases in it, and walked into the reception. The reception of the Belmond Villa Sant’Andrea is small but elegant, with ceramic vases in Sicily’s traditional moorish heads and beautiful flower arrangements adding a bit of color to the soft cream walls.
The high reception counter still bears the shield of the Trewhella family and you feel as if you walked into a private residence. The staff, from the reception to the concierge, are overly polite, and talk with a measured courtesy that makes you feel like every word has been carefully chosen.
Check in was swift and we were soon walked to our room which was on the second building of the hotel.
Because of the hotel’s history, its expansion through the years, and its location on an uneven shore, the rooms are split into five buildings and interconnected by various corridors at different levels. We walked from our room to the reception following a different path every time.
The rooms at Belmond Villa Sant’Andrea
The history of the Belmond Villa Sant’Andrea is that of a family vacation home turned luxury hotel through a slow and careful expansion over the decades. As a result, practically no two rooms are the same.
This means that there are over a dozen different room categories owing to the room size, its design, its layout, the existence and type of balcony, and its view.
In large strokes, the 71 rooms can be classified between Double Rooms, Junior Suites, Suites and the Presidential Suites of which there are 3. These four types of rooms usually face the sea, with a small number of suites facing the gardens.
Additionally, most of the rooms, although not all, have pretty wrought iron French balconies with bright red geraniums while the higher category Junior Suites, Suites and Presidential Suites may have terraces in varying sizes, some of them in exposed red brick the ones on the top floors with Norman style balustrades.
The largest terrace was the double terrace of our Presidential Suite which was as big as the room itself.
Variation in the room types is also added by the location, be it on the first, second or third floor. Lower levels might have small terraces instead of balconies where guests can order room service breakfast and enjoy it in the privacy of their own room and in their bathrobes.
Inside, the rooms at Belmond Villa Sant’Andrea all share similar design features with small variations of the same understated elegance of old-fashioned European wealth.
Marble floors and bathrooms are common to all, as are the base colors: cream, yellow and white over golden appliques and lamps. It may sound tacky, but the simplicity of each element made sure it was not.
The beds are large, super king size, and extremely comfortable, with immaculately white high thread count sheets and many cushions and pillows to choose from.
The bathrooms all have bathtubs and Sicilian blue and white ceramic details. Local bathroom amenity brand Ortigia provides the soaps and shower products in Sicilian summer scents such as lemon or jasmin.
Beige upholstery serves as the basis for some splashes of red and blue color in cushions and curtains but the general tone of the rooms is neutral and pleasing, letting the views be the protagonist. And they are.
The views over Taormina Mare and the bay of Mazzaro are like a movie framed by the bright red geranium. Life goes by slowly. The first rays of sunlight come in as the sun rises over the horizon in the early hours and stay until early evening when it sets behind the hotel, over Mount Tauro.
All rooms have their own espresso machine from Krups and cute ceramic cups. A designer Alessi kettle, a brand I have many a kitchen item from back home, will help you prepare your tea.
We stayed at one of the three Presidential Suites, the one located at the farthest end right above the swimming pool, on the third floor. The room consisted of a living room, a bathroom and a bedroom, all opening onto the glorious terrace with addictive views.
I couldn’t help but leave the windows and doors open at all times, the sea breeze dancing in the curtains. It was hard to leave the room, even harder to leave the hotel. Every corner of the room invited me to open a book, not to reach out for my phone. We never turned on the TV, or sat on the desk. I never opened my laptop.
Every day, handmade Sicilian sweets were left in our room. Almond cookies, chocolate-dipped strawberries and pistachio balls served with engraved 100th anniversary trays and delicate napkins, made it hard to resist the temptation.
Dining at Belmond Villa Sant’Andrea
The hotel has one dining venue only, restaurant Oliviero, which has been in operation for decades and is located above the beach on the lowest terracotta terrace below the gardens.
While this may seem like a limited range of dining options, the large menu and the flexibility of the team to prepare literally anything added the required degree of variation.
Oliveiro has both an indoor dining room as well as an al fresco section with tables under the pine trees, some of them with Sicilian ceramic tops. This is where breakfast, lunch and dinner are served.
To add to the dining offer, one day a week, the hotel organises a buffet-style fresh seafood BBQ extravaganza next to Oliviero. Private candlelit dinners by the beach can also be organised for couples looking for a romantic evening. Room service is another alternative, especially in the suites, which come with spacious terraces and balconies.
Thanks to the shuttle service to its sister property, guests can also dine at the Belmond Grand Hotel Timeo which has two restaurants, or at any of the restaurants in Taormina. Return transfers would have to be organised as the shuttle does not operate in the evenings.
Breakfast was one of the best I have ever enjoyed at a hotel and consisted of a beautifully presented and colorful buffet set inside the dining room and a long a la carte menu to choose from with anything from a delightful porridge to eggs any style or pancakes.
The buffet included a range of homemade jams, nuts and seeds, Italian charcuterie and cheese and several kinds of smoked fish. Freshly prepared pastries and breads were also divine as was the seasonal array of freshly cut fruits.
Despite the typical Sicilian breakfast of granita and brioche not being on the menu, the staff was all obliging and prepared it for us. The dining staff were never too bothered with any request and always happy to bring out anything with a smile.
At lunch and dinner Oliviero serves Sicilian food from an a la carte menu with enough creativity not to change their essence. Every dish was flawless, prepared with care and with the freshest ingredients. The waiter’s recommendations were always spot on too.
If Sicilian wine is what you are after, you won’t be disappointed. The menu is expansive and the sommelier an expert. We ordered two glasses of red and two glasses of white wine one evening and he took our tastes to recommend wines we both loved from the area around the hotel.
For a more casual lunch, you can also order sandwiches and pizzas from the beach or pool menus and enjoy them in your swimwear. Cocktails and juices are also available waterside.
Adjacent to Oliviero is the bar with sofas, tables and chairs under the pine trees and a pianist or DJ serenading aperitivo and drinks time every evening.
In the summertime, this is the place to be for pre-dinner aperitivo, the men in linen shirts, the women in flowing dresses. The atmosphere is casual but refined.
Activities and facilities at Belmond Villa Sant’Andrea
Set below the road and at one end of Mazzaro Bay, Belmond Villa Sant’Andrea is set on various levels of perfectly manicured terraced gardens with bright red and pink geranium and citrus trees. Crawlers and the occasional patch of grass all add a sense of being in nature.
The garden areas are all incredibly well taken care of, the fallen leaves picked up daily, the withering flowers removed. This attention to detail extends to almost everything.
As an east-facing, seaside resort, the Belmond Villa Sant’Andrea has the privilege of its own private beach only accessible to guests of the hotel and sister property Belmond Grand Timeo Hotel in downtown Taormina.
The beach is pebbly rather than sandy, as is common in this part of the Sicilian coast, and is combed every morning by the very fit beach caretaker who spends a good hour at 8am making sure each pebble finds its place in the space between the sunbeds.
And even they don’t escape perfection.
Rows of symmetrically placed sunbeds with baby blue mattresses fill the beach, at a density ratio that is half the next beach resort on the bay. They are grouped in pairs, under white as new umbrellas which provide protection from the sun that lights the bay from morning till late afternoon.
The beach also has private cabanas which were added after Belmond’s acquisition. They can be booked for the day at a rate of 500 euro including fruits, drinks from a private fridge, face spray from Evian, a Dyson fan, slippers, beach bag, eye protectors, sunscreen, aftersun and two sets of sunbeds, two on the first row by the water and two, futon-style, closer to the cabana.
As pretty and inviting as the beach looks, the water can be quite cold outside of the peak summer months, so Belmond added a heated infinity swimming pool in the last building under the hilly cape. The pool has some sun loungers and umbrellas as well as a small bar.
The hotel’s spa is fully staffed and offers outdoor treatments in the balmy terrace from where you can hear the waves and feel the Sicilian summer breeze surrounded by the beautifully kept garden.
For families with children there is a small playground in the gardens and a kids club with plenty of activities. Exercise junkies will find a cozy gym, although the emphasis here is on relaxation so the gym feels a bit of an afterthought.
The best activity at the Belmond Villa Sant’Andrea is the complimentary boat tour along the coast which is offered to all guests. There are three schedules every day except for Monday when the staff are on leave.
The boat tour lasts about one hour or a bit longer, depending on how many brave guests want to jump into the water for a brief swim.
In June, that required a lot of courage which I did not have. Along the coast you will see famous Isola Bella and the picturesque coast of Giardini Naxos which look very picturesque from this perspective.
The hotel also has a piano room and bar indoors, for the cooler months of the year, as well as comfortable sofas and a living room with windows outside to read or relax during the shoulder season when it is not as hot as during summer time.
Aside from the facilities and activities in-house, the hotel can organise any kind of tour and activity around the island be it through a guide service if you want to drive yourself, or a full private tour.
With a convenient location below Taormina, Belmond Villa Sant’Andrea is perfectly positioned for cultural exploration of the town itself thanks to the free shuttle service between the hotel and its sister property in town every 20min to half an hour.
The concierge team can also organise excursions and day trips like a hike of Mount Etna volcano, a helicopter tour above the volcano, day trips to ancient Syracuse or the Valley of Temples.
They can also set you up for a tour of The Godfather filming locations, a food and wine tour or a sailing adventure farther afield on your own private yacht.
The service at Belmond Villa Sant’Andrea
As would be expected from a hotel with a long history and tradition in luxury hospitality, the service at Belmond Villa Sant’Andrea is flawless. Nothing is ever too much of an effort, and the entire team is friendly and helpful.
This is sometimes easy to say when I am hosted and the hotel knows they are being reviewed, but I always observe the service provided to other guests and the way the staff behave in unusual situations to complement my assessment.
At Belmond Villa Sant’Andrea, the details made the difference, and it is probably why the hotel has a perfect service score on TripAdvisor and why so many reviews highlight the staff as one of the hotel’s forte. It is also telling that so many of the staff had been there for a long time, despite Sicily’s competitive hospitality market and the hotel’s seasonal opening.
But don’t just take my word for it, here are some examples.
We wanted to join the complimentary boat trip but since our stay covered a Monday and a fully booked property, there were more guests than available spots and the only opening was on the afternoon after we had checked out. This was not an issue and the hotel kept our car and belongings handy without extra charge.
The restaurant staff satisfied a few extra requests we made with ease. Chocolate spread, not on offer in the breakfast buffet, granita and brioche, and a few omelette combinations that were unusual all came swiftly.
I noticed how some other longer term guests got their choice of coffees as soon as they sat down, without having to order them. Families with kids were set slightly apart from the other guests, for everyone’s benefit.
We were invited to dine at the Belmond Grand Hotel Timeo and were offered menus without prices. While I believe the European tradition of giving women blank menus is outdated, I found it a well thought out and elegant gesture in that occasion.
We wanted to organise a private tour of The Godfather locations but with our own car so the hotel provided just a guide.
The verdict: Review of Belmond Villa Sant’Andrea
Belmond Villa Sant’Andrea is a luxury retreat for the rich and famous or for those looking to treat themselves to a special occasion.
Rates for the sea facing rooms (which are a must) approach $1,000 a night during the summer season, the Presidential Suites can be booked for well over $5,000 a night, making this a justifiable honeymoon destination.
Guests at the hotel are a combination of multi-generational wealthy families, couples in the 50s and 60s and some younger ones like myself with a penchant for the classic European luxury that can only be found in old properties that have welcomed guests for decades.
The atmosphere is educated. There are no children running around, no unnecessarily bare attire at meal times (and no signs needing to remind guests about this either), and no loud conversations.
Guests have come here to spend time together, to read a good old-fashioned book, and most likely, to get away from it all.
And Villa Sant’Andrea continues to be just that, a retreat for guests in search of a spot near the beach where there is enough culture and history to fill days, only if you want it to. And I find it hard to put a price on this.
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