B&B and Beyond: Casa Cuseni, Taormina, Sicily

Garbo, Picasso and Bertrand Russell loved this magical villa. No wonder, it is a delight to the senses, writes Sarah Gilbert

With a sublime location, perched on a rocky promontory at the end of a mountain ridge overlooking the Ionian Sea, Taormina was invaded variously by the Greeks, Romans, French and Spanish, who all left their mark. Tourists, artists, writers and celebrities followed.

The impressive Casa Cuseni, located high above Taormina's rooftops, was built by the British painter Robert Kitson between 1905 and 1907. Now it's an Italian National Monument, B&B and living museum. Suspended in time, a rare Frank Brangwyn mural decorates the dining room, while the living room and library are filled with fascinating curios: a 15th-century Tibetan rug, dolls that belonged to King Ferdinand IV, ancient Islamic ceramics, a Picasso ink drawing, letters from Tennessee Williams.

Steep pathways lead through the villa's Italianate terraced gardens, which give views of Mount Etna's perfect cone and are a remarkable feat of design, filled with exotic trees, fountains, wisteria-draped pergolas and secret nooks.


The Bed

Daphne Phelps, Kitson's niece, took over the property when he died in 1947 and lived there until she died in 2005. The five bedrooms are named after some of the villa's famous visitors – Greta Garbo, Pablo Picasso, Bertrand Russell and Henry Faulkner.

All the rooms are furnished with 17th- and 18th-century Sicilian antiques and paintings and have captivating views from private balconies. We stayed in Daphne Phelps, which has always been the master bedroom but was given to Greta Garbo when she visited. It's en suite, along with the two-bedroom Pablo Picasso suite, while the other three rooms share two bathrooms.


The Breakfast

Breakfast is served in the small kitchen-diner or on the roof terrace, which has panoramic views over Taormina. We drank juice freshly squeezed from oranges from the garden, espresso and cappuccino, and delved into yoghurt, fruit, cold cuts – mortadella, salami, local ham – cheese and traditional Sicilian almond cake. In the afternoon, snacks, such as calorie-laden cannoli, sweet cassata (made with ricotta) and pignolata (chocolate-dipped pastries), are served on the terrace or in the wood-panelled dining room.


The Hosts

After Daphne died, the villa was taken over by Francesco Spadero and his wife, Mimma, who opened the B&B and museum last April. There's a strong connection: Mimma's father, Peppino, and her mother, Concetta, worked at Casa Cuseni for 50 years and she grew up there as part of the family.


The Weekend

Casa Cuseni is a five-minute walk from the magnificent buildings and chic boutiques of Corso Umberto, Taormina's main thoroughfare, which showcases the town's rich history with its mix of Arab, Norman, Baroque and Gothic architecture. And don't miss the Greek amphitheatre with stunning views over the bay.

Mount Etna is just over an hour's drive from Taormina and dominates the landscape. For a closer look, hike among the seven, lunar-like craters and volcanic vents of the Sartorius Mounts, or take a more strenuous trek to the summit (00 39 3454 523 330; continentesicilia.it; guided tours from €80/£68).

If you're feeling lazy, head to the beach at Lido Mazzaro, just minutes from town by cable car, or take a leisurely boat ride around the coast.

Scenes in The Godfather were filmed near Taormina and you can follow in Michael Corleone's footsteps in a vintage Fiat 500 (00 39 3497 234 906; 500vintagetour.com; from €150/£128 per car). Drive behind a tour leader or navigate yourself around the hair-raising hairpin bends up to the sleepy hilltop villages of Savoca and Forza D'Agro. Or follow Etna's wine roads, stopping off at vineyards and cellars for a tasting.

Catania's boisterous morning market is a 40-minute drive away. Wander around the pescheria (fish market), before picking up plump olives, rich pecorino and other Sicilian goodies.

The Pit-stop

In central Taormina, try Sicilian specialities arancini (deep-fried risotto balls) at Da Cristina on Piazza del Duomo (00 39 0942 21171) and almond-milk granita at Bam Bar, 45 Via Di Giovanni (00 39 0942 24355).

For something more sophisticated, the restaurant at the beautiful Grand Hotel Timeo (00 39 0942 23801; grandhoteltimeo.com), serves classic Sicilian dishes with a contemporary twist and a focus on seasonal produce, such as pasta alla Norma – aubergine, tomato and salted ricotta – and swordfish rolled with breadcrumbs, pine nuts and sultanas (main courses around €30/£26). The wine list is equally loyal. On balmy evenings you can dine on the terrace – and, if you're lucky, you'll be treated to a performance of Etna's lava pyrotechnics.


The Essentials

Casa Cuseni, Via Leonardo da Vinci 5, Taormina (00 39 0942 28362; casacuseni.com). Rooms start at €89 (£76), including breakfast.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
The Queen and the letter sent to Charlie
Arts and Entertainment
Eurovision Song Contest 2015
EurovisionGoogle marks the 2015 show
Two lesbians hold hands at a gay pride parade.
peopleIrish journalist shares moving story on day of referendum
Arts and Entertainment
<b>Kathryn Williams</b>
When I was supporting Ray La Montagne I was six months pregnant. He had been touring for a year and he was exhausted and full of the cold. I was feeling motherly, so I would leave presents for him and his band: Tunnock's Tea Cakes, cold remedies and proper tea. Ray seemed painfully shy. He hardly spoke, hardly looked at you in the face. I felt like a dick speaking to him, but said "hi" every day. </p>
He was being courted by the same record company who had signed me and subsequently let me go, and I wanted him to know that there were people around who didn't want anything from him. At the Shepherds Bush Empire in London, on the last night of the tour, Ray stopped in his set to thank me for doing the support. He said I was a really good songwriter and people should buy my stuff. I was taken aback and felt emotionally overwhelmed. Later that year, just before I had my boy Louis, I was l asleep in bed with Radio 4 on when Louis moved around in my belly and woke me up. Ray was doing a session on the World Service. </p>
I really believe that Louis recognised the music from the tour, and when I gave birth to him at home I played Ray's record as something that he would recognise to come into the world with. </p>
booksKathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
Liz Kendall played a key role in the introduction of the smoking ban
newsLiz Kendall: profile
Life and Style
techPatent specifies 'anthropomorphic device' to control media devices
The PM proposed 'commonsense restrictions' on migrant benefits
voicesAndrew Grice: Prime Minister can talk 'one nation Conservatism' but putting it into action will be tougher
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Guru Careers: Events Coordinator / Junior Events Planner

    £24K + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking an Events Coordinator ...

    Royal Yachting Association Cymru Wales: Chief Executive Officer

    Salary 42,000: Royal Yachting Association Cymru Wales: The CEO is responsible ...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Manager / Marketing Communications Manager

    £35-40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Communicati...

    Ashdown Group: Technical IT Manager - North London - Growing business

    £40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A growing business that has been ope...

    Day In a Page

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
    Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

    Paul Scholes column

    Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?