ONE TEST OF a great hotel, particularly one oriented toward basking in the Sicilian sunshine, is whether you can still feel the vibrancy, timelessness, and uniqueness of the place if you arrive on a rainy, cold day. Located in the picturesque town of Taormina, Villa Carlotta, the second hotel from the Quartucci-family-run QRA Hospitality collection, passes that test.
How do I know? I checked in on one of the dreariest days of the season. Italian hospitality might be some of the best in the world, but even aficionados of “the guest experience,” as they say in the industry, can’t control the weather. Villa Carlotta’s elegantly appointed medieval building, overlooking Mount Etna and the Ionian Sea, charms in rain or shine.
Sure, I was slightly disappointed that on account of the pelting rain I couldn’t spend all afternoon lounging on a terrace the size of many New York City apartments, sipping an Aperol spritz, looking out over the bougainvillea-laden gardens, the swimming pool, and a vista that extended to the crystalline waters below. But the thing about Italian hospitality is that the hosts always find a way for you to live your version of la dolce vita. And the staff is so obliging that when I came to them, somewhat forlorn about having a terrace that I couldn’t use, they didn’t bat an eye when I suggested moving to another room. The absurdity of this request — asking to downgrade — wasn’t lost on me. The general manager, trained in the gracious Quartucci tradition that no request is too absurd or silly to at least entertain, proceeded to show me three other rooms without outdoor space. I decided to stay put in the end, trying to play to my optimism and ignore what four local weather sites had predicted: 100% chance of rain for the next day.
Since I couldn’t use the terrace, I made my way to the rooftop restaurant, where I spent one of my most enjoyable afternoons during my six-day visit to Taormina. The enduring philosophy of Villa Carlotta is that you are coming to stay with an old friend, as Gaia Quartucci, a second-generation Quartucci, told me. It’s a nice sentiment, and even nicer when a hotel actually embodies it.
I brought my laptop up to the restaurant around 3 p.m. when the kitchen was technically closed. But when a friend — which is how the Quartuccis think of their guests — is hungry, these somewhat artificial boundaries of mealtimes don’t hold much meaning. Lucky for me, that meant the perfect bowl of al dente linguine vongole and a Caprese salad at exactly the odd hour of the day that I wanted it. This sense of intimacy in the practice of hospitality comes through in gestures like these, in the faccia come se fosse a casa sua, or the “make yourself at home” mentality.
In pre-COVID times, Andrea Quartucci, the founder of QRA Hospitality, personally took guests out on his vintage 1971 Vespa. As Quartucci said in a recent interview with Small Luxury Hotels of the World, of which Villa Carlotta is a member, “A day at one of my hotels for me is like acting on a theater stage every day with a basic script and a lot of improvisation. One of my slogans is ‘stay at my hotel, stay with me’; allow me to show you our lifestyle influenced by the Greeks, Romans, Arabs, and mostly Italian Mediterranean culture.”
The style of the rooms is what his daughter, Gaia Quartucci, describes as “understated luxury that is relaxed and comfortable.” I’d put it another way: It’s like the aesthetic of your most stylish friend, the one who doesn’t use an interior designer because why would you when you have good taste and a villa with such great bones? Many of the furnishings, inspired by antiquity and the medieval period, come from Studio Puck in Florence, which isn’t a typical interiors firm, but an artisan studio that produces light fixtures, vases, and furniture.
The Quartuccis have deep roots in Taormina. Their first property, Hotel Villa Ducale, was opened in 1993 in Rosaria Quartucci’s family home, which she and her husband Andrea converted from an old mansion into a 19-room hotel. Many of the rooms have the most sought-after views in town — that only-in-Taormina vista onto the sea and Mount Etna (or Mother Etna, as she is fondly referred to by locals). The concept of turning a former home for nobles into a boutique hotel worked so well that the Quartuccis felt their brand of intimate, stylized hospitality had to be replicated. Hence came Hotel Villa Carlotta, the younger sibling to Hotel Villa Ducale.
The global pandemic, Gaia Quartucci says, has been a very difficult period for their hotels. In 2020, they could only stay open for three months, but the family used that time to launch their newest property in Taormina, the Q92 Noto Hotel, in the historic part of the town. Fast-forward to October of 2021 and Villa Carlotta was almost fully booked in the middle of the week.
When it was time to check out, it had been raining for almost a day straight. It should be noted that what was lacking in the weather could be made up for in location. Hotel Villa Carlotta is just outside the center of Taormina, a 10-minute walk from the main Corso Umberto. While it’s known as a tourist mecca filled with gelato stands, souvenirs, and every lemon product under the Sicilian sun, the old-world cobblestone streets are not only charming but also a place to observe the comings and goings of life in Taormina.
As I was standing in the lobby waiting for a taxi, I saw two other couples — one was on a babymoon and the other looked like they were on their honeymoon. They were stylish Brits with posh accents. This solidified what had crossed my mind. But I had yet to say it out loud until I whispered it to my husband: “I think Villa Carlotta is the hippest hotel in town.” I also noticed how happy the couples looked. This could have been because they were on holiday, and Brits are accustomed to endless rain, but it likely had a little something to do with their stay at Villa Carlotta. The Quartuccis make everyone feel like they are part of la famiglia, a feeling of inclusion and warmth that can overwhelm even the most adverse of weather conditions.
Hannah Seligson Writer
Hannah Seligson is a regular contributor to publications such as the New York Times, Town & Country, and the Daily Beast. She lives in New York City with her husband and two children.
Depasquale+Maffini is a photography duo specializing in interiors and architecture. Raised in Upstate New York and first trained by his father, Michael De Pasquale studied photography in London and Santa Barbara. After studying political science, Martina Maffini lived in Paris, Buenos Aires, and New York, where she met De Pasquale in 2011. Since then, they have shared their life and work. They are currently based between Paris and Milan and work with a select group of publications, interior designers, architects, and commercial clients.