Villa Igiea Salita Belmonte 43, Palermo , 90142
Bought in 1899 from English admiral Sir William Domville by the influential Florio dynasty, then one of Sicily’s leading families, Villa Igiea was initially known as Villa Domville. Ignazio and Franca Florio had planned to convert this grand building into a sanitorium, motivated by their daughter’s tuberculosis and inspired by the Villa’s position in the Acquasanta (Saint Water) region, historically known for its restorative properties.
However, plans changed, and instead they decided to create a luxury hotel worthy of the most stringent international standards. For the task of designing their grand hotel, Ignazio and Franca Florio commissioned Ernesto Basile, the award-winning Palermitan architect and pioneer of the Sicilian Liberty movement. The tiered gardens, seafront enfilade and immense, turreted villa were completed and inaugurated in the early 1900s, the jewel in its crown the beautiful, frescoed Salon Basile.
Coinciding with the last days of the Belle Epoque, the opening seasons of Villa Igiea and its club, the Cercle des Etrangers, saw journalists, magnates, sportsmen and even royalty grace its grand suites and salons. Perhaps most memorably, in 1907, King Edward VII of England, Queen Alexandra, Princess Victoria and the Tsarina Maria Feodorovna disembarked the iconic Victoria & Albert yacht to lunch at Villa Igiea and explore Palermo’s many attractions. But war was approaching, and the glory days fading. The last guest of note to stay before the Great War was the King of Siam, whose arrival drew visitors from far and wide to crowd at the villa’s gates.
Throughout the World Wars, Villa Igiea would suffer, by turns requisitioned and used as a hospital. Yet once peace was restored, Villa Igiea was acquired by the Banco di Sicilia and once again became a sanctuary for the rich and powerful, who flocked to enjoy its balmy winter climate. Gala nights began to be held again in the 1950s, and guests clothed in Pucci and Dior sipped fine Champagnes whilst admiring the Conca d’Oro from its terraces.
In this same period, cinema discovered Palermo when Errol Flynn film Against Every Flag was shot at the marina under Igiea’s walls. Once Hollywood had tasted the gritty, contrasting charms of Palermo, there was no turning back: directors including Roberto Rossellini, Alberto Sordi and De Sica chose the location for their masterpieces. Most notably, Claudia Cardinale, Burt Lancaster and Alain Delon stayed during the shooting of The Leopard, and stars such as Sophia Loren were also captured on film here.
As the decades passed and television arrived, Villa Igiea continued to set the scene for cinematic works, and to welcome extraordinary guests. Amongst these were King Gustav VI of Sweden, Beatrice of Holland, the princess granddaughter of the Siamese King who had stayed so many years before and King Carlos of Spain, his Queen and their entourage. In the 1990s, Villa Igiea was bought by the Acqua Marcia Group, and later branded first as a Hilton, then an AccorHotels property.
In 2019, Villa Igiea was acquired by Rocco Forte Hotels, a beginning of a new era for this opulent coastal resort. Working in collaboration with Nicholas Haslaam Studios, Rocco Forte Hotels’ Director of Design Olga Polizzi has carefully restored this Grade 1-listed landmark, preserving its unique heritage features whilst reimagining and updating neglected areas. Re-opening in summer 2020, its elegant, frescoed walls, cool, vaulted ceilings and ambient, sun-kissed garden terraces will once again enchant as in days past, as Villa Igiea becomes Palermo’s most breath-taking destination.