I Lived 'The White Lotus' Dream by Staying at This Legendary Hotel in Palermo

villa igiea in palermo
Inside a Legendary Hotel in PalermoCourtesy of Villa Igiea

When you're in a city as historic as Palermo, and where you stay should be part of that ambiance, rather than simply drop your bags and rest your head. Trust me on this; I know what I'm talking about because, while on a trip to the Sicilian capital with Imago Artis Travel, I had the opportunity to pretend I lived at Villa Igiea. The private palazzo turned five-star hotel is a work of art inside and out. Situated on the coast, the 19th-century property maintains the feel of a grand, personal residence influenced by its natural surroundings. Its ideal for anyone who wants to settle into a secluded haven that's only a short distance from the city's center.

Without a doubt, I’d love nothing more than to return to Villa Igiea—where waking up to hypnotic sunrises, admiring Art Nouveau interiors, and glimpsing the location's rich past are daily occurrences. If you're planning a visit to Palermo and want to make your hotel part of the experience, Villa Igiea delivers. And if you're not planning a visit to Palermo, maybe you should? Below, I've compiled everything you need to know about the Italian destination. Whether you go for the dreamy views or to snap selfies the bar featured in The White Lotus, the urban resort is a crown jewel that shines brightly, even through the golden glow that blankets Palermo.

The Historic Location

Overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea, Villa Igiea sits about a 15-minute drive outside of Palermo’s historic center. The property lived many lives before becoming the luxury oasis it is today. When it was purchased as a small villa by Ignazio and Franca Florio in 1899, the family planned to build a sanatorium around the original structure. Their daughter suffered from tuberculosis, and they were inspired to create a health center by the villa's location in the Acquasanta (Saint Water) neighborhood, which is historically known for its restorative properties. Ultimately, they decided to turn the place into a renowned luxury hotel instead.

villa igiea in palermo
Courtesy of Villa Igiea

The coveted locale became a magnet for royalty, dignitaries, and Hollywood luminaries such asBritish King George V, financier J.P. Morgan, and actress Claudia Cardinale—to name a few. During the World Wars, the hotel was used as a hospital before returning to its status as a destination for leisurely activities.

The Sicilian Design

Originally, Villa Igiea was designed by famed architect Ernesto Basile, painter Ettore de Maria Bergler, and designer Vittorio Ducrot. The property underwent an extensive interior renovation by Rocco Forte Hotels and reopened in 2021. Olga Polizzi, Rocco Forte’s deputy chairman and director of design, and renowned architects Paolo Moschino and Philip Vergeylen of Nicholas Haslam Studios teamed up to preserve and revive the property. "It's a much-loved hotel and has always been charming, but it was incredibly neglected," Polizzi says. "A lot of work was done, but gently."

Beyond a gated entrance and greenery-topped walls hugging the property, guests are greeted by the building's golden facade, studded with turrets and arched windows. The refreshed interiors honor the structure's history and are an epic ode to Sicily. The color palette consists of sage green, pomegranate yellow, blue hibiscus, and amber, all of which are reminiscent of the Sicilian countryside and coastline. Locally sourced marbles, tiles, and artwork were woven into the hotel's DNA. "Every maiolica tile on the premises that wasn't reclaimed was custom-designed by Scianna Ceramiche, the oldest artisanal producer in Bagheria, east of Palermo," Polizzi says. "They have been decorated by hand, according to the Sicilian tradition."

The Romantic Rooms and Suites

A junior suite at Villa Igiea.Courtesy of Villa Igiea

Villa Igiea's 72 guest rooms and 28 suites are housed in two buildings, the main villa and the nearby Palazzina Donna Franca. Every room is meant to feel like its own private residence. I stayed in one with a sea view in the main building, and it felt elevated yet cozy. Upon entering, I was greeted by ethereal music playing throughout the room as if I were living in a movie and the soundtrack kicked in for the reveal. A three-tiered stand of fruits and desserts, including five Sicilian cannolis, was a surprise arrival treat.

The room's airy, coastal atmosphere was defined by a green-and-white color palette. The custom wallpapered entry, barrel-vaulted ceiling, and patterned tile flooring in the bathroom gave the room character. Antique furniture and sumptuous fabrics on the canopied king bed topped off the room's everlasting appeal. What really sold me was the arched French casement window, which was satisfying to open and provided an unbeatable view of the water and tiered gardens—where statues, fountains, and classical ruins exude ancient charm.

Beyond its obvious beauty, the room was equipped with essentials including outlets with an international adapter and USB charger. The bathroom was stocked with exclusive toiletries made using organic Sicilian botanicals. And the service was full of thoughtful touches; when cleaning my room, housekeeping used Velcro ties to corral all of my charger cables, which came in handy for cord organization.

The Impeccable Amenities

From the outdoor pool, guests can admire views of the sparkling sea.Courtesy of Villa Igiea

The property's other alluring features include an outdoor swimming pool, a tennis court, and a fitness center. There are also yoga classes, which guests can attend one-on-one or in groups outside on the hotel’s grounds or in their suite. At the spa, guests can address their physical, mental, and spiritual health through a variety of treatments and products made with natural ingredients—living up to the Florio's vision of a healing oasis. From culinary classes to beach club excursions, the hotel also has a range of experiences for guests to indulge in on and off-site.

Some of the hotel's design gems are the grand event spaces. The Sala Basile reception hall features Sicilian Art Nouveau-style murals by painter Ettore de Maria Bergler. The Belle Époque ballroom is designed for grand ceremonies and gala events.

The Dining Options

a table and chairs outside
Courtesy of Villa Igiea

Villa Igiea has three dining options: Florio Restaurant, Igiea Terrazza Bar, and Alicetta Pool Bar. Each place serves up cuisine and cocktails with distinctly Sicilian flavors. Florio Restaurant is a must-visit for breakfast or dinner. With a Belle Époque era interior, the restaurant takes on an elegant green-and-white color palette. Floor-to-ceiling windows bathe the hall in natural light. On the outdoor patio, patrons can admire a view of the sea through lush greenery as they indulge in locally sourced cuisine—including a variety of seafood and traditional Sicilian pasta.

Fans of The White Lotus need to stop by Igiea Terrazza Bar, which served as a filming location for season two. The historic bar is set among sandstone vaults and features wrought iron chandeliers and dramatic frescoes painted in the 1950s by local artist Eugenio (Gino) Morici. The cocktails are inspired by the famous patrons who have visited the bar throughout its more than 120-year history. The bar, which also serves snacks and light bites, connects to an expansive outdoor terrace with live music in the summer and a game room.

In the summer, Alicetta Pool Bar is open for al fresco dining with views of the sparkling sea. Located on a pavilion in the garden, the bistro offers Sicilian daily specials, seafood platters, handpicked vegetables, bountiful salads, freshly baked pizza, homemade ice cream, and more.

Off the property, Palermo is packed with other must-try cuisine. So if you're looking for more recommendations—including for places to explore and shop—browse our full itinerary below.

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