I stayed at the real White Lotus hotel in Sicily – and it looks suspiciously like the show

The gardens of Palazzo San Domenico are scented by 40 different types of lemon trees (Evening Standard)

The gardens of Palazzo San Domenico are scented by 40 different types of lemon trees (Evening Standard)

I’m lying by the pool of a five star hotel in Sicily, the November sun is still somehow 10 times hotter than London for months, sipping a cocktail made of I don’t know what, because it I just got over it and I didn’t bother to ask. Etna rises above me, judging: who does this girl think she is? A White Lotus character?

In fact, that’s exactly who I am. Because I’ve been to the Palace of San Domenico, the actual home of Season 2 of The White Lotus, and I live as close to an HBO budget as possible.

Although the hotel is the show’s namesake, the first thing that comes to mind when you think of The White Lotus is rarely where it takes place. It’s more likely that it’s Jennifer Coolidge’s trailing mark that comes to mind, or Sydney Sweeney’s icy Gen Z sniping, or uh…Theo James appendix.

HBO’s resort-themed drama series achieved cult status in a single season last year, following the vacation experiences of fictional super-rich and mega-titleds, with the likes of Connie Britton and Murray Bartlett giving them life (and then, in some cases, death).

Sensing audiences’ thirst for more and taking advantage of its good audience size – 9.3 million viewers on average per episode across all platforms in the US alone – HBO quickly set about doing a second season. , which began airing last week.

This time, we’re greeted by a new generation of terrifyingly wealthy people: aside from Emmy-winning Coolidge’s role as Tanya McQuoid, which she’s reprising, and her husband Greg, every face is new. So far we’ve had two episodes to adjust to our new pack of kids as they adjust to The White Lotus in Taormina, Sicily.

So I thought I’d make some adjustments myself. A weekend at The White Lotus’ real-life counterpart, the San Domenico Palace, a Four Seasons hotel built around a 14th-century convent, shows just how close the series is to reality.

Theo James sat on the terrace of Palazzo San Domenico, aka The White Lotus (HBO/The White Lotus)

Theo James sat on the terrace of Palazzo San Domenico, aka The White Lotus (HBO/The White Lotus)

The San Domenico Palace has been a hotel for 126 years and a Four Seasons for one, opening in its current form on July 1 last year. The windows of its rooms overlook the hotel’s extensive gardens, then the 2-meter infinity pool, and then the Ionian Sea. It smells, and I really mean it, amazingly good. And not just because of the 40 types of lemon trees that populate the gardens – we clarified at reception and there’s someone devoutly spraying the hallways with Four Seasons space scent. Not available for purchase, believe me I tried.

On the other side of the building, the entrance to San Domenico is just behind the main streets of Taormina, a town which, it turns out, was already fully prepared for a mob of pseudo-millionaires, flanked by film crews. After all, they get the real thing every summer.

The infinity pool of Palazzo San Domenico, Four Seasons Taormina (Peter Vitale)

The infinity pool of Palazzo San Domenico, Four Seasons Taormina (Peter Vitale)

And more: Donald Trump and other heads of state were guests in San Domenico during the 2017 G7 summit, allegedly clogging the city’s back streets with their large convoys. Beyond the White Potus, Francis Ford Coppola visited the hotel during the Taormina Film Festival this year, and Sharon Stone spent a few nights following Dolce & Gabbana’s Alta Moda fashion show this summer.

Defining San Domenico as the vacation backdrop for the super rich was therefore no exaggeration. Taormina is built for the wealthy, with fewer tourist shops and more Dior, Rolex, Benetton and Gucci boutiques. You can practically hear Meghann Fahy’s character, Daphne, remarking on Dior jewelry to her doting hubby as you stroll the cobblestone streets of the city.

The White Lotus characters drink it on a boat around the bays of Taormina (The White Lotus/HBO)

The White Lotus characters drink it on a boat around the bays of Taormina (The White Lotus/HBO)

The hotel will cost you a minimum of £984 per night for this time of year, with that figure rising into the thousands next summer. The numbers may seem hard to justify, but the Four Seasons does everything it can to do so. While staying in a superior sea view room, we were treated to fine dining, fresh breakfast buffets and local fish caught that day. And all had to go beyond typical hotel tastes: for example, the prosciutto served at breakfast was not just an offering on a plate, but sliced ​​for you individually by a dedicated server with a meat carver.

The hotel has four kitchens, three for its three respective restaurants: Principe Cerami, its gourmet restaurant run by award-winning chef, Massimo Mantarro, who is currently seeking a Michelin star, Bar and Chiostro for lighter bites, and Anciovi , the sea view swimming pool restaurant open only in high season. Oh, and the fourth kitchen is for banquets, of course.

Principe Cerami, the gastronomic restaurant of San Domenico (Peter Vitale)

Principe Cerami, the gastronomic restaurant of San Domenico (Peter Vitale)

One of the first treats of the White Lotus you notice as you walk through San Domenico is the presence of those menacing, decorative head statues (the kind Jennifer Coolidge imagines when having sex with her husband), which mark almost all places. The statues represent an old story of forbidden love between local women: in 1100, a Sicilian woman fell in love with an Arab fighter only to find he had a wife at home, so she beheaded him and used her head as a flowerpot in her vivid balcony garden, because she always liked to look at it (just) so much. No spoilers for the White Lotus Episode 2 ending, but there are a few parallels that pop up.

One of the historic disembodied heads in a bathroom in Palazzo San Domenico (Evening Standard)

One of the historic disembodied heads in a bathroom in Palazzo San Domenico (Evening Standard)

It’s clear from the whole experience of Taormina, and not just the hotel, that the creator of White Lotus, Mike White, spent a lot of time in the town, shaping its history within its setting. The characters visit all the major sights, just like us. In episode two alone, the Di Grassos visit the ancient Greek amphitheater, the cameras pan to the famous Isalo Bella beach, and Aubrey Plaza’s husband, Ethan, played by Will Sharpe, runs off to the crucifix that sits at the top of the city’s main hill (Via Crucis). Like the turn of the first season in Maui, White makes sure to organize the story around its location, instead of throwing a bunch of characters and their arcs into a nice hotel and hoping for the best.

The hotel visible past the Greek amphitheater, one of Taormina's main attractions (Peter Vitale)

The hotel visible past the Greek amphitheater, one of Taormina’s main attractions (Peter Vitale)

That being said, the hotel is very, very nice. The rest of San Domenico includes a hall for its historical art, a ballroom, another garden and its large cloister, a central courtyard that serves as an extended bar seat. At night, the cloister is fully lit by candlelight and as you are served strong, perfectly mixed drinks in the near darkness, it almost seems a bit swashbuckling – anything can happen in this lighting. Perhaps this space is where Mike White realized that San Domenico would be perfect for The White Lotus, given its current rate of at least one kill per season.

But let’s be clear, the hotel doesn’t feel as murderous or debauched as The White Lotus wants you to think: San Domenico makes a concerted effort to make guests feel comfortable at every turn, and while the money is flowing, alcohol and bad behavior are not.

The Great Cloister was shown in scenes from HBO's The White Lotus (Peter Vitale)

The Great Cloister was shown in scenes from HBO’s The White Lotus (Peter Vitale)

You’re too busy taking care of yourself. If you take a dip in the pool, you’ll be greeted with a complimentary post-dip mocktail, placed by your deckchair without you even realizing it. If you leave a book on your bedside table, housekeeping will place a bookmark inside the dust cover.

When a weather alert level thunderstorm hit one night, it was all over in the morning – against the forecast forecast – and it was almost as if the janitor had come up and had a firm word with the clouds. I keep offering my boyfriend bottled still or sparkling water when we don’t have either of those at home because I’ve been offered so many of these three last days.

Strolling through the hotel grounds is like being treated to a sweet Bonobo concert thanks to the hotel's constant ambience and loudspeakers (Peter Vitale)

Strolling through the hotel grounds is like being treated to a sweet Bonobo concert thanks to the hotel’s constant ambience and loudspeakers (Peter Vitale)

Plus, most interestingly, you’re treated to what seems like an endless moodscape as you wander through the hotel: lo-fi beats gently pumping through carefully placed speakers everywhere you go. and, of course, the ever-present lingering scent, courtesy of San Domenico’s secret space spritzer.

San Domenico, in short, gives you absolutely no excuse not to have a good time. Which only proves the right of White Lotus guests, who seem to be in a perpetual state of doom no matter how well they are served, how beautiful the views or how gourmet their food. Ultimately, if it’s not too rich for your blood, San Domenico Palace is to die for. And, unlike the cast of White Lotus, you’ll likely return in one piece.

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