I really enjoyed my location at Villa Nettuno, this 13-room family hotel on the north side of Taormina. As it was a rainy day today, I decided to find out more about this hardworking family who dedicated their lives to welcoming foreign tourists in Taormina. So I sat down with Vincenzo and Salvator, the father and son team, who, together with Maria, Salvator's mother, run the Hotel Villa Nettuno. The interview was, of course, conducted in Italian and sometimes I had to use my vocabulary plus my arms and legs to make it clear.
Vincenzo took me to family photos in the living room and began to explain to me the long history of the family. Vincenzo himself in his eighties explained that his grandfather was born in 1833, while his grandfather was born in 1867. The villa was built around 1850 and originally consisted of only 4 rooms. In 1887 Vincenzo's grandfather initiated expansion and added a 4-addition room above the original rooms.
The white stone surrounding the windows and doors was imported from Siracusa and Vincenzo's grandfather was an expert stone carver. By the way, also carved around the door for the famous Taormina Grand Hotel Timeo, Taormina's only five-star hotel. The sign above the entrance says "Principe del giglio", which actually means Prince Fleyr-de-Lys. So there is obviously some noble ancestry in Sciglio.
At the beginning of the 20th century the villa was rented for 25 years to an American artist named Clifford Putnam, who created a series of steep walkways and stairs in the steeply sloping garden of the villa. Vincenzo himself was born in 1924 and is still growing strongly at the age of 83 without thinking of retirement.
When I asked him about the slowdown, he shrugged and said, "What would I do?" Obviously, his life is so intricately intertwined with this hotel that without it he cannot even understand existence. He certainly does not mind hard work. The same is true for Maria, who is at 6 am every morning to start preparing breakfast. It also takes care of the garden, which is a true multicolored paradise of subtropical shrubs and flowers.
In 1952, Vincenzo and Maria finally decided to create a terrace in front of the house and add to the third level, providing a total of 13 rooms for Hotel Villa Nettuno. Ten of these rooms are double rooms, while three are single rooms. Vincenzo further explains that Maria has always cooked because the hotel offered three meals a day. Today Hotel Villa Nettuno offers breakfast only.
In 1971, when all rooms were equipped with private bathrooms, the building was significantly renovated. Salvatore, son, has accounting facilities that are useful for helping run the hotel. He is in charge of all reservations and internet communication with clients. Salvatore suggests that most of their clients are European and include people from France, Germany, Belgium, Sweden and Ireland. Customers from the United States and Canada also frequently visit Hotel Villa Nettuno, mainly because of an entry in one of Arthur Frommer's travel guides. This property keeps the family truly busy with expectations for the months of November through January when things slow down significantly.
Three family members have some outside help: one lady comes to help with breakfast, another young gentleman helps with hard work in the garden, one maid takes care of the rooms, while another assistant takes care of ironing and linen. The operation of the hotel requires a lot of demanding work, not only taking care of the rooms, but also the garden of Villa Nettuno must be paid great attention.
I was also curious about how the hotel industry has changed over the years, and Salvatore explained that this business has become more difficult. Years ago people stayed longer, often a week, two or more, while today's tourists usually stay only two to three days. Salvatore added that many of them rent a car and take a tour of the island, so they naturally stay shorter in each destination. The regulations have also been tightened and Italy has introduced strict standards in terms of hygiene and health standards.
Interestingly, in the 1960s Taormina was rather a summer destination and the hotels were closed in winter. Today, it is almost the opposite when people are especially happy to come here all the way from February to October. Spring and autumn in particular are pleasant seasons, while summer temperatures are relatively hot, usually in the range of 28 to 32 degrees Celsius. Italian tourists usually come for two weeks in August. Most of Villa Nettuno's clients are in the 40 to 60 age group. Salvatore added that the younger crowd likes to stay in Giardini Naxos, where all the dance clubs are.
When asked what they were doing to relax, Vincenzo indicated that one family member must always be in a hotel, so it makes leisure a bit difficult. He found, however, that for relaxation the family owned a small house about 10 km from Castelmola, a village perched on a mountain ridge not far from Taormina. The property is a former hay with two rooms and a black stone floor. Vincenzo built a wooden oven to cook there, and he described the property as very 'rustico'. After all these renovations, there is now room for 10 beds. He explains that his house looks like a "presepe", and after my unsuccessful attempts to understand what he was saying, I entered and looked at it in the dictionary: it looks like a nativity scene.
Vincenzo said he would invite me to come and visit my weekend house in the mountains, and I just hoped there would be enough time in my busy plans and the busy Sciglia work plan at Villa Nettuno. In any case, it was great to meet such a pretty hardworking Sicilian family who has been in hospitality for 55 years.