Monaci delle Terre Nere

Zafferana Etnea, Sicily, Italy Book from Book from £130 per night

Fabulous relaxing retreat on the slopes of Mt Etna, with beautiful rooms, stunning views and locally produced organic food
Guido Coffa felt his heart leap when he first saw Monaci delle Terre Nere in 2007, a run-down 40-acre 18th-century estate where monks once coaxed vineyards from the black volcanic earth and views stretch from Mt Etna to the Ionian Sea. He was actually looking to buy a small house to return to Sicily after years away as an automobile engineer but instead found his life's work. Five years on, the land and original Baroque house have been transformed by extensive landscaping, planting and a singular makeover into a classy and intimate hotel, perfect for foodies, romantics and families alike.

Guido, a qualified sommelier, has become an evangelist for organic agriculture, regional produce and sustainable living. Sicilian breakfasts are served in the restored wine pressing room; dinners are a delight in the informal dining room. He and his partner Ada have exquisite taste, as evidenced by the bold industrial-chic lounge and lovely rooms and suites in the main house and renovated outbuildings. Interiors are decorated with his own finds from over the years, vibrant contemporary paintings, Italian designer furniture and eccentric collectables. We loved it.

Highs

  • Conveniently located between Catania and Taormina, and close to both Mt Etna National Park and the coast
  • Beautifully realised eco-hotel whose wonderful grounds have been rejuvenated with olive trees, vineyards, orchards, vegetable gardens and lawns, plus an 18m infinity pool and chill-out areas
  • Delicious food and wine sourced from the Etna region and the estate itself
  • 500m above sea level so enjoys terrific views, and is a shade cooler in sweltering summers
  • Quietly charismatic and hands-on owners; charming staff

Lows

  • Availability can be a problem in high season
  • You'll need to hire a car to get here and around. Note there are lots of small, winding lanes in the immediate vicinity, so it takes longer to get to places than expected
  • The wines are wonderful but expensive; evening meals can be pricier than you'd expect too
  • Don't expect standard hotel trappings and modern conveniences such as TVs in the rooms
  • Some rooms are located around 300m from the main hotel, and Sontuoso (a Dependance Deluxe) is also up a 70m staircase; perhaps for the athletic only. Two of the Dependance suites are in a modern building (we prefer the original lava ones)

Best time to go

Sicily is a superb destination year-round, although it can get very hot in the summer. Although most hotels shut in the winter, Monaci delle Terre Nere stays open.

Our top tips

Our best excursion was ascending Mt Etna. You can hike its otherworldly slopes or ski down it in season, but we took it easy: driving up to Sapienza Refuge where there are tourist facilities (car park, shops selling postcards and lava jewellery, eateries) and took the cable car up to 2500m above the snow line to an Alpine-style hut serving beverages and sandwiches. From here, more adventurous types can hike up to higher craters (2920m) and the less adventurous be shuttled there in a bus; we came back down in the cable car and explored a lower dormant vent instead. Take your camera to capture the colours and shapes of the volcanic rock - plus the views towards Catania and beyond, which are breath-taking.

Great for...

Eco
Family
Foodie
Great Outdoors
Honeymoon
  • Boutique Hotel
  • 17
  • Breakfast (+ other meals on request)
  • All ages welcome
  • Open all year
  • Outdoor Pool
  • Spa Treatments
  • WiFi
  • Pet Friendly
  • Disabled Access
  • Beach Nearby
  • Off-street Parking
  • Restaurants Nearby
  • Air Conditioning
  • Guest Lounge
  • Terrace
  • Garden
  • Gym
  • Concierge Service
  • Snooker Table
  • Games
Room: Exclusive Suite

Rooms

The heart of the hotel is the pink and grey lava stone Baroque villa, where some of the rooms and suites are found. Its ground floor is home to the dramatic reception/guest lounge area with designer pieces, a bespoke modern black hearth, coffee-table books and bar.

Two guest rooms are adjacent. Light and white split-level Suite Fresco, where we stayed, has a fireplace, living room, a private balcony and patio.

Upstairs a balcony runs the length of the building; the first door opens onto elegant Deluxe Floreale, decorated in pale blue with an original frescoed vaulted ceiling. To the back is show-stopper Suite Amabile, which has an oval bath, bare stone walls, a fabulous fireplace, a bathroom in the eaves and views of Mt Etna.

Beside the breakfast room, a stone barn has been transformed into 2 Superior rooms which share a cobbled yard and open onto the front garden. Further afield, 2 separate lava stone outbuildings, are now standalone Dependance Deluxes, perfect for honeymooners. Once a wine-making structure, Sontuoso has superb sea views; Complesso has a big picture window to Etna and a bedroom accessed through a glass corridor.

Since our visit a number of outbuildings have been transformed into new room types (5 Dependance suites, Superior Room Dolce, Deluxe Cristallino, the Royal Suite and the Exclusive Suite). All look to be in-keeping with the hotel's sleek design, and feedback is good. Note that 2 of the Dependence rooms (Tannico and Fragrante) are located in a modern building, though do feature Jacuzzi's on their terraces.

Wherever located, all rooms exhibit the same intelligent design touch that includes smart lamps and comfortable kingsize beds dressed in organic-cotton linens. Contemporary shower bathrooms (Amabile and Floreale have tubs as well) have hairdryers, robes and toiletries. We were impressed with the selection of regional wines and beers in the minibar.

Features include:

  • Air conditioning
  • Bathrobes
  • Central heating
  • Cots Available
  • Extra beds
  • Hairdryer
  • Minibar/fridge
  • Terrace
  • Toiletries
  • WiFi

Eating

Breakfasts are taken in the former wine-pressing (palmento) room. The original mechanism remains; the buffet is laid out beneath its wooden shaft. Choose from cereals, yoghurt, home-baked breads and up to 4 kinds of cake, along with artisan jams, Etna cheeses and hard-boiled eggs (produced by their own chickens). I liked the freshly-squeezed blood orange juice in flagons, my husband rated the coffee highly.

Other meals are available on request - let them know at breakfast. Lunches are light: perhaps a simple plate of pasta or tasty tomato and rocket salad dressed in the estate's own virgin olive oil, which has a delicious peppery taste (you are given a bottle for booking through i-escape). You can also request a picnic basket.

We absolutely loved the 4-course set menu dinners, served in the convivial dining room, which feels like eating in Guido's home. These showcase the very best in local produce, much sourced from the farm itself. Guido is passionate about the Etna region's bounty and a fervent advocate for zero food kilometres and sustainability - and is also a trained sommelier whose recommendations were always spot on. Starters may be beans and prawns in a cream sauce, or aubergine and Ragusa mozzarella puff pastry. Next may be cuttlefish risotto or fennel veal ragu, followed by baked sea bass with home-grown salad or veal with grilled courgettes. Dolci could be pistachio semifreddo or Sicilian chocolate cake. There's a bar in the main reception/guest lounge area.

If eating out, Guido recommends intimate and classy All'Angolo 8km away, which offers traditional fare, or seafood specialist La Grotta on the coast, 12km distant.

Features include:

  • Bar
  • Breakfast
  • Children's meals
  • Dinner by arrangement
  • Lunch by arrangement
  • Minibar/fridge
  • Organic produce
  • Picnic on request
  • Vegetarian menu
Eating:
Activity:

Activities

  • The number one sight round here is Mt Etna - Europe's tallest, most active volcano - and its surrounding National Park. Visitors can hike up or ski down its slopes; most will drive up to various access points for stunning views, exploring vents and craters, and taking the cable car up to 2500m
  • Taormina - popular for its shopping, beaches, breath-taking setting on a rocky outcrop overlooking the Ionian Sea, and impressive ancient Greco-Roman theatre - is 40 minutes away
  • Explore the coast: fishing village Acitrezza offers boat trips and scuba diving, as well as a Lido
  • The Etna coastal region produces excellent food and drink. Winery tours can be arranged; enjoy discovering local restaurants for lunch - staff have recommendations
  • There's a day spa 8km away; in-room massages and yoga lessons can be arranged at the hotel
  • We loved simply wandering around the 40-acre estate, admiring the views, fruit trees and organic planting scheme, and listening to birdsong

Activities on site or nearby include:

  • Birdwatching
  • Boat trips
  • Cycling
  • Golf
  • Hiking
  • Historical sites
  • Language courses
  • Mountain biking
  • Plantlife / flora
  • Scuba diving
  • Shopping / markets
  • Surfing
  • Swimming
  • Tennis
  • Wine tasting
  • Yoga

Kids

Although a tranquil grown-up retreat, children are warmly welcomed here – as ours can testify – and we think it will make a great base for a family wanting to explore the fun activities and charm of the Etna region of Sicily, especially one with older children you can trust to be around nice objets d'art, and lots of terraces and steps.

Cots and extra beds are available on request; larger rooms have a sofabed, too. There's a small playground and pool on-site.

Best for:

Babies (0-1 years), Children (4-12 years), Teens (over 12)

Family friendly accommodation:

Split-level Suite Fresco, where we stayed, has a double sofabed in the living room and can also take a baby cot in the bedroom. Royal Suite, Suite Amabile and the Dependence Deluxes can also take a baby cot and have a double sofabed in their living rooms; note that the latter are removed from the main building so provide privacy but you are further from the pool and playground. Deluxe Floreale can take an extra bed and a baby cot, the 2 Superior rooms just a baby cot.

Babysitting:

Babysitting available on request

Baby equipment:

  • High chair
  • Plastic cutlery and crockery

Remember  baby and child equipment may be limited or need pre-booking

Children's meals:

Smaller portions of the evening meal are provided for children and there's a basic kids menu too; you can also make special requests with a little advance notice; picnic baskets on request, see Rates

Kids Activities on site:

  • Pool
  • Small playground with slide and swing
  • Box of toys
  • 40 acres of pathways, woodland, lawns, terraces and fruit trees; if you have smaller children the estate can be explored via golf cart
  • Movies shown so parents can dine in peace
  • Cooking classes on request

Kids Activities nearby:

  • Beaches and watersports including scuba diving on the coast
  • Etna National Park, 30 minutes away - a guided tour can be arranged
  • Etnaland, also 30 minutes away, is an aqua theme park with zoo (largest amusement park in Southern Italy)
  • Parco Avventura Etna, a rival establishment, is in Milo, 10 minutes away
  • Ruins in Catania and Taormina, 40 minutes away

Families Should Know:

  • If you're thinking of bringing a baby monitor, note that the thick walls mean you're unlikely to get a signal
  • Some steep drops around the property
  • Unfenced pool
  • Friendly dog

Distances:

  • Airport: 40 minutes
  • Doctor: 15 minutes
  • Shops: 5 minutes
Kid Friendly:

Our guests' ratings...

Based on 19 independent reviews from i-escape guests

9/10
Room
9/10
Food
8/10
Service
8/10
Value
9/10
Overall

What a paradise on earth. Had a lovely spring escape and were blessed to stay at such an amazing place - perfect mix of chic, design and nature. Special thanks for warm welcome and care during the stay to Katerina - her tips to explore the area and places to see and taste made our stay in Sicily really something to remember. And of course not to miss the barmen (Alberto was his name?) for the greatest drinks made with so much care, taste and precision. So all in all just a great place. Can’t wait to be back again.

10/10,

This is a beautiful villa in a beautiful setting and a perfect base for exploring Mount Etna. A few comments... the breakfasts are delicious, we were in a suite under the restaurant which meant that above head noise started at 7am (not ideal), the restaurant was a little inconsistent in terms of food and service so we'd suggest just one meal there especially given the high cost. Lastly, the pool is quite small and shallow, so not ideal for swimming. It was a good start to our honeymoon in Sicily but a little too much style over substance.

8/10,

Brilliant eco bio hotel with a fantastic location and surrounding farm that you can wander through. The breakfast is amazing and varied. Easy to visit Mount Etna, Alcantara gorge, and Catania itself from here. Thanks to all the staff who were always attentive and helpful to us. The hotel's own restaurant is also superb, with delicious and inventive 'slow food' dishes.

10/10,

Such a lovely setting. The staff were very helpful and charming. Perfect location for touring the eastern side of Sicily.

9/10,

The setting was beautiful and our room large and well appointed. However, the service at the restaurant was below par and the prices high.

6/10,

Beautiful secluded location on the slopes of Etna. We were lucky to have a beautiful room with a fabulous high ceiling a couple of minutes away from the main building. Some of the newer ones are much less interesting. We had an incredible dining experience with the gastronomic menu (although the sommelier is a bit pushy towards the very pricey end of the wine selection). Perfect service by the pleasant and attentive staff. We wish we could have stayed longer.

10/10,

Beautiful place in a beautiful setting among it's own farm acreage of citrus groves, olive and persimmon trees, scrambling grape vines and wonderful huge bushes of scented lavender. Breakfast was great, buffet style, all fresh and farm sourced and seated outdoors overlooking the beautiful main villa and gorgeous countryside views. The onsite restaurant is expensive for what you get, we ate there one night. It is however very atmospheric and the staff are great. You need a car to get here so you can also drive to local restaurants. Allow a few days to explore the local area. We didn't go up Mount Etna as we have been up a few volcanoes in other countries, we drove around local towns, ate pistachio ice cream famous in Bronte and lounged by the relaxing outdoor pool which also serves food. Room was huge, we were in a volcanic rock suite. Again, expensive but smaller less expensive rooms are available.

9/10,

This is an amazing place to stay. The rooms and views are incredible. The pool area is truly relaxing - we spent far too much time there. The staff are lovely too. Breakfast outside under cover of the trees is a fabulous start to the day and fresh juice made to order is a lovely touch. The restaurant however is a different story. Service is haphazard, some days you'll get bread other days you won't. The food is very expensive for the quality and quantity (poolside food is much better) the waiting staff are trying but just doesn't quite work, recommend to eat out in the evening.

8/10,

We were very lucky to be upgraded to the VIP Suite, which was fabulous. There was one negative - unfortunately they had some work being done on the roof of the Suite and when we arrived there was banging from above and also the following morning. The whole place was stunning to look at, great design but the service was disappointing. Breakfast was buffet style including coldpressing juice yourself. As the hotel was full it was somewhat hectic as everyone descended at the same time and there was a shortage of places to sit.

7/10,

If I could give this place more than 5 out of 5 I would. Service and attention to detail was impeccable. Lovely surroundings on the farm, picturesque views of mount etna and yummy breakfasts with fresh produce from the gardens. Very cool hotel bar with jazz and cocktails. We stayed in the Suite Amabile, which was just stunning and handy as close to the main house. About a 40 minute drive from Catania airport, good place for day trips to Mount Etna (about 30 mins away) and Taormina (about 45 mins away). As well as the hotel restaurant, would recommend Le Serre in Giarre for pizza / pasta in another beautiful countryside setting.

10/10,

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Rates for Monaci delle Terre Nere