Monaci delle Terre Nere

Zafferana Etnea, Sicily, Italy Book from Eur120

Reviewed by Nadine Mellor
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
  • = Recommended
  • = Best in region
  • = World favourite
  • 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, and next door Classic Schietto can connect with this to make a family suite.

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 Queen Fiore 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
  • Wifi internet

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 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. Massage (see Rates) and yoga (summer months, included in the rates) are offered 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. It has a connecting door with Classic Schietto next door so is ideal for a family bringing their grandparents or a nanny along, or one with older children. Queen Fiore 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, see Rates

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
  • 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
  • Etnaland, also 30 minutes away, is an aqua theme park with zoo (largest amusement park in Southern Italy)
  • 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...

9/
Rooms
9/
Food
9/
Service
9/
Value
9/
Overall

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Feedback is only from guests who have booked and stayed through i-escape

Rates for Monaci delle Terre Nere