The Ashbee Hotel

Taormina, Sicily, Italy Book from

Reviewed by Abi Dare
The best of Britain and Sicily combine at this spoiling hotel, set in a grand villa with stunning sea views
The pretty resort town of Taormina has been attracting British expats (D.H. Lawrence among them) for centuries, so it’s no surprise to find a hotel bearing a name like The Ashbee nestling among its pine-clad peaks. Set in a 1908 villa built for an English colonel by renowned Arts & Crafts architect Charles Ashbee, this sumptuous retreat is small by Taormina’s standards - just 25 rooms and suites - but big on service. Inspired by the house's history, the owners aim to mix the best of British and Sicilian tradition: discreet waiters serve Prosecco from silver ice buckets, the restaurant's bay windows look out over citrus groves, and elegant antiques mingle with flashes of Italian exuberance (striped wallpaper, marble columns, red glass chandeliers).

But it’s the breathtaking setting that steals the show. Wide terraces dotted with lemon trees spill down towards the azure Ionian Sea, and on a clear day you can see across to the Italian mainland. If you want to venture out, you’ll find Taormina’s café-lined piazzas and stunning Greek amphitheatre on your doorstep, and towering Mt Etna a short drive away. If you’re anything like us, though, you’ll spend much of your time lazing blissfully by the infinity pool, working your way through the impressive cocktail list.

Highs

  • The atmosphere is refined but far from stuffy; this is a place to unwind and be pampered
  • An idyllic setting for honeymoons and romantic breaks
  • Delicious breakfasts, with local fruit and pastries, tea and coffee in silver pots, and British-style cooked options (bacon, scrambled eggs, even baked beans)
  • Plenty of complimentary treats: welcome cocktails on arrival, granita by the pool, and platters of canapés with evening drinks
  • Rooms are large and kitted out with monsoon showers and snazzy back-lit TVs. Many have terraces and Jacuzzi baths, too

Lows

  • It's pretty pricey
  • The décor - more traditional than trendy - won't be to everyone's taste, and we found the flocked brown wallpaper in some rooms a little overpowering
  • There’s a hefty daily charge for parking
  • Few of the rooms have sea views, but you can soak up the spectacular vistas from the restaurant, communal terrace and pool

Best time to go

Sicily is at its most wonderful in spring (April-early June) and autumn (September and October), when the days are usually sunny but not scorching, and the evenings are balmy. Taormina is packed in July and August and summer temperatures can get unbearably hot, but The Ashbee’s cliff-top position brings some relief in the form of cooling sea breezes. Note that the hotel often closes over winter (November-March).

Our top tips

Bar-hop along Corso Umberto I, Taormina’s main drag, during the evening aperitivo (happy hour). There are plenty of classy cocktail joints with alfresco tables, and we stumbled across fantastic live jazz on the candlelit terrace of The Metropole hotel. Drinks are normally served with nibbles - anything from a bowl of olives to a plate of cannelloni - so if you go to a few, you may find yourself too full for dinner.

Great for...

Beach
Honeymoon
  • = Recommended
  • = Best in region
  • = World favourite
  • Boutique Hotel
  • 25
  • Restaurant and bar (open daily)
  • 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
Room: Spa Suite

Rooms

The rooms, spread across the main villa and former servant wings, are sumptuous and spacious. Some have pretty, shimmering wallpaper, others a heavy flock which we found a little oppressive, but the same calming colour scheme of chocolate, cream and magenta runs throughout. All combine classic elegance with modern touches: back-lit HD TVs sit above antique walnut tables, white panelling opens to reveal large wardrobes, and dressers hide well-stocked minibars. You also get a hairdryer, WiFi, slippers, Amber-scented Ortigia toiletries and, in most rooms, a terrace with outdoor sofas.

Standard Superior Rooms and slightly pricier Deluxe Rooms are broadly similar; the only real difference is that you're guaranteed outside space in the latter but not always in the former. We stayed in a Superior, with a comfy queensize bed and French doors opening onto a wonderful private patio shaded by orange trees. Our sleek marble bathroom had a small tub - not long enough to lounge in, but fine for a quick dip - with cascade taps and a monsoon shower. One Superior Room also has a Jacuzzi tub - worth nabbing if it’s available.

If you really want to splash out, choose one of the 9 suites, which all have their own USP. The Suite del Pittore, for instance, is split over 2 levels with a glass-screened mezzanine, and the Hellier Suite has 2 bathrooms and a large terrace. The Montgomery Suite has bay windows with sweeping views, and the Spa Suite has a stone fireplace, a Jacuzzi tub and a steam bath. There’s also a Family Suite, set in a self-contained cottage in the grounds, which can accommodate up to 6 in 2 bedrooms (1 double and 1 double/twin) and a lounge with a sofabed. It too has a Jacuzzi tub, plus its own garden. Top of the pile is the vast Ashbee Suite, which has 2 bathrooms, a panelled salon and a terrace looking out over the pool to the sea.

Features include:

  • Air conditioning
  • Bathrobes (on request)
  • Cots Available
  • Extra beds
  • Hairdryer
  • Minibar/fridge
  • Phone
  • Safe box
  • Satellite tv
  • Slippers
  • Terrace
  • Toiletries
  • WiFi

Eating

Breakfast here is a real treat. You can eat in the striking St George restaurant with its striped wallpaper and red glass chandeliers, or on the terrace outside. The spread reflects the hotel’s British/Sicilian theme: a vast buffet of local fruit, delicious cakes, yoghurt, cereals, cheeses and cold cuts, plus à la carte cooked options such as eggs and crispy bacon or toast with little ramekins of baked beans. Hot drinks are served in silver pots at your table and - unusually for Sicily - you can order cafetières of filter coffee as well as the normal espressos and cappuccinos.

During the day, drinks and light lunches are available by the pool, from the lounge-bar or via room service (note there’s a tray charge for the latter). We loved the cocktails (peach and strawberry Bellinis, mojitos with mint from the garden), the juicy Caprese salad, and the baskets of rosemary focaccia. And come evening, the terrace provides an idyllic spot for a sunset glass of Prosecco, served with delicious canapés and paprika-dusted almonds.

The hotel has begun offering dinner since our visit. It's not cheap, but if the other meals are anything to go by then the food is sure to impress. The menu again mixes local and British influences: starters might include braised octopus with wild rocket pesto or leek cannelloni with a Nero d’Avola wine reduction, while mains could be seared steak tartare or vegetable terrine with pecorino fondue. We particularly like the sound of the dark chocolate soufflé with orange-scented cream for dessert.

There’s no shortage of eateries nearby, either. Just across the road from the hotel is Al Melograno, where we feasted on delicate courgette flowers stuffed with ricotta and pasta with fresh sardines (a Sicilian speciality) in a candlelit garden. And strung out along the pedestrianised lanes in the town centre are a multitude of pizzerias, trattorias and bars, many with terraces overlooking the bay.

Features include:

  • Bar
  • Children meals
  • Minibar/fridge
  • Restaurant
  • Restaurants nearby
  • Room service
  • Vegetarian menu
Eating:
Activity:

Activities

  • Enjoy doing very little. Snooze in the sun by the infinity pool, read a book, and sample a few cocktails while gazing out over the sea to the Italian mainland. Waiters serve drinks at your lounger, and little pots of refreshing granita or other Sicilian specialities appear as if by magic at your side

  • Stroll up to the Greek amphitheatre, only 100m or so from the hotel. It’s stunningly sited above the bay, with awesome, fearsome Mt Etna - emitting plumes of smoke during our visit - looming in the distance. During summer the amphitheatre hosts regular live performances (past acts include Sting and the Bolshoi Ballet)

  • Browse Taormina’s many boutiques and galleries (plus tacky but fun tourist stalls selling all manner of lava sculptures), stopping for iced coffees along the way

  • Take the cable car down to the beach at Mazzarò and snorkel in the translucent water, or wander across to the pretty islet of Isola Bella

  • Walk or take a taxi up to the crow’s nest village of Castelmola, perched on a cliff overlooking Taormina, and sip almond wine as the sun sets over Mt Etna

  • Or take a day trip to the volcanic monster itself. A scenic train runs around its base, and roads wind up its slopes past fields of solidified lava and singed trees. There’s also a cable car up the southern flank to Refugio Sapienza, from where guided tours take visitors as close to the craters as it’s safe to go

  • Head west to the Alcantara Gorge, where a turquoise river cuts through jagged ravines. You can paddle in the water (icy in winter, refreshingly cool in summer), or try canyoning or rafting

Activities on site or nearby include:

  • Canyoning
  • Hiking
  • Historical sites
  • Museums / galleries
  • Nightlife
  • Private guided tours
  • Rafting
  • Shopping / markets
  • Snorkelling
  • Swimming
  • Volcano trips
  • Wine tasting

Kids

Children of all ages are welcome at The Ashbee, though the refined, romantic ambiance means you might feel self-conscious with noisy tots in tow. Baby cots (free) and extra beds (charged for) are available, and babysitting can be arranged on request.

Best for:

Babies (0-1 years)

Family friendly accommodation:

Superior and Deluxe Rooms have space for a baby cot, and the suites have a single sofabed. The Family Suite can sleep up to 6 in 2 bedrooms (1 double and 1 double or twin) and a lounge with a sofabed.

Babysitting:

Available by arrangement.

Children's meals:

There’s no set children’s menu, but the breakfast spread includes favourites such as Coco Pops and baked beans, and burgers are available for lunch.

Families Should Know:

There are stone steps in the garden and steep drops from the pool area (unfenced), so keep a close eye on roving toddlers.

Kid Friendly: Superior Room bathroom

Our guests' ratings...

7/
Rooms
9/
Food
9/
Service
8/
Value
8/
Overall

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