While the first season of White Lotus had us all dreaming of holidays in Hawaii, the second season saw internet searches for Sicily go through the roof. It’s no surprise. This Italian island, the largest in the whole Mediterranean, is the stunning backdrop for the sequel of the gripping, glossy TV comedy-drama. And it’s possible to follow in the stars’ footsteps at these beautiful and culturally-enriching filming locations.
This historic hilltop town on Sicily’s north-east coast plays a key role in White Lotus, as it’s the setting of the titular resort, in real life the San Domenico Palace, a lavish Four Seasons hotel and spa with a Michelin-starred restaurant. Celebrities from Oscar Wilde to Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor to Sophia Loren have previously stayed at this exclusive retreat, which is set in a converted 14th century convent overlooking the Ionian Sea. Spectacular views are a given, whether you’re in a sea-view room or suite, strolling in the resplendent gardens or dipping in the clifftop infinity pool. From the hotel, you’ll also glimpse Mount Etna, Sicily’s legendary active volcano, which you can visit on curated excursions. Perhaps you’ll fancy a morning trek then lunch at one of the vineyards peppering Etna’s slopes. Other potential White Lotus-like outings include a swanky yacht cruise along the coastline to admire striking local landmarks like Isola Bella and Grotta Azzurra, and guided walks through Taormina’s picturesque old core, where a highlight is the ancient Greco-Roman theatre, an open-air venue that stages summer plays and concerts. Or you can set off by yourself and embark on your own adventures, including to towns and villages that featured in The Godfather trilogy, a saga partially set and shot on Sicily.
For a longer day trip, Noto is a postcard-perfect possibility (and one that seduced some of the White Lotus gang). The town is a 90-minute transfer from Taormina, in Sicily’s sun-drenched south-east, and renowned for its spellbinding Baroque architecture. Noto was rebuilt in this eye-catching style after an 1693 earthquake levelled many of its older buildings. The town’s mighty golden-stone cathedral is just one show-stopper. You’ll also likely be snapping away on your camera-phones as you breeze along Corso Vittorio Emanuele, an elegant strip lined with ornate palazzi and churches. Noto's boutiques and cafe-bars will lure you in. On a typically hot Sicilian day you might appreciate a granita - a refreshing treat that is served at countless places. It's a semi-frozen, sorbet-like dessert usually infused with fruits like lemons, blood oranges or berries. Noto isn’t the only lovely Baroque-flavoured town in this region of Sicily. Other destinations that are worth a detour if you have time are Ragusa and Syracuse. The latter also boasts an impressive cluster of Classical ruins dating from about 2000 years ago.
Another gorgeous White Lotus location - it’s where beach scenes were filmed - is Cefalu. It’s probably too far for a day trip from Taormina (it’s almost a three-hour drive each way), but it makes for a nice alternative base to savour Sicily’s north coast. Away from its sandy coves, and crystal-clear, boat-sprinkled waters, Cefalu is a charming place for a wander. Narrow, winding lanes are fringed with taverns, gelaterias, seafood restaurants and stores selling Sicilian souvenirs and staples like ceramics, coppolas (flat caps) and cannoli (a pastry stuffed with a sweet, ricotta-based filling). Stop for a cappuccino at one of the alfresco cafes by the piazza in front of Cefalu’s UNESCO World Heritage-listed cathedral, which was built in the so-called Arab-Norman style, inspired by the Western, Islamic and Byzantine cultures and architectural fashions prevalent in 12th century Sicily. If you have the energy, scale La Rocca, an imposing crag behind the cathedral affording amazing panoramas.
Nowhere in Sicily can match the big-city buzz of the island’s capital, another place that drew the White Lotus production crews. An hour’s drive west of Cefalu, Palermo and its surrounding metropolitan area is home to almost a quarter of Sicily’s five million population. You’ll rub shoulders with many of them in Palermo’s vibrant and characterful old town, which is jammed with atmospheric markets, handsome palazzi and other photogenic buildings, including the Teatro Massimo, a theatre and opera house that appeared in White Lotus. Palermo also has an impressive Gothic-style cathedral, a stellar selection of museums and galleries, and lively nightlife fuelled by its array of bars and restaurants. There’s plenty of scope for trips to the city’s fringes as well, with aristocratic villas, Christian pilgrim sites and trendy beach resorts to seek out.