Virus-free Sicily is luring travellers back with subsidised holidays and hotel innovations

Monaci delle Terre, Sicily
Monaci delle Terre, one of Sicily’s best country hotels, is preparing for ways in which in can reopen safely this summer

As Italy takes its first tentative steps back to normality after 55 days of draconian lockdown, hopes are rising that Sicily – one of the regions least affected by Covid-19 – will soon be able to declare itself virus-free. 

The regional government is planning a €50 million campaign to attract tourists back to the island in the autumn, planning to subsidise travellers who book flight and accommodation packages. The plan is to pay half their air fare, to offer one free night of accommodation in three and give free entry to Sicily’s numerous world-class museums and archeological sights, including the Temples of Agrigento and the Villa Romana del Casale. (For details, keep an eye on the regional website ). 

While this initiative may help larger hotels, small family-run boutique and country house hotels are unlikely to benefit. As Paola Pretsch Gutkowski, owner of the chic 27-room Hotel Gutkowski2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围app, which occupies a pretty seafront palazzo on the Baroque island of Ortigia, says: “The kind of clients who come to us are more likely to be concerned about their health and peace of mind than finding amazing bargains.” 

With this in mind Paola, along with the owners of several of Sicily2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围app’s most outstanding niche hotels, are rethinking their modus operandi for the summer. “As yet, there is no guarantee that anyone, whether from Italy or from overseas, will be able to travel,” says Paola. “When the lockdown began we were deluged with emails from clients, worried about us, worried about Sicily, saying they didn’t know when they’d be able to travel again, but that they dreamed of coming back to stay with us again.” 

2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围appThe proof of what her hotel meant to clients made Gutkowski and her small team determined to do something. “We don’t know how long the pandemic will remain, but because of that, it felt important to rethink how we could run the hotel in the time of corona.”

Hotel Gutkowski, occupying two 19th-century palazzi, has enough space to offer a floor per family

With this in mind they decided to turn the crisis into an advantage. “We are bound to have lots of spare rooms this summer, so we decided to offer a bespoke service.” The central plan is to devote entire floors to single families or groups of friends travelling together. “We will be running at a loss, with prices that would be unimaginable in normal times, but at least we can stay open and feel alive.” 

With just five rooms per floor the experience should still feel intimate, while any spare rooms on a family’s ‘own floor’ could be re-purposed as a dining or sitting room. Breakfast, lunch and dinner can be served in-room, or by allocating different spaces to different groups of guests (i.e terrace, roof terrace, restaurant, lounge). “With only a few clients, we’ll be able to talk to the individual groups and see what suits them.” 

Half an hour’s drive from the Gutkowski, Palazzolo Acreide is a higgledy-piggledy crow’s nest of a hilltown with panoramic views, an ancient Greek theatre, splendid Baroque churches and Sicily’s finest pasticcerias. Palazzolo is also one of many places in Sicily to have seen no cases of Covid-19. Nestled in the heart of town, exquisite bijou Dimora di Catullo has just three rooms, along with a gracious salone, fully equipped kitchen and a secluded walled garden with a small swimming pool and miniature orchard. Over the summer, owners Mario and Sabrina Marcì have decided to rent the Dimora out as a private villa, with the option of Sabrina visiting every morning to create a bespoke four-course breakfast of Sicilian specialities. 

Dimora di Catullo, a townhouse hotel in Palazzolo Acreide, will reopen as a private rental

“We’ve worked out I can serve breakfast while maintaining social distance,” says Sabrina. They are also looking at the logistics of reinventing Sicilian cooking lessons – usually run in an intimate show-kitchen around the corner – as a Zoom-meets-Deliveroo cooking classes followed by dinner. “We could have the lessons by Zoom, with the ‘results’ delivered by chef and staff. At the moment we are exploring all possibilities… for example, if we give guests a mise en place, they could just copy the chef, especially for something simple, like Sicilian pesto. We’ll see!”

Monaci delle Terre Nere, an organic wine estate and hotel on the slopes of Mount Etna, has the good fortune of plenty of space. Guests stay in individual suites, each with its own terrace, occupying chic minimalist outbuildings sprinkled among the vines of a 15-acre organic estate. Even more fortuitiously, nine of the suites have their own private pool. By July, says owner Guido Coffa, all rooms will have o-zone generators (similar to air purifiers) installed. Guests will be able to choose between eating on the terrace of their villa, or, if they are craving a taste of normal life, scattered at a safe distance from one another in the elegant dining room and gardens.

2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围appAs Italy begins to exit lockdown, Gutkowski is hoping to encourage other small Sicilian hotels to collaborate over the summer. “Making people feel safe is not only about deep-cleaning and perspex screens. We always try to treat every client as an individual, but at a time like this, it is essential, not a luxury.”

2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围appThe future of travel in the short-term may remain uncertain, but these innovative hotels are ready to welcome guests whenever and from wherever in the world regulations allow. Like all the owners we spoke to, Dimora di Catullo’s Sabrina Marcì made it clear that the desire to have guests this summer is not economic (in fact for most it would be cheaper to stay closed). “We have this long tradition of hospitality in Sicily, of seeing our country through the eyes of others from all over the world,’ she says, ‘and without that, we can never feel fully alive.”

For the latest advice on travel, see our regularly updated guide on when we might be able to go on holiday again, or visit our homepage for more.