Thursday, 29 June 2017

Lunch at The Ashbee Hotel Taormina

"A microworld where time stands still between historical references and modern elements, faraway English memories and Sicilian traditions" The Ashbee Hotel Taormina

Taormina has always been renowned as a destination for English visitors since the 18th century when the British aristocracy would embark on what was known as 'The Grand Tour' visiting all of continental Europe enjoying the culture and embarking on purchasing fine works of art and antiques.

Taormina was an obligatory stop on The Grand Tour and has played host to foreign visitors ever since. Being the last stop on the tour many decided to stay and make Taormina their home.

Visitors chose Taormina for its peaceful location and beautiful landscapes with many drawing inspiration for paintings, poems and novels including D H Lawrence. They enjoyed Taormina’s glamourous way of life, with afternoon teas and soirees in beautiful villas and lush gardens.

In 1907 construction began on Villa San Giorgio now The Ashbee Hotel.

Photo Credit: The Ashbee Hotel

The house was designed by English architect Charles Robert Ashbee, founder of English Arts and Crafts and was commissioned by Colonel Thomas Bradney Shaw-Hellier who was once the director of the Royal Military School of Music. He chose Taormina as a quiet, secluded location for rest and meditation.

The villa was built on a plot of land that Colonel Shaw-Hellier had purchased which had a view across the Straits of Messina behind the Church of San Pancrazio which is built on the ruins of a Greek temple.

A collection of photographs showing the visit of Charles Robert Ashbee to Taormina and the design work and construction of the Villa San Giorgio is kept in the National Library of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Additionally original drawings and sketches of the villa are held in the Drawings Collection of the Royal Institute of British Architects as well as in the English home of Colonel Shaw-Hillier at Wodehouse, Wombourne, Staffordshire.

Photo Credit: The Ashbee Hotel
Last month along with my lovely friend Simona Ferro founder of Tripping Sicily I enjoyed a delightful relaxed lunch at The Ashbee Hotel by invitation of the general manager Rosario Rubino.

Located a short walk from Porta Messina in Taormina, The Ashbee Hotel is a luxury retreat and is pure escapism from the crowds and the lively buzz of Taormina, boasting just twenty five exclusive guest rooms and suites.

Recently the hotel became a member of The Leading Hotels of the World and is also part of the Conde Nast Johansens luxury hotel collection.

On passing through the main gate and on approaching the villa you really do feel like you are going to visit an English country house and an air of romance beckons you.

As you enter the hotel you are immediately drawn in by the gorgeous d├ęcor inspired by the history of the villa with a combination of quintessentially English taste and Sicilian traditions mixed with a modern touch. There are marble floors and columns, with opulent baroque style wallpaper, sumptuous armchairs and antiques from the original Villa San Giorgio that all sit wonderfully under a huge red glass chandelier. Along the hallway you can see a drawing of what the villa looked like when it was first built.

From the lounge area a bay window with a Georgian style door tempts you to go out into the hotels immaculate gardens to explore.

Photo Credit: The Ashbee Hotel

In the gardens you are greeted by the sound of birdsong and a gentle breeze through the huge palm trees. There are lemon trees, grapefruit trees, lavender plants and much flora and fauna. There are majestic steps that lead down to a terrace with a fountain and a sparkling infinity pool with breath taking views along the North Eastern coastline and across the Straits of Messina towards the Italian mainland and it feels as if time has stood still for a moment.

It was soon time to return back to present day and meet our host for lunch, general manager Rosario.

Simona and I sat in the gardens and were brought a glass of crisp Sicilian white wine by our Maitre d' for the day Francesco. As we sipped on our delicious wine we enjoyed potato crisps hand made by the hotels St George Restaurant where we was about to take a culinary journey with Rosario.

The St George Restaurant by Heinz Beck is striking as you enter with its Georgian style striped wallpaper, grand red glass chandelier, shiny silver cutlery and silver charger plates with pristine white place mats embroidered with the initials SG. As we were seated by Francesco my Coffa (Sicilian bag) was given its own little velvet stool to sit on next to me. Heinz Beck is the 3 Michelin star chef of the esteemed La Pergola restaurant in Rome so we knew that we were going to be enjoying a memorable dining experience.

Photo Credit: The Ashbee Hotel
Rosario explained that we would be sampling the tasting menu and that we would be savouring dishes made with locally sourced produce.

So what did we eat?

One by one our mouth watering dishes were brought out from the kitchen by Francesco.

First we were brought a bread basket heaving with hand made fresh bread rolls, bread sticks and flat breads.

Our first dish was slivers of Nebrodi ham sandwiched between thin parmesan crackers topped with salad leaves. Delicious.

Next came beef tartare set on a mustard seed base, then tiny zucchini (courgettes) and zucchini flowers on a Ragusano cheese sauce. Then tuna stuffed pasta followed by fillet of lamb accompanied by artichoke, delicious delicious delicious.

Throughout lunch Rosario was the perfect host and we enjoyed wonderful conversations about all things Sicilian and English culture. It is obvious that he loves his hotel and his work which he carries out impeccably with attention to detail at all times.

To refresh our palate we were brought a dish that had the most amazing combination of tastes ever ... strawberry sorbet served on a bed of salad and fennel granita. This combination absolutely made my taste buds explode and it was like tasting a little piece of heaven.
Photo Credit: The Ashbee Hotel

After our taste explosion our chef Giovanni came out to greet us where hence we complimented him profoundly on his cooking and our lunch experience.

Giovanni announced that he had prepared a surprise dessert for us and I wondered how he could ever top the amazing sorbet and salad granita. Then out from the kitchen came Francesco with our delicious surprise.

In front of us Francesco placed a watermelon flavoured Bombe Glacee nestled on a bed of chocolate ice cream and chocolate shavings accompanied by sugar covered raspberries. In order to see what was inside we had to crack into it with a spoon and as we did a raspberry coulee oozed out. Giovanni certainly had surprised us in a delightful way.

But our culinary journey did not stop there with fresh coffee we were served tantalising sweets served on beautiful glass cake stands including, cannoli, biscuits, chocolates and candies. Very reminiscent of an English afternoon tea.

After what seemed to be hours in fantastic company it was time to leave The Ashbee but not before paying a visit to a very special suite in the hotel ... The Montgomery Suite.

Photo Credit: The Ashbee Hotel
Remember the view across the Straits of Messina? It was here at Villa San Giorgio that Colonel Montgomery made his headquarters during World War II and standing in this suite I could envisage him standing in the bay window looking through his binoculars across the Straits of Messina. The Allied invasion of Sicily, codenamed Operation Husky was a major campaign of World War II in which the allies took the island from Axis powers. It was one of the largest amphibious and air born operations followed by a six week campaign.

The Ashbee oozes Englishness and delivers first class service provided by its attentive staff.

The hotel is elegant and luxurious throughout in a setting that is idyllic for a romantic getaway and its rooms provide the ultimate in comfort. Each bathroom is supplied with toiletries made by the luxury soap and fragrance company Ortigia Sicilia.

There is also a poolside snack bar and a roof top terrace bar, perfect for a gin and tonic cocktail after a lazy day by the pool or reading a book in the lounge.

It is also a perfect venue for weddings and special occasions.

Photo Credit: The Ashbee Hotel

The hotel is perfectly located for visiting Taormina's historical sights and is close to the cable car to reach the beautiful beaches of Mazzaro and Isola Bella.

The Ashbee truly is an oasis within Taormina.

I had a wonderful memorable experience and I would like to thank Simona and Rosario for their kind invitation and also say a big thank you to the staff of The Ashbee who made me feel so welcome.

I look forward to visiting again soon.

For more Information, the History of the Hotel, Hotel Bookings
and Reservations at The St George Restaurant

For Luxury Boat Rental and Tour Experiences
contact Simona Ferro www.trippingsicily.com

You can also follow The Ashbee Hotel and Tripping Sicily
on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter


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