Taormina Cult ... 21 Places the Muses made their home


Each year the International book festival ‘Taobuk’ is held in Taormina, the festivals aim is to attract fans and readers of literature which Taormina has a rich history of.

Most of the events are held in Taormina’s most beautiful places.

At last year’s festival, the City of Taormina introduced Taormina Cult, a trail through Taormina showing  ‘21 places where the muses found their home’. It is a thematic route through and around the town which includes culture, history, literature, cinema, art and gives honour to Taormina’s glorious past.

I am not going to reveal everything about the 21 places because I think it is a wonderful thing for you to discover  whilst walking the trail.

Each place has its own marker detailing its story, which starts at:

The Grand Hotel Excelsior and Renzino Barbera

The Grand Hotel Excelsior was built in 1904 and is a wonderful example of Moorish style architecture. One of its most frequent guests was Renzino Barbera originally from Palermo but Taorminese by adoption. He was a humouristic writer, poet, cabaret star and creator of masks and characters that are still well known in Italy today. He first started visiting Taormina in the seventies and was friends with many famous people including Burt Lancaster.



Roger Peyrefitte

Roger Peyrefitte was a French diplomat and writer of bestselling novels and non-fiction and also a defender of gay rights. He chose a quiet house on Via Rotabile Castelmola to write his books. He wanted to be remembered as a lover of Sicily and in 1998 two years before his death was made an honorary citizen of Taormina. On his grave in Paris he only wanted one word “Taorminese”


Casa Cuseni, A House of Authors

Casa Cuseni  is an enchanting villa between Taormina and Castelmola, it was built for the painter Robert Hawthorn Kitson in 1905. The villa is beautifully decorated with painted frescoes and was a favourite place of DH Lawrence to have afternoon tea. After his death Robert Kitson’s niece Daphne Phelps inherited the villa and rented rooms to guests such as the painter Pablo Picasso, the writer Tennessee Williams, the philosopher Bertrand Russell, amongst many others. She eventually wrote a book “A House in Sicily” about her life and her famous house guests. Casa Cuseni has recently reopened as a guest house and museum.



Hotel San Domenico

The Grand Hotel San Domenico was a convent of the Dominican monks until 1866 and was a favourite hotel of many of Taormina’s muses, including Rudyard Kipling and Tennesse Williams, its beautiful interior seems still to this day to preserve signs of its great guests of the past. More recently it was used by the designers Dolce and Gabbana who chose its cloisters and garden terraces to shoot their fashion campaigns.



Corrado Cagli’s House and Studio

Corrado Cagli was a well-known mural artist and painter, he was accused of defeatism by Italian fascist authorities and was forced to leave Italy in 1938. First he moved to Paris and then New York and started visiting Taormina in the fifties, he decided to move to Taormina to work far away from the noise of New York City. He had a house on Via Circonvallazione where he created a lot of his famous works in the sixties and seventies.



Von Gloeden

Von Gloeden was a German photographer and came to Taormina as a painter in 1878 for health reasons and some say to escape his homosexuality. He is mostly known for his artfully nude photos of Sicilian boys. He bought a house in front of the San Domenico Hotel. His photos became well known attracting tourists such as Oscar Wilde to Taormina. He is buried in Taormina’s cemetery.



Frances Winwar’s House

Francesca Vinciguerra was born in Taormina in 1900 and moved to the USA as a child. She became an author of many biographies such as the great poets, Byron, Keats and Shelley, as well as Oscar Wilde. She also wrote biographies of Queen Elizabeth I, Napoleon and Edgar Allen Poe.

Roberto Rimini

Roberto Rimini was born in Palermo in 1888 but he spent much of his time in Catania. He lived in Taormina from 1927 to 1934 at Hotel Villa Terrazze on Corso Umberto where he opened a painting studio, here he created many landscape and rustic works.



Piazza IX Aprile

Piazza IX Aprile is the most famous square in Taormina. It is where many of the muses spent their time at the historical cafes, one famous visitor being Winston Churchill. It was at the Wunderbar Cafe where Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton sipped cocktails after running away together during the filming of Cleopatra. The square has also set scene for many Italian and international movies.



Giovanni Panarello, Story of a Host to The Dolce Vita

Giovanni Panarello was born in Messina in 1908 and was a well know antiquities expert. He was a friend to the stars of the big screen who would visit his shop at 110 Corso Umberto, including Tennesse Williams and Greta Garbo.

Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde arrived in Taormina in 1898, he stayed at the Hotel Victoria which still remains today on Corso Umberto. He stayed for one month and left with a suitcase full of photos of the boys photographed by Von Gloeden. He left hoping that one day he would return with his lover Alfred Douglas so they could live there together.



Otto Geleng’s House

Of French origin Otto Geleng arrived in Taormina in 1863 and painted many portraits of Taormina and Mount Etna which became popular in Europe bringing visitors to Taormina who could not believe that such a picturesque place could exist.



Fontana Vecchia  … Where Literature Found Its Home

The author DH Lawrence and his wife lived in Taormina from March 1920 to February 1922 and were guests in a house on Via Fontana Vecchia, he fell in love with Sicily and produced many of his successful works here including Lady Chatterley’s Lover which was supposedly based on a rich English lady who had an affair with her Sicilian gardener. DH Lawrence encouraged many famous visitors to Taormina such as Peggy Guggenheim and Christian Dior.



The Grand Hotel Timeo, where it all began

The Grand Hotel Timeo was the first hotel built in Taormina in 1850, it soon attracted prestigious guests such as the Russian prince Feliks Jusupov, adviser to the Empress Alessandra (famous for  having the monk Rasputin killed in 1916) also the composer Richard Wagner and many guests lured by Oscar Wilde who had shown them Von Gloeden’s photos. Film stars from Liz Taylor and Richard Burton to Jacqueline Kennedy have stayed here. There is a private entrance from the hotel direct into the Greek Theatre used for the annual Taormina Film Festival.



The Greek Theatre, Stage to a Sea of Beauty

The Greek Theatre was built in the 3rd Century BC and has captured the hearts of many tourists, actors, poets and artists. Each year it plays host to the Taormina Film Festival and has welcomed names in the past such as Ingrid Bergman, Laurence Olivier, Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Sofia Loren, Brigitte Bardot, Cary Grant, Rita Hayworth, Marlene Dietrich, Gina Lollobrigida and Audrey Hepburn. To modern times the theatre stills plays host to many famous names every year.



Casa Silva

Casa Silva was built in the 800’s and was once the property of Florence Trevelyan and part of Taormina’s public gardens. The villa was named Casa Silva by two Austrian designers who arrived in Taormina in the early nineteen hundreds  who  established a firm place in haute couture. Today it is home to ‘Babilonia’ Taormina’s language, culture and art school.

Florence Trevelyan and the ‘Victorian Follies’

The public gardens are one of the most loved and visited sites in Taormina. At the end of the eighteen hundreds Florence Trevelyan fell in love with Taormina’s charm and created the public gardens and her curious Victorian follies.



Giovambattista Bambara … Hotelier and Gentleman

In 1898 the doors of the Hotel Diodoro opened to rich and cultured travellers to Sicily. On the top floor was the apartment of the Bambara family who played hosts to intellectuals, artists and politicians. DH Lawrence and his wife with Robert Hawthorn Kitson often graced the rooms of The Diodoro.

Miss Hill

In 1920 DH Lawrence sent home to England samples of embroidery made by the women of Taormina. Miss Hill, a daughter of a welsh ship owner  who arrived in Taormina at the end of the eighteen hundreds started an embroidery school in Taormina known as ‘Miss Hills School of Lace”. There are shops on Corso Umberto and Via Teatro Greco who still follow in her footsteps.



Villa Mon Repos

Known today as Tout Va, now a luxury hotel and event venue, Villa Mon Repos was famous in the sixties. It boasted a restaurant, bar, nightclub and games room and its sumptuous lounges played host to stars such as Marlene Dietrich, Gregory Peck, Cary Grant, Robert Mitchum and Shirley MacLaine with lounge performances by singer Dionne Warwick and many famous Italian entertainers.


Taormina/Giardini Naxos Train Station

In the 1700’s Taormina was an unmissable stop on The Grand Tour, Taormina decided it was necessary to build a train station to meet the demands of growing tourism. A railway line running between Messina and Catania was completed in 1866 and Taormina-Giardini train station was completed in 1928. There have been many Italian films shot here but it was made most famous when Francis Ford Coppola chose to set a scene from The Godfather III with Al Pacino and Diane Keaton.


I hope you enjoy discovering the Taormina Cult route.

Walking tours with a private guide are available,  
or why not experience it in a Ape Calesse,
a 3 wheeled vehicle which is an icon of Italian style and design

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