Hotel Ownership In Taormina

By: Susanne Pacher

I really enjoyed my location at Hotel Villa Nettuno, this 13-room family run hotel on the north side of Taormina. Since it was a rainy day today anyway, I decided to find out a bit more about this hardworking family who have dedicated their lives towards making foreign travelers feel welcome in Taormina. So I sat down with Vincenzo and Salvatore, the father and son team that together with Maria, Salvatore's mother, runs Hotel Villa Nettuno. Naturally the interview was conducted in Italian, and I sometimes had to use my dictionary plus my hands and feet to get my point across.

Vincenzo took me over to some family photos in the living room and started to explain the family's long-standing history to me. Vincenzo, himself in his eighties, explained that his great grandfather born in 1833 while his grandfather was born in 1867. The villa came into being circa 1850 and originally consisted of only 4 rooms. In 1887 Vincenzo's grandfather initiated an expansion and added a 4-room addition above the original rooms.

The white stone surrounding the windows and doors was imported from Siracusa and Vincenzo's grandfather was an expert stone carver. Incidentally, he also carved the door surrounds for Taormina's famous Grand Hotel Timeo, Taormina's only five-star hotel. A coat of arms above the entrance says "Principe del giglio", which effectively means Prince of the fleyr-de-lys. So there is obviously some noble ancestry in the Sciglio famly.

Then in the early 1900s the villa was rented for 25 years to an American artist by the name of Clifford Putnam who created a series of walkways and steps in the steeply sloping garden of the villa. Vincenzo himself was born in 1924 and even at 83 years of age, he is still going strong, with not even a thought of retiring.

When I asked him about slowing down he shrugs and says "What would I do?". Obviously his life is so intricately interwoven with this hotel that he cannot even fathom an existence without it. He certainly doesn't mind the hard work. The same goes for Maria, who is up every morning at 6 am to start preparing the breakfast. In addition she also looks after the garden, which is a veritable multi-coloured paradise of subtropical shrubs and flowers.

In 1952 finally Vincenzo and Maria decided to create a terrace outside the house and to add on a third level, providing a total of 13 guest rooms for Hotel Villa Nettuno. Ten of these rooms are double rooms while three are single. Vincenzo goes on to explain that Maria always used to handle the cooking since the hotel used to offer three meals a day. Today Hotel Villa Nettuno offers breakfast only.

A major renovation of the property happened in 1971 when each of the guest rooms was equipped with its own bathroom. Salvatore, the son, has an accounting background which comes in handy with helping to run the hotel. He is in charge of all the reservations and the Internet communications with the clients. Salvatore indicates that most of their clients are European and include people from France, Germany, Belgium, Sweden and Ireland. Customers from the United States and Canada also frequent Hotel Villa Nettuno, primarily due to a listing in one of Arthur Frommer's tourist guide books. The property keeps the family really busy expect for the months of November to January when things slow down considerably.

The three family members have a little bit of outside help: one lady comes in to help with breakfast, another young gentleman helps with the heavy work in the garden, one maid looks after the rooms while another helper takes care of the ironing and the laundry. Running a hotel involves a lot of demanding work, not just to look after the rooms, but the garden of Hotel Villa Nettuno also needs a lot of attention.

I was also curious about how the hotel business has changed over the years and Salvatore explained that the business has become more difficult. Years ago people used to stay longer, often a week, or two or longer while today's tourists on the go will usually only stay two to three days. Salvatore added that many of them rent a car and complete a tour of the island, so naturally they stay a shorter period of time in each destination. Regulations have also become tougher and Italy has implemented tough standards in terms of hygiene and health standards.

Interestingly, in 1960s Taormina was more of a summer destination, and hotels tended to be closed in the winter. Today it is almost the opposite where people particularly enjoy coming here all the way from February to October. Particularly spring and fall are enjoyable seasons while summer temperatures are rather hot, typically in the 28 to 32 degree Celsius range. Italian tourists usually come for two weeks in August. Most of Hotel Villa Nettuno's clients fall into the age range of 40 to 60. Salvatore added that the younger crowd likes to stay in Giardini Naxos where all the dance clubs are.

When asked what they do for relaxation, Vincenzo indicated that one family member must always be at the hotel, so that makes leisure time a bit difficult. However, he disclosed that for relaxation, his family owns a little house about 10 km from Castelmola, a village perched on a mountain crest just outside of Taormina. This property is a former hayloft with two rooms and a black stone floor. Vincenzo built a wood oven so he would be able to cook there and he refers to the property as very "rustico". After all these renovations now there is room for 10 beds. He explains that his house looks like a "presepe", and after my failed attempts to understand what he was saying I caved in and looked it up in a dictionary: it looks like a nativity scene.

Vincenzo said he would invite me to come to see his weekend house in the mountains and I was just hoping that there would be enough time with my busy plans and the Sciglio's demanding work schedule at Hotel Villa Nettuno. Either way it was great to have met such a nice hardworking Sicilian family who has been in the hospitality business for 55 years.

This entire article including photos is located at http://www.travelandtransitions.com/stories_photos/hotel_villa_nettuno_taormina.htm

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