Casa Cuseni, Taormina

Ever since I took my first step onto Sicilian soil I have been obsessed with the place.

It is magnificent, mysterious and beautiful. Overwhelmingly beautiful.

But with a secret darkness to it.

I just can’t get enough.

As such, I read books about Sicily, books set in Sicily, fiction, non fiction – anything I can get my hands on.

One of the absolute treasures I found was a book called “A House In Sicily” by Daphne Phelps.

This is an autobiography that takes place in lovely Taormina, overlooking the Ionian Sea. A picturesque little town that holds a piece of my heart, or that maybe I’m holding in my heart. Not sure which.

Daphne lived in dreary old England, damp and grey, then inherited a magnificent home built by her uncle in sun drenched Taormina.

She moves to Sicily, and this is her story of life at Casa Cuseni. 

view from the terrace of Casa Cuseni at night

Writers and artists drop by and stay for weeks and months.

She tackles the trials and tribulations of life in this little mountain town, at the same time basking in the glory of living in a place more beautiful than words can describe.

Casa Cuseni,Taormina Sicily

Great reading for lovers of Under The Tuscan Sun and 
A Year In Provence.

Her home, Casa Cuseni, remains the star of the story, it’s beauty the perpetual subtext.

Casa Cuseni, Taormina Sicily

Returning to Taormina this year I was determined to find 
Casa Cuseni

Which was actually really easy.

Daphne died in 2005 and willed the house to her nieces who preferred the rain in Britain to the sun in Sicily, and opted to sell it instead of relocating.

I would give almost anything to move there and own that home! I still cannot believe they let it go.

The new owners have made it into a bed and breakfast, and were more than happy to let me come visit, and look around.

Outside the blue door at Casa Cuseni

Casa Cuseni is truly magnificent.

Much of it has been kept as it was in the book.

Daphne’s treasures are still there, along with her passports and personal papers.

Salvatore at Casa Cuseni

My host for the day, Salvatore Spadro, showed me many of the belongings she talks about in her book. 

We strolled through the art filled rooms and the gardens, Salvatore filling me in on the history behind every room, every piece of art, every corner of the beautiful gardens.

We sat on the terrace taking in the view, while he told me more stories.

Time for a glass of wine on the terrace at Casa Cuseni

It was just magical.

When we were about to leave he asked if I would like to see the Picassos.

Picasso had stayed at Casa Cuseni, and left the works he painted while he was there.

I still can’t quite believe I was able to spend quality time with Picassos that don’t live in any museum, that aren’t featured in any coffee table books. That pretty much no one else sees.

If you are planning to travel Sicily, look into staying at Casa Cuseni in Taormina for a few days.

There are only 6 bedrooms, so they do book out a long time in advance, but you can email them directly ( and see what openings they do have. 
Check out the Casa Cuseni website here

If you enjoy reading books about people relocating to glorious homes in Italy and building a life there (my favorite subject!), pick up a copy of A House In Italy by Daphne Phelps here.

My Sicilian Obsession ~ Forza d’Agro’

When I was first planning the Sicilian leg of my most recent Italian adventure, all my Italiani were raving to me about how fantastic Sicily is, and how it is the best place in the world, the best food in the world, and how it has the best people in the world.

Now, allowing for the fact that with their sexy accents I would happily listen to them recite the phone book, front to back, all day long, I was always delighted to hear them wax lyrical about the little island at the toe of the boot.
“Cor-eeen-ahhh, you weel loff eet”

But just as Americans get passionately patriotic over the stars and bars, I assumed my Italians were just attaching an equal patriotic fervor to their fashion, their food and their Sicily. I knew I’d love the place, but had no idea how hard I would absolutely fall in love with it.
And how my Italiani have laughed at me over that one.


Forza d’Agro’, Sicily

Anyway, one of the fabulous little places I found by accident while in Sicily, was the lovely little Forza D’Agro’.
Situated on the coast between Taormina and Messina, Forza D’Agro’ is not typically found in tourist books. (which generally means I’m going to love it).

starting the day with cappuccino at Il Girasole

I only found out about it because a couple of locals were helping me plan out my day over toes-in-the-sand breakfast cappuccino.

They totally shanghai’d everything I was planning on doing, and instead came up with all kinds of fantastic places to go see, experience and eat at. (remember, Sicilians are incredibly warm, fun loving, friendly people). And they love to give you the inside scoop on the best local places to hit. No doubt owned by family members, but you are welcomed with open arms, and I adore that.

The drive along the coast from Taormina/Mazzeo/Letojanni to Forza d’Agro’ is gorgeous and easy. Which is just great because the drive up the hill is like the drive up the hill to Ravello. On acid. Super steep hairpin bends that double back on themselves, perfect if you’re fearless and if you’re driving a stick shift. By the time you’ve reached the top you have earned a robust glass of local Sicilian wine.

The Ionian from Forza d’Agro’, Sicily

With ancient buildings and stone paved lanes that are impassable by car, this little town has become the backdrop for many movies over the years, in fact you’ll recognize parts of Forza d’Agro’ from The Godfather.

Cathedral Forza d’Agro’

This entire area has such a rich and wild history, from the Sicani to the Siculi, the Greeks to the Romans, The Byzantines to the Spanish and however many others along the way, so many have come and conquered and left their mark, creating a society and a land that is just completely intriguing and complex.

Forza d’Agro’ Sicily

Forza d’Agro’ Sicily

As you can see we got all kinds of weather that day. It started out gorgeous, some rain came through briefly, and then the sun came back out.
Forza d’Agro’ is tiny and doesn’t take much time to have a good look around. There are so many lovely little towns all the way along the coast to stop and visit, all with staggering views across the Ionian Sea, amazing little local eateries, artisan stores and plenty of interesting things to see and do, most of them far from the madding crowds.

Ciao from the top of the world. Well the top of the path anyway 😉

Sicilian Obsession ~ Ortygia

Sicily may just be my favorite place in the world.

streets of Ortygia

I had no idea that I would love it so much. From the incredible ruins and historical sites, to the fabulous beaches, from the incredible views to the completely outstanding local cuisine, from the spectacular local wines to the ever smiling, friendly people, Sicily has it all.

One of the (many) places I loved visiting was Ortygia, the island part of the ancient city of Siracusa.

on the street in Ortygia

Ortygia is tiny – only 1km x500m, and the best way to see it is on foot. You can’t get lost walking through the narrow streets and alleyways, as walking far enough in any direction leads you back to the sea.

Every which way you turn you are enveloped in 2500+ years of history.

From Apollo’s temple built in the 7th century BC

Apollo’s Temple, Ortygia Sicily

to the Duomo, who’s bottom most excavations have unearthed remnants from the ancient Siculi, followed by the Greeks in the 5th century BC, then the Christians added to it in the 7th century AD and finally its baroque facade which was erected in the 18th century,

columns in the Ortygia Duomo, dating back to 500 BC

to  the castle fortress built by Frederick II in 1194, Ortygia is an historical gem. Every building, every alley is fascinating.

acordian player in Piazza Del Duomo, Ortygia Sicily

The heart of Ortygia is no doubt the beautiful, baroque Piazza del Duomo, the perfect spot to stop for lunch.

piazza del duomo, Ortygia Sicily

Glaringly bright white, offset by the incredibly blue sky, this is Sicily as I had always imagined it.

Piazza Del Duomo, Ortygia Sicily

salad for lunch in Ortygia

Before leaving the island, a quick stop at the morning market is a must. Fresh fruits and vegetables and fish – everything you need to make a delicious dinner with a local flair.

Ortygia Fish Market

Ortygia market, image Lonelyplanet

 Private yachts moored off the island

boat in Ortygia
locals mix with tourists

Sunbathers lie out on the rocks

sunbathing in Ortygia

I can’t wait to go back….