Whether you’re an inveterate armchair traveler, a design enthusiast, or whodunit mystery fanatic, the newest installment of HBO’s satirical anthology series The White Lotus does not disappoint.
Set against the picture-postcard backdrop of Sicily, the seven-episode season follows the lives of wealthy guests and beleaguered employees at an exclusive resort owned by the fictitious White Lotus hotel brand. Emmy award–winning actress Jennifer Coolidge returns from the Hawaii-set first season as lonely well-to-do divorcée Tanya McQuoid, along with a new cast of characters including F. Murray Abraham and The Sopranos’ Michael Imperioli as a dysfunctional father and son, and a pair of tech financiers (Will Sharpe and Theo James) and their wives (Aubrey Plaza and Meghann Fahy).
Competing with the show’s considerable starpower is its backdrop. “I think the environment is very much part of the show. It’s like a character,” says the show’s creator, Mike White. After filming The White Lotus‘s first season at the Four Seasons Resort Maui, he chose another member of the luxury hotel brand—the Four Seasons San Domenico Palace resort in Taormina—to double as The White Lotus Sicily.
Overlooking the Ionian Sea, the active volcano Mount Etna, and the Teatro Antico di Taormina (Greek theater), the former 14th-century convent features a blend of contemporary and classical interiors filled with frescoes, statues, columns, arches, vaulted ceilings and the requisite infinity pool. First opened as a hotel in 1897, the property has played host to such noteworthy guests as Elizabeth Taylor, Audrey Hepburn, and Rita Hayworth. Legend has it the Italian playground even served as the inspiration for English author D.H. Lawrence’s controversial 1928 novel Lady Chatterley’s Lover.
In search of an “old-world, European summer vacation” aesthetic, the show’s creator Mike White looked to production designer Cristina Onori (of House of Gucci fame). Taking her cue from the property’s sense of place, she notes, “The goal was to contextualize a five-star hotel in the place where it stands, to add some new elements and introduce another culture which is Sicily, made up of strong contrasts, light, and shadow.” Onori drew on the region’s history to accent various parts of the hotel, from its ancient heritage (the common spaces are filled with archaeology and antiquities) to its natural landscape (as seen in the volcano painting in Tanya’s room) to its and arts and myths (testa di moro, or Moor’s heads, punctuate the rooms’ decor—somewhat ominously, given the legend behind them).
Onori sourced antique furnishings all over Sicily to contrast with the hotel’s otherwise clean, contemporary interiors, while artists from the workshops of the town of Caltagirone provided colorful ceramics. “I wanted all of these elements to be present immediately, especially from the hotel’s main entrance that we dressed up with old pots and native greens,” Onori says. “I thought it was important to have a distinct memory of the place and an image that characterized the actions that occur at the entrance of the White Lotus hotel.” The designer also worked with her team and the Four Seasons suppliers to create of a new logo for the White Lotus brand. “The logo was incorporated into everything, including boats, vans, sheets, and bathrobes. We had so much fun,” she adds.
Excursions beyond the hotel’s walls prove equally cinematic. The Villa Tasca in Palermo (standing in for the Palazzo Ducezio in Noto), where the financiers’ wives take a day trip (even noting the interiors look like they came out of the pages of Architectural Digest), provides another set of swoon-worthy interiors—think frescoed pastoral walls and Victorian-era gardens. Other shooting locations included La Cambusa restaurant on Giardini Naxos beach, and the Castello degli Schiavi, which previously appeared in The Godfather as Michael Corleone’s Sicilian hideaway.
The setting is so idyllic that you’ll want to call your travel agent after just one episode—and pronto: According to The Guardian, the Four Seasons San Domenico Palace is already booked through April 2023.