While summer just ended and you may be focused on upcoming holiday festivities and family traditions, it’s also time to think ahead! Italy, including the beautiful regions of Puglia and Sicily, is a travel hotspot right now, and this summer a record number of travelers visited: an estimated 3 million more compared to 2019 to be exact. Besides the obvious (stunning architecture, delicious food, dreamy seaside resorts, and historical sightseeing), why is Italy seeing an unprecedented influx in tourism? Experts agree that a lot has to do with the continued pent-up demand in a post-pandemic world. We are also seeing firsthand the massive impact pop culture has on consumer buying decisions. Some call it the “White Lotus effect” and credit one of HBO’s most popular shows with the increase in interest to spend their spring and summer holidays in Italy. Fashion powerhouses also creatively partnered with some of the most stunning cliff and seaside 5-star hotels this summer to create a dreamy poolside setup, which caught the attention of luxury travelers who love the perfect photo op.
Whatever the reason may be, we are not seeing any signs of travel in Italy slowing down. While the top destinations in Italy remain the most popular, there are two towns in particular that everyone is flocking to: Sicily (hello, White Lotus effect) and Puglia (pronounced POOL-ia). We have hand-picked our favorite hotels and private villas in these two trending destinations and are happy to provide our expert guidance on how each town compares to each other and how they may fit your individual travel preferences.
Puglia Vs. Sicily: What’s the Difference?
Puglia, situated at the southern tip of the Italian boot, boasts an extensive coastline adorned with numerous exquisite beaches. Renowned for its transparent waters, distinctive trulli cone houses, picturesque villages, and delectable cuisine, this region is a favored choice for beach getaways. Its sandy shores draw in visitors seeking idyllic seaside vacations. Puglia offers beaches conveniently located near amenities, a vibrant nightlife scene, and the advantage of being on the mainland, allowing for effortless day trips to major Italian cities.
Sicily, Italy’s largest island, offers equally impressive beaches, captivating towns, picturesque wineries, and a wealth of ancient ruins and archaeological sites. Throughout its history, Sicily has served as a meeting point for diverse cultures and culinary traditions. Sicily features more secluded, tranquil beaches and is an ideal destination for hiking and exploration, making it particularly appealing to solo travelers. We recommend hiking Mount Etna or, if you have physical restrictions, taking a helicopter tour of one of the world’s most active volcanoes.
Puglia: Italy’s Hidden Gem on the Heel
Puglia, situated in the southernmost reaches of Italy, is embraced by an extensive 800-kilometer coastline adorned with limestone cliffs, sprawling olive groves, and untamed forests. Its pristine sandy beaches have garnered praise from travel experts, and it’s only recently that international tourists have begun to explore the region, captivated by the allure of distinctive round trulli houses in the local real estate.
The southern part of Italy bears a profound maritime influence that echoes through its historical narratives, culinary traditions, and cultural tapestry. Italy’s heel serves as the convergence point where the Adriatic Sea and the Ionian Sea come together, leaving an indelible mark on the region’s identity. The best way to get here is by driving from a nearby town or flying to Puglia (Bari or Brindisi airports). Our team is happy to assist with transportation details.
Our Top Restaurant Suggestions:
- Masseria Eccellenza
- Grotta Palazzese
- Osteria del Tempo Perso
- Pasticceria Ascalone (custard-filled pastry is as much a symbol to this part of Italy as the croissant is to France)
Our Top Activity Suggestions:
- Lido Bambu (popular beach club)
- Roman amphitheater
- Baroque churches and palaces
- Olive oil tasting class
Our Hotel Plus team is happy to help you secure any reservations you may have for the duration of your stay in Puglia.
The Perfect Accommodations
When it comes to where to stay in Puglia, we have quite a few favorites that give you that all-encompassing Italian villa feel. And if you want to stay in a true Italian villa, we highly recommend Villa Dagea. Escape to this rustic Italian countryside, surrounded by olive trees, where the pace of life slows down, offering a rejuvenating escape from the demands of everyday existence.
The villa has three bedrooms and three bathrooms, sits on 12 acres of private land, and has its own secluded heated swimming pool. This home can sleep up to 8 people and is perfect for families with younger children. These remarkable amenities, coupled with attentive service, including a driver and private chef (optional, but yes please), combine to transform this intimate villa into the ultimate haven for your vacation. Contact our team to learn more about pricing and availability during your desired dates.
If you prefer the luxuries of staying at a hotel, with onsite restaurants, activities, and poolside service, we highly recommend checking out Masseria San Domenico, Borgo Egnazia, and Masseria Torre Maizza, a Rocco Forte hotel.
Use our complimentary booking tool to receive exclusive benefits at no extra cost, including:
- Daily breakfast for two people per bedroom
- $100 equivalent Hotel/Resort credit
- Room upgrade, based on availability at the time of check-in
- Early check-in/late check-out, based on availability
Sicily: A Tapestry of Mediterranean Marvels
Sicily, positioned just off the toe of the Italian mainland, presents a distinct character that sets it apart from the rest of Italy. It’s also the largest and the most diverse island in the Mediterranean. Its capital city, Palermo, is a magnificent blend of chaos and treasures. When you visit, be ready to immerse yourself in the exploration of palaces, castles, and churches that showcase a harmonious fusion of Arab, Norman, Baroque, and Renaissance architectural marvels.
Life in Palermo is an energetic and vibrant experience. The city exudes warmth and noise, and its people have an unbridled passion for food. Whether they’re out shopping or heading home from work, Sicilians are constantly savoring delectable snacks from street stalls. These treats include famous delights such as chickpea fritters, custard-filled croissants, potato croquettes, and oily pizzas topped with onions and caciocavallo cheese. The culinary scene in Palermo and throughout Sicily possesses a distinctive Mediterranean essence, reminiscent of both Greece and North Africa. The best way to get there is by flying to Sicily (Palermo, Catania, Trapani, or Comiso airports). If Sicily or Puglia are a stop on a longer trip through Italy, our team can assist with finding the best transportation arrangements for you as a car or boat ride may be the best way to get there depending on where you’re traveling from.
Our Top Restaurant Suggestions:
- Il Barcaiolo – Enjoy typical Sicilian cuisine at this family-owned romantic trattoria and enjoy views of the Mazzarò Bay from the terrace!
- La Gallizza
- Il Brigantino
- Don Camillo – Elegant and refined, this restaurant is famous for seafood dishes and a rich wine list – try seafood risotto and the ricotta dessert.
Our Top Activity Suggestions:
- Cooking class at Benanti Winery
- Mount Etna helicopter tour
- Archaeological site tour
- Mount Etna wine tour
Hello White Lotus Fans!
Perhaps the hotel that has seen the highest influx in reservations is none other than San Domenico Palace, Taormina, A Four Seasons Hotel. After hosting HBO’s famous show, room reservations skyrocketed, and we believe it’s well-deserved.
Imagine waking up to serene views of the Ionian Sea and Mount Etna in the charming Italian town of Taormina. Explore Sicily’s famous landmarks, dine at Principe Cerami, run by celebrated chef Massimo Mantarro, or read a book by the clifftop infinity pool overlooking Taormina Bay. In our opinion, this hotel perfectly encapsulates the Italian summer dream.
By booking your stay through us, you will enjoy exclusive amenities:
• Daily full breakfast for two guests per bedroom
• Hotel/Resort Credit up to 200 USD
• Upgrade of one category, based on availability at the time of check-in
• Welcome note and amenity
• VIP status and more!
Four Seasons Preferred Partner can generally be combined with any rates you’ll find directly with Four Seasons. The upgrades through Preferred Partner are also prioritized over upgrades through other programs, so you’ll want to use Preferred Partner over a program like Virtuoso or Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts. As a Preferred Partner agency, we can make Preferred Partner bookings on your behalf. We also carry a Top 30 advisory status for every Four Seasons hotel so we know that our clients are in the best hands wherever they stay.
A Belmond Escape
If you’re looking for other accommodation options, Grand Hotel Timeo, A Belmond Hotel, and Villa Sant’Andrea, A Belmond Hotel, are two luxurious and iconic properties located in Sicily.
Nestled on the picturesque cliffs of Taormina, overlooking the majestic Mount Etna and the Ionian Sea, Grand Hotel Timeo holds one of the most breathtaking settings in all of Italy. This historic hotel has been hosting elite guests since 1873 and has a rich heritage of welcoming royalty, celebrities, and artists. It was also the first hotel to be built in Taormina. The hotel offers a range of 70 beautifully appointed rooms and suites, each exuding classic Sicilian style and modern comforts. Many rooms offer panoramic views of the sea or Mount Etna.
Situated on the enchanting Bay of Mazzarò, just a short distance from Taormina, Villa Sant’Andrea offers a serene and secluded escape by the sea. The hotel is a historic villa dating back to the late 19th century and showcases the elegant architecture and ambiance of a bygone era. Some of the hotel’s 69 rooms and suites come with private terraces and direct access to the beach. The decor is a blend of classic Italian style and modern amenities.
- Buffet or full breakfast for 2 daily
- Complimentary upgrade based on availability at the time of check-in
- 90 USD credit and select suites have a 200 USD credit per stay
- A unique 500 USD gift voucher loyalty program when you book a 5,000 USD stay or more
- Welcome letter from the General Manager recognizing your agency
- VIP welcome treats with a local taste
If you prefer the privacy of a private home, we’ve gathered our top three choices: Cornelia, Dom Mimi, and Villa Dione. Each offers unique sea views and hosts up to 24 people, perfect for multi-generational family gatherings or long-awaited reunions with close friends. Contact our team to learn more about pricing and availability during your desired dates.
The Benefit of a Private Villa
Choosing between staying in a villa or a hotel can significantly shape your travel experience, each offering a distinct charm and set of advantages. The benefits of a luxury hotel are obvious, but the rise of interest in private villas needed some digging. We have worked hard exploring what luxury villa and private home partners we have available to our clients and are proud to say that just like our hotel network, our networks for villas and private homes are expansive, with a strong global presence and representing the best of the best! Better yet, our partners are thoroughly vetted by our host agency, ensuring that their product is luxurious, their service is high-end, and that you will indeed get what you pay for. Our team has spent time over the past year learning how to work with these partners and we are excited to bring our clients a wealth of villa and private home options for future trips! Feel free to check out our blog for more information.
We approach villa and private home requests through our consultative Hotel Plus service. Oftentimes, because villa and private home requests involve more detail than a straightforward hotel booking, we will schedule a phone call with you to discuss your trip and get a sense of what your needs are for the villa and what type of villa or private home would best suit those needs. We will talk through your budget, destinations you are considering, the size of your group or family, and get a sense of your “must-haves” in addition to your “wish list” items for the villa or private homes.
Through our Hotel Plus service for villas and private homes, we are able to assist with some concierge requests such as airport transfers, private chef arrangements, and other onsite touches. If you are looking for a more detailed approach to your itinerary, we can elevate your trip through our Tailored Luxury service and arrange for activities like private yacht rentals, exclusive private tours, and much more. The beauty of a private villa or home rental lies in the possibility of complete customization!
The Time to Book Puglia and Sicily is Now!
Booking your trip to Italy in the spring and summer now is a smart move to secure the best accommodations, experiences, and prices, as these seasons offer optimal weather conditions for exploring Italy’s rich cultural heritage and stunning landscapes, all while avoiding last-minute rush and potential availability issues. For more tips on how to best prepare for your trip, you can also check out our blog post on how to travel like a pro.