In the end, we're all looking for the same things. Charm. Attraction. Seduction. Kerry Saretsky and her husband found them all in a cozy Sicilian estate nestled in the foothills of Mt. Etna. It was an unforgettable affair with good hospitality.
MT. ETNA, Sicily – My husband and I call Monaci delle Terre Nere "the Minici" because anything this beloved deserves a term of endearment. We stay in lots of hotels, but this is our favorite, the standard by which we measure every hotel that has the misfortune of taking us in after this bastion of travel happiness.
I remember every detail.
The journey to the hotel. The remoteness of the location. And the fact that we needed GPS coordinates and our rental car's Garmin find it.
The orange blossoms cascading over the car as we parked. The steps cut into the black earth of Mt. Etna that we climbed to get to the main house, steps that we would continue to climb during our stay to find the pool, the tomato patch, and the citrus groves.
The pool brimming with fallen olives. The almond tree that dropped fruit onto our balcony. The ancient and enormous wine press in which we sat for breakfast like human grapes fresh from the harvest.
The vivid red of the blood orange juice. The regal purple of freshly smashed grape juice. The frescoes and the neon signs that gave the upstairs parlor-cum-restaurant dining room its variegated appeal.
The cocktail hour that mixed old and new into the perfect suspension of cool. The set dinners and easy lunches at tables that allowed you to murmur to other guests — who quickly became close acquaintances — about local produce refashioned every night into something spectacular.
The almond tuiles and sprigs of lavender freshly placed on our pillows each night. And the staff, who in less than 72 hours had so ingratiated themselves to me with their generosity, friendliness, kindness, and that rare thing in hospitality where you feel they really get to know you, that I left with tears in the corners of my eyes.
Now back to our daily lives in London, we ask each other: Do you remember the pistachio pesto at the Minici? Do you remember the breakfast at the Minici? Gosh, what about those eggplants at the Minici? Do you remember the pool at the Minici? That Australian couple we had drinks with at the Minici?
For us, Monaci epitomizes hospitality in its new form, with its rustic charm, simple elegance, and slightly saucy juxtaposition of old and new. It's not about grand, echoing, unused gilt ballrooms in overstuffed hotels. Our Minici brims with the intimacy of a superbly run estate. It's agriturismo at its height, where visitors are truly guests, where there is pride in the land, in the buildings, and in the relationships between the staff and the visitors. It is bright, sparkling, volcanic magic.