Zancle, Naxos, Leontinoi, Katane and Siracusa: just hearing the names of these towns ‒ the first Greek colonies in Sicily ‒ makes you want to be by the sea, in the Mediterranean. And what is the Mediterranean if not 1001 elements blended together? Indeed, the Mediterranean is not a single landscape, it’s countless landscapes. It’s not a single civilization but a series of civilizations nestling one on top of another. Travelling in the Mediterranean means encountering the Roman world in Lebanon, the prehistoric in Sardinia, Greek settlements in Sicily, as well as Arab presences in Spain and Turkish Islamic ones in ex-Yugoslavia. This is underlined by Braudel in his memorable book, The Mediterranean, where we are reminded how unique it is, also thanks to its famous trio: “the Mediterranean creates its own life-giving balance starting off from the olive-grape-grain triad”.
Setting out from these values, the THDP architecture and interior design studio recently renovated a four-star hotel in Naxos, to bring out the best of Mediterranean culture and history, and taking inspiration from everything breathing extra life into it, from colourful horse-drawn carts to ripe lemons and oranges. Let’s explore the colours and ideas found for this unique location at the foot of the Etna volcano.
A four-star hotel refurbishment along the seafront, in Giardini Naxos ‒ one of the latest interior design projects by THDP. Giardini Naxos is not just any old town: it was founded in 734 BCE by settlers from Chalcis on Euboea, and was the first Greek colony in Sicily. Ancient Naxos was destroyed in 403 BCE, and the cluster of edifices built up on the site during the Middle Ages became a fishing village. Stylish villas were later constructed here, at the end of the 19th century, and these were used as holiday homes by the middle and upper classes.
Sicily is famous for its colourful arts and folk crafts. Stemming from its rich history and the vibrant colours of its contexts and fruits, Sicily has as a series of unique trades and crafts ready for exploration by culture-curious visitors. One of the best-known symbols of the island’s folk iconography is the Sicilian cart. These carts were a means of transport combining practicality with story-telling: they acted as roving illustrated books, depicting a variety of historical, literary, religious or chivalrous events.
The ancient Phoenicians and Greeks brought their crafting traditions to the island, creating amphorae, kraters, kylikes and other typical ancient objects, while the technique of applying bright saturated colours was introduced by the Arab conquest. Dolce & Gabbana placed Sicily on the fashionistas’ map ‒ not by chance ‒ and took the island’s crafts to the world, incorporating iconic Sicilian imagery in its bold prints, such as the multi-coloured horse-drawn carts, ripe lemons and oranges.
The hotel is positioned opposite the beach and all the windows of its public areas look out onto the sea. Many of its bedrooms also face the shore, allowing the Mediterranean light to pour in through large windows, and guests may enjoy the salty sea air from their private balconies.
The hotel has been (and still is) one of the most important and famous hospitality facilities to cater to generations of tourists, attracting visitors from all over the globe. It stands at the foot of the Etna volcano and near Taormina. Detailed local research guided development of the entire design, starting with restructuring and refurbishment of the main public areas, the lobby and bar, the check-in area, and the two Panarea and La Sciara restaurants, and creating a new pool-side terrace and the Fluido bar.
Its design was inspired by the natural beauty of volcanic beaches, the sea and the supernatural presence of Etna. The aim was to use local colours, decoration and artworks to add character, a deep sense of authenticity and a refined palette based on natural tones with splashes of sea colours.
The lobby was a large open space of over 700 square metres, previously decorated in a heavy Baroque style: right from the outset the designers aimed to enliven this space, giving it a new heart and value as a focal point. The new layout means not only guests savouring their leisure time but also those in remote working can meet up here and use the multi-purpose area capable of accommodating all thanks to the variety of seating types. Its style is elegant, with the hues of Taormina stone melding with the palette of indoor and outdoor colours.
The reception area stems from the Sicilian flair for welcome, and features three large countertops in dark grey lava crafted by Nero Sicilia. The typical back wall is made up of local hand-painted tiles by La Fauci, while the decorative accent lights (made of copper and wicker) are by Aromas del Camp. Thus guests find themselves submerged in an authentic local experience.
The Panarea restaurant offers materials, features and forms to conjure up time-honoured Sicilian crafts for guests, and incorporates hand-painted tiles with traditional motifs in niches at the entrance. The buffet area has screens in irregular but geometric shapes suspended from the ceiling and these bring to mind ancient Greek terracotta jars. Another tribute to local handcrafts comes in the form of leather interweaves, inspired by ancient Greek sandals.
Instead, design of the La Sciara restaurant was inspired by the existing wall cladding in lava stone: the space features darker tones echoing those of the Etna volcano. The sombre and almost ominous stone is interspersed with vibrant blue and red glass panes bringing the dark but appealing and welcoming colours of the sea by night.
Location: Giardini Naxos, Messina
Owner: Russotti Gestioni Hotels S.p.a, Milano, Italy
Main Contractor: R.L.General Contract Srl
Interior Design: THDP
Architecture: Architecna Engineering Messina
Photography by Giorgio Baroni, courtesy of THDP