Set in over fourteen hectares of citrus grove, the boutique Zash hotel is a converted manor house and winery (the property was used as both a summer residence and a place to process the grapes that, until the estate was replanted with oranges and lemons in the 60s, dominated the landscape). It sits under the gaze of Mount Etna, the main reason for such fertile surroundings, and is just a few minutes’ drive from the volcanic Sicilian coast.
The smell of orange blossom at all hours might be the property’s most intoxicating feature—though sadly not a year-round event—but the Zash also boasts an exquisite restaurant, swimming pool and spa facility (though sadly the latter two were being renovated at the time of our visit). As Sicily’s only Design Hotel, you can’t miss the strong emphasis on form, clean style and being at the very crispest edge of luxury.
Set in the old ‘wine chamber’ beneath the house, the Zash’s restaurant is something genuinely special! Dominated by the huge mechanism that was originally used to press the grapes, the sympathetic design elements also include original wooden doors repurposed as tables and plenty of exposed volcanic brickwork.
In Giuseppe Raciti, their head chef, the Zash have a real trump card. With experience in three different Michelin-starred restaurants under his belt, as well as a silver medal in the Internazionali d’Italia di Massa Carrara, it is clear that it is only a matter of time until this frighteningly young chef has a star of his own.
The menu is an utter feast of fresh pasta, flavoursome meats, and perhaps the finest home-baked bread I’ve ever eaten—and as you would expect, the local Etna wine list is an elegant match for all of it (though they’re generous enough to include wine from further afield as well).
If one must pick holes in such a place, the breakfast buffet by comparison is on the slightly meagre side. While the home-made pastries are excellent, and you will not find better orange juice anywhere (grown as it is on the doorstep), more variety would have been welcome in such a clearly food-driven place.
The Zash has three designated areas that house each of its exclusively small clutch of rooms; the upstairs of the main ‘House’ itself, the old ‘Wine Cellar’, and the ‘Garden’. As a Design Hotel, the emphasis on clean lines, a cool palette and a gentle sparseness of décor couldn’t be more obvious.
The rooms in the main house—though ours was on the claustrophobically small side—are chic and uncluttered, and benefit from a simply stunning balcony terrace that looks all the way out to the sea. The wine cellar rooms have more original architecture on show; the black volcanic rock and hints of old beams and ladders are appealingly rustic. And the huge glass walls of the garden rooms cleverly make you feel as if you’re sleeping right inside the green hug of the citrus grove.
Who goes there?
One of the few hotels I’ve visited abroad where there seem to be as many native Sicilians as foreigners. Certainly the restaurant is frequented as much by non-hotel guests as residents and, at least on our visit, we seemed by far the youngest clients.
Out & about:
The Zash’s utter isolation is either a blessing or an irritation depending on what you want from a holiday. As the swimming pool and spa were both out of use at the time of our visit, and wandering the orange groves takes little more than an hour, there really is very little to do other than sunbathe.
Guided tours to Mount Etna or neighbouring Taormina and Catania can be arranged (but only in advance), as can wine tours to local vineyards (unavailable on both days we tried to book). There are bikes available for free from the Zash if you’d like to explore the countryside, but sadly all were too big for me to use (amusingly I was lent a much smaller, rustier bike by the staff) and no helmets or maps of the local area were provided.
The worst thing:
The devil—clichéd though it may be—is in the detail for this undeniably stunning hotel. There has clearly been so much love poured into making it beautiful that the actual functionality and service does sometimes go out of the window.
For example, no written information whatsoever is provided in-room; nothing on room service or other extras provided by the hotel, nor was there even the usual ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign for the door, which meant the (admittedly apologetic) cleaners stumbled in on both mornings unannounced. Bath products available in the room were also spartan, especially for two.
And several miscommunications from our concierge meant that for our booked Etna Excursion we arrived a) inappropriately dressed (despite having checked beforehand) b) unable to pay the guide (as it was cash only and we had not been informed) and c) were overcharged for the trip. These are fixable problems, but they do feel like the mistakes of a much newer hotel.
The best thing:
Beyond its gorgeous man-made style credentials, what actually makes the Zash divine is its natural beauty. Whether it’s standing on the balcony with a glass of Etna’s finest red, breathing in the orange blossom on the night air, or spotting bright hummingbirds dance through the cypress trees, the Zash manages at times to be genuinely breathtaking.