Villa Sant'Andrea is a case study in the classic Sicilian attitude toward style and food. Set upon its own exclusive beach on the coast of Taormina Mare, this jewel has been impeccably restored by Orient-Express, with finishing touches completed just this year. Originally built by a noble family in 1830, it still retains all the patrician charm of a former private residence.
It's easy to envy Sicilians, with their bounty of volcanically enriched orchards and vines. But when the island's most famous culinary ingredients – sweet almonds, lemons, olives, tangerines, prickly pear – make it onto the treatment menu, jealously melts into submission. The spa's signature Sicilian Senses is an indulgent ritual using extra-virgin olive-oil soap enriched with essential oils, handmade in the Mediterranean tradition. The treatment includes an exfoliating footbath with lava pumice from the volcanic island of Lipari (off the north coast), a body cleansing and full massage.
During my recent visit , I woke from a massage-induced nap to find Hollywood sweethearts Kirsten Dunst and Garrett Hedlund in dolce amore in beach loungers next to me: They were half-cuddling, half-reading in the way that content couples do. Turns out they're not the only ones drawn to shoulder season in southern Italy. With Justin Timberlake and Jessica Biel's late October wedding in Puglia (for the food, he said), this region's off-season has never been hotter. Don't hesitate to book at Villa Sant'Andrea in April or September.
I revelled in DIY reflexology bliss on the pebble beach. While some might sigh wistfully for sand (indeed, I spotted only a handful of sunbathers), I saw a feel-good opportunity and rocked those pebbles into my meridian points. Bonus: On closer inspection, it turns out that every handful of beach is a treasure trove of rose marble, amber, coral, agate and quartz – the kind of collector's stones that carry price stickers in Toronto's Kensington Market. Now isn't that worth getting a few pebbles in your bikini?
Villa Sant'Andrea by Orient-Express at Via Nazionale 137, Taormina Mare, Sicily, Italy; 1-800-237-1236; hotelvillasantandrea.com; Sicilian Senses treatment is $185 for 80 minutes.