The White Lotus: secrets for the super-rich to stay in hotels where TV satire was filmed

One of the greatest Italian actors, Massimo Troisi, best known for Il Postinoonce said that the beautiful Sicilian town of Taormina, where the second season of the multi-award-winning class war satire The white lotus is set, had only one error: “There are few poor people here.”

It would be hard to find a better place to set the story of overprivileged, super-rich vacationers living in the Sicilian outpost of the luxury hotel chain White Lotus. As with the sugar-coated existence of these guests, Taormina – perched on a hill overlooking the Ionian Sea and boasting breathtaking views of Mount Etna – can feel like an artificial bubble compared to nearby settlements on the island, which are among the poorest. regions in Europe.

Both seasons of the HBO series have been filmed at Four Seasons hotels, the first in Hawaii. For the second, which begins on the US streaming service on Sunday, San Domenico Palace, a former Dominican monastery dating back to 1374, was chosen.

“The producers of The white lotus visited about 70 hotels before we chose ours,” said Sonia Bonamassa, the hotel’s PR coordinator. Observer when we visited. “And for them it was love at first sight.”

No wonder: San Domenico Palace exudes luxury and elegance from every medieval pore on its walls. The suites, many of which have a private pool, are built in the cells that once housed the monks.

Here, the usual clientele is not that different from the one represented in the award-winning comedy-drama. The entrance is a bustle of rich, fashionable American and British visitors. Previous guests included Oscar Wilde, King Edward VIII, Elizabeth Taylor, Truman Capote, Audrey Hepburn and Sophia Loren.

Lorenzo Maraviglia, director of San Domenico Palace, sits in one of the hotel's lounges.
Lorenzo Maraviglia, general manager of San Domenico Palace. Photo: Alessio Mamo/The Observer

The general manager, Lorenzo Maraviglia, spent months with the crew and cast staying at the hotel during filming from February to April last year.

“It’s impressive how Mike White [the show’s creator] managed to get into the details of life in a large hotel,” he says. “The life they portray inside a luxury hotel is very real – obviously, in some cases very extreme, because they have to create the drama. But in this second season, certain dynamics between the staff and the customer are completely true. I repeat, these exaggerations do not reflect reality, fortunately, but many things are true.”

The general manager of the White Lotus resort is the dominant character in both seasons. Maraviglia says he finds himself in similar situations on a daily basis to Murray Bartlett, who played general manager Armond in the first season.

“That’s why I say the dynamic is real, at least for 95% of what you see – especially this year, because for the last two years people haven’t traveled because of Covid. So in the last year the expectations from the customer have been yet higher because we’re talking about a bigger financial investment.You see, even though the people who come here spend a lot and have exceptional financial means, they also have a sense of money and how much they spend.

“Here, in high season, a customer spends an average of €3,000 to €5,000 per night. And a billionaire customer understands the value of what he pays for. So the expectations are very high.”

Just like at White Lotus resorts, guests expect an unparalleled stay, without the slightest glitch, setback, difficulty or mistake. “Obviously, unexpected problems can occur. The egg was a little late, the cappuccino didn’t have the amount of cream they wanted. And here they might start telling you, ‘You ruined my vacation.’ So in the end, most of my time dealing with this dynamic, like ‘Why was there so little cream in my cappuccino?'”

Like Armond, Maraviglia explains that his job is to reach a very high level of empathy, to try to understand what is behind the dissatisfaction of his wealthy clients. “It certainly cannot be the lack of cream in the cappuccino that ruined their holiday,” he says.

“There’s something behind it, there’s a frustration with their families, or probably the challenging years during the pandemic. That’s why our job is to try to understand the real reasons and try to get into their world, their lives and deal with the most complicated the ego.”

The hotel manager of Sicily’s White Lotus, Valentina, is played by Sabrina Impacciatore. Maraviglia, who spent about a month with Impacciatore, said the actor was trying to learn how a real manager interacts with customers.

“She was here, next to me, in the office,” says Maraviglia. “She sat there and studied me. She wanted to see how I held meetings, how I interacted with the staff, how I behaved when discussing a personal matter with clients. She became the character.”

Tom Hollander, who plays Quentin, in season two.
Tom Hollander, who plays Quentin, in season two. Image: HBO

But if, inside the walls of the San Domenico Palace, the staff can not wait to see the second season of The white lotus out on the city’s picturesque streets, few people know about the show, which hasn’t taken off in Italy yet.

“I didn’t watch the first season,” says Eugenia, who owns a bar near the train station. “Even though I live five minutes from Taormina, I don’t visit it often. Sometimes I go for a pizza or an ice cream with my family. But nothing more. The costs are too high for ordinary people.”

The city is, due to the high prices of its hotels and restaurants, inaccessible to most Sicilians.

“I heard they were filming a series about the rich,” says a street artist displaying his work at the entrance to the Greek Theater there. “Well, let’s hope you attract more rich people here. All the better for us!”

White Lotus is on Sky Atlantic or Now TV from October 31

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