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First impression: A genteel hideaway on a volcanic island
Staff: Eager to please
Food and drink: Fine dining, old-world breakfasts, elaborate cocktails with local ingredients and a killer Aeolian sunset
Rooms: A nostalgic scene of elegant simplicity: polished mahogany furniture, ox-blood tiles and chipped shutters
The crowd: In-the-know beau mondes who are too discreet for Capri
In a nutshell: An elegant Aeolian escape spread across an old hamlet of pastel-coloured houses with views across the Tyrrhenian Sea to the volcanic islands of Panarea and Stromboli
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Set the scene
Located at the foot of a lush volcano and peering out to sea – one that feels too blue and exotic to be part of the Mediterranean – Hotel Signum is a refined Italian island bolthole with a serious kitchen, a spa and rustic rooms that inhale the salty Tyrrhenian breeze. Submerged in a wild tangle of lemon trees, palms, honeysuckle, jasmine and bougainvillaea, Signum sprawls across the hillside, its peachy walls blistered by the sun. White cast-iron chairs are perfectly positioned on a terrace to catch Stromboli’s volcanic smoke-show and occasional fiery belch in the distance, over a lazy cocktail. Afternoons can be spent exploring Salina, drinking tea by the hotel’s curved pool or dozing off on one of the siesta beds placed around the gardens. The light here is dazzling, even more so when sieved through lime and olive leaves and wooden canopies to dance on walls, terracotta tables and guests’ faces.
What’s the story?
Family-run Hotel Signum has consolidated its position as one of Salina’s finest hotels – an early stamp of approval was given when the crew of the Italian classic Il Postino stayed here in the early 1990s while filming. Neither modish nor cookie-cutter rustic in aesthetic, the hotel, tucked away off the main street in the village of Malfa, feels like a genuine home where old framed maps, ceramics, pots and paintings, along with other antiques, have been collected over the years. The daughter of owners Clara Rametta and Michele Caruso, Martina, has combined Salina’s luxuriant surroundings with her cooking skills to put Signum’s restaurant on the global food map – she’s the youngest Italian chef to receive a Michelin star. Her brother, Luca, works his Sicilian charisma on all guests, imparting his encyclopedic knowledge of wine (especially Malvasia) and infectious pride for this pretty corner of the Aeolians.
What can we expect from our room?
Wrought-iron beds, tiled floors, cut-work curtains that tickle shutters in the breeze. Rooms differ in terms of size and views, with 12 and 34 in particular both hosting cracking outlooks over the sea towards Stromboli and Panarea, the latter with a large terrace for sunbathing. Much like the food and interiors, the bathroom products make the most of this fertile island’s bounty, with delicious-smelling almond shampoos and gels.
How about the food and drink?
Foodies are in for a treat. Choose between fine dining in the main restaurant, mostly conducted outside under a rustic canopy to maximise the sea views, or more relaxed, less pricey bistrot food on the terrace. Martina’s menu champions Salina’s fresh produce and cooking heritage – from its salty wild capers and shellfish to more elaborate pasta and fish dishes such as barbecued breaded scabbardfish with almonds and tiger milk. Beautiful glasses are filled with Salina’s fruity whites, and bijoux copper pans with creamy mashed potato and sea urchins. A clever mix of island simplicity (oil lamps flickering against tiled tables) and fine-dining vigour makes for an extraordinarily romantic evening. The bistrot’s burgers are particularly good, should you have reached peak pasta.
Breakfast feels wonderfully old world – dressed in silver cutlery, toile de Jouy cups and saucers and pretty crockery. Tuck into the Sicilian classics, granita con brioche and cannoli, or smoked salmon and scrambled eggs with prickly pear juice, as the sun illuminates the lush jasmine-infused gardens.
Anything to say about the service?
The pandemic originally inspired a gloomy summer forecast for Salina, but it was in fact one of the busiest seasons in history with Italians making for islands closer to home. And despite staff being run off their feet, one impressive waitress (who had been forced to leave her studies abroad and return to Salina) spotted us panting up the side of a volcano, opened her tiny car door and offered a ride. Such is the kindness of the Aeolian crowd. The concierge will arrange boat outings and visits to local caper farms and vineyards, assist with hiking routes to the volcano crater and book you into the spa (a separate entity to the hotel, next door) for treatments, or simply to use the Ancient-Greek inspired thermal baths and ice pool.
What sort of person comes here?
Discreet Italians, low-key celebrities, European families enjoying fine dining in linen shirts and shorts and special-occasion couples itching to Instagram this dreamy set-up, then correctly concluding that’s not the vibe.
What’s the neighbourhood scene like?
With the beach of Spiaggia dello Scario only 10 minutes’ walk away, a wind along mules’ tracks past gnarled vines, Signum is perfectly placed for exploring Salina both on foot and by boat (which can pick guests up from Malfa’s port). Salina’s two vibrantly green volcanoes – the ultimate trekking challenges – dominate this place, while both Malfa and nearby Pollara (it’s advisable to hire a Vespa to explore the island) have a mix of homespun and fine-dining restaurants serving local dishes. The landscape is sprinkled with white houses and Malvasia vineyards, and appears to have drifted from its volcanic friends to find its own patch of tropical-grade water. Piaggio Apes are filled with capers, olives or grapes that bounce precariously as they chug up and down narrow roads. Afternoons here are deliciously drowsy, spent dozing in the shade, gently parting calm sea water or gliding past craggy rock formations in a little motor-boat. Salina’s cliffs read like slices of cake: red velvet or grainy coffee and walnut, boulders and patches of green cascading and crumbling amid cacti, mosses and herbs to meet the water.
Anything you didn’t love?
The separation between the spa and hotel has the capacity to cause confusion with bookings. It’s wise to book directly through the spa.
A final note: is it worth it?
Yes. Authentic can feel like an exhausted word, drained of its punch, but it’s the best way to describe this slice of island reverie. It merges the allure of a beautifully curated private home with the clean-cut service and foodie standards of an old-world hotel. If you want an uncontrived take on Aeolian life, albeit an elevated one, with handsome views, head for Hotel Signum.
Address: Hotel Signum, via Scalo, 15, 98050 Malfa, Salina, Italy
Telephone: +39 090 984 42 22
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