The Grand Hôtel et des Palmes is an icon of Palermo life. Its rooms and public spaces have witnessed the events that have shaped twentieth century Sicily, everything from the suicide of a poet to political intrigues and a clandestine mafia meeting.
The hotel has a long and venerable history. It started out as a private residence for the Ingham-Whitakers, the Anglo-Sicilian family of marsala wine fame, before being sold to the hotelier Enrico Ragusa in 1874. Wagner was one of the most eminent early guests, looking for inspiration to finish his last opera, Parsifal. A few days after its completion, a nervous Renoir arrived to paint his portrait. Months later came Guy de Maupassant, who asked to see Wagner’s former suite so that he might detect ‘a little of his personality’. The novelist and poet, Raymond Roussel, arrived in the 1930s, but was destined to leave in a coffin.
Arthur Miller, Sophia Loren and Maria Callas were all guests and when Visconti was filming The Leopard in Sicily, the entire cast – notably Burt Lancaster, Claudia Cardinale and Alain Delon – visited the hotel. Lancaster even dined with a Baron who had made the hotel his home for reasons shrouded in mystery. Less illustrious guests have included the occultist Aleister Crowley, Lucky Luciano and other mafiosi. Even Giulio Andreotti, the former Italian Prime Minister, who stood trial for complicity in the murder of a journalist and mafia association in the ’90s opted for the hotel’s Belle Époque opulence.
A richly researched history of this historic hotel, with a cast of characters ranging from the good to the bad and the decidedly ugly.