Algilà Ortigia Charme Hotel meets all of the benchmarks for a great place to stay: location, evocation of place, comfort, and courtesy of staff. It’s on the island of Ortigia — just off the southeast coast of the much larger Italian island of Sicily.
Ortigia is the place where seafaring Greeks, looking to plant colonies in the seventh century BCE, decided to build a new city they called Siracusa (or, as Americans would spell it, Syracuse). By the 14th century, Mastra Rua (now called Via Vittorio Veneto — where the Algilà Ortigia Charme Hotel is located — was the street where the most important noblemen of the city built their grand residences. As the city expanded to the Sicilian mainland, Ortigia retained its historic churches, palaces and promenade along the Ionian Sea waterfront (now under the aegis of UNESCO World Heritage Sites restrictions).
The hotel itself is a combination of two buildings, painstakingly restored, updated and reconfigured for modern guests — plus a third across the street. No two rooms are alike but all have WiFi (and the main building has two elevators).
Mine, on the third floor, was actually two rooms separated by a bathroom. The door opened in the center, with three steps to the left leading up to the bedroom and three steps to the right leading up to a smaller room with a daybed and desk. The bathroom (straight ahead) included variable colored lighting in the shower stall and a bidet in addition to the sink and toilet. Ample glass shelves made unpacking toiletries convenient.
In an odd little corner of the bedroom was vase — a larger-than-lifesize man’s head. I didn’t think much more about it until I saw a similar head on a ledge in the first floor patio of the hotel. Then, it seemed everywhere I walked in Ortigia, I saw the same image in different sizes and different colorations. It turns out that it’s part of a traditional Sicilian story.
During the time the Arabs ruled the island (around the ninth century CE), a Moorish trader courted a Sicilian maiden. When she found out he had a wife and child back in North Africa, she decapitated him in a rage. And then turned his head into a planter to grow basil, an herb associated with hatred for both Classical Greeks and Romans.
That was just one of the distinctly Mediterranean touches in the hotel. The bathroom tiles, for example, were Turkish-style depictions of tulips. Planted outside the bedroom were prickly pear cactuses (brought to the island from the New World during the Spanish occupation of Sicily). The juice at the breakfast buffet was freshly squeezed blood oranges, and one of the morning pastry options always was that classic Italian pastry, cannoli.
The staff, although not fluent in English, had no trouble accommodating requests for morning cappucinos or the borrowing of umbrellas to walk outside in the rain.
That little patio outside the bedroom window was less than two feet wide, and walled off. The “view” was a tiled wall, the cactus, and a few other plants. It seems that the third floor, at least in that part of the hotel, was an add-on — it was set back on the roof and not visible from the street.
The daybed in the smaller room was perfect for holding suitcases.
(Photos by Susan McKee)