It was an incubator of creative ideas, style, literature, cinema, and design. It was the chosen place for Tennessee Williams and Henry Faulkner where they explored their daring love. A place where Roald Dahl wrote Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, where important historian Denis Mack Smith completed his famous history books and a place of refuge for Greta Garbo. At Casa Cuseni, you can stumble upon a book that was conceived within these very walls or glance at a mirror that once reflected the beautiful face of a Hollywood star.
Casa Cuseni was touched by the artistic grace of almost an entire empyrean of literature, fashion and star system of the twentieth century. If walls could talk, we’d be in for a treat. But what is the story behind this house that attracted so many fascinating personalities?
In 1893, British painter Robert H. Kitson opened up a fine art magazine called The Studio and was fascinated by illustrations of Sicilian adolescents by photographer Wilhelm Von Gloeden. Four years later, he along with Oscar Wilde and painters Charles Holmes and Frank Benson decided to pay a visit to Von Gloeden inTaormina. Not long after, Kitson decided to move there and the building of Casa Cuseni commenced.
After his death in 1947, his niece Daphne Phelps inherited Casa Cuseni and became an important custodian of the villa. It is her that embellished the garden with exotic trees, planted fragrant olive, almond and orange trees and entertained an important network of 20th century artists and misfits including Coco Chanel who on her visit was so inspired by the cross c’s that she later incorporated it into her brand. The villa has five bedrooms and an impressive dining room, adorned with a mural paining depicting ideas about dreams, tolerances and the first ever gay adoption, perhaps an ode to Tennessee Williams’ summers spent here.
Today, Casa Cuseni is an important emblem. It symbolised a safe haven and the wild freedom of Taormina and as a result, has been declared of cultural and historic importance by the Belle Arte in Messina. The house remains a museum which you can visit as part of a guided tour and whiteness the literary ghosts that are still very much alive. Phelps is the author of A house In Sicily which provides a funny and notable account of her guests and local mafiosi who enjoyed her company, so we suggest you pick up the book before your visit.
If you’re looking for a place to explore Taormina and this extraordinary intimate museum, we suggest you stay at the wonderful Sparverio Luxury Suites. The two apartments can be rented either separately or in exclusive use when travelling with a big group of friends. It’s a wonderful refuge perched over the edge so you can enjoy sweeping views of Isola Bella and the glistening Mediterranean Sea.
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