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Independent Minds: Mario Faro, Donna Carmela Resort & Lodges

Planting a seed which started on the slopes of Mount Etna with a Mediterranean nursery of citrus plants has since blossomed into a nature-inspired collection of bio-architecture lodges. Nurtured by the Faro family for nearly half a century, their latest volcanic venture is an immersion in the subtropical beauty of Sicily’s eastern coast.

Mediterranean scents of citrus and olive groves fill the Ionian Sea air at Donna Carmela Resort & Lodges, where just a handful of spacious suites dotted amongst verdant grounds come with outdoor terraces to take in the Etna or sea-facing views. Here, nature takes centre stage – from the treetop Flora Lodge to the garden-grown produce freshly picked and prepared by the resort’s Sicilian cucina. Branching out this year with new additions to the resort, including upscaled rooms using all-natural materials, this ecologically minded resort is cultivating a slower, more sustainable way to experience Italy’s largest island.

What does being ‘Independently Minded’ as an hotel owner mean to you?

I think that everyone has an idea to create something, everyone makes his own personality give life to a project and nothing can be more authentic than a dream that becomes reality. I always like to say that Donna Carmela has a soul and I cannot imagine seeing my idea of hospitality being a standardised way to provide accommodation to people. Our resort was created with a specific idea, to create a luxury home far from home. We are located on a beautiful island and being independently minded means that I am free to give my Sicilian hospitality, I can give that warmth which is very difficult to find in a larger hotel chain. In every single corner of Donna Carmela my guests can see little details of Sicilian culture, from the plants to the interior design. Our focus is always on our guests’ wellness and if they feel at home, that means that we are doing a good job.

What was the inspiration behind the hotel, and where do you continue to find sources of inspiration?

When I talk about Donna Carmela I have the same feeling of talking about Piante Faro, our main company. Everything started when I saw a large, 19th-century building in one of our plantations – I remember, it was totally covered with plants, shrubs and trees. When we cleaned and cut everything back, I saw the project come to life in front of my eyes. Originally, the idea was to create a simple hotel to accommodate the businessmen of Piante Faro, but then, day by day, the project became real and the simple hotel became a boutique resort. From the beginning the inspiration was a “home”. We wanted to create a perfect atmosphere to feel comfortable, but always having the high standards of service both for the rooms and common areas.

The most important feature that we created are the bio-architecture lodges. They are little gems hidden by the tropical plantation with an outdoor lava-stone Jacuzzi and total privacy. In our lodges we wanted to exclusively use natural products from our land such as lava stone, wood, and ashes which are 100% recyclable and have zero environmental impact.

How do you think your hotel stands apart from other boutique hotels?

Donna Carmela has a personality and a heart and it was created by the passion of the Faro family who put love into everything they do. I had never heard about a resort located in a nursery of Mediterranean and tropical plants, in between a volcano and a wonderful sea, nestled in a generous land. Whilst our location absolutely plays an important role in the choice of Donna Carmela for our guests, it is the kindness and the human touch of our staff which make the experience unforgettable.

If you only had 24 hours to get a taste for your hotel experience, what would you recommend a guest must do?

I would suggest staying in our Romantic Lodge which is my personal favourite, but also the Classic and Comfort Rooms are all different and each has something unique – a beautiful view, a big terrace or a very spacious bathroom. Like any Sicilian family, we love food and we love offering authentic Sicilian products for breakfast including the arancino, pizza, the delicacies of our pastry chef, freshly prepared every morning. We are not just a resort, we are part of a larger family. Our company Piante Faro grows fruit trees and with our oranges and lemons we produce homemade jam. We believe that our breakfast is unique because we only serve fresh and local food.

In the morning our guests can see a white chef hat going down to our garden. The most important ingredients of our cuisine are our fresh and organic products which grow on our land. A great experience is to simply taste our pasta alla norma for lunch made with our own aubergine or even better, learn to make the pasta during a cooking class with the chef. By night, the light fades and the atmosphere of our Rizo Bar brings you into another dimension, best experienced when matched with our drinks. The dinner then, especially if we eat under the secular olive trees, is a journey through the tradition and innovation of our young chef’s hands.

As we are a group, our guests can find us again outside the walls of Donna Carmela in Radicepura, our horticultural park, and up at the Etna volcano in our winey Pietradolce – a natural masterpiece, where modern art meets fine wine. Here we organise wine tasting and guided tours of our vineyards. The Ionian Coast of Sicily is full of beauties and we would always recommend the local baroque of Acireale and its fabulous bar to taste Sicilian granita with brioche.

How would you describe your own perfect luxury experience?

Authentic, attentive and real. What makes the luxury experience special is our real human touch and our personal way of welcoming. We are careful about the little details and we prefer to be authentic when showing our guests the natural beauties of our land as locals and not like tourists.

Do you have a vision for the future of the hotel?

In this very difficult period of the pandemic, it is easy to feel demoralised. But, despite that, the passion and the love for our work, give us positivity and the power to look to a more promising future. We have already made future investments to renovate part of the resort and create new areas. We listen to our guests’ feedback and we want to improve our hospitality experience more and more, ultimately aiming to be the pioneers of sustainable tourism in Sicily. Our philosophy is and always will be the luxury of the surrounding nature, and our bio-architecture lodges truly reflect this concept.