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Casa Cuseni, a magical Sicilian house.

Posted by Suzanne Turrisi on 24 Dec 2018



Casa Cuseni, a house in Taormina

Spending two nights in July at Casa Cuseni, the beautiful yellow house with rambling gardens, terraces and tall blue French doors, set high above Taormina overlooking the Ionian Sea and with a near perfect view of Mt Etna, was a highlight of my Sicilian summer.


Daphne Phelps writes about her house in Sicily:

Staying at Casa Cuseni inspired me to re-read Daphne Phelps detailed, candid and heartfelt telling (in her book ‘A House in Sicily’) of her 50 years or more (from 1948), as the devoted and independently minded Locanderia (innkeeper) and 'custodian' of this wonderful Sicilian house.

She welcomed an assortment of paying guests including greats such as Henry Faulkner, Bertrand Russell and Roald Dahl.

Finally (in the early 60’s) Daphne Phelps became the owner of this magical house set in acres of terraced gardens. She writes of her love, intrigue and understanding of the Sicilian people, the exotic traditions, social customs and complexities of this captivating island and her undying love of Casa Cuseni.

Plus, she shares some honest observations about some of her famous guests. 


A Charming bed and breakfast:

Casa Cuseni, built and designed by her artistic and humanitarian uncle Sir Robert Kitson in the early 20th century, is today in the hands of Signora Mimma and her husband Francesco. They run Casa Cuseni (declared a national monument) as a 5 room bed and breakfast with the rooms named after some of the notable guests who stayed or visited including Henry Faulkner, Picasso and Greta Garbo.

Mimma grew up at Casa Cuseni where her parents worked alongside Daphne Phelps. Daphne Phelps died in 2005.


My brief stay at Casa Cuseni this summer  - some things enjoyed.

The rooms:

One night spent in a spacious, cool and light filled room (named after the artist Henry Faulkner) on the first floor with a terrace and sun umbrella with some of the best views in Sicily.

The walls are adorned with a few of Henry Faulkner’s colourful and happy paintings which he gifted to Daphne Phelps. One is of  ‘an enchanting small oil of a white house with three doors of strange shapes, one in emerald green...' and another of the Leaning Tower of Pisa 'with flowers of Casa Cuseni bursting out of its windows’.

The first night I slept in the Greta Garbo two room suite just down the hall from the Faulkner room. The bedroom opened to the terrace and Etna through a set of tall blue French doors.


The garden and arriving:

Wandering the rambling terraced gardens planted in a planned, haphazard way with flowering hibiscus, roses, agapanthus and jasmine, alongside cactus, olive trees and pepperina trees plus more and a drink on the colonnaded terrace early one evening.

Entering the house for the first time. It felt like being a guest in someone’s home –hidden and welcoming.


Treasures, frescoes, privacy and devotion:

Looking at the treasures in the long sitting room which opens to a wide terrace through Casa Cuseni's blue French doors- blue and green pottery, religious artefacts and antique furniture. And enjoying glancing at the titles of the books and paintings in the office.

And the large frescoes in the Sir Frank Brangwyn designed dining room. Closed for over 100 years the frescoes in this room are delicate and soft in colour and tell some of the story of Robert Kitson’s personal life and his spirit- his sexuality, his family (Robert Kitson and his partner 'adopted' an orphaned baby boy from the 1908 Messina earthquake), his leaving of England and the prevailing attitudes in the early 20th century.

There is even a beautiful boxed hat and a story about this treasure and its maker Coco Chanel. This room is by paid guided tour and has been referred to as 'The Secret Room'. The guide on the morning of my departure was Maria - she was warm, informed and a lover of Casa Cuseni and its history.

And walking up the marble stairs to the top terrace for breakfast and enjoying the mesmerising detail of some of Robert Kitson’s art work (last photo) on the walls. 


A Sense of Place:

As I write this I think about Daphne Phelps' words (in the last chapter of her book) where she says that one reason for her leading a life in Sicily was that she ‘has always had a strong feeling for place’.

And, Casa Cuseni has a wonderful feel...a sense of place.


This is the last blog for 2018. Blogs will be monthly from 2019 with the first posted at the end of January.

I wish everyone a Merry Christmas and all the best for 2019. 







All quotes are from Daphne Phelps book "A House in Sicily"

The 5th photo is courtesy of Elise Di Michiel and the 11th courtesy of Eugenie Turrisi




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