“Everything about Monaci was all love-driven,” he explained.
Birdsong fluttered into the restored 19th century building, and the soft light from the spring sun bathed the room in a hazy glow. He sat with me at a round table under a dome of faded paint. His large glasses covered much of his kind face, and his posture showed he was a man who was at peace with the world. Upon first glance, Guido Alessandro Coffa did not seem like the owner of a highly acclaimed boutique hotel in Sicily. However, Guido’s humble attitude was mirrored throughout the entire estate, a tangible reflection of his values and passions.
High above the clamor of Catania, the Monaci delle Terre Nere sits ensconced among the rolling slopes of Mount Etna, the highest and most active volcano in Europe. Monaci is both a working organic farm and a luxury hotel. But like many treasures of Sicily, the Monaci prefers to keep its sweet secrets to itself, allowing visitors to uncover them one by one. No flashy valet entrance, no blinding lights of fame. Just an honest and sincere invitation to enjoy Guido’s artistic expression of Sicily.
It all started in 2007. Guido was scooting around the base of Mount Enta in search of a future retirement property, just a small piece of land where he could grow old and work in his own vegetable garden. Somewhat magically, he discovered a swath of unkempt land, where abandoned fields surrounded a 19th century residence for Sicilian nobility. Immediately, his heart was captivated by the idyllic location, big dreams, and a romantic notion: “I discovered that old houses have a soul. And if they accept you, you live a happy life. If they don’t, you better run away. And so, I think it was a mix between the house and my mother.”
Guido’s mother and the old house with an old soul convinced him that his past and his future were both on Etna. “My soul is a country soul,” he declared. “This is what I was supposed to do.”
For several years, Guido worked as a farmer, nurturing the olive groves, citrus and fruit trees, and a small vineyard. The Sicilian soil was rich and generous, a positive result of Etna’s explosive personality. Eventually, Guido decided to share his love of the land with others. He and his team began to restore the dilapidated buildings on the property to create a small hotel. They took extra measures to preserve magnificent ceiling frescos in the old mansion, maintain the integrity and identity of each farmhouse, and highlight the principle building material of southeastern Sicily – lava rock. In May 2012, the Monaci delle Terre Nere opened for business with six guest rooms. Since then, the boutique hotel has continued to grow and evolve.
Today, the Monaci has twenty rooms and suites with capacity for almost fifty guests. Every refurbished space scattered across the estate seamlessly blends into the rustic setting with a sleek, contemporary design, each with its own unique personality and style. In fact, Guido used his own art collection to sprinkle a modern and personal touch throughout Monaci. “I’ve been collecting art pieces for more than 25 years,” he remarked. “I have nothing left in my house. It’s all here.”
“My sense of ownership is completely gone,” Guido continued. “I feel like the steward of this place, rather than the owner. This is why I am very happy when people are around. Monaci is a special place, like a retreat – un posto di mondo – a place for many people from all over the world to stay here and enjoy the idea we have.”
In addition to providing a gorgeous space for guests to rest and relax, Monaci continues to demonstrate Guido’s passion for natural Sicily by cultivating delicious produce and serving Sicilian cuisine. Monaci delle Terre Nere is a part of the Slow Food Movement, offering fresh foods from their Eco-Bio certified farm on every dining table. As if enjoying great organic meals weren’t enough, guests also can sip on wines from the Monaci vineyards at a daily wine tasting event.
Among their farming terraces and fields of wildflowers, Guido and the staff at Monaci delle Terre Nere await guests with open arms to enjoy a peaceful respite in the Sicilian countryside. This sophisticated and dreamy destination is just one of the many wonders of Sicily, and it’s reason enough for me to fall in love with the Italian island all over again.
Ciao amici! Have you ever stayed at a boutique hotel? How about one committed to organic farming? How do you feel about staying on the base of an active volcano? Do you ever splurge for top-quality and unique accommodations?
For more information about this Sicilian boutique hotel, visit the Monaci delle Terre Nere website. All photos are shared from the Monaci delle Terre Nere website with their permission. Also, I visited Monaci, interviewed Guido, and wrote this story as a collaborative project with Clear Sicily.