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The GM of the REAL White Lotus Hotel in Sicily Tells All

With the return of the hit, HBO show 'White Lotus,' a new batch of entitled travelers are set to check into a luxury hotel, this time in Sicily.

Get ready for sun, sand, and scandals—on October 30, The White Lotus returns for a second season. Written and directed by Mike White, the HBO miniseries’ first season won 10 Emmy awards. Like the first season, which depicted one week in the life of the staff and very privileged guests at a five-star resort in Hawaii, the second season will take place over the course of a week at a luxurious resort—this time in Sicily, at the Four Seasons San Domenico Palace in Taormina, to be precise. We caught up with Lorenzo Maraviglia, the hotel’s general manager, to find out how the property was chosen and transformed into the White Lotus.

According to Maraviglia, the crew was so impressed with the Four Seasons hotel in Hawaii, where they filmed the first season, that they gave preference to the Four Seasons brand, which only has three hotels in the Mediterranean: the Grand-Hôtel du Cap-Ferrat on the French Riviera, Astir Palace in Athens, and San Domenico Palace, which opened under the Four Seasons flag last year. Of the three, the San Domenico Palace was the only one that ticked all the boxes. “The destination has a lot to offer, between the sea, the scenery, Etna, and the cultural aspect,” Maraviglia said.

Peter Vitale

Perched on a cliff high above the Mediterranean, Taormina was an important stop on the Grand Tour, and today, it’s one of Sicily’s ritziest towns, with chic restaurants and bars, glittering beaches, upscale boutiques, and beautiful gardens. Though it just reopened as a Four Seasons hotel last year, the San Domenico Palace has been one of Taormina’s top hotels for over a century. The oldest part of the hotel is located in a convent that dates back to the 14th century. Over the course of its long history, it has hosted writers, movie stars, and royalty, including Oscar Wilde, Elizabeth Taylor, and King Edward VII of England.

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“The hotel is an impressive building—it has a lot of history, it has a strong European heritage. You can breathe it, and you can see it on camera,” Maraviglia said, explaining that it was one of the iconic hotels that he studied in hospitality school.

Upon entering the Four Seasons San Domenico Palace, one of the first spaces that you see is the ancient cloister, which was renovated and transformed into a welcoming lounge with modern furniture. The historic convent was combined with a Liberty-style structure called the Grand Hotel in 1896, and as you walk through the property today, you can feel the difference. The hotel has 111 rooms and suites, a gourmet restaurant, a casual al fresco restaurant, a bar, a spa, an infinity pool overlooking the sea, and tranquil gardens.

According to Maraviglia, the White Lotus took over the entire hotel from the end of January until the third week of April, filming in the public spaces and transforming one of the rooms into a set while the most important members of the cast and crew stayed in the other rooms. And though they also filmed in the center of Taormina, on a boat, and in the nearby town of Castelmola, Maraviglia estimates that 80% of the scenes were filmed at the hotel. “They didn’t touch anything. They only took the logos out and replaced our logo with their logo, White Lotus,” he said. “The hotel that you see on the screen is exactly the one that you see if you come here.”

Peter Vitale

As for the guests’ abhorrent behavior, Maraviglia calls it “extremely realistic.”

Not only did the crew keep all of the hotel’s décor exactly as is, but they also employed some of the hotel’s staff as extras. According to Maraviglia, “They used some of our receptionists, some of our waiters, some of our hostesses, they even used our bar manager.” Naturally, having seen the show’s first season, he was a bit concerned about how the general manager would be portrayed. “I was afraid that it was the same exact actor. Instead, every season, every hotel—as it is in normal life—has a different general manager,” he said. This time around, the general manager is female, and the actress who portrays her shadowed Maraviglia for three weeks to prepare for the role.

While Maraviglia won’t reveal too much about the plot, he did say, “this season will be all about love and passion. And I think there’s no better country than Italy for that.” As for the guests’ abhorrent behavior, Maraviglia calls it “extremely realistic,” adding, “I know it sounds a little bit dramatic when you see it, but it is actually like that.”

Jennifer Coolidge will return this season as the now-married Tanya McQuoid on vacation with her husband Greg (yes, the guy she tried to throw out of her room in the first season) and her assistant. But aside from Tanya and Greg, the rest of the guests will be a whole new group of badly-behaved rich people. There’s a family of three Sicilian-American men looking for their roots, played by F. Murray Abraham, Michael Imperioli, and Adam DiMarco. And there’s a married woman named Harper Spiller, played by Aubrey Plaza, who’s vacationing with her husband and his friends. The official trailer hints at more drugs, sex, and what looks like another mysterious death.

As Tanya says in the trailer, “Whenever I stay at a White Lotus, I always have a memorable time—always.”