Ghosts of the Belle Epoque: The History of the Grand Hôtel et des Palmes, Palermo by Andrew Edwards & Suzanne Edwards - review by Seán Williams

Seán Williams

Too Expensive for Wagner

Ghosts of the Belle Epoque: The History of the Grand Hôtel et des Palmes, Palermo

By

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In recent decades, bringing Belle Epoque hotel life back from the dead has become something of a pan-European obsession. Andrew and Suzanne Edwards, in this new history of the Grand Hotel et des Palmes in Sicily, attempt a seance of sorts, evoking both individual and collective spirits of the once-fashionable holiday residence known in English as The Palms. Notable names appear, some linger and a few leave a lasting impression. The first in this cosmopolitan cast of characters is the Yorkshire-born wine maker Benjamin Ingham, whose Sicilian villa was turned over time into a palazzo, the parties and soirées at which made it into 19th-century travel guides. In the 1850s, Ingham decided to create a new, larger palazzo; the plot of land where he built it was purchased in England from a German princeling. Next in the story comes Enrico Ragusa, a Sicilian from a family of hoteliers who had trained in Berlin. In 1874, Ragusa acquired the palazzo and set about developing it into a hotel. Since then it has attracted an array of famous guests, from Richard Wagner and his wife Cosima (that is, until the couple found less expensive accommodation in a nearby villa) to Oscar Wilde, Arthur Miller and Maria Callas. Frenchman of letters Raymond Roussel checked in during Italy’s Fascist period and was carried out of Room 224 in a coffin.

Alongside the famous names here are those who became infamous precisely on account of their stays at The Palms. Baron Giuseppe Di Stefano lived half his life in the grounds of the grand hotel, despite having his own estate – giving rise to many a story and rumour. Behind their

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