One of the reasons Daphne Phelps didn’t relish having hoi polloi like me at Casa Cuseni (see The Gardens at Casa Cuseni, Sicily) is that she was used to welcoming important people like Tennessee Williams, Roald Dahl and Bertrand Russell as her guests. In fact the locals were so used to seeing the rich and famous there that the local paper had a headline saying that Greta Garbo was due to arrive, but, as Miss Phelps makes clear in “A House in Sicily”, she never made it.
Casa Cuseni was sought out because it has the best outlook of any of the “English” houses in Italy. The red roofs of the town of Taormina tumble down below it; on one side is the azure blue of the Ionian Sea; on the other the towering mass of Mount Etna. The volcano is alive and in winter the snow on its peak is often cut through with rivers of red molten lava. The garden, like the other “English” gardens, is on a steep terrace, at the bottom of which is a large deep pool which has the dual purpose of an irrigation tank and a swimming pool. Immense care was taken to make the most of the location in the design of the pool and it was built with mathematical precision so that when both the moon and the pool were full the reflection of the snow-capped Mt Etna would be seen in the water, framed by two pink columns. Similarly, the main bedroom of the house was positioned so that the window framed the view of Mt Etna.
Since Daphne Phelps’ death the house has been opened as a boutique hotel. Each of the rooms has been named after a famous former guest. I was amused to see that the main bedroom with the view of Mt Etna has been called the “Greta Garbo” room and that her non-arrival has been magically transformed on the hotel’s website into the claim that she stopped there for a year.