It’s 10 AM. We have arrived in Palermo . Our room facing via Roma at the four stars Grand Hotel delle Palme will only be ready at three. (Sicilian pace) but they will try their best for two. We will certainly have Sicilian canoli for breakfast at the historical, Belle Epoque style, Sala Specchi under crystal chandeliers and morganite balustrades but before that I want to make sure to have a chat with the hotel concierge before adventuring in the “chaos” of Palermo. The tall man with a twisted mustache similar to the proud Don Fabrizio Corbera, Prince of Salina, from Luchino Visconti adaptation of Lampedusa’s Il Gattopardo, in a severe posture, is eloquently distant. He is not happy with my the choice I have made for my morning itinerary. He is a fierce Sicilian.
I tell him I need to get to the Palazzina Cinese and he insists that today is not necessary as I should first visit the Baroque Palazzo Valguarnera-Gangi in the Piazza Croce dei Vespri, just two minutes’ walk from our hotel then where I could catch a glimpse of how the 19th century Palermitan aristocracy lived.( I did later and will tell on another post). After that I should head to the Palermo Cathedral , the Palatine Chapel and pick some fruits on the way at the Mercado di Capo. I dipolomatically pretend to agree with him but ask him to show me in the map the Palazzina Cinese location.
I received my information, set the car GPS and under the promising heat of a magnificent blue sky I head exited to check the former royal residence of the House of Bourbon-Two Sicilies designed in the style of Chinoiserie.
Located on the sidelines of the Parc of La Favorita, lemon trees and the “scorched” slopes of Monte Pellegrino , the small house also known as Real Casina alla Cinese, is an exotic extravagance of orange terra-cotta-colored wood pagodas and stone towers framed here and there by a few centuries old Phoenix Canariensis.
We enter the small architectural jewel filled with fanciful trompe-l’oeil images in color contrasts and asymmetrical shapes attempting to imitate porcelain, lacquer, lattice bells and Chinese figures echoing a Far East paradigm. Yet, hard to believe, we are in Sicily. Proud with my discovery we walk through the apartments spread over three floors reached by external staircase . A stunning salone dei ricevimenti, fabric-paneled Chinese style with paintings from Riolo is one of the most beautiful I have ever seen in and the veiled King’s bedroom is also Chinese-style painted this time by Cowards and Velasquez.There terrace a door opens up to magnificent views of a garden.
The apartment of Queen Maria Carolina on the second floor have two reception rooms and the bedroom with a locker room in exquisite wood marquetry. On the top floor there is a large terrace covered octagonal pagoda with decorated ceiling by Silvestri and white marble baths with natural caves to China.
The photos in the gallery speak for themselves, and if you happen to visit Palermo don’t listen to any concierge and make sure to stop by.