The small fishing village of Castel di Tusa on Sicily’s Tyrrhenian coast is a pretty place to stop for lunch overlooking the beach. Should you want to stay the night, you may be expecting a small pensione but definitely not the Atelier Sul Mare. Founded by Antonio Presti, it is a piece of installation art in its own right, as well as one of the most unusual hotels on the island. The only give-away from the outside, is a golden column fashioned in the shape of a woman who holds up the entrance to the atrium. Enter to book a room, and you cross the threshold to another world. The reception is entirely wall-papered with a variety of Italian newspaper front pages. The monochrome theme continues with whimsical cartoons inviting you to ‘Flex your Mind’. You can book an ‘ordinary’ room but the opportunity to stay in one of those themed by an artist is too good to miss. The names of the bedrooms themselves are redolent of the experience to come: The Water Bearers, Lunaria, The Tower of Sigismondo, The Hammam… We chose the Hammam created by Sislej Xhafa and were transported to a desert oasis complete with tiled fountain, semi-circular bed, wood-panelled doors studded with wrought iron and even a steam room.
The choice was not easy as each artist’s work has its own merits. If you want to see what you’re missing, the hotel offers a tour of all the rooms, whether you decide to stay in them or not. One of the most popular and evocative is The Prophet Room. Presti, himself, has created a tribute to the writer and director, Pier Paolo Pasolini. To enter, you push the door downwards to form a walkway and step over one of Pasolini’s poems. A dark, labyrinthine passage leads to a mud and straw covered room reminiscent of Pier Paolo’s favoured Yemeni houses. The large picture window looking over the bay can be slid back to open the entire vista to the elements. The sand lying under the glass panel by the window has been taken from Ostia, the place of Pasolini’s premature death.
The Room of the Denied Sea is an altogether different experience. Wood panels completely line the walls, topped by television screens which can be turned on to show endless images of the ocean; the rhythm of its breaking waves creating a hypnotic affect. Look for the one panel that opens out on to the ‘denied’ sea. Or you may prefer Dreams between Signs, a bedroom dedicated to the power of communication. From rock art to the iconography of the late twentieth century, symbols and signs form a river of communication over the walls, ceilings and bed below.The tour will give you a glimpse into each artist’s mind and the inspiration they hope to share with the hotel’s guests. The creativity, however, is not confined to within these walls. The Fiumara d’Arte, or torrent of art, has broken free to flow throughout the landscape. Nine sculptures have been fashioned by various artists and placed within the hinterland of Castel di Tusa.
Pick up an itinerary from reception, jump in the car and go on an artistic treasure hunt. The genius of the idea allows you to discover the art and a landscape you would have otherwise passed by on the coastal road.The two most visible and easily found works are The Window on the Sea and the 38th Parallel Pyramid. The Window, otherwise known as the Monument for a Poet, sits on the beach eastwards along the coast; its azure blue concrete window frames the tide as it caresses the pebbly beach. The pyramid is situated on the heights above Tusa and is visible from the approach to the hotel. It’s worth a trek to the site to appreciate not only the scale and construction, but the mystery and other worldliness that resonates from the steel structure.
Further inland, twisting Sicilian country roads lead to a labyrinth set atop a hill; a colourfully tiled carabinieri headquarters; a blue concrete wave, and three intricate sculptures set to the side of the road. We also went in search of the Room of the Golden Boat, taking us through ever-narrowing roads to the river bed of the Romei gorge. Our quest ended in defeat as the Japanese artist, Hidetoshi Nagasawa, decreed that his work was to be sealed into the earth for one hundred years, only to be held in ‘memory’. Antonio Presti’s unique project is not just art for art’s sake. In the Catanian suburb of Librino, he has set up a foundation to work with the children of the district on various art initiatives. Internationally renowned artists have come to give workshops to involve the local community. The aim of this art is to brighten the grey, concrete of Librino’s tenements, so very different from the Atelier Sul Mare, and to show that Librino 'è bello' too.
If you want to visit the area and stay in one of the incredible art rooms of Atelier sul Mare book here.