The evening sun warms my shoulders as it makes its curtain call beyond Mount Etna. To my left, the Grecian ruins of Teatro Antico di Taormina set an awesome backdrop. Out east, waves flecked with fishing boats dance along the distant bay of Giardini Naxos. Yet as the glimmer of a trumpet catches my eye, I'm reminded that the real performance is only just beginning.
I'm at Belmond Grand Hotel Timeo, a retreat of whimsical terraces and quirky antiques that has seduced guests with its old-world charm for well over a century. Oscar Wilde and Truman Capote wandered its polished parquet floors, and D. H. Lawrence authored Lady Chatterley's Lover here.
Set on a precipice with unobstructed views of the sweeping Sicilian coastline, the hotel's rooftop balcony ranks among Europe's most scenic, and serves as a fitting stage for an esteemed brass sextet. This is one of the first installments of the Exceptional Music in Exceptional Locations series, a partnership between Belmond and the London Philharmonic Orchestra that takes classical music out of the concert hall and into some of the hotel group's most spectacular destinations.
"We want to celebrate the surroundings of our magical properties," says Belmond's senior vice president, Arnaud Champenois. "We welcome guests to a world where concerts are not just beautiful music but sensorial, once-in-a-lifetime travel experiences."
His words couldn't ring more true. From my front-row seat, I feel the base notes of the tuba conduct my heart beat as the trombone and trumpets carry spry Sicilian melodies. It's as if the music and setting both sing from the same hymn sheet. The orchestra honours its roots with English tunes including A Rose Without a Thorn - a musical love note written by Henry VIII to his fifth wife, Catherine Howard. Other songs take their cue from Italy. Bellini's popular aria from the opera Norma is followed by a finale of local folk music that causes a man beside me to "ooh" and "ahh" in a way that I think he may get up and dance.
For David Burke, general manager of the London Philharmonic Orchestra, this enthusiasm is the whole point of the concerts. "We want to communicate the wonder of classical music," he says. "Unlike a concert hall with a full orchestra, settings such as this create a certain intimacy, a dynamism that keeps the interaction between musician, location and audience fresh and creates a unique experience."
Indeed, the previous evening I'd been down in Mazzaro Bay at Timeo's sister hotel, Belmond Villa Sant'Andrea. The concert here ran to a similar programme and yet, accompanied by the symphony of lapping waves, its effect felt completely different.
Now, Belmond invites you on a six-night adventure across Botswana to find harmony between sound and savanna. Experience the wilderness in unrivalled depth. At the timeless Belmond Savute Elephant Lodge, the dynamic plains crescendo in Chobe National Park, a haven for elephants, hyenas and cheetahs. Later, harness the spirit of the wetlands from Belmond Eagle Island Lodge. Spot hippos basking as you take to the skies on a helicopter safari before retreating to your luxurious tented room. It's here, at the heart of the Okavango Delta, that guests will be treated to an otherworldly performance by a wind quintet from the London Philharmonic Orchestra.
"Just think: you're sitting under the starry skies listening to an arrangement of Saint-Saëns's Carnival of the Animals," Champenois continues. "As the joyful tune brings lions, elephants and wild birds to life, it resonates across the plains with a sense of humour and playfulness. Dreamy, isn't it?"
Consider this, then, a siren's song for world-class music that strikes a chord with enchanting surrounds. Not just for classical connoisseurs, these concerts hit all the right notes for those seeking something out of the everyday.