We’re taking a memorable look back at Engage!23: The Belmond Sicily Experience. This event took place at two iconic Sicilian properties – Grand Hotel Timeo, A Belmond Hotel, Taormina, and Villa Sant’Andrea, A Belmond Hotel, Taormina Mare. For our milestone 40th gathering, we knew it had to be special so we tapped the global event impresario, Vincenzo Dascanio as our guest creative director, and top Italian planners, K/Luxury, to take the destination, the properties, and the brand and translate them into new design and décor ideas not seen before. And the result? Something for our Engage! history books for sure.
This Engage!23 Experience
135 guests from around the world (12 countries and 22 states) landed in the quintessential seaside town of Taormina, Sicily, to experience some of Italy’s best for destination weddings and groups. Since this was an Experience event, woven within the itinerary were not only inspiring speakers and celebrations but bucket list adventures and behind-the-scenes cultural activities that lent themselves to more intimate networking opportunities (and Instagrammable moments).
And from the moment guests were welcomed to registration and their gifting experience at the Grand Hotel Timeo, every touch point became an opportunity for us to tell a story. The gifting lounge took place in the iconic hotel’s front entry, just beyond the gates, so that we could create a market-like atmosphere and show our attendees what regional shopping was all about. Guests were greeted with a fresh citrus and Aperol Spritz station and enjoyed live local music while shopping from hand-painted Sicilian carts. From local ceramics to regionally-inspired scents, the gifting was (and always is) a wonderful opportunity for us to highlight and feature local artisans and treats that the destination is most known for.
Included in this gifting experience, engagees were able to select from handmade leather or straw bags filled with Italian tin hearts, bowls, wine, pasta, limoncello, and more. We incorporated products from esteemed Sicilian designers Micaela Spadoni, Ivan Guerrera, Arabesque Jewelry, Pigna a Pois, Narcisse Profumi, and Tino Giammona, to name just a few. Many artisans were even on hand to demonstrate their craft to guests. With the steps of the ancient Greek Theatre just a few feet away, our group shopped and selected the swag that fit their personal styles most.
Engage!23 Speaker Sessions
After our guests got all their luggage properly stuffed with swag, we welcomed the group as a whole to our opening session. When designing our educational sessions, we try to use both traditional and out-of-the-box areas of the properties so our engagees aren’t spending large amounts of time in a ballroom in a beautiful destination. At Belmond, we could go just about anywhere since we had a full buyout. We hosted breakout (and more intimate) sessions inside Bar Timeo and on their outdoor patio, the garden patio in Villa Flora, miscellaneous environmental spaces with sea views, and then the meeting room for a portion of our larger group sessions.
Of course, the meeting room design drew inspiration from the destination. Vincenzo’s team dressed the stage with a traditional Sicilian horse cart with abundant overflowing local flowers. The lucite podium was filled with eggplants, known as the “queen” of Sicilian vegetables. The floor was adorned with a diamond floral pattern filling the aisleway that welcomed guests to the focal point in the front of the room. Attendees were given 3D Sicilian cart agendas, designed by TPD Design House and complete with the day’s schedule.
Speakers worldwide (including leading negotiation expert Dr. Alex Carter, author of “Ask For More”) gathered to share insights into their event businesses and teach our guests personal and professional development skills.
Sicily Bucket List Experiences
This group doesn’t stay indoors all day. We were in Italy, right?! During our Experience events, we build time into the schedule to explore what the destination is most known for. In Sicily, this began with an early morning walk, a behind-the-scenes tour, and breakfast at the iconic Greek Theatre, Teatro Antico di Taormina. Attendees enjoyed traditional brioche and granita as they explored the ruins of this once-bustling entertainment center.
During lunch, attendees dined at four of the most celebrated local wineries. They partook in gourmet meals that included experiences like pasta-making demonstrations and tours of the region. Essence of Sicily, our DMC partner who curated it all, ensured that even the Jeep rides to the respective locations had knowledgeable guides to entertain passengers along the route.
The group also enjoyed organized tours of Mt. Etna as well as downtime to explore on their own. They were aided with the help of a specially designed “la passeggiata.” This custom map guided engagees through the picturesque town of Taormina. Attendees were even welcomed to personal tours by Tino Giammona of his home museum and studio and the studio of Vincenzo Dascanio. And all were encouraged to stop for arancini at Rosticceria da Cristina, among other local treats.
It’s difficult to mention our celebrations without mentioning why everyone in attendance looks so picture-perfect and on theme. Ahead of their travels, we provide our attendees with attire inspiration for each day and night. It’s a fun (optional!) way to get into the spirit of Engage! and the surroundings. In Sicily, the welcome party attire was a nod to a Sicilian street festival. The gala gathered inspiration from white Sicilian embroidery and lace, thus guests wore white. Our second night’s event might have been the most festive wardrobe call of all. One’s translation of the legacy of Perroquette style, to honor the recreation of the famed nightclub. And each day suggested comfortable and casual attire for the outdoor experiences with colors on brand, of course! Our groups always get into the theme and they looked spectacular in Sicily!
Sicily Welcome Party
The welcome party took place on a terrace at Grand Hotel Timeo not typically used for seated receptions. But in true Vincenzo style, he seeks out the unexpected and layers in his magic. Despite the unusual setup, dinner was served family-style on long tables overlooking the valley and the spectacular sea below. The design was a very literal nod to the ancient Sicilian tale of Testa di Moro. The dark legend represents a Moor’s head, and Vincenzo took that visual and wove it throughout. To see more from this spectacular evening, read the full story here.
Villa Sant’Andrea Event
For our second evening’s event, our group gathered in full at Villa Sant’Andrea. Some guests chose to stay at this ancient private residence on a private beach not far from Grand Hotel Timeo. When sunset came, all converged on a terrace overlooking the sea, beyond the hotel’s beautiful outdoor staircases and gardens. Vincenzo and his team created a spectacular open-air nightclub inspired by the iconic club, Le Perroquet. Passion, romance, drama, and leopard print infused every aspect. The design, entertainers, and fanfare certainly did the famed nightclub justice. For more details from this fete, including human-sized birdcages and burlesque performers, see our full story here.
Gala at Grand Hotel Timeo
Each Engage! ends with a gala that is deeply inspired by the destination, and Sicily was no exception. The classical art of embroidery, an ancient Sicilian tradition, inspired the design. Lace was literally woven throughout – from the tent swagging to the escort card fabric and even the floor pattern and detailing.
The all-white event took place in a three-sided tent on a terrace at Grand Hotel Timeo. The last side was purposely lacking so guests could enjoy the majestic garden views. Engagees were led down a flight of garden stairs and ushered into a lace-clad enclosure. In fact, that’s where the real fun began, as guests experienced a night they won’t soon forget.
Another surprise was about to take place with a fireworks show that seemed fitting to end our Italian experience. And from the looks on the guests’ faces at this point of the night, ultimately, we wrapped our three days in Sicily on a very high note.
And Then There Was Haus of Birkhof
We couldn’t end our Sicily Engage! without mentioning the culmination of a three-day-long project that took place right before our eyes. Reveleved at the gala was the genius artwork created by Haus of Birkhof. Our longtime Engage! friend, Zuzu Birkhof, and her team worked throughout the events to capture everyone in attendance in an outdoor portrait studio. Then a one-of-a-kind collage was digitally pieced together to generate a masterpiece, a group portrait culminating our experience in Sicily. The final result was nothing short of mesmerizing!
Don’t forget to check out every romantic detail. See our full gala story here.
Engage!23 Sicily Highlight Film
It takes a highlight film to fully experience what this celebration was like. We love to relive the magic of Engage! thanks to our incredible video partners. The wildly talented artisans at Le Reve Films created this video in close-to-real-time.
To conclude this look back at Engage!23: The Belmond Sicily Experience, you can view our full gallery here.