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food / travel

The 'White Lotus' Effect? Tourism Is Booming In Southern Italy

Madonna, the TV show The White Lotus, fashion shows, weddings — little by little, the beauty of neglected regions like Sicily and Puglia has rightfully emerged in the algorithm of digital desire. Finally, the secret power of Southern Italy has gained a global audience.

Screen-grab of The White Lotus, when Aubrey Plaza walks through a Sicilian piazza and men gather round to stare at her.

Aubrey Plaza as Harper in The White Lotus

Luke Leitch

The trend began with British aristocrats who, at the end of the 17th century, embarked on what was known as the Grand Tour. Then, in the 18th century, this fashion extended to the courts of Northern Europe, as rumors spread about the fascinating Italian Peninsula. In the 19th century, it was all about Byron, Shelley and Keats – the rebellious rockstars of romantic poetry – who added their celebrity stamp of approval before the arrival of the American nouveaux riches (including Mark Twain).

What started as an English fashion has long since become a global tradition: after France, the U.S. and Mexico, Italy was the 4th most visited country in the world in 2022. Now, there’s a new twist in the digital age: Italy’s global allure is updating and focusing on the South.

What’s different is that in the last decade or so – slowly at first and then with a sudden surge – foreign tourists, who used to concentrate on breathtaking destinations in the northern “Portofino” of Italy, now venture throughout the entire country. Not long ago, Naples was seen merely as a gateway to Capri or the Amalfi Coast – long established luxury spots – rather than the unmissable destination it is today.

Puglia, long frequented by only a few pioneers, has been the talk of the town for years now. And today, the desire for Sicily is surfacing all over the world. But what is the reason behind this boom? And how has the international perception of Southern Italy changed?

Between Puglia and Sicilia

I have my theory. As those reading this may be aware, there is a profound distinction between the North and the South in Italy. Most tourists traditionally visited the North, with the popular northern perception of their southern cousins as wild and dangerous influencing visitors' decisions. In other words, it was better to play it safe and not venture beyond Tuscany.

But like with everything else, the advent of smartphones in the late 2000s disrupted the hierarchy of information, turning it into a newfound democracy. Gradually, the obvious beauty of these neglected regions rightfully emerged in the algorithm of digital desire.

All of a sudden, the trulli were in vogue.

Ten years ago, I visited Puglia for the first time when most of my non-Italian colleagues in the fashion world had never heard of it. Four years later, Madonna celebrated her birthday there and, the following year, Justin and Hailey Bieber chose it as their wedding location. All of a sudden, the limestone trulli dwellings were in vogue.

Puglia’s moment has rightfully arrived, and the region seems destined to remain one of the top Italian destinations for visitors from all around the globe. Dior held its Resort 2020 fashion show there, and just this month, Dolce & Gabbana set up the final stage of their Alta Moda collection in Monopoli and its surroundings. This event brought about 400 new super-rich visitors from all over the world to experience the territory firsthand.

In the evolution of the South as a global destination, the 2010s were characterized by the rise of Puglia, but in these 2020s, it is Sicily leading the charge. Thanks to its role in classical civilization, the liberation of Europe, and movies like The Godfather, Sicily had already started its ascension from a level of respectability. I first visited in 2012 when Dolce & Gabbana showcased their Alta Moda collection in Taormina.

Photograph of a harbour with fishing boats and the Trani cathedral in background, in Puglia.

Puglia: a harbour and fishing boats with Trani cathedral in background.

Sterlinglanier Lanier/Unspash

Villa restoration: the tourism cycle

In the following decade, my wife and I frequented the eastern coast of Sicily, witnessing firsthand how the island, already popular among Italian visitors from other regions, grew into a global destination. Initially, most of the other foreigners I encountered were intrepid French and German tourists or Americans with family ties to the island. However, the demographic gradually shifted to become truly pan-national. Last summer, I happened to be an accidental guest at a fantastic wedding attended by several hundred friends and family members. The charming young couple getting married were of Persian origin, residing in Canada.

The wedding took place at La Chiusa Country House, a farmhouse located between Noto and Modica, meticulously restored by my friends and co-owners, Andrea Di Franco and Sebastiano Italia.

It reflects a broader trend in the entire area.

“In the last two years or so, especially after the Covid situation, we’ve seen an increase in bookings and requests from abroad, particularly from the United States, United Kingdom, India, France and Canada," says Di Franco. "It reflects a broader trend in the entire area. There’s a significant influx of foreigners visiting or choosing to live in Sicily. The first were the French, followed by Germans, English and a few Americans. We mostly see them in Ortigia, Noto and the surrounding countryside. They invite guests who fall in love with the area and start looking for ancient buildings to purchase and restore, creating a cycle. So much so that we’ve started referring to the area as Notoshire.”

When asked about the single most important factor in promoting Sicily’s sudden popularity, Di Franco didn’t hesitate: “The White Lotus.”


Season 2 of the #WhiteLotus was filmed and set in #Sicily #Italy at the 📍San Domenico Palace, Taormina, A Four Seasons Hotel 🎥 @Neil James #traveltiktok #sicilytravel #travelitaly #sicilyhotelguide

The White Lotus tour

The second season of the popular HBO series, set in Taormina with an important cameo from Noto, has generated a massive wave of interest among visitors, particularly Americans – but not limited to them. Fueled by extraordinary media coverage from renowned foreign outlets, Sicily saw the signs of what was to come this summer as early as May, a month that is not typically overwhelmed with tourists.

Locations like the Fratelli Burgio kiosk in Ortigia had lines stretching out onto the street. At a rave in the vineyard of the local Giasera winery, I met people who had come from Paris and Bali. Tour operators are now offering tailor-made White Lotus tours to cater to this new clientele.

Sicily’s popularity is set to receive a further boost with the release of the new Indiana Jones film, which features several scenes filmed on the island (though it is depicted as if it were Greece). Additionally, the Netflix remake of The Leopard, starring Saul Nanni and Deva Cassel is on the horizon. For the Southern economy, this new wave of interest is undoubtedly beneficial. For those who were among the first to discover these regions and are amazed by the influx of new visitors, it might be the perfect time to take a look at Calabria: perhaps the next hidden gem of Italy’s magnificent South.

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The Unsustainable Future Of Fish Farming — On Vivid Display In Turkish Waters

Currently, 60% of Turkey's fish currently comes from cultivation, also known as fish farming, compared to just 10% two decades ago. The short-sightedness of this shift risks eliminating fishing output from both the farms and the open seas along Turkey's 5,200 miles of coastline.

Photograph of two fishermen throwing a net into the Tigris river in Turkey.

Traditional fishermen on the Tigris river, Turkey.

Dûrzan Cîrano/Wikimeidia
İrfan Donat

ISTANBUL — Turkey's annual fish production includes 515,000 tons from cultivation and 335,000 tons came from fishing in open waters. In other words, 60% of Turkey's fish currently comes from cultivation, also known as fish farming.

It's a radical shift from just 20 years ago when some 600,000 tons, or 90% of the total output, came from fishing. Now, researchers are warning the current system dominated by fish farming is ultimately unsustainable in the country with 8,333 kilometers (5,177 miles) long.

Professor Mustafa Sarı from the Maritime Studies Faculty of Bandırma 17 Eylül University believes urgent action is needed: “Why were we getting 600,000 tons of fish from the seas in the 2000’s and only 300,000 now? Where did the other 300,000 tons of fish go?”

Professor Sarı is challenging the argument from certain sectors of the industry that cultivation is the more sustainable approach. “Now we are feeding the fish that we cultivate at the farms with the fish that we catch from nature," he explained. "The fish types that we cultivate at the farms are sea bass, sea bram, trout and salmon, which are fed with artificial feed produced at fish-feed factories. All of these fish-feeds must have a significant amount of fish flour and fish oil in them.”

That fish flour and fish oil inevitably must come from the sea. "We have to get them from natural sources. We need to catch 5.7 kilogram of fish from the seas in order to cultivate a sea bream of 1 kg," Sarı said. "Therefore, we are feeding the fish to the fish. We cannot cultivate fish at the farms if the fish in nature becomes extinct. The natural fish need to be protected. The consequences would be severe if the current policy is continued.”

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