From the southern coast we headed back inland again then out onto the Eastern coast and up towards Taormina . We thought we’d save the best till last but perhaps we’d been spoilt with what Sicily had already offered and were a little disappointed this time. But in saying that you can’t help but be impressed by the spectacular views out over the Ionian Sea from this ultra popular summer destination. I had to laugh at the description I read the day we were leaving, "a chichi resort town, popular with the high rollers, unashamedly touristy and expensive, and as a consequence a victim of its own success!!!"
We found an apartment at Giardini Naxos, a little kinder on the wallet than up on the hill, which is down on the coast but only a stones throw from Taormina. There’s a cluster of hotels around us and only a few minutes walk to a number of restaurants designed predominantly for the tourists.
Tuesday saw us on the bus, up the hill to Taormina, on the recommendation of our host, as the narrow cobbled streets on the steep hill don’t cater for the number of tourist vehicles it now gets. As we watched, and heard, one poor elderly tourist trying to manoeuvre his way though the streets. Soon finding himself in a spot of bother with the locals who showed no mercy!!
Founded in the 4th century BC by the Ancient Greeks, the town thrived during this time and then also under Roman rule. The famous amphitheatre was built during this period and although much of it is in ruins today, it's still used for shows, performances and festivals and certainly draws the crowds with its spectacular views.
Renown as one of Italys most historic holiday resorts, Taormina became a popular tourist destination way back in the 18th century. Many northern European artists, writers and poets discovered this piece of paradise, perched on the side of a mountain with its breath taking views, ideal climate and fascinating history. The first tourist hotel was built in 1874 and since then many well known celebs have been drawn to reside here for a few months of the year. So there’s no denying the charm and history of this intriguing town, just a pity that we had to share it with quite so many others!!!!!
At the beginning of the main street Corso Umberto, or end depending on which way you are approaching the town, is the 13th century Cathedral and its Baroque fountain. The Duomo with its huge stone blocks and battlements look very severe, more like a fortress than a church. As we wander along this wonderful cobbled Medieval street you soon discover that although its full of lots of boutiques and designer labels there’s still the charm of the handmade ceramics and local artwork scattered down the narrow lanes that lead off it. It was here we also tracked down a freshly made Cannoli - yummy!! This Sicilian delicacy is made of a fried pastry shell and then filled with a rich sheep ricotta cheese but must be eaten fresh!! Tastes better than it sounds and worth the hunt. But when not looking for food or coffee its always a good reminder to look upwards and admire some of the fun and colourful, well adorned balconies.
As we wandered off the beaten track and came upon some of the old hotels down the ridge with gardens full of vibrant colour and the wonderful aroma of bougainvillea, jasmine and lemon trees. What a treat!!
And that view down to the crystal clear azure sea, with yachts moored nearby, beach bods and the island of Isola Bella was just stunning. This rocky outcrop was once privately owned by a wealthy English women and now a nature reserve. Photos definitely don’t do the sight justice.
It wouldn’t be a trip to Sicily without visiting Mount Etna. At 3,232 metres high it is the largest active volcano in Europe and certainly dominates the landscape with its brooding presence. The numerous eruptions over the years have at times been spectacular and it continues to be in a constant state of activity. It is surrounded by a large National Park and below that some of the most fertile agriculture land in Sicily, producing well known wines and orchard fruit.
Sadly the weather gods were not on our side today and as we drove up towards the volcano it clouded over and by the time we reached the carpark the conditions were bad enough to close the access. The winds were so strong you could hardly stand up straight. We’d put on every layer of clothing we could find, as had hardly been used to cold weather in the last two weeks, but still we were bitterly cold.
So sadly there wasn’t much more we could do as we watched people pouring out of buses taking a photo and hoping back in again. We too headed back down to the coast to some much needed warmth, good coffee and some local delicacies in Acireale.
Time to explore the sites, architecture, and back streets of one more delightful Sicilian town before we leave early the next day. What a wonderful discovery this island has been and yet there’s still so much more to see ….. Trapani, Palermo, Monreale, Cefalu etc.
Departing the next day with that warm content feeling of a great holiday and thoughts of coming back, and then the rat bags at the car rental company ruin it all by doing the dirty on us!!!!! Who would have guessed??