I crossed the Strait of Messina from Villa San Giovanni in Calabria. It just took 30 minutes but in peak season you have to wait a bit before boarding your car on the ferry. I disembarked at the dock in Messina and drove to the highway skipping the city centre. Messina is not bad but there actually is not much worth a stop over as the city was fully reconstructed after a massive earthquake in 1908 and then again after world war II, thus nothing is left of its glorious past.
I drove approximately 30 minutes on the highway following the signs for Catania. Taormina is halfway between Messina and Catania, located on a rock overlooking the Ionian Sea, the Etna Volcano and the plain of Naxos, which is well known for its citrus cultivation (lemons and oranges).
Taormina appeals to many due to its unique location, the wondeful climatic conditions all year round, the incredible views and its historical heritage left by the Greeks (who were used to rule southern Italy before the Romans). In the past 5 decades Taormina became one of the most attractive destinations in Sicily as well as one of the poshiest ones in the whole Country. Don’t go there if you are not well prepared to spend quite some money for your accommodation and to eat at a local restaurant. The quality of the services provided is pretty high, thus prices are consistent too
Despite the several little allyes and backstreet, the city is made of one main street populated by an incredible number of shops. Just few of them are souvenir shops, while the rest is specialized in local products such as ceramics, lemons, oranges, chili peppers as well as perfums and beach clothes. You may get some nice views over the side backstreets if you look carefully as vendors are used to place their stuff outside to attract you.
However, if you give yourself the chance to roam around the side backstreets, you discover a different Taormina, which is not only the posh city you expect but a lively little town inhabited by locals who like to decorate their homes and balconies with flowers, plants and ceramics.
Along the main street you can stop at the Cathedral. It’s quite a small Church which still keeps the appearance of a Romanesque (or early Christian era) look, and it’s made of stones, carved out of the local quarries. The interiors have been transformed into a low value baroque church, thus the view of the exterior is much more interesting. In front of it there is a fountain spilling water from the mouth of sculpted horses, which also is one of the most appreciated spot in town due the fresh and cold water it provides which allow visitors to refresh a bit from the extreme heat of the summer afternoons.
I am travelling with my partner and some friends, thus we are party of 8, each one with a special interest, even though we all are fond of the Siclian GRANITA!!!! It is almost impossible to describe what Granita is: it’s not a slush, not a cold drink, neither a gelato…is a mix of all, and can only be found in Sicily. Wherever you find a sign “granita siciliana” out of Sicily, including in the Italian territory, be sure it’ won’t be the same. It’s refreshing, smooth and simply delicious. Each city you go, a different special flavour you find: here in the district of Messina they are good at Coffee granita, while in Noto they make it with Pistachos, in Agrigento it’s basically with Almonds…we had at least one granita per each day of our journey. Remember that, even if it sounds crazy, you have to try it with weap cream!!!
Even you find granita at every single coffee shop or bars or even at restaurants, the best ones are sold by street vendors. They usually have a small car looking like an eastern tuk-tuk, stationing at a specific point in town. The one we found is used to stand in front of “Villa Comunale”, the public garden of Taormina. Its Granita was simply a masterpiece!!!!
After such refreshment I took my travelmates to the main attraction of the city: the Greek Theater. Many writers and poets visited the place in the past centuries and all of them described it as the most beautiful place on earth. I do believe it is impossible to say which is the best place to visit on this planet, but I can definetly say that the greek theater of Taormina is probably one of them. Its location between the sea and the Etna Volcano, the stage which overlooks the Ionian sea and the seats laying on the rocks of a carved hill, provide a breathtaking experience to all of us. The theater is still in use both for theatrical representation as well as for concerts. There was a show in the evening when we vsited it, by one of the most populat theatre actor of Italy: Gabriele Lavia. We didn’t have a reserved seat, thus we had to leave before the show began.
The Theater is more than 2500 years old, and is still in use…can you believe it? Just walk behind the scene and you’ll get another terrific view over the largest active volcano in Europe, as well as one of the largest in the world: the Etna. There was a small-scale eruption ongoing and you can see the smoke coming out from the summit crater…the next day we went to see it…
Where to stay: Taormina is pretty expensive. Even at time of Covid it wasn’t easy to find accommodation for a reasonable price as well as at a good location. I managed to find a very good solution at Taodomus, located right along the main street of Taormina. Rooms are clean and big enough. Breakfast is served on the roof terrace: can you imagine something poshier?
Where to eat: there are dozens of little restaurants in town, all with quite good food, however, given the size of the city, they all have limited seats thus it is important to make a reservation quite in advance. Try this: Tutti ccà. They have good food and tables placed on the steps of stairs along a backstreet. A very nice and romantic atmosphere.