Unbelievably our trip to Taormina was the first time we had ever visited Sicily – we adore Italy but somehow we had never gotten as far down as this beautiful island! We flew into Catania, so only a 1 hour transfer along the coast and then a steep climb up high, to this gem of a place where we treated ourselves and stayed at NH Collection Hotel. The cool, contemporary and sprawling reception area was very welcome, as we had hit a heatwave on arrival, and things then got even better when we were shown to our suite which was gorgeous with an incredible terrace and heavenly views!
The position of the hotel was perfect as you literally drop down one street and you are in the thick of everything Taormina has to offer – which is a lot for such a small area! Firstly, the lovely, long pedestrianised street of Corso Umberto runs the length of Taormina and is full of tasteful boutiques, art galleries, bars and cafes all set in beautiful buildings so doesn’t feel at all touristy. At either end are the arched gateways of Porta Messina and Porta Catania so the town is very easy to navigate! Forking off from Porta Catania you will walk up to an unassuming entrance where you pay to visit the ancient theatre … you don’t see it straight away but as you climb the steps it suddenly unfolds out in front of you and is an incredible scene!
Set high and looking out over Taormina this beautiful amphitheatre is still used for concerts and recitals which unfortunately we didn’t experience but one day it would be a pleasure to see a performance there – it naturally holds an electric atmosphere in broad daylight so of an evening, all lit up, we can only imagine how exciting it would be! The views of Mount Etna, which is framed by the columns and ruins was a sight to behold … this active volcano is very imposing even from such a distance!
The architecture and colour of the buildings of this area are offset by incredibly lush greenery growing untamed, terracotta potted cacti framing doorways and wild prickly pear literally growing free everywhere – right down to the stunning shoreline that sits beneath Taormina! There are two gorgeous sweeping bays that meet and link into Isola Bella which is the perfect name for this tiny island that sits just off of the beaches. To descend from the town down to the waterfront there is a very handy ‘funicular’ cable car that runs back and forth and takes about 10 minutes – easy, cheap and quick with of course more lovely views as you drop gently down the hillside!
Once you alight there is a wide steep staircase that still needs to be negotiated down further to meet the actual shingle beach. All the way down you will encounter many sellers with their wares hung from the trees and spread out at your feet – all adding to the colour, fun and atmosphere of finally reaching the crystal clear, bluest of blue water! To reach Isola Bella itself you will have to navigate through sunbathers and paddlers to a narrow shingle beach path that finally takes you onto the Nature Reserve – where you pay a small token fee to explore this magical oasis! Tropical planting and unusual white stone built walls and arches lead you around the small island taking in, en route, amazing viewing balconies and terraces where you get to look back at the bay and up to Taormina which is all spectacular – it couldn’t be more picturesque!
Around the island there is also an opportunity for some great snorkelling along with around and amongst the large rock formations that jut out of the sea. And after all of that walking, snorkelling, swimming there are back to back beach restaurants around the bay to choose from … we ate at Pizzichella and had the freshest fish, pasta and the big plate of the mouth watering ‘caponata‘ which we ate at every place we stopped at to be honest! This Sicilian dish is so simple but oh so tasty, made from fried aubergine, celery, capers and pine nuts in a sweet and sour sauce – many variations and other vegetables are added, as each place will have their own handed down recipe, we didn’t have a bad one – scrumptious with lots of fresh lemon squeezed over the top!
In the complete opposite direction from Taormina you have the option to climb still higher! Regular buses, from the main square just outside of Porta Catania, will take you up to the teetering tiny hamlet of Castelmola where more jaw dropping views can be enjoyed, looking out from its castle ruins and beautiful terraces. In the heat a very welcome cold ‘granita’ can be sipped – this is a wonderful iced coffee served everywhere in Sicily with other optional, delicious flavours too!
This first foray into Sicily has just left us wanting to discover, see and eat more and we are already planning on getting back there as soon as we can!