Mention the Italian island of Sicily to people and it’ll mean many different things. Take your pick from any of the following; majestic Mount Etna, Greek ruins, seafood, exemplary beaches, fascinating history, a vast history (think Greeks, Romans, Germanics, Byzantine, Vikings, Normans, Spanish; the list goes on), street food, sweets, good wine and wonderful hospitality. But if there’s one thing which stands out here and now in the summer of 2019, then it’s Sicily’s association with the perfect break. And the very reason why hordes of British sun (and culture) seekers pack their troubles and suitcases and head out to this southernmost part of Italy with such regularity. Sicily is of course the geographically-resplendent football which the boot of Italy has kicked into Mediterranean touch, and for its part Taormina is located on the island’s east coast, overlooking the glimmering aquamarine waters of the Ionian Sea. Described as an intimately-sized, habitually inviting town, Taormina is architecturally populated with enchanting ancient buildings, while being framed from behind by rocky outcrops capped with Greek ruins. Add into the heady mix golden beaches, inspiring Mediterranean scenery, narrow cobbled streets, cosy bars, seafood restaurants and bijou boutiques, and the phrase ‘utter escapism’ springs readily to mind.
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Considered part of the very fabric of the Grand Tour, Taormina – the pearl of the Med – has long been associated with some luminary figures from the worlds of art, literature and the silver screen. Indeed, a long list of iconic names from Goethe to Dumas, D.H. Lawrence to Oscar Wilde and Greta Garbo to Woody Allen, have chosen to both sojourn in and - either by design or accident – be forever spoken of in the same sentence as Taormina. That said, you can’t visit any of the its famous visitors, unlike the propositions beneath. For example the Castello di Taormina; a mythical location mentioned in ancient texts, discovered a short walk from the centre of Taormina. This affords holidaymakers unbroken vistas over the bay, town and the perma-smoking Mt Etna. There’s also well-preserved ruins of a Greek theatre, which just so happens to be one of Sicily’s most preferred locations when it comes to operatic and theatrical performances. If you think that sounds impressive, just wait until you see Taormina’s marvellously-preserved, Greek-built amphitheatre.
The quiet, and somewhat intimate flower-lined streets of Taormina give way to a pleasing host of fresh seafood restaurants and cosy bars, which lurk behind the traditional facades. At weekends the streets and chequered town square come alive with the local market, a tradition which has existed for hundreds of years in this part of Sicily; and where stalls sell a dazzling array of colourful fruits and tempting Mediterranean foods. While exploring this town’s rich history, you can choose to eat just about anywhere from Michelin Star restaurants to local trattorias. Taormina holidays afford visitors the choice of the sublime to the ridiculous when it comes to eateries to suit all tastes and pockets. La Capinera, for example, is run by one of Sicily’s finest chefs, Pietro D’Agostino. Located just north of Taormina, you can look out across the Ionian Sea, while the eatery is listed in countless restaurant guides together with possessing its own Michelin Star. Other less celebrated – yet no less impressive – culinary venues worth a mention include Ristorante al Duomo, Osteria RossoDivino and Casa Gioli. The latter offering diners a unique restaurant experience, as the space also functions as an exhibition area for sculpture, photography and paintings. What’s more, the open kitchen lets diners watch the chefs prepping your dinner.
No trip to Taormina for your holiday is complete without visiting the nearby Mount Etna, just 45 minutes away. Paying a visit to Europe’s largest Volcano is an amazing adventure, and there are any amount of tours available from Taormina that take to you the Sapienza Refuge area, which is 1910 meters up the mountain. This is the only one of the five refuge areas that is accessible by public transportation, and is well worth the organisation in our opinion. Bringing things back closer to Taormina and just south of the town lies Isola Bella, also known as The Pearl of the Ionian Sea. As a small island filled with lush greenery, it is now a nature reserve where visitors can explore and immerse themselves in the colourful Mediterranean flora. Connected to the mainland by a small and narrow path (which becomes submerged during high tides), the island itself was actually private property up until 1990 when the owners went bankrupt and auctioned the island, which was bought by the Region of Sicily. Meanwhile the Alcantara Gorge is something worth venturing to for the day. Located on the north side of Mount Etna, the Gorge was formed thousands of years ago when a lava flow from the volcano was cooled quickly by the flow of the Alcantara River; the immediate area offers a wealth of opportunities for children and adult to explore.
As far as action and adventure go, scaling the heights of an active volcano is certainly something to write home about. It certainly trumps white-water rafting and scuba-diving for those holidaymakers seeking out the ultimate adrenalin-pumping thrill ride. Mount Etna is Sicily’s most iconic landmark, and geographically located in the north-east of the island puts it within easy striking distance for those holidaying in Taormina. The smouldering peak offers a world of adventure to those on holiday in Sicily, including treks up to the crater and even as far as the summit. Well, as close as you’re actually allowed to get for fear of singeing your eyebrows. If you’ve still not got whatever it is that makes you want to throw yourself into all sorts of compromising situations out of your system after that, then don’t fret, we have a few alternative suggestions which will probably be right up your ravine. Go body rafting along the Alcantara River, or embark on a fairly arduous trek in the Valle dell'Anapo. Failing that, you might wish to go snorkelling in the Zingaro Nature Reserve?
Couple warm temperatures and azure skies with sandy expanses and a promise of peace and quiet and you’ve got the makings of a fantastic holiday; and if there’s one place in Italy which can pretty much guarantee all of the above, then it’s the popular Sicilian town of Taormina. Not ‘too’ popular, we hasten to add, otherwise it would risk being spoilt by the potential droves who would descend on it. While Taormina isn’t exactly Italy’s best kept secret, it does remain a relative oasis of calm during the summer months. This means that tourists aren’t fighting for space on the town’s beaches. Nestled neatly in between the equally low-key towns of Giardini Naxos and Letojanni, Taormina’s soft, sandy beaches and the Ionian Sea waters are extremely inviting. Isola Bella is unquestionably Taormina’s most attractive beach and is found at the foot of the town, while Mazzarò is a slightly smaller beach set in a bay to the north of Isola Bella. Acknowledged as one of the most visited strips of shoreline in the area, Mazzaro is a little off the beaten track. In as much as the pebble beach is accessible by means of the spectacular cable railway which regularly departs from Taormina. Finally Giardini Naxos, located to the south of the town, is the longest beach in the area, alternating fine sand with pebbles. Courtesy of the proximity of a spread of bars and restaurants, Giardini Naxos also boasts a stylish nightlife once the sun’s gone down.
It’s normal for Sicilians not to venture out to eat until after 9pm, and it’s not unheard of for those taking a holiday in Taormina to adopt the same late eating habits. This might then be followed by working that late dinner off, Taormina style, by embracing the local nightlife which is recognised well beyond Sicily’s borders. The choice of places in which to trip the light fantastic are nothing short of appealing too, with Panasia Beach affording partygoers a flavour of Monte Carlo, in as much as the good times are had literally right on the coast. Widely regarded as one of the hippest party locations in Taormina, hot nights and a cool atmosphere are very much on the cards. Elsewhere, La Giara is a more romantic proposition, a suitably authentic Sicilian restaurant which specialises in fish and sea food dishes. Until 1am that is, when the tables are turned to accommodate a disco which plays out until 5am. And then there’s The Marabu, where we’ve saved the best for last. Essentially among THE most famous discotheques in Italy, this super club has previously hosted the likes of Carl Cox, Coccoluto and David Morales (for DJ sets), while even the legendary Keith Richards – of Rolling Stones fame – performed a guitar gig hereabout in the recent past.
Described by many as one of the most beautiful villages in all of Italy, the quaint Castelmola sits atop a hill overlooking Taormina; from which natural vantage point it takes in everything else which lies beneath its gaze, including the beaches of Giardini Naxos and the simmering volcanic presence that is Mount Etna. From the perspective of a couple enjoying all that a holiday in Taormina has to offer, a trip to Castelmola should always be part of the itinerary. As should, for that matter, the stunning sights which greet visitors when they make the journey to Taormina’s Greco Roman Theatre; which is believed to be one of the most visited and photographed site in all of Sicily. Again, perched on a hill overlooking the Ionian Sea (and with another engaging vista of Mount Etna looming in the distance), this forms one of the most romantic backdrops for a couple looking for something more than beautiful beaches and fantastic restaurants.
If culture’s your thing, you’ll want to follow in the footsteps of some of the most well-travelled (and horizon-broadened) people from popular culture. Like for example Goethe, Gustav Klimt, D.H. Lawrence, Oscar Wilde and Truman Capote. All of whom made a bee-line for Taormina at some point or another in their much-celebrated lives. Taormina has been the most popular tourist destination in Sicily for a couple of hundred years, ever since it became an integral part of the Grand Tour. And it’s not difficult to see why when confronted with sympathetically restored mediaeval buildings, breath-taking views around every corner and a labyrinth of winding streets strewn with shops, bars and restaurants. Long attracting the rich and famous - courtesy of its raffish air, sultry climate, fine dining and citrus tree-scented medieval streets – Taormina is an intoxicating blend of diverse architectural sights, from Greek ruins and Arabic-inspired houses to Venetian-style courtyards and amber churches; all there, waiting for the intrepid explorer.