Enchanted Taormina

The Greek theater and mount Etna
The Greek theater and mount Etna

A one day itinerary to discover Taormina, one of Sicily top destination 

 

“Should you only have one day to spend in Sicily and you ask me ‘what is there to see?’ I would reply ‘Taormina’ without any hesitation. It is only a landscape but one in which you can find everything that seems to have been created to seduce the eyes, the mind and the imagination.” – Guy de Maupassant.

Indeed, Taormina is one of the most amazing  destinations in Sicily and, arguably, in the world. Where else would you be able to sit on a 23 centuries old Greek theater, built on a natural terrace overlooking the deep blue Ionian sea,  with the highest European volcano snowy peak on the horizon?

Taormina is not only a delightfully medieval village with astonishing views and sights, but it is also famous for its beaches, including the Isola Bella, a tiny island connected to the main land by a narrow stretch of land that can only be seen if the tide is low. One or two days in Taormina allow you to wonderfully combine seaside, culture and entertainment.

Isola bella is now a protected natural oasis and one of the most famous icons of Sicily. It is also a perfect place to start discovering this wonderful part of Sicily.

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The “Isola Bella” natural oasis

From Isola bella, take a short walk to discover the delightful Mazzarò cove. In my view it is as beautifull as Isola Bella bay, also because it keeps its laid down fishermen village atmosphere, along with fantastic views.

You will find it difficult to resist a refreshing swim in the transparent waters!

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The delightfull Mazzarò cove

After your swim, what about indulging in a tasty seafood lunch, accompanied by one of  local wines? I suggest to try a dish of pasta alle Sarde (typical spaghetti with pilchards, pine nuts and fennel leaves) at seaside restaurant Il Barcaiolo, one of the best places to eat fish in Taormina. You may also taste a wine from the Etna volcanic grapeyards, made from grapes  grown on lava fields:  they have a peculiar, mineral flavor.

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Il Barcaiolo restaurant, at Mazzarò beach
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Pasta con le sarde

The most convenient way is to get to Taormina from the sea side is to take the cable car (“funivia”) just opposite Mazzarò beach. It will bring you to the old, fortified town in a few minutes.

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Taormina cable car, and its amazing views
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View from the cable car

Entering the city from Porta Messina, you will arrive right in the Medieval heart of Taormina. Close to Porta Messina is Palazzo Corvaia and the 16th-Century Church of St. Pancras, built on the remains of a Greek temple.

And if you are tired,  a local “tourist taxi” is available for a personalized tour!

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“Ape” taxi

On the right towers the Palazzo Corvaia, where the Sicilian Parliament of Nobles met in 1410. Completed only shortly before that date, and incorporating a 10th century Saracen tower, the Palazzo is the best preserved in Taormina.

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Palazzo Corvaia

While strolling along corso Umberto, Taormina main street, take some time for a coffee break at one of the characteristic cafés , to enjoy a delicious lemon granita and to try local specialties, such as “Cannoli alla siciliana”, tube-shaped shells of fried pastry dough, filled with a sweet, creamy ricotta cheese filling.

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Cannoli alla siciliana

The highlight of your visit is, of course, Taormina Hellenistic theatre, with its cavea dug into the rock. The theater was originally built in the third century B.C. under Hiero II of Syracuse; in the second century B.C., however, under Roman rule, it was completely rebuilt with all the characteristics of a truly Roman theater.

It offers a spectacular view onto the turquoise sea and to the smoking peak of Mt. Etna. In particular,  the view through a gap in the wall of the loft of the surrounding countryside as far as Mount Etna has been the subject of thousands of books, paintings and photographs.

During Summer Time visitors have the possibility to assist to a performance at the Greek Theatre, or to watch a movie at the Taormina FilmFest, one of the most important Italian cinema festivals.

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The 3rd-Century A.D. Greek Theatre, the symbol of the city
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The coast from a Greek theater arch

After a while Corso Umberto widens into Piazza IX Aprile, the terrace of which boasts a braethtaking panorama. On the square, the little Gothic church of Sant’Agostino, built in 1448 (it’s now used to host exhibitions), the XVII century San Giuseppe church and the clock-tower.

The Porta di Mezzo, superimposed by the 17th-Century Clocktower, leads to Taormina’s Medieval Quarter, made up of characteristic edifices with Romanesque and Gothic architectonic elements and ornamentation.

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Piazza IX Aprile
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San Giuseppe church doorway
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San Giuseppe church
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Nice café in IX Aprile square
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The view from the terrace

Oposite the Town Hall in Taormina the street widens out into Cathedral Square (“Piazza del Duomo”) with the “quattro fontane” fountain and the Cathedral of San Nicola. The cathedral was founded in the 13th century and combines medieval and Baroque features. The unplastered exterior with its crenellations is original, whereas the Baroque main door was added in 1636 and matches the 1635 Baroque Fountain in the middle of the square.

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The Quattro Fontane fountain, in Duomo square
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The Duomo entrance – courtesy G._DallOrto

 

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San Nicola Gothic arches
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A tomb in the Duomo pavement – courtesy G._DallOrto

From the clock tower to Porta Catania lies the oldest part of Taormina. Take some time to wander the picturesque lanes and side streets, passing through the courtyards and tiny piazzas and discover narrow path ways, beautiful sights, art galleries… and hidden delightful restaurants.

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Tiny lane with art galleries
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Gothic palace

If you are in Taormina around the 9th fo July, attending the traditional San Pancrazio Procession is a must.

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The citizen band, preceding St Pancrazio procession

 

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San Pancrazio procession – local authorities
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San Pancrazio effigy

 

Taormina is a top Italian destinations, and has really fantastic (and expensive) hotels, such as the Grand Hotel Timeo, which actually can visit and were you can have a fantastic cocktail in the beautiful park. Luckily enough, more “normal”, though still charming accommodations can be found. I spent two wonderful nights at the Taormina Garden Hotel, just a few steps away from Mazzarò beach.


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