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.

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Noto, baroque perfection in Sicily

A delightful small town that hosts some of the best baroque monuments of Sicily

 

A UNESCO Heritage site, Noto is a destination not to be missed in your Sicily tour.

The original town (“Noto Antica”) was completely destroyed by the terrible 1693 earthquake. It was then rebuilt from scratch, in the sublime elegance, originality and fantasy of the Sicilian Baroque style.

Noto is very easy to visit. Simply wander the length of the Corso Vittorio Emanuele, along which many of Noto’s most representative buildings stand. And if you feel lazy in a hot Sicilian summer day, have a tourist ride in a delightful APE (typical Italian motorized tricycle).

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First stop: Porta Reale (“Royal Gate”), the main entrance to Noto historical town.

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Second stop: Noto’s cathedral,  which rises impressively above Corso Vittorio Emmanuele and is approached by a wide and graceful flight of steps. Its dome collapsed in 1996 due to another earthquake, but has now been perfectly restored.

The monument is made of the same limestone which makes all monuments in Noto, and that over time gradually becomes golden-colored, especially at sunset.

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Opposite the cathedral is Palazzo Ducezio, the town hall. To the left of the cathedral you can admire the Landolina di Sant’Alfano palace.

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Just in front of the cathedral, in Piazza Municipio, don’t miss a delicious ice cream  (“Gelato”) at Caffé Amarcord.

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After visiting the cathedral, keep on diving down side streets here and there, while heading to Via Nicolaci, at the top of which is the beautiful elliptical façade of the Chiesa di Montevirgine.

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Along one side of Via Nicolaci stands the Palazzo Villadorata, whose many playfully buttressed balconies – horses, griffons, nymphs, cherubs, fierce bald men – jut from a severely Classical façade.

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In via Nicolaci you will also find the delicious Cantina di Noto.

It’s a wine bar (they sell the wines of their own wine yards) and a fabulous place to for a lunch snack or a dinner.

Noto Restaurant

Near the end of the Corso is Piazza XVI Maggio with its magnificent Church of San Domenico and a magnificent Fountain of Hercules.

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Visit Italy_Noto_Corso Vittorio Emanuele  Visit Italy_Noto_Chiesa

At the end of May, Noto celebrates the marvels of Spring and the coming summer with a colourful “Festa” known as the “Infiorata”. The street of Corrado Nicolaci becomes home to flower artists who create the most beautiful mosaics using petals.

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Siracusa: Sicily at its best

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Discover Siracusa, a top destination in Sicily, with over 24 centuries of history, art and culture

 

Siracusa is an ancient town on the sea, which was of immense importance as Greek Syracuse. It has a superb archaeological zone and a lovely historic center on the island of Ortigia. It’s one of the 41 UNESCO heritage Italian sites and can be an excellent hub to visit south eastern Sicily: the Baroque towns of Ragusa and Noto, the protected beaches of Vendicari, the gorges of Cavagrande, the lively city of Catania and the Etna volcano.

The city’s finest sight is the superb Archaeological Park of Neapolis, (25 minutes walk from the center of the town).

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Siracusa’s Greek theatre (Teatro Greco) is one of the finest and largest of its kind. Cut directly into the rock, it was enlarged and modified several times over the centuries, and is still in use today – Greek plays are performed here in May and June each year.

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The deep quarry to the east of the theater is called the Latomia del Paradiso (Paradise Quarry), and it’s a peaceful and green spot, filled with vegetation and lemon trees. The most famous sight here is the huge cave called the Ear of Dionysius (Orecchio di Dionisio).

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Apparently it was Caravaggio who coined the name; the connection with Dionysius is the story that this ruler of ancient Syracuse used to eavesdrop on his prisoners incarcerated here, thanks to the cave’s acoustics. A second cave nearby, the Grotta dei Cordari was used by the ropemakers who gave the place its name.

Outside the main park, but included in the ticket, is the Roman Amphitheater (Anfiteatro Romano).

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Once you’ve seen Siracusa’s fine mainland archaeological sights, the most pleasant place to spend the rest of your stay is the island of Ortigia, Siracusa’s heart for thousands of years.

Much of the island’s charm lies in wandering down narrow medieval lanes, past romantically-crumbling – or lovingly-restored – Baroque palaces and churches.

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To head straight to Ortigia’s most attractive piazza, turn right and head for Via Cavour (which continues as Via Landolina), a narrow thoroughfare lined with restaurants and souvenir shops. At its end lies Piazza Duomo, an elliptical open space lined with harmonious and impressive buildings.

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Siracusa’s Duomo is one of the town’s most celebrated sights. Once it was the Greek Temple of Athena, with a giant gold statue of the goddess on its roof. The massive Doric columns of the temple are still visible. The wall above the columns along Via Minerva, with battlements, is Norman in origin, while the fancy Baroque facade was a replacement after the 1693 earthquake.

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Inside, the Duomo, is even more fascinating, since you discover the original structure of the ancient Greek temple (this make Siracusa’s duomo a monument absolutely unique).

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Continuing your tour, head towards the thirteenth-century Castello Maniace, the fortress at the island’s tip. The route from here back to the Duomo, along the seafront to the Fonte Aretusa, is adorned with several bars and restaurants and is a nice place for a summer evening promenade and, close to the castle, for a swim and a sun bath.

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The Fonte Aretusa (on the western shore) is a fresh-water spring whose history goes back to the earliest Greek colonists. Surrounded by high stone walls, planted with papyrus and inhabited by white ducks, the spring is an important spot on the Ortigia promenade.

Fonte Aretusa

In summertime, the island of Ortigia is a very lively place, with both locals and tourists strolling around to benefit from the freshness of the evening and to the many shows that take place in the squares.

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If you have a car and are looking for a place to combine seaside relaxing and cultural visit, you may consider staying at the Villa Fisher Bed & Breakfast, build right on a cliff, 15′ driving from Ortigia (Tip: use a navigator to reach it, especially if you arrive after sunset!).

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Siracusa_sea from villa Fisher

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