Taormina: Sicily's Hidden Paradise
All of Italy's Charm in One Destination
The sights, the sounds, the passion, the romance, the vino, and (most important of all) the food! Hidden far away from the nearest tourist trap that swarms with pushy non-local salesmen shoving selfie sticks into your face is a place that holds all of the charm of Italy in one destination. Ruins? Yes, they have one of the best preserved Greek amphitheaters you can find outside of Greece. Dazzling turquoise sea? Sicily is an island that offers some of the most awe-inspiring beaches without the overbearing crowds of Capri/Amalfi. Mountainside views? Mount Etna is the largest active volcano in Europe, which also means rich volcanic soils that offer enchanting gardens to get lost in. Did I mention vino? Quaint city streets? Wandering through the Corso Umberto felt like we were lost in a dream of what Italy should be like. Here are my top 10 reasons why Taormina should be right up there with Rome, Florence, Milan, the Amalfi Coast, and Venice when planning a trip to Italy. Shhhh, don't tell anyone about this hidden oasis; hopefully we can keep this gem all to ourselves so it will not become oversaturated like the other top destinations in Italy.
10. Ancient Ruins
Teatro Greco is a well-preserved amphitheater believed to have been built by the greeks in the 3rd century BC. The best part about this place is that they still hold concerts and events there, so you can immerse yourself in history and rock like the Greeks and Romans of olden days. If you go when they are not hosting an event, it is still a treasure trove of photo opportunities, so explore the ruins and capture as much history as your memory card can hold.
Savoca: If you want to feel like you stepped into a time machine and went back to Sicily a couple hundred years ago, then take the short half hour ride over to Savoca for a day trip or longer. This is one of the filming locations for the movie, The Godfather. You can see why they picked this gorgeous place to make a classic masterpiece. It keeps the countryside charm, and helps you escape the hustle and bustle of city life.
9. Magical Coastline and Beaches
Nestled in the hillside, Taormina offers stunning views of the Mediterranean coastline. If you want to dive in, it is only a short gondola ride downhill to the pebble sand beaches with clear turquoise waters.
8. Mount Etna
Europe's highest and most active volcano adds a little excitement to your trip. It offers adventure hiking, the thrill of an active volcano, and even skiing in the winter months. All of these activities are a short drive of just over an hour. On top of all these wonderful activities, Mount Etna also offers breathtaking views you can see from Taormina on a clear and sunny day. This provides a great backdrop for your "Wow" photos and will make all of your friends on social media extra envious.
With the rich abundance of volcanic soil, Sicily has the benefit of being able to grow just about anything. This makes everything fresh, and you can taste the difference. Luckily, they also offer several mom and pop style trattorias and osterias cooking up some local dishes, just like Mama has been making it for years. This is refreshing when compared to the plethora of tourist traps found in other major Italian destinations.
Speaking of volcanic soil being able to produce just about anything, let's not forget the vino! Sicilian wine has been made for millennia, so they have done an excellent job of honing their craft. Most of the Sicilian grapes are used as a base for wine made all throughout Italy. Yet, more recently, they have been widely acknowledged and have rightfully received international awards for making some of the best wine in Italy. For wine lovers like myself, who can appreciate all sorts of wine, you will be amazed at what is being offered at the small hole-in-the-wall restaurants as house wine. Good quality and affordable wine on tap, keep it flowing! A Saluti!
5. Public Gardens
Giardini della Villa Comunale: The public gardens offer a maze of beauty to explore, with all sorts of colorful blooms and coastal views. And all of this is for free! There is no cost for admission; you can just walk right into the garden during their open hours and stroll along with gelato or granita in hand to enjoy while you wander around.
In Sicily the desserts are legendary! You can tell that they take pride in one of their most popular treasures. As the owner of Laboratorio Pasticerria Roberto's put it, "Once you've had my Cannoli, you'll never forget me." They have fresh baked goods in abundance, but you would be remiss to miss out on their cannoli. Save room for gelato, because who doesn't need more gelato in their life? Also, make sure to try out granita, which is a frozen fresh fruit juice concoction that is offered with fresh made whipped cream on top (optional). This had me going back to places like Bam Bar multiple times a day as it is completely acceptable to eat this delectable treat for breakfast, lunch, dinner, mid-afternoon snack, late night snack, and any other reason you can come up with for eating more. I would have taken a picture if I hadn't tasted it first, but once I tasted it, the cup of granita did not last long—not even the fastest shutter speed could capture it before it was gone.
3. Movie Set Streets
This was one of our favorite parts of Taormina collectively. We all felt safe strolling through the streets of the town at any time of day or night, and around every corner was a different picturesque street to explore. It felt like the perfect movie set, depicting everything that is quintessential Italy. Yet, instead of fake plywood artist recreations that use excellent painting techniques and camera trickery to make a thin wall come to life, the buildings and streets were the real deal. You had timeless buildings and cobblestone streets that captured all of the charm and imagination one town can hold. Every turn we would all sigh in awe of the beauty and quickly snap as many pictures as we could. Just when you thought the via with the balconies couldn't get any more beautiful, it would open up to a piazza that hung on the cliffside incorporating gorgeous views of the sea. It had us spinning in circles just trying to take all of the splendor in.
While wandering the streets to take in all of the scenery, why not hit up a few local shops along the way? Corso Umberto is the main strip that offers a walkable street that looks like a postcard setting on every block, and also holds several boutique shops. It may not be the high end mecca like Milan or Venice, but they do offer several boutique clothing stores, and local artwork. Support the locals and the wonderful crafts they make by hand. These aren't the generic souvenirs made in China that you would find in the other major destinations in Italy. Here they have hand-embroidered items, clay pottery, hand-painted trinkets, and many options for Godfather/Mafia related souvenirs.
1. Authentic Experiences Minus the Crowd
On the topic of locals, we found the people of Taormina to be very warm and welcoming. They were the type that would go out of their way to make you feel at home; they felt like long lost relatives you were visiting. This was a stark contrast to the locals of the other major destinations in Italy that felt more like they were burned out on the tourism industry. Most of the folks we met were charming, friendly, and happy to share their culture with you. They wanted you to truly experience Sicily and all it has to offer, not just run through the cookie cutter tour experiences that were offered elsewhere. This made for a truly unique and authentic experience while we were there. This is probably the reason why it captured our hearts so easily and made us never want to leave. One tip that was offered is that the best time to enjoy most of what they have to offer is in early May or late September. These times allow you to avoid the summer rush and feel like you have this jewel all to yourself.
If you have any questions or need recommendations for Taormina, feel free to let me know.