Sicily once made part of the Magna Grecia (Greater Greece), here you can see the antiquity in the original, it shines through the other cultural layers. In Sicily, you can literally touch the world of the ancient Greeks and Romans, breathe in the fragrance of flowers that Persephone admired, eat the fish that the ancient Greek historian Strabo wrote about, bathe in the baths given by the nymphs to Hercules, listen to the sound of the sea that Odysseus heard once, drink a glass of wine in honor of Dionysus and dance to the panpipe of the god Pan.
Taormina is a small town with a rich history on the oriental coast of Sicily. It is incredible how such a small town may contain such a great number of places of interest.
Founded in the 4th. century B.C. on the site of the Sicels settlement it is filled with reminiscences of different peoples. Here you can go to a concert into the Greek-Roman theatre, see Byzantine graves, reach the Saracen castle on the top of the mount Montetauro, visit an exhibition in the medieval gothic palazzo and stroll through the city garden laid out by an English lady.
In Taormina you can admire the amazing seascapes, immortalized by famous artists, walk in favorite places of world-famous writers, take pictures in the same scenery as the top models of famous fashion brands.
And you can study Sicily, trying Caesar's favourite wine, tomatoes from Pachino, onions from Giarratana, salt from Trapani, fish from the Strait of Messina, marzipan from Palermo, desserts of Arab origin, pistachios from Bronte, and much more in the numerous bars, "trattorias" and restaurants of Taormina.
Beaches in Taormina
Temperature in the Ionian sea does not fall below 14 grades Centigrade, some people swim in winter. There is a proverb that residents of Taormina go bathing only after the holiday of the patron saint St. Pancras (July, 9th).
Good bathing weather may last till November, but there are years when showers start at the end of September. I think the best time for a beach holiday is the last week of August and the first week of September.
There are several beaches in Taormina - Mazzeo, Villagonia, Spisone, Mazzaro, Isola Bella. The most picturesque, number one in the top of the most photographed places is Nature Reserve Isola Bella. The beach Mazzaro with five-star hotels is adjacent, here you can rent a boat. Mazzaro and Isola Bella can be reached by the cable car (Funivia - in Italian). When in the low season the cable car is closed, there are small orange buses that can take you to the historical centre.
There is a convenient parking place near the cable-car ticket office, where you can park a car easily even during the peak season. Many people in August leave a car here and go up to town by "funivia".
The longest beach in Taormina is Spisone, it can be reached by the blue "Beach bus" which you can take at the bus stop "Fermata San Pancrazio" near the Porta Messina. The bus-schedule, funivia time table may be viewed on the A.S.M. website . At Spisone do not miss the opportunity to dine at lido Re del Sole with an amazing sea-view, fresh fish is cooked by Valentino. It is better to book a table because local people adore this place.
All beaches of Taormina are shingly, so it's advisable to buy special rubber slippers either in the shops in the center or at the beach (average price is 8-10 Euro).
Safety tips for a good holiday in Sicily
Of course you know all the travelling rules very well. Sicily is less dangerous than Rome, Paris or London, though there are places where you should be careful. Take the same measures as everywhere.
In Taormina be attentive with ATMs in crowdy places. Look out if there are signs of criminal activity - false fronts, loose or bulky card slot or loitering strangers trying to steal your PIN. Do not use non-bank cash machines.
In Catania and Palermo do not leave the car unattended and with luggage or anything attractive inside, even in the boot. When you travel by car, do not keep the bag on the seat as smash-and-grab criminals may break the glass at the traffic-lights.
Walking the streets keep your bag or camera on the side away from the traffic, there can be thieves on motorbikes. And you'd better not wear expensive clothes and jewellery going to big cities. But you can wear them in Taormina as the whole historical center is guarded by video-cams.
Sports in Taormina
Taormina and towns around offer many winter and summer sport activities. You can do your favourite sport admiring beautiful Sicilian landscapes. In Taormina there are several gym clubs, a town swimming-pool, Taormina tennis club near Villa Comunale, a football field. Here you can go trekking or horse riding, choose snorkelling or diving, fishing or canoeing, paragliding or playing golf. In winter you can go skiing to Etna, there are very good facilities on the volcano slopes.
Distances from Taormina
Though Sicily is an island, it is not that small as one may think. You cannot drive and see all the places of interest in a day. It is better to choose one part of Sicily for a vacation. There are two main airports in Sicily - in Palermo (Western part of Sicily) and in Catania (Eastern coast of Sicily). The nearest airport to Taormina is in Catania (http://www.aeroporto.catania.it/).
There are three big cities in Sicily - Palermo, Catania and Messina. Messina has a good train communication with the "nose of the Italian Boot" via sea ferries.
Google Maps inform that the distance from Palermo (Western part of Sicily) to Taormina (Eastern coast of Sicily) is about 170 km.
Distance from Messina to Taormina is about 45 km, Catania to Taormina is also about 45 km.
There are regular buses that go from Catania airport to Taormina, you may find the time-table at www.interbus.it.
Souvenirs from Taormina
When you travel you always want to buy something special, something you cannot find in other places, something to amaze your relatives and friends. Every town in Sicily has something traditional, connected with the historical period, way of life or holidays. What can you buy as a present in Taormina? On the central street of Taormina in the shops and confectioneries shop assistants will help you to choose the best presents and pack them for the convenient transportation.
Ninni in the shop La Torinese (Corso Umberto, 59) will help you to choose cheeses, salami, prosciutto, jams, wine and liqueurs.
Giuseppe at La Cantina del Sole (Corso Umberto, 230) has unusual honey made of flowers of eucalyptus, prickly pears, lemons or oranges, here you can buy cappers from Salina island and dried tomatoes.
The best candied peels made of oranges, lemons and citrons you can find in Pasticceria Etna (Corso Umberto, 112).
Fresh almond biscuits you may take at Pasticceria Minotauro (Via di Giovanni, 15). There is a shop Novè nearby, that sells famous pistachios from Bronte.
Do not forget to buy bottarga (tuna caviar) to cook pasta, salami made of Nebrodi black pig meat, torroncini, chocolate from Modica, honey with nuts, manna, limoncello, olive oil, candied almonds, oregano, sea salt from Trapani.
Top 10 places to see in Taormina
Do not miss these places not to feel sad when you return home and somebody asks if you have visited them. Of course there are more than ten places of interest in Taormina and this list may be useful for you to begin discovering rich history of Taormina.
Chronologically it is better to start with antiquity.
1. Teatro antico, Greek-Roman theatre is one of the biggest monuments of antiquity in Sicily, with the most spectacular view over the sea and Etna. Here in summer you can see different shows, films of Taormina Film Fest, concerts of famous music stars or operas and ballets. Goethe, Dalai-Lama and Trump visited the Greek Theatre of Taormina. Join the list of visitors!
2. Odeon is a small Roman theatre with a roof for musical events. It was found accidentally by a local resident when he decided to build a house. Part of the Odeon stands on the basement of a Greek temple and makes the basement in its turn for the baroque church of Saint Catherine of Alexandria.
3. Naumachia is the third biggest Roman monument in Taormina and the richest in explanations what it was. One thing is for sure, it has never been Naumachia.
4. Villa Comunale, the garden of Taormina, stands on the place of antique quarter. The local constructions called "Beehives" designed by the founder of the garden Lady Florence Trevelyan, are made of antique building materials found in this area.
The Byzantine Age
5.The tombs of the Via Pirandello date back to the Byzantine period of Taormina. Beautiful gold ear-rings found here are now exhibited in the archaeological museum of Syracuse. Some tombs are inside the hotel "Villa Carlotta", you may ask to see them at the reception.
6. Palazzo Corvaja is a medieval monument in the Gothic style, probably grown out of the Arab tower.
7. Another Gothic monument is Palazzo Santo Stefano. Pay attention at the beautifully decorated windows and try to find the door which once had a drawbridge.
Landscape and history
8. Piazza 9 Aprile is a town square, so-called "balcony of Taormina", children's playground and a favourite place for fashion shooting. Its history is connected with Garibaldi though he never visited the square.
9. Church Madonna Rocca is a medieval church in the rock bearing a name of the saint patron of Taormina. Holiday of Madonna Rocca is celebrated every third Sunday in September.
10. Beautiful island Isola Bella can be admired from Guardiola Vecchia, here you can go down to the sea by the stairs and return taking a cable car.
Parking in Taormina
While booking a room in a hotel, do not forget to ask about a parking place for your car. It is difficult to find a place during high season, but it is possible. There are several paid parking lots in different parts of town. One of the biggest parkings is Parking Porta Catania (for 650 cars), be ready to go up the spiral-shaped entrance. You pay for the service before leaving in the special vending-machine or at a cashier upstairs. There are toilets in the parking lot. The roof bar is open only in summer. The center of the city is literally two minutes walk.
After the tunnel nearby there is another paid parking. In summer, when there are concerts of celebrities in the antique theater and places in the Porta Catania parking lot finish quickly, many people park for free right after the tunnel.
On the other side of the city there is a Parking Lumbi, you can reach the town centre by a free bus or you can also go up the stairs. A little higher there is a relatively small Parking Porta Pasquale (for 75 cars), the entrance is not very convenient, but it is just a couple of minutes on foot to reach the central street Corso Umberto.
In July-August if all the mentioned parking lots are occupied, it is convenient to leave the car in the Mazzarò Parking lot by the sea and use the cable car to arrive to the town center.
Live music in Taormina
Summer is time for live music in Taormina. There are musicians with mandolins in the centre of town - Piazza IX Aprile and folklore groups that walk from bar to bar, creating a festive atmosphere.
You can enjoy live music in "Mocambo", "Wunderbar", restaurant "Il Ciclope". Youth groups perform in "Casamatta" and "Irish Pub". Jazz concerts are often organized in hotel "Excelsior".
Night clubs open in summer, you may have a drink and dance in "Morgana", "La Giara", "Meridien", hotel "Caparena" organizes parties in summer on the beach.