After our quick visit to Savoca, our next stop was Taormina. This medieval city of incalculable historic value, is a must go for the people that visits Sicily every year. And it is not surprise, since the wealth inherited for being the capital of Sicily is observed in every corner. The lights, the clean streets, the flowers… Clearly, the city council cares about Taormina looks perfect before the attentive gaze of thousands of tourists that visit it.
After all the golden years in Greek, Roman and Byzantine times, with the Arab conquest the city was reduced to ruins and condemned to oblivion. It did not reappear until the XIX century, when Von Goethe began to describe the beauty of the Greek theater and its surroundings. The painter Otto Gèleng made diverse works where represented a theater of Greek time with a snowy volcano in eruption in the background. These, captivated the European aristocracy, who eager by curiosity began to visit the city, being the pioneers of what we know today as “modern tourism.”
This European high class conditioned a luxury tourism that began in the second half of the 19th century to the present. You can see this by finding the big 5-stars hotels like the Villa Sant’ Andrea, the San Domenico Palace, or the most historic and famous of all: the Grand Hotel Timeo.
In my case, the huge amount of tourists made my perception of the city worse. I think that’s why I would not visit Taormina again or at least not in summer; without the high price of accommodation. Our Airbnb, for example, was the most expensive of the trip hovering almost 80 euros for one night.
We arrived in Taormina at noon with a scorching heat. Taormina, besides although being in the shore, it’s 200meters above sea level, over Mount Taurus. Prepare to go upstairs and slopes, since the hills are very steep.
Down Town is for pedestrians, so we parked in the giant parking lot of Porta Catania, for 16€ a day. Before we started, we had to take a good rest and enjoy a swim after a day of rafting on the Stromboli volcano.
WHAT TO DO IN TAORMINA
WALKing ITS MAIN ARTERY CORSO UMBERTO
Once revived, we went out to explore. Taormina is beautiful and every detail is taken care of. The streets are perfectly decorated. It has nothing to do with the chaos of Palermo. Colorful ceramics adorn the main streets.
The main street, Corso Umberto, runs in no more than 15 minutes. This street is crossed by Porta Catania and Porta Messina; doors that belonged to the old wall of the city.
However, although the distance between one door and another is not significant decorative details and the noise of the city will make you want to visit the center slowly.
DUOMO DI TAORMINA
If you walk from Porta Catania to Porta Messina the first thing you will find is the Duomo di Taormina. The cathedral dedicated to San Nicolò di Bari is vast and with an aspect more of a fort than of church. The main attraction is the baroque fountain in his square.
The most characteristic of the source are the four small independent fountains that surround the main bathtub crowned by a centaur. These four fountains are filled with water by the mouths of four seahorses. That is why this source has the name Quattro Fontane.
PIAZZA IX APRILE
The next thing you will find if you continue along Corso Umberto will be Piazza IX Aprile, which has a spectacular view of the sea in front of the Chiesa di San Giuseppe. As it is said, in this square where the most expensive cafes in all of Sicily are served.
VISIT ISOLA BELLA
When arriving at Porta Messina we have two options to visit the most visited tourist attraction of Taormina, Isola Bella; A small island that communicates with the coast when the tide is low. This island hides a luxurious residence with swimming pool that throughout the history have enjoyed several notable people.
As I mentioned earlier, although Taormina is on the coast it rises 200 meters above sea level. To get to Isola Bella you can walk up a steep slope in which it will take about an hour. Another option is to take a funicular with a one-way ticket for a price of € 3. We opted for the funicular and in a moment we were in the blue waters of the bay of Mazzaró.
The historic residence that is located within beautiful Isola built on the small island is now a museum house that can be accessed by paying the visit. We did not enter, since it was about to close and we had gone in the late afternoon.
Honestly, Isola Bella was disappointing by the context. Literally you could not even walk because of the amount of people there were. To be that late it was amazing how many sunshades and hammocks were still mounted. Asian masseurs were entertaining to offer you foot and back massages. All this added to the soaring music of the beach bars clouded the incredible natural environment in which Isola Bella sits.
Isola Bella became the fashionable summer resort in the early 20th century, especially for tourists from Northern Europe. They will approach to Sicily to meet the lustrous Isola Bella, famous for its artistic value. From my point of view the natural landscape of Isola Bella is forgotten because of this agglomeration.
THE BEST VIEWS OF TAORMINA
What I enjoyed most about Taormina was the views from the Sanctuary Madonna della Rocca. We completed this via crucis twice. One after returning from Isola Bella, and the other very early in the morning to see the sunrise. The road is easy as it is any ladder, but the slope makes it quite tiresome. In less than half an hour you can have the best views of Taormina.
The corner cannot be more romantic, and luckily there was almost no one. A miracle when it comes to Taormina. We liked it so much that we inevitably had to go back there to see the sunrise the next morning.
From there you can not only see the medieval city, but behind you have an incredible showcase of the Volcano Etna.
Taormina is also one of the places chosen to stay for those who want to take a trip to Etna. We discarded this volcano because we thought Stromboli would have more activity, but in the end turned out to be the opposite. In fact in March of 2017 there was a big explosion and several people who were at the top were injured.
THE BEST PIZZAS OF ITALY
After the first visit to the Sanctuary, we went straight to dinner. The truth is that the city won me a little at night. It was calmer and the lighting of the streets was lovely. Candles, lights, lanterns. Taormina is definitely more enjoyable if you are going as a couple.
To close the day, we went to have dinner at the Pizzeria Villa Zuccaro. This restaurant won the prize for the second best pizza in the world. The first, curiously, was won by Spanish, so we can say that in Villa Zuccaro they make the best pizzas in Italy. We had dinner on the terrace by candlelight. The pizzas were delicious, but all the food in Sicily was unbelievably good. The price was not bad, we thought.
Teatro ANTICO DI TAORMINA
The next day, after seeing the sunrise in the Sanctuary of Madonna Della Rocca we visited the Teatro Antico di Taormina. This famous Greek theater is located in the heart of the city. The theater was impressive but, once again, the fact that Taormina is such a tourist city played against it.
Before the doors opened we were already 10 people queuing. For more inri, they were disassembling a stage of some possible concert they did the night before. And, is that nowadays the theater is used to give concerts of classical and modern music, as well as to celebrate the film festival.
Either way, we loved sitting on the steps looking out onto the stage with the sea and Etna in the background. Can you imagine being able to see the volcano erupting in the background, in the middle of a performance?
The entrance fee is € 10 and the opening hours are between 9:00 and 19:00.
On leaving we could not avoid searching the kiosks and souvenir shops, Greek theater’s postcards. Unfortunately, there was none that we found that did not appear people or elements that indicated that the theater is normally used to accommodate different shows.
This is definitely the Greek theater with the best views I have ever seen. Taormina in general is beautiful, but perhaps it is better not to visit it during the summer months to avoid crowds.
In any case, we do not regret having spent a day here, as it is something that at least has to be seen once in a lifetime.
Here you have a map with all the places that I mentioned in the post.