This geographically blessed resort town is nestled on the northwestern coast of Sicily with Catania and Mount Etna to the south, and the port town of Messina to the north. With the adjacent coastal resort of Giardini Naxos, this part of Sicily accounts for around half of the island’s tourism trade, and is very much Sicily’s ‘Riviera.’
Taormina itself sits above the coast with a far reaching panorama across to Mount Etna and its plains and on out to sea. The town has been shaped by an eclectic mix of Greek, Spanish and Byzantine influences. This is perhaps most apparent at the Greek Theatre which provides a natural amphitheatre of Taormina’s setting, as well as reflecting the town’s cosmopolitan history. Climbing up the dramatic hillside the town is strung along the principle pedestrianised street of Corso Umberto which runs between the historic Catania and Messina Gates. The Piazza IX Aprile is the pulsating centre of the town, set on a clifftop, it provides a window onto the world. Here, tourists, couples and families congregate to take in the coastal panorama. The white parasols of the Café Wunderbar, with its classic outdoor piano is the place to be seen, and comes alive in the evening with its warm lighting and jacketed pianist in full flow.
Off the principle street are a fascinating melee of smaller alleys and hidden corners which make a detour off the main thoroughfare all the more worthwhile. This is to be recommended, especially when a cruise ship is docked in the bay below, as the town becomes a tourism mecca with little space to move in high season. Only by the evening do the crowds lessen and is one able to fully appreciate the idyllic charm that attracted such luminaries as DH Lawrence over the years. Wrought iron balconies, classic Italianate churches and pastel shades all add to the charm. The shops are an eclectic mix of designer brands, eateries and ceramic shops. For those looking for some time at the beach, there is also the added benefit of a cable car from Taormina down to the beaches of Mazaro. Like any tourism centre, the charm that attracted the original pioneers has faded with the onset of mass tourism. Despite this however, the town has still managed to retain its charm and its dramatic geography makes Taormina a unique short break destination.
This corner of Sicily lies in the constant shadow of the immense presence of Mount Etna which can be seen on a clear day for miles around. The volcano has been enshrined within the Sicilian psyche for generations and is certainty worth a visit. As one travels up the volcano one instantly notices the abundance of rich vegetation, fields bursting with vegetables and fruits. Whilst those living in its shadow live with a constant threat of eruption, the dividends of rich fertile soil far outweigh this risk. Its slopes provide a rewarding hunting ground for those after the prized Porcini mushroom, which grows hidden around the base of trees. This mushroom attracts an intrepid bunch of pickers who come ready with sticks and baskets, scaling the green forested slopes.
It is not just the natural landscape that has moulded to the volcanic setting. Many of the buildings have been built of the distinctive black lava material giving the communities on its slopes a unique and distinct aesthetic tied to their volcanic setting. The nearer to the summit one ventures, the landscape takes on a distinctly lunar edge. The climate is more alpine than Mediterranean and indeed, in ski season the area becomes a mini Switzerland. Different lava flows over the years have resulted in layers of contrasting rock formations, testament to the lava that crept and writhed down the hillsides. Far from being uniformly grey or black however, there is a surprising range of colours denoting its rich minerals, from yellows to metallic blues that glimmer in the Sicilian sun. For those less adventurous, there is a cable car that can whisk you to the summit, however a walk amongst the undulating slopes of the Mount Etna foothills provide a fascinating insight into the layers of volcanic history that have shaped this landscape over the years.
Taormina and Mount Etna are easily accessible via Catania Airport and provide a perfect short break destination with its unique mix of coastal vistas reminiscent of the Amalfi Coast, walkable historic Taormina and the immense natural presence of Mount Etna. A visit to Mount Etna, as well as providing a truly awe-inspiring opportunity to get up close and personal with Mother Nature in all its powerful glory, also provides an insight into the resilience of the Sicilian character. This corner of Sicily therefore provides the perfect teaser of this complicated, varied and immensely beautiful island.
Taormina: living in Etna's shadow
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“This corner of Sicily...provides the perfect teaser of this complicated, varied and immensely beautiful island. ”