What can I say about Sicily? It is understated, undersold and a real hidden gem. It’s the largest Mediterranean island and I discovered, at almost 10,000 square miles, it would take only 4 hours to get from one end to the other.
When I booked to go to Sicily earlier this year it was mainly because after travelling quite a lot of mainland Italy I wanted to see what island life was like. I rarely go on ‘beach’ holidays and never book a hotel with a pool so I imagined it would be a relaxing and recuperating holiday…. Sicily is definitely the place to go for that, however there was so much to see I spent very little time on the beach.
After arriving at Catania airport the heat hit me as if I’d landed in a desert, the surroundings were bare, dry and it was not this attractive, peaceful looking island I had imagined. Thank goodness that was just where the airport was. I stayed in Giardini Naxos, at the recommendation of a friend. The hotel was beautiful; it had everything you needed and extremely friendly staff; needless to say we were all on first name basis by the end of the week. The hotel was 10 minutes from the beach and had regular local buses taking guests into Taormina, the next village over.
I did not think much of Giardini Naxos in comparison to other places I’ve stayed in Italy, so it wouldn’t be my recommendation if you are looking for architecture and culture. The beachfront is quite bare with a stony shore and not much in the way of attractions but the mountainous views are very similar to that of the Amalfi Coast.
Taormina however, was just picturesque! It was everything you can possibly imagine old Italy to be like. The bus stop is at the bottom of a long hill and the main archway acts as an entrance into the old fashioned, quaint village. The streets are narrow and cobbled and there are stairways down every alley, leading you to small family run restaurants or fish monger stalls. There’s an Ancient Greek amphitheatre (I’ll tell you more about that later), the views are out of this world and you’re spoilt for choice when it comes to dining options.
I found the restaurants very seafood orientated. Being an island I imagine that is not a surprise to you, but as a vegetarian I found myself surrounded by prawns and mussels. As far as wine is concerned, Sicily is not known for its vineyards, unlike Tuscany, so the selection is not as vast, but I’ll always find a glass of red to my liking. The main vineyard for wine tasting is at the bottom of Mount Etna. Would you believe they grow grapes in volcanic soil?
In Taormina the shops are diverse and offer everything from lemon soap to designer clothes and there are street artists on every corner; a lovely man near the amphitheatre helped me expand my collection with two oil paintings of the local church and the garden.
The Communal Garden
The communal garden of Taormina was central to the village and offered beautiful views of the coast. It is free to enter and is quite a charming escape from the busy streets of Taormina. There are a number of statues and buildings, purposely built for the gardens and a wild array of flowers and trees. The garden was founded by Lady Florence Trevelyan, a Scottish lady who was adopted by Queen Victoria. She fled England after having an affair with Victoria’s son. I read that she was given a wealthy allowance to set her on her European travels and married a very rich nobleman. He also bought her Isola Bella, that really was a Beautiful Island!
Isola Bella – Beautiful Island
As soon as you exit the bus station there is a cable car office on the right (I walked 2 hours around Taormina looking for this and didn’t realise it was right where the bus drops off). The cable car is the best way to ride down to Isola Bella, once at the bottom of the ride there are still 135 steps which take you down to the island! The island is connected to the mainland only by a narrow sandy path, so you can only actually reach the reach it when the tide is out. Isola Bella is now a nature reserve with a €10 entry but well worth going for a visit, even if it’s just to enjoy the sights.
So now for the Greek amphitheatre…
I do not have enough words to describe how breathtaking this was. When I was there they were constructing a stage and setting up for an upcoming event, it was good to see it was still a very popular venue for Sicilian events and shows. I’ve never known too much about the Romans and Greeks, however the history of this amphitheatre was indeed very interesting. I was told that the amphitheatre was built in the 3rd century by the Greeks and was later taken over and expanded by the Romans. It is said that the Greeks built it for fun and the Romans built it for drama. Once it was a place for musicians and plays but the theatre turned into a centre for gladiators and games under the ownership of the Romans. Some say it’s Greek, others say it’s Greek-Roman. I’ll just tell you it was majestic!
Looking down from the amphitheatre you can even see Mount Etna in the distance. Unfortunately I didn’t get time to visit the volcano this time but that’s a good reason for a second trip!
All in all, Sicily is on my revisit list. There’s still Messina, Catania, Palermo and Syracuse, to name a few, to explore! And as you can see, it is a photographer’s paradise!
Thanks for reading!