Before leaving for Sicily and the beachside town of Taormina, I had visions of spending my days laying by the water, soaking up the sun and slowly transitioning to holiday mode. In theory that sounds fantastic (note to self: book a beach mini-break) but there is so much to see and do in Sicily and I didn’t want to waste any time! The closest I got was walking down to the very pretty Isola Bella beach, just a couple of hundred metres from my hotel.
For five nights I stayed at Hotel Villa Bianca which is located at the bottom of the mountain. The hotel is right near the cable car that travels 200m above sea level to the main part of Taormina (the cable car takes about 5-10mins and is €3 each way). I must remember to thank my travel agent for not only suggesting I visit Sicily but for booking a good hotel with such friendly and helpful staff (Salvatore kindly booked all my tours and early morning airport transfer).
I was lucky with the weather because as it had rained a few days before I arrived (bad weather can obstruct views of Mount Etna) I only ever saw glorious sunshine and the nights were just cool enough at night for a cardigan. I’m also glad I went pre-season – aside from being expensive and scorchingly hot, July and August must be a total nightmare for those who don’t like big crowds. No thank you, I’ll stick to the shoulder months from now on.
The entry to Taormina is an old brick archway known as Port Messina, a popular meeting point. This leads to Corso Umberto – the main road that is lined with clothing and jewellery shops, restaurants and a church. There are also loads of other shops and restaurants along the alley ways off the main street. It was a busy time of year for the church as at different times I saw a ceremony with primary school children, a funeral procession and a happy bride and groom.
It wouldn’t be a trip to Italy without having one of my favourite sweets, cannoli. I kept it simple and had one with ricotta, topped with sprinkles of crushed pistachio and chunks of dark chocolate. It’s not as dense as I expected, the silky ricotta inside the crisp pastry shell made this a perfect afternoon treat.
When I travel I have a rule not to visit the same place twice. Why? Because I want to enjoy the experience and do / see / eat as many different things as I can. It’s not often that I break this rule but I simply had to for the BamBar. They have amazing granite here – the main ingredients are sugar and water, gelato is made with milk and cream. On my first visit I had take-away with scoops of chocolate and almond served in a plastic cup and the second time I ate in and went for raspberry and chocolate – both with the optional whipped cream on top, of course. Holy heck, that stuff is good.
One of the things I love about Italy is that breakfast and dinner are quite small as it’s lunch that is the important meal of the day (generally followed by an afternoon siesta). My favourite lunch starter was this simple and fresh caprese salad (thickly sliced tomato, fresh buffala mozzarella and a few basil leaves) from Ristorante La Botte.
One morning I took a bus to visit the hilltop community of Castlemola which is 400m above sea level. I’ll forever be amazed at how an enormous coach can be safely navigated along the narrow, windy streets of these mountains. There’s an interesting place here called Bar Turrisi. In keeping with a PG blog status I won’t show you the photos (Ma would be horrified). Let’s just say that the male appendage features quite prominently throughout the bar.
During my visit I was told that I had to try traditional Sicilian dish, Pasta a la Norma. This is a simple and substantial veg dish of pasta with tomato, eggplant and basil topped with grated ricotta.
Earlier in the week I had seen a guy order gelato and brioche and thought it was both bizarre and something I had to try. So on my last night in Taormina I ordered one – a scoop of pistachio and a scoop of hazelnut were put in the middle of a heated brioche. It was like a weird ice cream burger! It certainly didn’t disappoint in the interesting department but maybe not something I’d have again.
Coming up more on Sicily including the day tours I went on: