The first time I visited Taormina was somewhat by accident. If you enter Sicily by ferry from Reggio di Calabria, the final city on the toe of the boot, and decide to go south on Sicily’s eastern shore—toward cities like Catania or Syracuse—Taormina is one of the first towns you’ll encounter. Strapped for time, I wasn’t sure where I wanted to go in Sicily. But when I saw the striking Isola Bella, a tiny island straight out of Treasure Island, as I passed on the train, the striking natural beauty of Taormina drew me in.
The town is located at the top of tall cliffs that rise almost straight from the sea; the train I was on barely had room for it’s tracks before the steep, beautiful cliffs climbed upward. The town stretches upon a plateau in the cliffs, and the town of Castelmola can be seen high up on the cliffs behind Taormina. All of this results in a town of small proportions surrounded by a plethora of twisty, winding hiking trails with stunning coastal views. Mt. Etna smokes on the not-too-distant horizon.
The truth is, as I quickly found out, that Taormina shares its incredible beauty with a large number of people. Its beauty has drawn a large number of high-profile artists too, such as John Steinbeck, Truman Capote, Oscar Wilde, and Richard Wagner. One of the main draws to the town is the ancient Greek Theater, dramatically located on a jutting rock peninsula with sides that plummet straight to the sea. The acoustics are impeccable, and whispers can be heard throughout the theater, emanating from every corner.
Luxury resorts meet family-run B&B’s in Taormina. I stayed at a B&B that provided a modest breakfast on a wonderful terrace with an elaborate view up the coast. One room for two people for one night cost 55€. Because Taormina is overrun in the summer months of July and August, few practical stores can be found, particularly large grocery stores. Gelaterias and stores selling expensive souvenirs can be found on every corner.
I discovered that, while it only takes a few hours to explore the town of Taormina, the hiking trails are practically inexhaustible. One trail takes you down to the beach on which Isola Bella is located. The island is actually connected to the beach by a thin strip of sand and makes for an ideal view while sun tanning. Trails run both directions on the coast too.
A more laborious hike leaves from the top of Taormina, where a set of stone stairs takes you up the side of the cliffs and into towns higher on the cliffs, such as the medieval town of Castelmola. The trail provides an aerial view of Taormina, including the Greek Theater, but, while the views are stunning, the trail always felt secure. Compared with some of the knee-quaking trails on the Amalfi Coast, the hikes in Taormina are quite sound.
In the end, the views that Taormina offers are what it’s all about, and I look forward to my next time there. But there’s no way I’ll be planning my trip for the months of July or August.
Written by Mattie Bamman for EuropeUpClose.com