Three days in Taormina — A perfect ending to 11 days in Sicily
Taormina is one of the most picturesque places in Sicily with its setting on a mountainside high above the Ionian Sea that provided profound literary inspiration for writers like D.H. Lawrence and Oscar Wilde. There is also plenty of history (including the conquests by Romans, Greeks, and Normans over the centuries), and dramatic and enchanting Mt. Etna and its thriving vineyards are nearby. Recently, Taormina has become even more popular for being the main setting of the second season of HBO’s series White Lotus. Mr. TWS and I think that three days in Taormina and the Mt. Etna area made for a perfect ending to our 11-day Sicily trip.
How we got to Taormina
We arrived by train from Siracusa where we had spent three days — a journey of about two hours. From the Giardino Naxos-Taormina railway station, we took a taxi (readily available in front of the station) on a scenic drive up the winding hill to our hotel in the city center.
Highlights of Taormina
Simply irresistible strolling
Taormina is a place where there is a very simple must-do activity. Take slow walks along Corso Umberto and down its side streets and into its courtyards. Corso Umberto is the main pedestrian street through the city between its two gates Porta Messina and Porta Catania. Taormina is built on quite a steep slope, so some walks might be challenging.
If you like shopping for local crafts and souvenirs, you’ll have plenty of shops to browse throughout the city like the ones in the photo below.. You’ll also find high-end designer boutiques along Corso Umberto.
Piazza IX Aprile
While you’re enjoying your stroll on Corso Umberto, you’ll be drawn to the sights and sounds of Piazza IX Aprile. While at the square, be sure to people watch, browse the shops, observe the street artists, and take in the views of the sea and Mt. Etna. The impressive 17th-Cenury clocktower and Chiesa di San Giuseppe are prominent features in this busy gathering place.
The views from the piazza are a big draw. In the photo below, the railway station is shown directly below at the seaside and the Four Seasons San Domenico Palace (of White Lotus fame) is on the hilltop to the right.
Teatro Antico, the ancient Greek theater built in the 3rd century BCE, is not only interesting for archaeology buffs, but it also offers spectacular views. Walk up the steps and around the top of the seats to appreciate the striking beauty of Mt. Etna (to the right out of view in the photo below) and the Ionian Sea. During our visit, preparations were being made for one of the concerts or other events held here in the summer.
Reached by cable car, shuttle bus, taxi, or walking is the pathway and long stairway to Isola Bella. As its name implies, this is a “beautiful island” and you’ll find it crowded (even in late May before the peak summer season) with beach lovers looking for water activities, sunbathing on daybeds at the clubs, or having lunch at one of the outdoor restaurants. The cable car was not running during our stay, so we took the shuttle down to the beach area and walked to the island. On the way back to the hotel later, we took a taxi from the top of the stairs back up the hill to the city center.
Day trip to Mt. Etna wine country
Savor the flavors of Sicily at wineries on the side of Mt. Etna where many excellent Sicilian white wines are produced. Our guide picked us up at our hotel and drove our small group (6 passengers) in a comfortable small van out of Taormina heading to Mt. Etna wine country. Our tour included a wine and cheese tasting and Gambino Winery, a popular and fairly large enterprise.
Following the visit to Gambino, we traveled to Ristorante Parco Statella in Randazzo for lunch with Sicilian wines and local food.
Largo Santa Caterina
This charming small square on Corso Umberto just a short walk from our hotel has cafes, pizza restaurants, souvenir shops, and the Chiesa di Santa Caterina (Church of Saint Catherine of Alexandria).
Further up the mountain from Taormina is Castelmola, a charming village with several narrow lanes to explore and soak up the ambiance. Take in spectacular views from the main piazza before walking around the village and stopping for lunch or a snack at one of the restaurants. We took a taxi the 5km up (and back down) the twisting road, but there is also public transportation and some people opt to walk one or both ways.
Where we stayed
NH Collection Taormina — Via Circonvallazione, 11 — No, we didn’t stay at the Four Seasons (as much as we love this luxury chain), but we thought that NH Collection was a very good choice. It has a great location just above just a short walk to Corso Umberto and we loved the views from our room. The staff was also very professional, helpful, and friendly.
Where we ate
Similar to our experiences throughout Sicily, Mr. TWS indulged in fresh seafood at every chance (in Taormina, particularly swordfish and prawns) and I couldn’t resist Pasta all Norma, a quintessential Sicilian dish made of eggplant, garlic, basil, and salted ricotta. We both enjoyed the freshness of the fruits and vegetables and delectable desserts like tiramisu.
- Casa Niclodi, Salita Alexander Humboldt, 2A — lovely courtyard dining at this restaurant recommended by our hotel concierge. Mr. TWS claims that this is where he had his favorite pasta dish — ever!
- Ristorante Malvasia, Viale Apollo Arcageta, 8 — small and bustling family-run restaurant along one of Taormina’s characteristic narrow streets just off of Corso Umberto.
- Osteria Villa Zuccaro, Corso Umberto I, 38 — perfect spot in town for lunch on the terrace. Freshness is key here and we thoroughly enjoyed our salads and the nice service.
- Cafe Solaris di Cullura’ Paolo, Via Timeo N 31 — pizza! We wanted to keep it simple for dinner after our day in Mt. Etna wine country and a pizza to enjoy back at the hotel while enjoying the view hit the spot.
- Licchio’s, Largo S. Caterina — Just right for our coffee and pastries each morning. It’s nothing fancy and caters to tourist clientele, but it was very convenient with a nice location across from Chiesa di Santa Caterina.
And before we knew it, we were headed to the airport in Catania (about an hour away) with our prearranged private driver for an early morning flight home.