Until my fiance decided that he wanted to trace his Sicilian roots, I had never thought of Sicily as a place that I would visit. I let him take the reigns on this portion of the trip and he suggested that we stay in Taormina, a charming hilltop town perched on the side of a mountain on the east coast of Sicily. Although warned as a chi-chi touristy destination, I found Taormina to be one of Sicily’s best-kept secrets. A hidden gem with breathtaking views and cliffs that drop down to the sea. And maybe a bit overlooked with Mount Etna and Palermo as some of Sicily’s main attractions. We spent 4 lovely days here and I couldn’t get enough of the town’s dolce vita. This island was truly different than any other place I have ever visited in Italy – a rooted Italian culture with Mediterranean influence. Here is my share of helpful tips and top recommendations for Taormina, Sicily!
Take a taxi – don’t rent a car!
While the winding roads of Sicily may look idyllic to drive, I would not suggest renting a car. Taormina is approx. 1 hour north of Catania airport (CTA), and while taxi fares to Taormina are expensive (approx. $100 Euro one way), the hassle of a rental car is worse. First, all road and highway signs are in Italian. So unless you are fluent or have a very reliable GPS, it can be very difficult to navigate. Second, gas can be pricey and we learned the hard way that if you don’t get out of the car fast enough to gas up yourself, you’ll be charged nearly double for the “gas attendant” to put the nozzle into your car for you. Third, Taormina not built for cars with their narrow streets and tight corners and is very limited with overnight parking options. We got two parking tickets during our stay because we simply couldn’t find parking anywhere else and left it on the street overnight. Last, Taormina is extremely walkable around town and offers many tour/bus options for going out of town. So stick to taxi’s and local transportation – it’ll save you from lots of headaches and parking tickets.
Dominating the landscape of eastern Sicily, Mount Etna is easily the island’s natural epicenter. At 3,329m it is Italy’s highest mountain south of the Alps and the largest active volcano in Europe. From Taormina, visiting Mount Etna is the perfect day trip. There are many tour excursions and trekking adventures available, but Rob and I went on our own (and our trusty rink-a-dink rental car…). Drive time from Taormina is approx. 1 hour and 15 minutes, and there are a couple of different entrance points. We followed the south entrance which leads directly to Mt. Etna’s small village of shops, restaurants, tourist information, and transportation to the top. The “Funivia dell Etna” (cablecar of Etna) will travel up to 2,500m for approx. $30 Euro per person, and from there you can pay another $30-$35 Euro per person for special off-road busses to continue up the volcano (tour guide included).
I unknowingly saw dreamy photos of Isola Bella on Pinterest before realizing that this enchanting island is just a cable car ride down from Taormina. The Mazzaro cable car from Taormina is an expressway down to the base of the mountain ($7 Euro roundtrip). From the bottom, it is a quick 7-minute walk to Isola Bella with surrounding restaurants, shops and hotels along the way. This beach is unashamedly crowded but totally worth spending the day. The beach is formed with small rocks and pebbles instead of sand, so I would recommend renting a couple of beach chairs and an umbrella at the Mendolia Beach Club for $10 Euro per person. The beach club also has a restaurant with tasty lunch options and a lovely view of Isola Bella.
Teatro Antico di Taormina
One of the icons of Taormina is the Teatro Antico di Taormina, an ancient Greco-Roman outdoor amphitheater built in the 3rd century BC which is still in use today. Unfortunately we were not able to step inside the theater because of summer concerts and events, which was a heartbreaking tease because the theater was a 2-minute walk from our B&B. Still, I hear that it is a MUST SEE in Taormina and I am using it as a reason to go back one day.
Corso Umberto I
The Corso Umberto I is the vibrant main street and soul of Taormina. The ultimate delight is to wander this pedestrian-friendly street which is lined with boutiques, restaurants, gelato parlors, and souvenir shops. Start in Palazzo Corvaja which dates back to the 10th Century and make your way to Piazza IX Aprile and its stunning panoramic views. Standing tall in the square is the Chiesa San Guiseppe, a beautiful church that dates back to the early 18th Century. The entire square is surrounded with rich history including the Torre dell’Orologio, the 12th Century clock tower. Take a break and dine at the Piazza Badia, a charming trattoria which easily became our favorite restaurant in town. We dined there nearly 3 nights in a row. Owned by the coolest couple with authentic food and home-cooking vibes. Ask for Anastasia – she will spoil you to death and will treat you like family!
Next on the blog (and my favorite place in the entire world), PARIS! Check back soon!