Article by Mariangela Spinella BABILONIA - Center for Italian Language and Culture in Taormina
Taormina is one of the most beautiful towns in the world, with its uninterrupted views of Mount Etna and the Ionian coast, known for the well-preserved antique ruins and its omnipresent cosmopolitan imprint. It remains one of the most popular tourist destinations in Sicily.
A romantic and mythical atmosphere can be found in every narrow medieval street and tiny passage, including every baroque church and Arabic palace. The secluded gardens and terraces with breathtaking panoramas offer a destination with plenty to do, combined with a variety of shopping that would impress any fashionista.
A Theater Of The Gods
One of our favorite spots combines art with nature, the Greek-Roman amphitheater is still in use and is the symbol of the town and the best location from which to admire the splendid spectacle of nature: snow-capped Mount Etna’s nocturnal eruptions.
Taormina’s fortune has always been closely linked to its extraordinary location, lying on a small terrace above the sea formed by variously colored limestone rocks which ensured its fame in ancient times.
Over the centuries, the town has been considered a natural fortress of great strategic and political importance on the eastern coast of Sicily. Evidence of Taormina’s role as a fortified town can be seen in the walls surrounding the ancient areas of the town.
In the second half of the 19th century, an Anglo-Saxon community settled in Taormina and were responsible for the gardens and villas in the most charming spots in the town. The best example is the botanical garden created by Lady Florence Trevelyan, now the Public Garden, which includes eclectic pavilions of Oriental inspiration, the “beehives”, unique in their architecture and variety of materials.
Another symbol of Taormina is Isola Bella, a beautiful peninsula with a protected natural reserve on one of the most enchanting bays of the coast where visitors enjoy the Sicilian sun and sea.
Taormina In Film, Fashion & Literature
Taormina is a symphony for the senses and honey for the soul, which has inspired famous poets, artists, writers, actors and moviemakers from all over the world.
Goethe was ‘bewitched’ by Taormina, praising it in his Italian Journey to such a degree that Taormina became an integral part of the Grand Tour, upon which fashionable gentlemen and intellectuals of the 1800’s embarked for the purpose of education and refinement. D. H. Lawrence settled in Taormina for three years. The town and its inhabitants were the inspiration for his famous novel Lady Chatterley’s Lover.
Taormina has also served as the setting for many movies, from Michelangelo Antonioni’s “The Adventure” in 1960, to Luc Besson’s “The Big Bleu” in 1988 and Woody Allen’s “Mighty Aphrodite” in 1995.
Important icons of the fashion industry, such as Dolce &Gabbana, have recognized this small town as an inexhaustible source of glamorous inspiration for their creations; Dolce & Gabbana has shot three of their recent advertising campaigns in Taormina.
The same old-fashioned atmosphere reproduced in one of Dolce & Gabbana’s campaigns can be experienced during the annual Easter procession. During this cherished Catholic rite, women pin black lace Mantillas to their heads and walk slowly and solemnly through the streets, carrying candle-lit red torches.They create a pathway for the priest and are followed by the Madonna, with a brass band bringing up the rear. Visitors should not miss this event.
Tips On Visiting Area Surrounding Taormina
Taormina with its Dolce Vita is not a final stop, because being the natural crossroad among areas of unspoiled beauty, like the Alcantara Valley, the Agrò Valley, the Nebrodi Mountains and the famous Etna Volcano, it can be the first leg of a journey including nearby and hidden villages where to discover unimaginable places and try unexpected food.
Some towns such as Savoca, Forza d’Agrò and Fiumefreddo have gained plenty of exposure because Francis Ford Coppola filmed some of the most memorable scenes of his Godfather Trilogy in these towns.
Savoca is a lovely fortified medieval village, the ideal place to spend a relaxing holiday, breathe pure air and enjoy the silence nowadays disappeared. This is the place where Michael Corleone meets and marries Apollonia. Famous is the iconic Bar Vitell, where Michael discusses his proposed marriage to Apollonia with her father as well asthe Church of Saint Nicolas where they have the wedding celebration.
Bar Vitelli still looks exactly like it did during filming, with its doorway framed by beaded curtains, draped in climbing plants with a vine-covered terrace looking out over a deep valley. There you can enjoy the delicious Sicilian lemon granita served with some local biscuits called “zuccarata”, flavors of times gone by that you will never forget.
Not far from Savoca is Casalvecchio Siculo, a place where you will never expect to find one of Sicily’s most fascinating and unusual religious buildings - the Abbey of SS. Pietro and Paolo. The church, built in 1116 by Roger II D’Hauteville and originally belonging to a Greek Orthodox Basilian monastery, is a mixture of Byzantine, Arabic and Norman styles and with its block-shaped exterior of black lava, red brick and golden limestone looks almost like a castle. This unique monument was recently included in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
About 3-5 km from Taormina, is the charming village of Castelmola, from where with just one single glance, you can get a view of the town of Taormina, the Ionian coast and Mount Etna. The name Castelmola derives not only from the remains of its magnificent medieval castle but also from the shape of the village, which is similar to a wheel or a millstone.
A must visit is the unique Bar Turrisi, where almost everything has the aspect of a phallus, not intending to be vulgar, but representing, in the owner’s opinion, the Greek symbol of fertility and good fortune! Castelmola is also the town of the famous Sicilian almond wine, made only with almonds and the essence of oranges; you cannot leave the village without trying it.
Almond Wine Shop in Castelmola. Photo credit: http://3.bp.blogspot.com/
Located just 20 km from Taormina are the Alcantara Gorges, one of Italy’s most spectacular natural sights. They are deep incisions in volcanic rocks and cliffs, caused by the eruptions of Mount Etna. The mountain has been literally split and is now part of the Alcantara River’s course which, with its frigid waters, flows amidst an unspoiled parkland landscape of chestnut, poplar and birch trees.The gorges can be visited from the top or from the base, with fascinating winding routes to follow on horseback or on foot. The gorges can also be explored from within by trying out one of the various aquatic options available there such as taking a breathtaking rafting ride through cascading waves.
If you have the taste for adventure, there are opportunities such as “hydrospeed” (individual rafting) and kayaking, in which you are really put to the test in a truly thrilling way. Otherwise, if you want to “stay dry” and get down into the heart of the gorges, you can hire a pair of waders and follow the course of the Alcantara right by the river’s edge. There are trails of varying difficulty and the sense of satisfaction is immense. Novices need not worry because the highly experienced instructors that ensure a safe but exhilarating experience.
If you don’t have time to climb to Etna’s summit, you can discover this unique region riding the historical Circumetnea train. The 110 km long railway, dating from 1898 and still not modernized, runs around the base of the volcano and represents one of the best ways to admire Etna’s majestic shape and the beautiful surrounding landscape. The entire Etna Park is renowned for its verdant slopes, abundant orchards, vineyards, dramatic lava flows… and tiny picturesque towns.
Leaving from Giarre – Risposto, a town 30 minutes from Taormina, you can discover Randazzo, a dark, medieval site built entirely out of lava and peacefully perched on the flanks of the volcano and surrounded by forests and mountains.
According to history, the town was inhabited by three different peoples - Greeks, Romans and Longboards soon after its founding. Each civilization left traces of its culture in the three different dialects spoken, in the three quarters Randazzo was divided among. Each of the three communities had a separate church, each one acting as the main church in town, following an annual rotation.
While in Randazzo, you cannot miss visiting the Pasticceria Musumeci, the most awarded ice-cream maker of Italy. Their “Green Gold” is the best pistachio ice cream in the world, made with real pistachios from Bronte mixed with tangerine juice and served with baked and caramelized crunchy wafers: an experience you will never forget.
On the north coast of Sicily, 55 km from Taormina is Novara di Sicilia, a lovely village set between the Nebrodi and Peloritani mountains, full of elegant buildings and splendid churches.
Novara di Sicilia. Photo credit: http://www.fuoriporta.org/
Not far from Novara is the very first Cistercian building in Sicily: the Abbey of Santa Maria La Noara founded in the 12th century by St. Hugh Abbot under King Roger and presents all the specific marks of the sobriety of the Cistercian monks mixed with a few Arabic elements. A truly unusual architectural jewel. Novara di Sicilia’s friendly and accommodating inhabitants speak a distinctive dialect with terms and accents reminiscent of the past French/Norman domination.
In February, during the Carnival, the Festival and Tournament of the Maiorchino takes place. It is a fun-filled and unique tournament dedicated to the typical local cheese called Maiorchino, which production dates back to the 1600's and which is now protected by the Slow Food association. The tournament consists of rolling a mature Maiorchino cheese through the streets of the village for over two kilometers. Sixteen teams compete representing the quarters of the town, and the winner is the one who reaches the winning line with the cheese which has fallen the least number of times.
Lancio dello Maiorchino: Photo credit: s.spielwarenmesse.d
After the tournament, don't forget to try the traditional handmade macaroni with local pork sausage, tomato sauce and fennel seeds, covered by grated Maiorchino cheese. A real delight for your taste buds!
These are just a few of our handpicked recommendations. You can enjoy lots of unexpected experiences on our astonishing island, just start discovering Sicily at Babilonia - Center for Italian Language and Culture in Taormina/