Taormina

Taormina and Naxos

 

In a magnificent hill-top position, dominating the Straits of Messina, the Ionian Sea and Mount Etna, the little walled town of Taormina is thought by many to be the most beautiful place in the world.

   The rich colours, perfect climate, breathtaking panoramas, lush gardens, and the irresistible shop windows and sidewalk cafés along Corso Umberto, the ancient main street, make it the ideal retreat, but for this very reason it gets impossibly crowded in spring, just when it is at its best. Piazza Duomo, with the 13th-century cathedral dedicated to St Nicholas, and the Baroque fountain of the Centaur, symbol of the city, is near Porta Catania, at the southern end of the corso.

   The northern limit is defined by Porta Messina, close to the medieval Palazzo Corvaia, housing the tourist office. The street leads east to the 4th-century bc Greek Theatre, later enlarged and rebuilt by the Romans, which should not be missed - even Guy de Maupassant said that to see it is essential! The impressive remains have inspired writers, artists and musicians. The luxuriant public gardens, with plants and trees from the 5 continents, were designed and planted in the late 19th century by Florence Trevelyan, once lady-in-waiting to Queen Victoria.

High above Taormina and its ancient castle (closed) is Castelmola, voted one of Italy's most beautiful villages, but with a dwindling population. It can be reached by a stepped footpath (785 steps) from Taormina's Corso Umberto, or more comfortably, by road.

Giardini Naxos, on the coast at the foot of the hill, can also be reached by footpaths from Taormina. Founded in 734 bc, it was the first Greek settlement on Sicily. Now it is a popular resort.