Taormina, Sicily
Isola Bella, Taormina

The Muse of Taormina

Taormina! Breathtaking crazy cliffs rising from the Ionia Sea. Mount Etna’s flanks visible in the background.

Taormina, Sicily
View from our Taormina room

We were still buzzing with excitement after our visit in Syracuse and Ortygia with its breathtaking grottos but — Taormina!

Think ancient ruins, bars, shops, a joie de vivre fills this place.

Taormina has a sweet gentle charm that endeared us. We could easily spend a few months or years here.

And we very well could have. We got off to an empty train station one of the oldest rail lines in the country – and discovered a street bus would take us to our destination, a small hotel we had booked the night before at a reduced rate of 55E.

As we rode the bus, grateful once again for packing only carry-on luggage we tried to follow the phone GPS. That didn’t work very well because we soon found out that Taormina is on top of the cliffs where the bus was heading –while our hotel was on the bottom by the coastline. This would not be the first or last time we were disappointed with our smartphone’s GPS. It was definitely having problems dealing with vertical distances and in hilly country – that means a lot. Especially when you are walking with all your luggage in tow.

Taormina, Sicily
Good morning!! Isola Bella in view, Taormina

The main bus station is located at the top so finding our way down was not a problem, we, however, being hot and tired and discovering that sidewalks don’t exist on the narrow coastal road and any walking along Italian traffic is close to suicide, splurged for a taxi. Well worth it.

Being off season, the room was not only a steal but lovely with a balcony facing the ocean. We quickly celebrated our good fortune with a toast or two of good Sicilian wine. If there is a bad Sicilian wine, I have not met it. (please let us know).

The small island of Isola Bella beckoned and we couldn’t wait to climb down the steps to the pebbly beach and explore.

Enjoying the beach.
Adriane sunning. Life is good.

Isola Bella is a nature reserve established in 1990 after the owner went bankrupt. In order to get to the island, we had to cross a submerged pebbly path. Sharp rocks bit into our bare feet. (bring waterproof sandals!) and after much whimpering and moaning (mainly from Adriane) we crossed over to the island to explore its paths, sea grottos and take in the beauty of this “Pearl of the Ionian Sea.”

The island, surrounded by sea grottos and rare plants that its earlier owner had established is managed by the Centre for Environmental Protection by the University of Catania.

Marina feeling at home.

History lesson over, we plunged into the cool crystal clear water. The water is shallow enough and the rocks form interesting ledges for all sorts of fish. I strapped on my swim goggles and swam between the rocks until the light started to fade and our stomachs rumbled.

Gorgeous Taormina attracted tourists in the 19th century

We had a great time today exploring the graceful old town perched over 800 feet in the clifftops. Thankfully just a short walk from our hotel was a funicular. And for a small fee, we caught the cable car that connects the town to the beaches where we have been staying.

Lively shops and displays in Taormina

Reluctant to leave we extended our stay another day which meant switching to another hotel as the small one we were in was booked. We sadly said good-bye to our little balcony overlooking Isola Bella and walked to our new lodgings.

Things didn’t look good as we were told for the special rate we were paying (around 50E we were staying in the basement. We thumped our bags down a steep flight of steps and opened the door.

The furnishing was a bit tired but the room was huge meant to sleep, 5 people. There was no balcony but the large window with a view of Isola Bella swung open and dragging two chairs we inhaled the sea air and a few more glasses of Sicilian wine.

We had found a small grocery store and had stocked up.

The bonus of our new lodging in the basement was that it included full breakfast and let me tell you, the Italians know good food and how to prepare it.

Taormina, Sicily
Detail on church, Taormina

Taormina has a long history and it was already known as a resort area in the 19th century, when aristocrats from Europe would include it in their “Grand Tour” travels to enlighten themselves. Think of it as a “coming of age” road trip. Though chaperoned, many a heart was broken along with sexual taboos. Taormina, even back then, was known as a “gentlemen’s destination” tolerant of gay men and artists with a liberal view to sexual appetites. In the early 20th century it was a favourite of artists, writers and intellectuals. Pretty cool to think of Nietzsche and DH Lawrence, Tennessee Williams and Truman Capote walking these streets, being inspired by the same Sicilian sun and no doubt wine! Taormina finds itself in many books, music and art including Goethe, Richard Wagner and famous photographer Wilhelm von Gloeden known for his male nudes shot in Taormina.

Taormina, Sicily
Adriane, looking like a Sicilian already, with fresh Granite, Sicily’s favourite drink!

We strolled through pretty streets lined with lively shops and cafes and grabbed a granite. A favourite Sicilian drink. Fortified, it was time to play amateur archeologist.

Taormina, Sicily
Taormina’s Greco-Roman Ancient Amphiteatre
Taormina, Sicily
Ruins at Taormina’s ancient theatre.

A visit to the ancient theatre of Taormina did not disappoint. This is the second largest Roman amphitheatre in Sicily beat out by the one we had visited a few days ago in Syracuse. The Teatro Antico di Taormina, an ancient Greco-­Roman theatre is in excellent condition with many parts intact. It had housed performances and even gladiators in its past. Today it is still used for opera and other performances. Sadly we would miss out on that this time but I knew in my heart we’d be back. We were not done with Sicily.

Taormina, Sicily
Captivating Taormina had us planning to return soon

We lingered at the Duomo di San Nicola, built in the 13th century and thought about the wonders that were here already in Marco Polo’s time. He would have sailed by this part of the Sicilian coast on his way to Acre on the start of his journey to the kingdom of Kublai Khan. What great adventures has this coast seen?

Taormina, Sicily
Duomo di San Nicola was built in the thirteenth century, and renovated in the fifteenth, sixteenth and eighteenth centuries. Baroque 16 century fountain, Taormina, Sicily

Deep thoughts as we lounged by the 16th-century baroque fountain studying our pistachio gelato. Perhaps too deeply. We headed back to the beach.

Marina at the ancient theatre in Taormina

As our last few hours in Sicily drew to a close, we are drinking local wine and enjoying our million dollar view from our budget basement room.

Here’s proof that you don’t need to be a millionaire to enjoy the lifestyle of Taormina.

VIDEO: Isola Bella

VIDEO: Taormina