Sicily – Messina province – a walk around Taormina

Taormina is one of the major tourist attractions on the west coast of Sicily. It has been welcoming travellers since ancient times with the Sicels, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Saracens, Arabs, Normans and Spaniards all choosing to live here. In the 19th century the town welcomed such notable artists and thinkers as Oscar Wilde, Nicholas I of Russia, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Friedrich Nietzsche and Richard Wagner and in the 20th century; Bertrand Russell, Roald Dahl, Henry Faulkner, D.H. Lawrence , Truman Capote, Jean Cocteau, Evelyn Waugh and Tennessee Williams, to name but a few. In 2017 Taormina even hosted the G7 summit.

My Google map here.

I came on a day trip from Catania in May 2019. Depending on which train you get, the journey takes from thirty minutes to an hour and fifteen and costs around €5. I disembarked at Taormina-Giardini Station, stopping to admire the beautifully decorated ceiling and walls of the ticket office. The railway line dates from 1866, making it the second oldest in Sicily, but the Stile Liberty (Catalan-Sicilian neo-Gothic) station building and platforms were built between 1926 and 1928.

The station architect was Roberto Narducci (a prolific railway station engineer) while the frescoes, relief decorations, stained glass windows and wrought iron furnishings are the work of the designer Salvatore Gregorietti.

Having cancelled my plans to hike Etna and Lipari due to bad weather, I was in the mood to walk so, perhaps foolishly, I ignored the shuttle bus waiting outside the station and started the long ascent up the steep hill. It was definitely a good workout, and I was rewarded with great views of the coastline with Etna brooding in the background.

Located on the hill of the Monte Tauro, the town presides over two sweeping bays to the north and south. Immediately below the town is the isthmus of Isola Bella, a famous scenic spot that features on all the postcards although sadly I didn’t make it down there due to lack of time.

After a LOT of stairs to the top, you first arrive at the municipal gardens (Giardini della Villa Comunale), the Parco Duca di Cesaró. The folly in the park was built by Florence Trevelyan, an English aristocrat gardener from Newcastle who made great contributions to the cultural and economic life of Taormina.

In 1890 Trevelyan purchased the Isola Bella upon which she built a house and established a garden. As well as native Mediterranean plants she planted rare shrubs and grasses which attracted all kinds of wildlife. The Isola Bella was eventually taken over by the Regional Government of Sicily who have designated it a Nature Reserve.

I continued the plod upwards stopping briefly to gasp at the prices on the menus in the restaurants and bars I passed. I do like a view with my food but the prices were steeper than the hill.

Eventually I reached Corso Umberto, the central pedestrian street, and joined the throngs of tourists shuffling along its length. The focal point of the town is Piazza IX Aprile (see the first picture in this post) which has another fantastic view over the sea.

I passed through the old gate on one side of the square, and continued down Corso Umberto to Piazza Duomo, taking in the Baroque fountain (dating from 1635)…

… just outside the austere cathedral.

Further along is Porta Catania, an ancient gate into the old town.

On the way back later I had a glimpse of the courtyard of the Corvaja Palace in Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II.

The Hotel Vello D’Oro looks like a fun place to stay, but if I had the money I’d stay at the Hotel Ashbee, which was designed by C.R. Ashbee, a major figure in the British Arts & Crafts movement.

And there are many other places to check out. Truth be known though, I’m not good in crowded, touristy places so after the fountain I’d had enough and decided to keep on walking out of town. That’s not to say I didn’t find Taormina stunning, it really is, I just wish I’d chosen a quieter time of year to visit.

Next time I’m determined to get that classic photo standing on the stage of the Roman theatre with Etna in the background centre stage, which must surely have been one of the most iconic views of any amphitheatre in the ancient world. The volcano that is, not me.

I carried walking up the steep slope of Monte Tauro along Salita Castello, which is the way to the Castello di Taormina.

I don’t think there’s much to see in the castle itself (photos here) so I passed it by.

Climbers are welcomed by the forests of prickly pear cactus either side of the stairs.

From the stairs you get another great view over the town. You can just see the Roman Theatre at the top of this picture.

At the top of Monte Tauro is the pretty Santuario Madonna della Rocca. built into the rock, which is a good spot for a rest out of the heat before the next exertion.

From the top here I could see my secondary destination Castelmola, more of which in my next post…

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