Amaz­ing Mediter­ranean

Taormina home to his­tory, glam­our, fame and mag­i­cal sights

Central and North Burnett Times - - TRAVEL - with Ann Rickard

WE WERE warned not to visit Taormina dur­ing July or Au­gust as it is choked with tourists. We went any­way. And it was choked. But we loved it. Taormina is lo­cated on the east coast of Si­cily, on a plateau be­low Mt Tauro but perched 200m above sea level. This means ex­trav­a­gant views over the Mediter­ranean from al­most ev­ery van­tage point.

Al­though very small, Taormina is unashamedly a re­sort town that loves to wel­come the wealthy. It es­pe­cially loves the fa­mous, the high-rollers, the celebri­ties.

Un­for­tu­nately, its ac­com­mo­da­tion and restau­rant prices re­flect that phi­los­o­phy.

It was founded in 400BC, and flour­ished un­der Greek rule and then (in­evitably) un­der the Ro­mans. Then for cen­turies it went about mind­ing its own busi­ness un­til the jet-set dis­cov­ered it in the 18th Cen­tury.

Many fa­mous names have sum­mered in Taormina and many more have made it their home for long pe­ri­ods.

It be­came par­tic­u­larly fash­ion­able in the 1920s and then in the 1950s when it be­came known as a bathing re­sort. Its celebrity sta­tus was ce­mented when the Taormina Film Fes­ti­val made Taormina its per­ma­nent home in 1971.

I learnt all this from a guide book in our ho­tel room at Villa Schuler, read­ing bits out loud to the hus­band to try and stop his weep­ing over the ex­or­bi­tant cost of the room.

“Wow, Ava Gardner used to dine at La Giara restau­rant, that place just be­low our bal­cony,” I told him.

“Oh, was she there last night?” he said. He needs to get out more.

Liz Tay­lor and Richard Burton were reg­u­lar visi­tors, D.H. Lawrence lived there from 1920 to 1930. Tru­man Capote wrote Break­fast at Tif­fany’s and In Cold Blood there. Ce­cil Beaton, Jean Cocteau, Sal­vador Dali, Or­son Welles, John Stein­beck, Ten­nessee Wil­liams, Rita Hay­worth, Greta Garbo and Cary Grant all loved Taormina. (And that’s more than enough name drop­ping.)

From our flower-filled bal­cony at Villa Schuler we could look out to the blue sparkle of the Med and across to Mt Etna. It was worth ev­ery out­ra­geous penny.

“The lo­cals love to come out and just prom­e­nade in Taormina,” our taxi driver had told us the night be­fore on the drive from the air­port.

“They just walk up and down show­ing off their new phone, their new jacket, their new any­thing. It is a show-off pas­time the lo­cals could not live with­out.”

In­deed as we walked the pedes­tri­anised Corso Um­berto with the floods of tourists and smartly dressed lo­cals, and tried to get a ta­ble at the packed trat­to­rias and bars, we un­der­stood what he meant. This is a place to be seen. The glam­our over­flows from ev­ery one of the pretty squares punc­tu­at­ing the Corso Um­berto: in the green pub­lic gar­dens, in the busy bars and the tempt­ing shops with their Ar­mani, Prada and Gucci la­bels.

The pas­try shop win­dows are filled with ex­quis­ite marzi­pan sweets the Si­cil­ians love, del­i­cate treats shaped into minia­ture fruits and veg­eta­bles: pears, peaches, zuc­chini, ap­ples, egg­plant, ar­ti­chokes, wa­ter­melon and ba­nanas. They are so pretty it would seem a sin to bite into them.

Ev­ery­where you stop – for cof­fee, lunch, aper­i­tivo, or just a photo – has views over the Mediter­ranean dot­ted with lux­u­ri­ous yachts so dis­tanced they looked like chil­dren’s toys.

The main star of Taormina is, of course, its an­cient Greek Theatre. It is sim­ply stu­pen­dous. And that is said with­out ex­ag­ger­a­tion. Its horse­shoe shape looks down to the col­umns of the stage area and be­yond to the spec­tac­u­lar view across the sea and sky. Built in 300BC it is still used to­day to stage con­certs.

It is the mag­i­cal com­bi­na­tion of an­cient times seen through the Greek Theatre, the Duomo, the clock tower and build­ings, blended with breath-sap­ping views and non-stop high-glam­our that makes Taormina such a de­sir­able des­ti­na­tion.

But you have been warned. It is not friendly on the wal­let.

PHOTO: THINK­STOCK

An an­cient Greek am­phithe­atre in Taormina city, Si­cily is­land, Italy.

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