Taormina home to history, glamour, fame and magical sights
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.
An ancient Greek amphitheatre in Taormina city, Sicily island, Italy.