THREE DAYS IN TAORMINA

How to pack the most into your time at this pretty Si­cil­ian hill­top town

Sunday Herald Sun - Escape - - DESTINATION ITALY -

THE AN­CIENT GREEK THE­ATRE IS PERCHED ON TOP OF TAORMINA WITH AMAZ­ING VIEWS OF ETNA AND THE CALABRIAN COAST

You can hap­pily spend a week in the Si­cil­ian re­sort town of Taormina. The clear blue wa­ters will call you, ma­jes­tic Etna beck­ons and cinephiles will want to take a tour. But if you’re low on time, here are the high­lights.

DAY 1

Skip the ho­tel buf­fet for a tra­di­tional Ital­ian break­fast; granita and brioche at Bam Bar. Yes, re­ally.

Or­der your granita with panna, cream, scoop out the cen­tre of the sweet brioche, fill it with granita and panna, put the top back on and eat it like you would a burger. It makes a great af­ter­noon snack, but they don’t do take­away and you can wait up to an hour for a ta­ble.

Rise early to en­joy the Corso Um­berto – the main drag – and get a chance to take a picture in front of the arch­ways that line ei­ther end of the pedes­trian thor­ough­fare, Porta Cata­nia and Porta Messina. As a re­sort town, Taormina stays up late to party and doesn’t get go­ing un­til 11am. This gives you time to wan­der un­en­cum­bered rather than bounc­ing off fel­low tourists.

Lo­cal driver Vin­cenzo, 48, has been tak­ing tourists in the open-air mini Ape Ca­lessino, a car/Vespa hy­brid that’s unique to the area, for the past 15 years. With a cig­a­rette in hand, his en­ter­tain­ing com­men­tary will cover what­ever it is you’re in­ter­ested in, from the best places to eat, how of­ten Mount Etna erupted, the last time it snowed in Taormina, what hap­pened dur­ing the G20 last year, the history of the area or

movie trivia. Stop at Belvedere Look­out to take in Naxos, the first Greek colony in Italy, Isola Bella and Sav­oca, where Al Pa­cino’s char­ac­ter met his girl­friend in movie. Then it’s time for a lo­cal del­i­cacy, spre­muta di limone. Vin­cenzo be­lieves the mix of le­mon juice, seltzer wa­ter and salt is re­fresh­ing and sates thirst bet­ter than a glass of wa­ter.

On the way up the moun­tain to Castel­mola, a me­dieval vil­lage 550m above sea level, visit Madonna della Rocca, a small church carved into the moun­tain in the 1600s and Vin­cenzo pulls over to point out the ca­pers grow­ing from the cliff walls and to pick wild figs.

The mo­tor of the lit­tle ape chugs up­hill, like a tourist that has in­dulged in too many plates of pasta, but down­hill it’s just the whip of the wind as you glide down the moun­tain.

Taormina town is set on a hill­side and the beach is at the bot­tom of the moun­tain. For a sea­side lunch, the cable car, €6 (about $9.30) re­turn, is the eas­i­est way to get down to the Bay of Maz­zaro, head to Porta Messina and fol­low via Luigi Pi­ran­dello. Il Bar­caiolo, on the north­ern end of Maz­zaro, is con­sid­ered the best seafood restau­rant in town. Book ahead here.

Isola Bella peb­ble beach is the next one along from Maz­zaro, a short walk to help you digest lunch. Mean­ing “Beau­ti­ful Is­land” in Ital­ian, it takes its name from the house in the mid­dle of the bay. Perched on a rocky out­crop, it was built in 1890 by an English gar­dener, Florence Trevelyan. In low tide, you can walk to the is­land.

Aper­i­tivo, pre-din­ner drinks and ac­com­pa­ny­ing snacks, is one of the great Ital­ian tra­di­tions. While the Aperol spritz is one of the best known, it makes sense to in­dulge in an Etna spritz – a mix of Cam­pari, Amara blood orange liqueur, pros­ecco and soda – at the Belmond Grand Ho­tel Timeo see­ing as the mag­nif­i­cent vol­cano looms in the dis­tance.

The gam­bero rosso, or red prawn, is a spe­cialty of the re­gion. Fished in the south­ern Mediter­ranean wa­ters, the raw prawn has a ruby red hue, the flesh is firm and sweet and the head is filled with roe dur­ing July-Oc­to­ber. To re­ally savour it, eat it raw. At the Belmond Grand Ho­tel Timeo Restau­rant it’s served ce­viche-style, with onion, gar­lic, toma­toes and olive oil.

DAY 2

To avoid the throng and the mid­day sun, get to the Greek The­atre when it opens. If you’re not im­pressed by its po­si­tion, perched on top of Taormina with views of Etna and the Calabrian coast, then there’s no ro­mance left in you. Built by the Greeks around the third cen­tury BC as a the­atre, the Ro­mans adapted it to house glad­i­a­to­rial bat­tles. It’s still used to­day, show­cas­ing ev­ery­thing from opera, to bal­let to rock con­certs and the an­nual Taormina Film Fes­ti­val. There’s also a se­cret pas­sage be­tween the the­atre and the Belmond Grand Ho­tel, used by Don­ald Trump dur­ing the G20 Sum­mit.

Don’t let the fear of over­weight bag­gage stop you stock­ing up on a host of colour­ful ceram­ics. It’s also hard to go past a pair of hand-made san­dals. At Il San­dolo Cap­rese (“the Capri san­dal”), Ric­cardo Canti, 28, sits at the front of the store, toil­ing away. The process takes about half an hour and costs from €60 . Choose your wooden base, pick the coloured leather straps and Ric­cardo will set it. Then try it on, stretch or loosen the straps to fit and he fixes them in place with lit­tle gold nails.

Take a break from all that shop­ping along Corso Um­berto and find the door­way to Vec­chia Taormina. The unas­sum­ing cor­ri­dor opens up into a set of in­ter­sect­ing stair­cases that work as the din­ing room. Or­der gnoc­chi with prawns and pis­ta­chio.

Casa Cuseni is ded­i­cated to English artist Robert Hawthorn Kit­son, who built the prop­erty in the early 1900s. Over­look­ing the Gulf of Naxos, this artists’ refuge housed lu­mi­nar­ies such as Pi­casso, Ten­nessee Wil­liams and D.H. Lawrence who wrote

here. There’s a his­toric English gar­den and mu­seum.

Make like El­iz­a­beth Tay­lor and Richard Bur­ton who favoured Wun­der­bar Caffe on the main square. Waiters in white jack­ets and black bow ties can be stuffy and you’ll pay €5 for a cof­fee, but the peo­ple watch­ing is price­less.

Pizze­ria Villa Zuc­caro, sur­rounded by flow­er­ing bougainvil­lea and palm trees, serves se­ri­ously good pizza. It strad­dles the mid­dle ground of the pli­able Neapoli­tan and crisp-bot­tomed Ro­man ver­sions.

Handily lo­cated be­low Pizze­ria Villa Zuc­caro, Daiquiri is ideal for a post or pre-din­ner pit stop. The rum-based drink is the spe­cialty

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