24 March 2011
Where Sicily Comes out to Play
Our two hotels in Taormina are perfectly placed for exploring the town's top sights and hidden haunts.
"A patch of paradise on earth," said J. W. von Goethe, one of the innumerable visitors to be seduced by Taormina since it was founded by Greek settlers almost 2,500 years ago.
The German writer was attracted by the views from this beautiful, mountain-sheltered site high above a glittering sea. But today, the landscapes that surround this most blessed of towns are just one among many pleasures, along with romantic, luxuriant gardens, tree-shaded cafes and a wealth of artistic, cultural and gastronomic delights.
Taormina's sights are well-known and easily seen - especially for guests at Grand Hotel Timeo, a favoured place to stay at the heart of town since 1874 (or sister hotel Villa Sant'Andrea, down by the water's edge). The Greek Theatre, founded in the third century BC, is just steps away. Also close at hand are the Odeon, a 200-seat Roman theatre, and the lofty Saracen castle with its glorious panorama.
There is plenty here to keep the lover of art or the architectural connoisseur entertained for days. But Taormina is as much about sensual or unexpected pleasures as it is about history and monuments - a drink in a sun-dappled piazza, a chance encounter in an artisan's shop, a meal under the stars, a stroll down geranium-hung streets.
So follow in the footsteps of Taormina's most famous visitors and wander along Corso Umberto I, the main thoroughfare, or explore the tiny lanes of the Borgo Mediovale, the oldest part of town. Pay homage to the ghosts of Orson Welles, Greta Garbo, D H Lawrence, Salvador Dalì and Truman Capote (who wrote Breakfast at Tiffany's here). Pause for a drink at Tennessee Williams' favourite after-hours retreat, the Shaker Bar, or other historic cafés such as Mocambo and Wunderbar. Or, if you make the popular excursion to the hilltop village of Castelmola above Taormina, have a coffee at the Caffè San Giorgio, founded in 1907, and a regular haunt of Sir Winston Churchill, who came to the village to paint.
Extra SweetHeading home but still hankering after all those Sicilian desserts? Then check out the family-run pastry shop at the airport, I Dolci di Nonna Vincenza. Don't miss the almond cassate, pistachio sweets, cannoli and the liqueurs with cinnamon, wild strawberries and other sunny flavours. International shipments with special packaging available.
Less well-known places for refreshment include Pasticceria Etna for delicious pastries - try the house speciality, pignolata, a black-and-white cake flavoured with lemon and almonds; La Torinese, which dates from 1936, and is known for its gastronomic treats, Marsala and other Sicilian wines; and Nino, a traditional trattoria popular with locals and run by the same family for three generations.
By Tim Jepson, author of 'The National Geographic Traveler, Sicily' guide.