24 March 2011
Take to the Sicilian Hills
The countryside and pretty villages surrounding Taormina are easily accessed either on four wheels or, close up, on two feet.
Every visitor to Taormina should head to Mount Etna, at 3,323m (10,900ft) Europe's highest volcano and a spectacular backdrop to the town. Tours are easily arranged in Taormina - including hikes through the hills guided by local experts or in off-road vehicles.
But why not make a delightful journey under your own steam by road from Linguaglossa to Piano Provenzana, high on the volcano's northern flanks, or ride the Circumetnea, a charming, old-fashioned railway that almost circles the volcano's pretty lower slopes from Riposto, just south of Taormina?
Meet the GodfathersFollow in Al Pacino's footsteps: Grand Hotel Timeo offers a special Godfather Tour. A short drive from Taormina, off the tourist trail, leads to country bars and churches familiar from the movie. Kick back and soak up the Sicilian atmosphere. Find out more >
Far less visited than Etna are the Monti Peloritani - the wild mountains that rear up along the coast north of the town. Roads and villages here are few and far between, but these uplands provide a taste of the old Sicily. Start at the popular Gola dell'Alcantara, a dramatic gorge just west of Taormina, then move on to Savoca, famous as the setting for many of the Sicily-set episodes of Francis Ford Coppola's classic movie, The Godfather.
If you have more time, head for some of the other sleepy villages in the Peloritani foothills, such as Forza d'Agrò and Casalvecchio Siculo, or the still-wilder and more spectacular Nebrodi mountains to the west, full of scenic roads, hiking opportunities, rare fauna such as eagles and vultures, and a glimpse of rural ways of life little-changed in centuries.
And if you have the time to tackle the often slow, country roads, Taormina puts you within striking distance of eastern Sicily's many other highlights - the former Greek colony of Siracusa (Syracuse), for example, described by the Roman philosopher Cicero as "the most beautiful of them all" and still rich with antique remains. Don't miss the glorious coronet of baroque towns (Ragusa, Noto, Modica, Scicli) in the Iblei hills or the wonderful hill town of Enna and the extraordinary Roman mosaics at the Villa Imperiale near Piazza Armerina.
Or it may be, of course, that you save these sights for another visit, and simply luxuriate in the joys of Taormina for a little longer; another long lunch at the Villa Sant'Andrea, perhaps, or a romantic sunset cocktail at Grand Hotel Timeo's Literary Terrace. Or how about another stroll down sleepy, sunny streets garlanded with bougainvillea. That's the problem with Taormina – in a town this beautiful, why would you want to leave?
By Tim Jepson, author of 'The National Geographic Traveler, Sicily' guide.