You may have heard of Taormina, a hilltop town on the east coast of Sicily because of its glitzy international film festival or as it’s one of the towns on the magical Mount Etna hiking trail.
The allure of Taormina is easy to understand. It’s a picture perfect Italian town showcasing Sicily’s rich history through its architecture, dating back to all of Taormina’s former rulers: Greeks, Romans, Byzantine, the Arabs, the Normans, the French and the Spanish.
In more recent years Taormina was a favorite haunt of Liz Taylor and Richard Burton and Jay-Z and Beyoncé. Bougainvilleas and plants in colorful ceramics adorn balconies. Nonnas hang laundry to take in the rays of the sun. Luxury stores dot Taormina’s main drag, Corso Umberto, right next to generations old gelaterie and Sicilian artisan shops. It’s the kind of place you want to stroll hand in hand with your bae down romantic side streets, just dodging a guy on a vespa. The stunning cliffside view of the Ionian Sea’s Bay of Naxos is awe-inspiring. The beaches and grottos below beg for a romantic day of exploration, especially Isola Bella.
Here’s your perfect weekend guide to Taormina, Sicily.
Stay at Hotel Villa Belvedere (Via Bagnoli Croci, 79).
How did I choose it? This was my birthday trip and I knew I had the wiggle room to splurge if only for two nights. I wanted beautiful views and a garden pool. I also wanted a bit of tradition.
Belvedere means beautiful view in Italian and it’s impossible to have a bad view during a stay at this boutique hotel overlooking the Bay of Naxos. Go in the summer, when the properties beautiful gardens around the pool are in full bloom. From some room terraces you can see the Bay, Isola Bella and Mount Etna. There also was a delicious breakfast!
* mid summer 2021, the Four Seasons Taormina opened up in the historical San Domenico Palace. I’d say it would be absolutely worth it to visit, if only for lunch or a refreshing drink. It’s the location for the next White Lotus.
Right next door to Villa Belvedere on Via Bagnoli Croce are Taormina’s public gardens Villa Comunale, a beautiful green space dotted with sculptures, nooks and pathways lined with fragrant magnolias. The gardens were created by Scottish noblewoman Lady Florence Trevelyan, who settled in Taormina in the 1880s after leaving the UK due to an affair with Edward VII, heir to the throne of England! She arrived in the town, married the mayor and started on this beautiful project, which became town property in 1922.
Lady Trevelyan also owned another gorgeous property in Taormina, the “pearl of the Ionian Sea” Isola Bella. The gorgeous island is about 1/2 an hour downhill from the main town. Now a nature reserve, the island has beautiful gardens, pebble beaches, clear waters and gorgeous coves. If you’re more of an adventurous couple, depending on the activity of Mt. Etna — it was spurting smoke and ash while I was there — plan a hike on Mt. Etna.
The Greek theatre, Teatro Antico (Via del Teatro Greco, 1) dating from 3rd century BC is definitely worth a visit — it’s where I got engaged! The amphitheater’s stage — still used for concerts and movies — is framed by Greek columns with a backdrop of the Mediterranean. My partner says he chose this spot with the theatre and the Bay of Naxos below as a celebration of endurance and beauty. Yup, he’s Italian.
Take in a sunset granita on Piazza IX Aprile, one of the best viewpoints in Taormina with panoramic vistas spanning the bay and Mt. Etna. Its checkerboard stone surface with the baroque church of San Giuseppe is emblematic of the town. We went to Caffè Wunderbar (Piazza IX Aprile, 7).
But for the best granita, head to Bam Bar. Locals say it’s the best granita in town. Sample the creamy slushy delight in flavors like mulberry, peach, and of course the classic coffee or pistachio. (Bam Bar, Via Giovanni di Giovanni, 45)
It’s hard to eat poorly in Sicily and that killer Sicilian hospitality means a waiter will certainly guide you well with the menu.
Giardini di Babilonia has this: excellent food, exceptional service. But what sets this restaurant apart is the actual gardens when you go through the gates. The restaurant is nearby to the Teatro Greco and on a clear night you can catch the moon framed by cypress trees and the ruins of the Teatro Greco. (Giardini di Babilonia, Via Timoleone, 10)
Walk the main street, Corso Umberto I and you’ll see the glitz of Taormina with high-end, chic boutiques, but they are indeed mixed with local artisan ceramics and picturesque side streets.
I didn’t know what to expect regarding Taormina based on what I heard about celebrities, the film festivals, a stop for mega yatchs. I thought it would be like Saint Tropez, Cannes, even Portofino. All charming when you scratch the surface but definitely too glitzy to do so on a short weekend. Taormina was glitzy, don’t get me wrong. We had dinner next to a footballer who docked from his yacht. But he was with his family and dog. The restaurant was charming and quiet with the waiter bouncing back and forth between our tables one and the same.
Taormina’s locals haven’t been bought out by luxury apartments. You’re still welcomed with a granita and a smile. Every moment in Taormina seems to be perfectly curated towards the true dolce vita.
Taormina is very walkable and many of the sights are within minutes of each other. We flew into Catania’s airport (post coming soon) and drove a very scenic route to Taormina that took a little over an hour.
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