Totally Taken with Taormina, Sicily


It’s the closest we’ve ever stayed to a smoking volcano!

Follow us as we explore Taormina – a shining village on a hill, a really big, steep hill with amazing sea views.

Breathtaking, and well worth the chance of getting covered in ash!.. CONTINUE READING >>

A big thank you to VBT Bicycling and Walking Vacations for providing this breathtaking adventure! As always, all opinions are our own.

Driving while clinging to the cliffs from Catania to Taormina in Sicily, Italy
The road from Catania to Taormina is an intricate system of bridges and tunnels that works it way up the mountain

Bucket List Item: Gorgeous Taomina, Sicily!
Looking down at the Ionian Sea from the town of Taormina in Sicily, Italy

We weren’t exactly sure what to expect when we signed on for a bike tour across Sicily with VBT, but we certainly were pleasantly surprised by our very first day.

We met up with our group in the incredible town of Taormina.

We say incredible mostly for the way that this ancient settlement is perched on the side of Monte Tauro, where it gets its name, but we soon discovered many other attributes that make it worthy of high praise.

Looking down at the Ionian Sea from the town of Taormina in Sicily, Italy

The Saracen Castle looms over Taormina, Sicily, Italy

Known in Latin as Tauromenium, and founded by the Sicels who gave Sicily its name, Taormina was once one of the island’s most important cities.

It remained so for a millennium because of its strategic position high on a hill, and the nearly impenetrable Saracen Castle guarding it from above.

This kept the pillaging and plundering to a minimum even as the surrounding country changed hands multiple times.

Taormina was once one of Sicily's most important cities, and remained so for a thousand years because of its strategic position high on a hill with the nearly impenetrable Saracen castle guarding it from above.

The entrance to the Ancient Greek Theatre in Taormina, Sicily, Italy

Having just unfolded our legs from the overnight flight from the states, we were more than content to let the biking wait for another day and set out to explore the village on foot.

First and foremost, for any visit to Taormina is a stop at the Ancient Greek Theatre.

The ancient Greek Theater of Taormina, Sicily with Mt. Etna looming over the stage

The Ancient Greek Theater in Toarmina, Sicily, Italy

It is thought to have been originally constructed around 300 BC as a classical Grecian amphitheater, with the Romans rebuilding it several centuries later during their control of the island.

Most of what we saw after our short walk up to the ruins was the brickwork from the reconstruction, but there is also evidence of marble columns from the Greek architecture still showing through.

The Ancient Greek Theater in Toarmina, Sicily, Italy

No matter who built it, they did it right because it is still in use today for plays and concerts.

A new stage has been set up, and some of the seating refurbished, but essentially the audience sees performances just as they would have ten centuries ago.

We didn’t get to attend a show, but were treated to an extroverted tourist bursting into a Shakespearean soliloquy from the front of the stage.

The Ancient Greek Theater in Toarmina, Sicily, Italy

We hustled up the bleachers to see how the sound carried, and check out the view beyond the stage. 

Remarkably, we could hear every word clear up on the top row, and enjoyed it even more with smoke-blowing Mt. Etna providing the background scenery.

From the theater we walked down to Corso Umberto, the main street that runs between the two ancient gates of the city.

The heart of Taormina lies between these portals inside the ancient walls, and the stretch of medieval road thrives as a major destination for tourists from all over the world.

Inside the ancient walls, Taormina, Sicily thrives as a major destination for tourists from all over the world.

Taormina, Sicily, Italy

We began at Porta Messina, named because the road leads to the city of Messina, thirty miles or so up the coast, and then made our way through the center of the village toward the opposite gate, Porta Catania, which is named for the city to the south where we landed just a few hours earlier.

The street is lined with several intriguing alleyways made up of stairways leading up or down the hillside, so we wandered up a few, but the views are mostly obstructed by the tightly spaced construction.  

Level ground is at a premium, so the buildings are packed in on every available inch.

We did find a few spots where small plazas opened up the feel a bit, the largest being Piazza del Duomo in front of the cathedral. The church is dedicated to the town’s patron saint, Nicholas of Bari, and dates back to the thirteenth century.


The city is a blend of the old and the very old as the ancient castle looms above the more “modern” churches

The fountain of Taormina, Sicily, Italy

The square’s centered around a fountain from 1635 featuring Greek mythological creatures, and the town’s coat of arms, but that is not the main attraction.

That honor goes to the fact that this just happens to be the ultimate location for stunning views of Mount Etna, one of the most active volcanoes in the world, and the highest in Europe.

Coincidence? We doubt it.

The horsefish of The fountain of Taormina, Sicily, Italy

Our timing turned out to be about perfect, and we captured the mythical mountain just as the setting sun lit up the tufts of smoke rising from her summit.

No wonder Etna has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

We captured Mt. Etna as the sun lit up the volcano's tufts of smoke rising from her summit. No wonder this mountain has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site
The billowing smoke was so accentuated by the sunset that we started to get concerned. When we asked a local if we were safe he said, “We only worry when she STOPS smoking. That’s when the trouble starts.”

Inside the ancient walls, Taormina, Sicily thrives as a major destination for tourists from all over the world.

We have learned from experience that after flying across the pond darkness can be detrimental to one’s ability to stay awake.

But nothing conquers jet lag like a true Italian pizza, a glass of vino.

Of course the effect is only temporary, then the two gang up to put even the hardiest traveler out cold.

Not being nearly adjusted to the time change, we awoke the next morning before sunup.

The good news was that this gave us more time to spend in Taormina.

Mt. Etna at sunrise in Taormina, Sicily

Peering off of our balcony at dawn we found Etna basking in the red glow of sunrise, blowing new puffs of smoke to greet the day.

Hotel Villa Belvedere, with its incredible sea-and-Etna views proves the perfect place to lay our heads in Taormina, Sicily

The botanical gardens at Toarmina, Sicily has beautiful follys

That inspired us to set out for a morning walk.

The botanical garden, only a few steps from our room at the Hotel Belvedere, was splendid in the crisp air.

The plant selections were beautiful, but we found the odd follies scattered around the park more interesting.

These strange structures were created by Florence Trevelyan Caccioli, an English woman who married the mayor of Taormina in 1890, as a part of her private garden.

The botanical garden of Taormina, Sicily was created by Florence Trevelyan  Caccioli, an English woman

The grounds were then donated to the city after she passed away.

Just beyond the monument honoring the fallen soldiers from the First World War, we reached the edge of the garden.

From this vantage point there was a fantastic view of the ancient town of Naxos and the bay below, as well as across the Ionian Sea to the mainland “toe” of Italy’s boot about to kick us on Sicily.

Looking down at the Ionian Sea the botanical gardens in the town of Taormina in Sicily, Italy

Looking down at the Ionian Sea from the town of Taormina in Sicily, Italy

Looking down at the Ionian Sea from the town of Taormina in Sicily, Italy

Just the kick we needed, because as much as we were enchanted by Taormina, our time was limited.

We had to board a bus to make our way south and begin the bicycling portion of our Sicilian tour.

That prospect of exciting adventure awaiting us was just enough incentive to tear us away from this beautiful town high on a hill.

David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com

A big thank you to VBT Bicycling and Walking Vacations for providing this breathtaking adventure! As always, all opinions are our own.

DELVE DEEPER:
How did we hang on our bicycle tour? See it from the beginning!
See all about the food in Sicily!
See all of our adventures in Italy!

26 thoughts on “Totally Taken with Taormina, Sicily”

  1. I’ve so enjoyed following your travels in Sicily. It’s been a destination I’ve wanted to visit for a while and your photos have only confirmed and put an exclamation point on that desire! Love the folly in the Botanical Garden. I thought a bike ride would be incredibly difficult there, but you both managed it without too much trouble-right?!

  2. I spent two decades traveling throughout Europe, and I don’t believe I’ve seen anything as beautiful as this. Your superb narrative has prompted me to add this destination to my master bucket list!

  3. Your narrative and photos from your visit to Taormina are making me retroactively even more sad that we had to cancel a scheduled trip to Sicily a few years ago when my father became seriously ill with what actually turned out to be his last illness. I will be on the look out for another excuse to get us there. Best wishes to the Gypsy Nesters for healthy, happy and safe travels in 2016. I anxiously await the next volume of your joint autobiography. Write on!

  4. Lovely photos around Taormina! Was just e-mailing with a friend about genealogy and he got around to a family name, TAORMINA! He has stories about them! So you know I had to forward this blog to him. Enjoy your travels!

  5. Breathtaking photos! I have now added another item to my bucket list thanks to this post! Amazing to realize how advanced the engineering and architecture was to have the acoustics so perfect for the arena.

  6. I loved Taormina – we stayed at the bottom of the hill and took the cable car to the top when we wanted to explore. I have great admiration for you cycling around Sicily – I seem to remember it as being rather hilly!

    1. VBT did a good job of finding flat roads along the coast and setting up our routes so that a lot was downhill. Still, we rode 150 miles total, so we feel like we did accomplish something.

  7. Great photo of the “horse” sculpture (it’s a bird, it’s a fish, it’s a mermaid!) and I also loved the sunset and sunrise photos of Etna smoking – it must have been mesmerizing to see. Sicily has long been on our radar and Taormina looks like the place to start out an adventure with so many places to wander. Gorgeous!

  8. We spent 6 weeks in Sicily a couple of years ago and loved every minute of it. The views from Taormina are stunning but we preferred the smaller towns that were not over run with tourists. I’m sure you saw many of these on your bike trip.

  9. Oh my! Why did I ever misunderestimate the Mediterranean. Your shot of the Greek Theater with the volcano behind it is absolutely mesmerizing. What a gorgeous town. Enjoyed this glimpse very much and would love to replicate your experience.

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