Just off the tip of Italy, Sicily is a fascinating island complete with live volcano – Mount Etna. As I have trekked up Mount Etna for charity a few years ago, we didn’t visit this time, but there are several tours available to take you up there. It is a bit disconcerting to see whispy trails of smoke from the top of the volcano, but even more worrying by the end of the week when these were definite plumes of smoke! Stromboli island, just off the north of Sicily, is constantly active with great bursts of flame and lava especially at night.
Staying in Giardini Naxos is a good base from which to explore the eastern and northern areas of Sicily. There is a Hop on-Hop off bus to take you to Taormina and Castelmola for €10 a day, but we chose the Taormina HopOn bus at €20 a day as it takes you a bit further along the coast to Letojanni. It also includes a guided walk around the town of Taormina, a free tasting of honey wine and 10% off drinks at a bar in Castelmola, so a good option for a whole day out.
Always worth a visit, the local archeological museum in Giardani is fascinating, giving a clear account of the development of the region and changing fortunes depending on who the marauding hordes were at the time. At one time the Ancient Greeks claimed the island so lots of mythology related to Greek gods, including the Gorgon and Bacchus with his very jolly followers. At €4 each, including the small maritime museum – did you know early ship’s anchors were made of wood with a concrete yoke for weight? – and walking around the grounds and excavations, we thought it was a good deal.
Taormina is very pretty, lots of small shops and alleyways, and plenty of cafes or restaurants. We found that if you include an Aperol Spritz in your drink order, you usually also get some nibbles as it is an aperitif. Teatro Greco is a must-see, similar to the amphi-theatre in Verona, especially the computer-generated films on a big screen to show you how it would have looked at the time. If you visit on the first Sunday of the month, it is free entrance so we were lucky to choose that day to visit.
On a larger map, Taormina looks like it is on the coast, but it is half-way up a small mountain, so you need to drive, go on a bus or use the cable-car. This is only a short walk from the bus terminal and easy to find. If you want to get to the beach, be aware that there is still a long, steep set of steps after you get off the cable-car at the bottom, and you will therefore have to walk up them at some point!
Further up the mountain, along lots of twisting, winding roads is the village of Castelmola, a drop-off point for the hop-on buses. Again, narrow cobbled streets and typical stone buildings – plus a beautiful old Vespa scooter – with interesting touristy stores and bars. Prices are good for drinks, we found, so very welcome when trying to find some shade from the heat of the midday scorching sunshine.
This is just a taster of the many fascinating places to visit on the island, so we were sorry not to get to see more, including Syracuse further south and the train ferry across to Italy. Maybe next time, but in April rather than June.