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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A Quick Tour of Italy – Eastern Sicily |

Greek Theater - Taormina, ItalyImage via Wikipedia

A Quick Tour of Italy – Eastern Sicily |
f you are looking for a European tourist destination, consider the island of Sicily, a region of southern Italy. Depending on your interests, this beautiful area can be an ideal vacation spot. You can get classic Italian food, and wash it down with fine local wine. And parts of Sicily haven’t yet been discovered by tourists. This short article presents eastern Sicily. A companion article presents western Sicily; another presents the capital Palermo.

Messina is Sicily’s third largest city. Founded by the Ancient Greeks it often changed hands over the centuries. The University of Messina started out as the world’s first Jesuit College, founded by St. Ignatius himself. In 1908 the city was virtually destroyed by an earthquake and the ensuing tsunami. Make sure to see the cathedral, the Calapaj Palace, and the Sixteenth Century lighthouse.

The walled village of Castelmola with its ancient streets and spectacular view is only a few miles from the coast. Don’t miss it. Go to the ruins of the Thirteenth Century Castello Normanno (Norman Castle). It’s more than a kilometer above sea level and you’ll have to climb the path from the parking lot below. Actually there are two paths with two different views. If you are able you should explore both, one up and one down the mountain. What’s to see when you get to the top – the city of Taormina and the Ionian Sea are to the east, the Tyrrhenian Sea is to the north, and Mount Etna is to the west. Castelmola also boasts a Cathedral and several old churches that are worth visiting.

Taormina has been discovered by tourists. What a beautiful view, especially from the funivia (gondola). The Greek theater runs in the summer and Taormina boasts two top-of-the-line hotels.

Mount Etna is Europe’s largest and highest volcano. It is still active. Depending on the weather report you may climb part of it or take the train that runs around the mountain base. The Hotel Villa Paradiso Dell’Etna started as a bohemian hangout and is now quite pricey.

Catania at the foot of Mount Etna is Sicily’s second largest city. Its volcanic soil is great for agriculture, particularly wine. Catania was buried in lava seven times; many of its buildings are constructed from lava. Visit its cathedral.

Siracusa (Syracuse) was founded by Greek colonists. Its theater was built for 15,000 spectators and produces Greek tragedies in May and June. Make sure not to miss the Papyrus Museum, the Archeological Museum, historic churches and palaces, and the neighboring Ortygia Island, known as Citta Vecchia (Old City) with its own cathedral.

Sicilian ices are famous even if they no longer contain snow from Mount Etna. See our companion article I Love Touring Italy – Eastern Sicily for a sample menu and more information on local wines as well as an in-depth examination of its tourist attractions. Sicily is Italy’s largest wine producer. An independent Sicily would be the world’s seventh largest wine producer.

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