Image via Wikipedia By Ambra Lancaster
Taormina, a true jewel, and one I'm always delighted to return to.Sparkling above the beauty of the Ionian Sea with the Greek amphitheatre as a backdrop and Mt. Etna less than an hour away, it's no wonder this city is considered both a historic and natural treasure.Desired, fought over, and ruled by societies from Greek to Arab to Spanish and back to Italian, Taormina is a much coveted spot, and for good reason. Taormina's rich history is very inviting, while the town itself is quite simple to navigate on foot, making it welcoming to all manner of traveler.Aside from the Odeon, built for Emperor Octavian, the town's highlight is definitely the Greek Theatre set amongst the gemlike greenery and beauty of the surrounding hills.
Taormina, a true jewel, and one I'm always delighted to return to. Sparkling above the beauty of the Ionian Sea with the Greek amphitheatre as a backdrop and Mt. Etna less than an hour away, it's no wonder this city is considered both a historic and natural treasure. Desired, fought over, and ruled by societies from Greek to Arab to Spanish and back to Italian, Taormina is a much coveted spot, and for good reason.
Taormina's rich history is very inviting, while the town itself is quite simple to navigate on foot, making it welcoming to all manner of traveler. Aside from the Odeon, built for Emperor Octavian, the town's highlight is definitely the Greek Theatre set amongst the gem-like greenery and beauty of the surrounding hills.
The San Nicola cathedral is definitely a structure not to be missed. Built on the ruins of a Greek temple, it's lovely Gothic style complimented interestingly with interwoven Arab influences best expressed by the ceiling's wooden beams.
The Badia Vecchia fortress also houses the town's interesting archaeological museum, and is a nice place to spend a morning. For picnics, strolls, and plain old relaxation, the Villa Comunale is quite the beauty. The site of the town's public gardens, this is an excellent place to soak in the general tranquility of the region and unsurpassable vistas and weather. With the sea to one side and imposingly glorious Mount Etna looming behind, the effect is nothing short of breathtaking. Be sure to enjoy the famous "Victorian Follies" as well, ornamental buildings constructed in the late 1800's by the lovably eccentric former owner.
Piazza 9 Aprile also boasts spectacular sea views and is home of the charming clock tower, as well as 2 other pretty churches. For shops, cafes, and general munching/browsing, the famous Corso Umberto I has it all.
Walkable, Taormina may be, but it offers plenty of natural beauty at easy reach from the city itself as well. A personal favorite of mine, the Isola Bella nature reserve is absolute paradise on Earth, boasting a rich variety of exotic and Mediterranean vegetation and a fascinating array of birds from Herons to Peregrine Falcons. Anyone who truly wants to commune with Mother Earth will be completely at home at Isola Bella, especially if one does that by snorkeling. Only 25 km outside Taormina, Alcantra River Park (renamed from Arabic Al Qantarah) offers even more naturalistic beauty, spectacular in the glory of its black basalt gorges. May through September one can actually walk down a stretch of the Alcantara Gorge, provided the water is low and be stunned by light displays created by the sun playing off the black rock.
Castelmola is a nice day trip option too, with its characteristic cathedral, astounding panoramas, medieval castle ruins, and the eerie feel of being temporarily transported backward in time. Not only has Castelmola preserved history well, but it's a completely non-traffic town, meaning it's not allowed to drive cars there. An excellent slice of the Italy that was, Castelmola is not to be savored without a taste of some of the delectable local almond wine.
Dangerously active, yet hauntingly beautiful, Mount Etna and it's natural reserve definitely deserve a visit and are ironically responsible for a lot of the area's fertile soil and variety of products produced.
And what would any Italian city be sans impeccable cuisine? A seafood lover's paradise, Taormina offers many fresh fish dishes, especially tuna, sardines, mackerels, and anchovies, always prepared to perfection. A popular local first dish is a pasta prepared in a sauce of anchovies, capers, tomatoes, and basil, which is much praised for it's lightness, as it counterbalances the summer heat. Situated near Palazzo San Domenico, Da Lorenzo is an excellent example of where to delve into the local seafood as well as sample a vast variety of regional wines, all served with care, zest, and a great attitude. Grilled swordfish is one of many specialties here and not to be missed. Shaded by the town's prized 850 year old tree, the terrace at Da Lorenzo provides and amazing setting for meals fit for an emperor. A Zammara is another centrally located Taormina treasure, boasting an extensive wine list, antipasti, and delightful desserts that truly showcase all regional flavors to their fullest. With meals served in an orange grove, the scent of the air itself is enough to make the mouth water.
Starting your day with the local favorite granita al caffè con panna (coffee with crushed ice and whipped cram), you'll be prepared for any Taormina adventure.
Visiting anywhere is always nice, but one needs a place to stay. In my case, I've thrice been lucky enough to indulge in the Grand Hotel Mazzaro Sea Palace. Truly all encompassing, this 5 star fantasy boasts a multitude of terraces with bay views, allowing guests to soak in all the gorgeously unreal colors of the area. Every service imaginable is offered at the 24 hour reception desk, from gym facilities to sailboat/canoe rentals, mountain bikes, trekking excursions, both outdoor and sea water pools, and the cherry on top; a stunning private beach, allowing you to keep Taormina's beauty almost all to yourself. Massages and Turkish baths in the health center are an added perk, and when one includes the absolutely top-notch service, they find Mazzaro Sea Palace lacks nothing. From décor in tune with local vibe and color scheme to attention to guest comfort the Mazzaro delivers it all, including boasting yet another fabulous restaurant in a city full of culinary delights.
Sparkling, glorious, delicious, and full of friendly faces, Taormina is enticing, entrancing, and can't afford to be skipped.
Take Taormina and treasure it: http://www.italiancollection.com/en/mazzaro-sea-palace.html
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