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Nicole Trilivas

Freelance Travel Writer

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How to Spend a Weekend in Taormina, Sicily

Sunbathing on a hilltop above the Ionian Sea with a puffing Mount Etna in the not-so-far distance, the endlessly enchanting town of Taormina—with its movie-set good looks and signature romantic charm—has been attracting holidaymakers since Roman times, and its ancient allure hasn’t faded yet. As the muse and backdrop for Karen Millen’s latest Low Summer campaign, Taormina’s flower-filled streets and sun-splashed piazzas deliver a dose of la dolce vita, Sicilian style. Find out what makes this timeless seaside summer destination so inspiring for yourself.

Where To Stay:

*Beachy Bliss:* Devote sunworshippers will find their temple in the old-world Villa Sant’Andrea, A Belmond Hotel, a 1919 geranium-bedecked expanded villa set on the shoreline of the crescent-shaped Bay of Mazzarò, just below the town centre. Polka-dotted with white parasols and fringed in fizzy blue-green surf, the hotel’s private beach is a delight on those languorously long summer afternoons.

*Classic Luxury:* For a bit more buzz, take the cable car from the beach to Via Nazionale and check into Villa Sant’Andrea’s sister hotel, Grand Hotel Timeo, A Belmond Hotel, just off the main drag. A fixture on the eighteenth-century Grand Tour, this aristocratic abode of marble bathrooms and manicure gardens offers some of the best vistas in town.

*Heavenly Haven:* A former fourteenth-century monastery, San Domenico Palace, Taormina, A Four Seasons Hotel is a refined refuge of cloistered courtyards and swishy palms. Relics, restored frescos, and glowing lanterns decorate the vaulted halls, and rooms—some with private plunge pools—are airy, spring-fresh, and immaculately white. The hotel’s gemstone-blue clifftop infinity pool may just be Taormina’s best.

*Boutique Chic:* At the boutique bolthole, Hotel Metropole on the central Corso Umberto, you’ll feel more like an invited houseguest than a traditional tourist—especially because there are just twenty-five rooms in this sorbet-pink historic house. Even if you don’t stay, swing by the bar for live jazz.

Taormina Sicily

Where To Eat:

From fragrant Sicilian Black Bee honey, a regional speciality, to exceptional wine from wild vineyards that wind up the slopes of Europe's largest active volcano, Taormina is a treasure trove of gastronomic treats. Start your day with a true Sicilian breakfast—fluffy brioche dunked into icy lemon granita—at BamBar, a sunny outfit of colourfully painted tiles and alfresco café tables. (Go early to snag a seat.)

At aperativo hour, the place to be is the buzzy Piazza IX Aprile, which is named after the day when the first rumours of Garibaldi’s arrival in Sicily spread through the city in 1860. With chessboard stone paving, a peach-hued Baroque church (one of two in the square), and imposing stone tower, this piazza teams with life and live music in the evenings. For the location alone, go for a pre-dinner spritz at the historic Wunderbar Caffe, the one-time haunt of the literati including Oscar Wilde and Tennessee Williams.

Dinner is an elegant affair at the Michelin-starred La Capinera, on the outskirts of town in Taormina Mare. Sit on the terrace and tuck into delicate dishes of homemade black tagliolini, twisted with impossibly sweet Rosso di Mazara (red Sicilian prawns) and bitter and bright ricci di mare (urchin), plucked from the sea that day.

For after-dinner music and cocktails it has to be Morgana, a chic lounge dressed in shimmery metallics, jewel tones, and good vibes—all snuggly tucked down a narrow, lamp-lit side street.

Taormina Sicily Flower

What To See:

Taormina’s most famous attraction is the Greek Theatre, a breathtakingly well-preserved amphitheatre dating back to the third century BC. Put it to the test with a sunset concert, or plan your visit around the annual Taormina Film Fest, which has been held in Taormina since the seventies and dates back to the fifties.

Most tourists don’t know that Taormina is actually home to another much smaller amphitheatre called the Odeon, which is hidden near Palazzo Corvaja, behind the Church of Catherine of Alexandria.

Connected to the coastline by a thin path of beach that all but disappears at high tide, Isola Bella lives up to its name. This “beautiful island” serves as a small, rocky nature reserve of exotic plants and pebbly beaches. For a fresh perspective on the island, go for a boat ride and explore the coastline’s secret coves and mythical grottos, including the famed Grotta Azzura.

With tinkling fountains and tangles of lush greenery, the landscaped gardens and whimsical pavilions and aviaries that make up Villa Comunale act as Taormina’s botanical gardens. Hide out from the mid-day sun under the columns of olive trees and swaying cypresses.

Taormina Sicily View

Where To Venture:

Perched on a craggy pedestal in the clouds above Taormina, the quaint, crumbling enclave of Castelmola can be reached by foot—if you don’t mind a bit of a hike. Panoramic views over the Ionian coast will be your reward. Take it all in over a glass of Blandanino, the sweet almond wine and signature tipple of Caffè San Giorgio.

Inland from Taormina, there’s the wonderfully atmospheric Motta Camastra, a Medieval village with only a few hundred residents, overlooking the Alcantara River valley. The valley, carved by flowing lava and dense with hazelnut trees and citrus groves, is now a nature reserve of dramatic gorges and rushing waterfalls.

Up the coast, you’ll find the towns of Savoca and Forzà d'Agrò, famous for their roles in Francis Ford Coppola’s Godfather films and all but forgotten by time. The vine-covered, country-rustic Bar Vitelli in Savoca is a must for fans.

Oenophiles need only to head in the direction of Mount Etna: Visit the modernist Pietradolce winery in Solicchiata (save room in your suitcase for a few bottles of their fresh and minerally Archineri, made with local white Carricante grapes), or check out the stylish tasting room and refurbished palmento (traditional pressing room) at Tenuta di Fessina in the nearby village of Rovittello, where you can sometimes spy the passing railroad cars of the delightfully retro Circumetnea Railway, which encircles the base of Mount Etna.

Lastly, don’t forget to pay a visit to “Mamma Etna” herself. With a memorizing lunar landscape of red and black hills, active craters, and otherworldly lava flow caves, a trip to the volcanic Mount Etna is unlike anything else.

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