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Taormina
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A Visit to Taormina

You're so close to Sicily (it's just 3.3 kilometers to Messina from Reggio di Calbria ) that it makes sense to at least drop by. Taormina is a legendary city with a dramatic location on the cliffs below Mount Tauro and stunning views of the coast and Aetna volcano. To get there in comfort, your hotel in Tropea may be able to arrange a bus tour; otherwise it's a rental car and a two-hour trip to Reggio Calabria, from where you take an uncomplicated 25-minute ferry across the bay to Messina. Form there it's a short drive along the Sicilian coastline. Here in the south of Italy distances are measured in hours, because with the winding roads and not very well developed traffic organization kilometers don't mean much.

Taormina, which dates from around 395 BC, attracts more than a million visitors a year, a lot of them Americans, for its medieval and Greek-Roman charms, winding alleys, quaint shops and many osterias and trattorias. It has inspired poets and writers like Goethe, D.H. Lawrence and Ovid.

 

Spend the late morning visiting the Greek-Roman amphitheatre. The theatre was begun in the third century by the Greek, who built the lower parts, not having mastered arches yet or the concept of building high. Later the Romans added on the existing structure and enlarged the stage---thus the combination of styles. Walk up the ancient steps to the lookout point from where on semi clear days you'll have a perfect view of the Aetna. This active volcano still has lava running into the valley to the north. You'll also get breathtaking views of the Ionian coastline and the Taormina snuggled against the mountains. The theatre is still host to performances (Electra, Wagner, Brecht) and it's a spectacle to see Taormina's youth all decked out for the night on the cheaper seats at the top. It's quite the social gathering point.

 

For an early lunch, all you have to do is take the colorful and crowded alley leading away from the theater, with all of the touristy shops selling coral jewelry and colorful ceramics, back into the heart of the city and pick any of the charming restaurants in the maze of alleys, perhaps one with a shaded terrace. The specialty of the area is Spaghetti Norma with capers, eggplant and tomatoes. If you're in the mood for seafood, try La Grotta Azzurra in the historical center, near Naumachie Street http://www.ristorantegrottazzurra.com). End the meal with Sicily's famous sweets like cassata with almonds or marzipan and cannoli with ricotta. If you'd like to do some shopping, do it now, for in the afternoon most stores will close for siesta. You'll find stylish boutiques and many great options for home décor. Every time we return from Italy we wish we had bought ore of the beautiful ceramics!

On the way back to Calabria you may want to make a pit stop in the very urban Messina to check out the beautiful dome, graced by huge Byzantine mosaics depicting Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Stop at the bakery right outside the dome for a cannolo.

(Updated: 07/02/08 HC)


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