Sicily – a Spectacular place in the Summer Sun

Finally the summer holidays are here!  Italy is one of my favourite places on Earth, and there are so many beautiful parts to see. I can’t get bored of ever going there on holiday and I was super excited to finally go again to Sicily in Italy. I have been to Palermo for the day as part of a cruise a few years ago, but it was a real delight to plan this year’s summer holidays in the spectacular east coast of Sicily.  A few years ago some friends visited the beautiful resort of Taormina for their honeymoon, and their photos were so amazing that I thought I would love to visit there one day. I have been looking at the hashtag #Taormina on Instagram prior to going on holiday this year as it seems just the ideal place to relax and enjoy ‘La Dolce Vita’ …the Sicilian way. After an early morning flight, it was phenomenal to see Mount Etna just before landing in Catania. Mount Etna is an active volcano and dominates the skyline from miles away along the east coast of Sicily. Like Vesuvius in Napoli, it is amazing to see people living in the path of the volcano and accepting the natural beauty as well as the potential risks as part of their lives. I didn’t have time for a Mount Etna trip, but may do so another time as I was so charmed by Sicily, I hope to visit the region one day in the future.

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Sicily as an island is also shaped with three-points and therefore is known by the symbol Trinacria, which is also on the Sicilian flag. First stop and our based was the beautiful hill top resort of Taormina, which was an hour’s bus drive from Catania. Taormina has been attracting and welcoming a lot of people from the ancient Greeks, Arabs, Phoenicians, Normans, British on the ‘Grand Tour’, Hollywood figures, to current tourist ranging from Italian-Americans, Russians and other international tourists. The buildings and the architecture have stories to tell from the ancient to the modern and still is a magnet for worldly glamour, natural beauty, culture, holidaymakers and sun seekers.

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One of the main highlights of Taormina was seeing the Greek Ancient Theatre, which was built in the 3rd century. It is constructed on the hill in a natural setting with views of the Ionian Sea, the beaches, towns and Mount Etna. It is still a functional theatre and concert venue to the present day. I was in the adjacent garden when I heard the crowd singing along, and also saw fabulous laser light emanating from the theatre at night. The sun was striking at that height when I visited during the day aand great for lighting and the views.  I understand why it is on top of everyone’s list to visit, and a must to share photos on Instagram.

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Isola Bella, when translated means ‘Beautiful Island’, is a little island in Taormina. It was bought in 1890 by English noblewoman Florence Trevelyn and remained in her family until 1990. It had since been turned into a natural reserve, has a few buildings and museum. Florence Treveylan eventually married a Sicilian Mayor of Taormina and lived there until the end of her life. Florence was from Hallington, near Newcastle and a keen gardener before living in Sicily.   She was instrumental in creating the beautiful public pleasure garden ‘Hallington Siculo’ or Sicilian Hallington. The municipal garden is still beautiful today which is situated just under the Greek theatre and with breath-taking views of the sea and Mount Etna. Her contribution to the life and economy of Taormina has been recognised in books, film and there are tributes to her in Isola Bella and the public garden today. Isola Bella is a fabulous beach, and the walk down to beach and the cable car up is a must-do experience.

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The rail service from along the coast of Sicily is reasonably priced and the trains ran regularly. The local bus service was also well serviced to nearby towns and villages. It was nice to use these modes of public transport, as I didn’t want to drive in Italy this time. We decided to go north to Messina for the day and left early for the hour-long train journey along the beautiful coastline. I knew that we will be able to see the coast in most parts of this holiday but I didn’t realise that you can also see Reggio Calabria on the Italian mainland with your naked eye. Messina is less of a tourist destination than Taormina and seemed more relaxed with normal activity of life. I had my first Granita (which is a little bit like Trinidad snow cone) from a mobile vendor on the street, and also a fabulous lunch inside, especially as the weather was very hot outside. The views are great again over the city and across the strait of Messina to the mainland. After seeing my photos, our relatives on holiday in Calabria three hours away said that they felt that we close to them in Messina! Messina is an important gateway and port and the Piazza de Duomo, War Memorial and Church were all very impressive buildings to see.

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A few days later we also went south to the historic city of Siracusa, which is Syracuse in English. The have seen many television documentaries on Syracuse as it was an important place and played a key role in ancient times, when it was one of the major powers of the Mediterranean. The Greeks inhibited this part of Sicily and it is famous for the culture, architectural ruins, ancient history, and for the important mathematician and engineer Archimedes who invented the theory of Pi. The city is proud of this heritage and there are monuments to celebrate Archimedes. I loved the architecture, marble piazza, quaint streets leading to the sea, art shops, market and excellent restaurants. There was a nice buzz and bohemian feel about Syracuse with a modern vibe to it, although it is now a Unesco World Heritage site. I hope to visit Siracusa one day again.

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When I decided to go to Taormina for a holiday, I didn’t realise that it was also the setting for the Italian scenes of the well acclaimed The Godfather by Francis Ford Coppola. The book is based in Corleone, on the other side of the island but I had always wondered where in Italy the film was based – it was great that I actually visited the setting for real!  I eventually found out via the Internet that you could visit the villages of Savoca and Forza D’Argo on a coach tour known as ‘The Godfather Tour’. The coach drive to these towns where very very steep… hand in heart and acute corners for passengers but the drivers all seem very able and used to the landscape. Our Dutch tour guide was also excellent at telling us various anecdotes and stories about the local people, the film and region. The two villages were both very charming and medieval in their layout. It was also nice to see people who lived in these villages getting on with their daily normal chores. Savoca still has the famous Bar Vitelli where the young Michael asked for Apollonia’s hand in marriage, and the church where the got married. The main piazza where they danced at the wedding reception is still the hub of the village.

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I was also in Taormina to relax and enjoy the summer holidays, and to mix the cultural as well as the fun things you can do in Italy. The Italians do know how to enjoy life and also the weather makes a big difference. We spent a few days at the beaches in Taormina, the next village and a day at the pool. I could easily spend more days lazing around on the beach but would need more vacation time to do this.

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Sicily is also amazing for its food, restaurants, markets, ice cream, sweets such as Cassata and Cannolis. The food was just divine to taste fresh in Sicily – it is are a million times better there!

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It was also a pleasure to spend some evenings going for a meal in the many restaurants, even though meals seems a lot more expensive in Taormina…and with the Pound Sterling performing so badly. However, everything was sooo delicious and the Sicilian arancinis and local delicacies you must try! I could believe that a simple almond granita could be sooo delicious and I can’t wait to try an authentic one again. The Italian evening habit of going for a pre or after dinner walk know as the verb ‘Fare una Passeggiatta’ is a highlight of the evening where you can look at the stylish people of all ages, browse the shops and enjoy some fabulous sweets or their world famous ice cream.

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The last few times I went to Italian were to visit relatives and so there is no need to check where you are going or to research places as we rely on local and family knowledge. This was the first time I was able to fully use my smartphone to find restaurants, read reviews and also for using Google Maps for navigating the streets as pedestrians in the cities. It was great to use a smartphone to check for bus and train times too. I know we are able to do this with smartphones but it is still brilliant that we can access these features on the go. It might be another story in another remote place with no network signal.

To end the trip, we spent a day in Catania. The city was very cosmopolitan and exciting to walk along the long promenades, though it was extremely hot during the day for a walk although we saw the bustling market and piazzas. However after a rest, we went out in the evening when the locals and tourists in Catania were walking around and going out for the evening. There are many parts of the city still to see, and Sicily as a whole has been really captivating to me. It is great to see spectacular seas, hills, Mount Etna, the towns along the hills, coast and most people enjoying life in the Sicilian sunshine. There is a lot to do and quite a bit to keep it exciting. I truly hope that I will be able to visit Sicily again, and I will hold that dream of a place and life in the sun until then.

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