Italy, Sicily, Taormina

Around Town in Taormina, Sicily

January 5, 2015

Even in October, the streets of Taormina are jam packed with tourists, many trailing their tour guides. Large, slow, name tags and fanny packs in evidence, many of these groups of visitors disembark from their cruise ships early in the morning, and after a long day of souvenir shopping for the likes of Homer Simpson as The Godfather tee shirts, thankfully get back on their boats before sunset.

The streets are Taormina are packed with people--even in October.

The streets are Taormina are packed with people–even in October.

 

Both the sheer numbers of people and the shops offering absolute junk surprised me. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many souvenir shops selling so many of the same silly things.

Godfather tee shirts are in abundance at Taormina's shops.

Godfather tee shirts are in abundance at Taormina’s shops.

IMG_3837

How do all these shops stay in business?

How do all these shops stay in business?

 

Despite the crowds and questionable merchandise, the main street, Corso Umberto I, is certainly worth a stroll and there are lovely churches and galleries to stop in and admire as you make you way through the throngs. There are gates at each end of Corso Umberto I– Porta Catania and Porta Messina, through which you enter this pedestrian thoroughfare.  Piazza del Duomo and Piazza IX Aprile are the two main squares in the town with the requisite cafes and shops, though there are also bars and restaurants, along with countless shops, all along the Corso and on the smaller streets. Cafe Wunderbar on the Piazza IX Aprile looks inviting and always seems to have a crowd.

Piazza IX Aprille, Taormina.

Piazza IX Aprile, Taormina, Sicily.

 

IMG_3834

Piazza del Duomo, Taormina, Sicily.

 

IMG_3851

La Fontana, Taormina.

Ceramics are a really popular souvenir all over Sicily and Taormina is no exception. Ceramic heads of kings and queens are especially sought after in the Taormina area. There are a number of stories around this with slight variations, but all have a grisly ending.

IMG_3816

Ubiquitous ceramic king and queen heads.

Taormina, Sicily.

Taormina, Sicily.

More, more, more.

Modern ceramics are popular, too.

Modern ceramics are popular, too.

Leave the main streets and piazzas and you’ll be rewarded by Taormina’s quiet corners.

 

IMG_3874

 

IMG_3825

Find lovely galleries and shops on Taormina’s small narrow streets off the Corso Umberto I.

IMG_3873

This deconsecrated church is now a gallery on a small street off the Corso Umberto.

Taking a break in Taormina.

Taking a break in Taormina.

There are restaurants to suit all tastes and budgets in Taormina, but if you like arancini—a Sicilian specialty that is basically a big rice ball stuffed with delicious cheese, meats and/or vegetables, (tastes so much better than it sounds) you must go to Antica Rosticceria da Cristina. It’s at 2 Via Strabone—a little alley off the Piazza del Duomo near the Excelsior Hotel  This is a carry out place so you’ll queue up, choose your favorite (I like the original), grab a drink and then either eat at one of their very few tables or walk up to the little park outside the Porta Catania (go left after you walk back up the alley towards the main street) and enjoy your al fresco lunch.

IMG_3856

Try da Christina for arancini in Taormina.

The humble but tasty arrancino.

The humble but tasty arancino.

Afterward, treat yourself to some gelato for dessert. My favorite is Gelateria Artigianale O’sciality on Piazza Antonio Abate, just outside the Porta Catania. Yum!

IMG_3878

IMG_3877

Delicious artisanal gelato in Taormina.

 

If you’re feeling quite fit, or just need to walk off the arancini and gelato, take a walk up the 700+ steps through the town to the Madonna Della Rocca and the Castello Saraceno. Look for the signposts.

The cross of the church of Madonna della Rocca can be seen from the town of Taormina below.

The cross of the church of Madonna della Rocca can be seen from the town of Taormina below.

The steps can be steep and are narrow in some areas, but the views are superb and there are sculptures marking the Stations of the Cross along the way.

Stations of the Cross mark the steps between Madonna della Rocca and the town of Taormina below.

Stations of the Cross mark the steps between Madonna della Rocca and the town of Taormina below.

Some of the 700+ steps that lead to Madonna della Rocca from Taormina, Sicily.

700+ steps lead to Madonna della Rocca from Taormina, Sicily.

There are also benches in some spots so that you can stop and rest. Once you reach the top, visit the small but beautiful church of the Madonna della Rocca, so named because it is built into the rock on which it stands.

The church of Madonna della Rocca is built into the rock on which it stands.

The church of Madonna della Rocca is built into the rock on which it stands.

The Castle of the Saracens is not open for touring but you can admire the ruins from a distance.

You can choose to walk down those many, many steps back to town, take a bus which passes just a block below in front of Villa Ducale on Via Leonardo da Vinci or, depending upon the time of day, have the Al Saraceno restaurant or Villa Ducale call a taxi for you.  Villa Ducale offers its guests a complimentary shuttle service into town and back.  Full disclosure—we walked down the steps into town and took a taxi back up to our hotel. A word about public transportation– there are local ASM city buses, which we took when the schedule was convenient, though no buses ran for several hours in the afternoon, and those run by Interbus  (these are blue). Both run regularly and on a schedule.  The Interbus goes farther afield than the local bus. Tickets can be purchased on the bus in both cases.  Look for the main bus stop just outside the Porta Messina. There is also a taxi stand there.

The views are amazing on the steps between the town of Taormina and Madonna della Rocca.

The views are amazing on the steps between the town of Taormina and Madonna della Rocca. We walked down to town, not up.

If you’ve managed to walk up all those steps, reward yourself with lunch or dinner at Al Saraceno, Via Madonna della Rocca. The food is delicious, well priced and if the weather is nice, the expansive outdoor terrace is open. Again, the views are spectacular.  We enjoyed several terrific dinners here.

 

IMG_3938

If you choose to dine at Al Saraceno, make reservations– it’s popular with locals.

 

Next, we’ll explore a few of Taormina’s beach clubs.

You Might Also Like

No Comments

Leave a Reply