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Taormina (Naxos), Sicily has beckoned seafaring wanderers since the trials of Odysseus were first sung in Homer's Odyssey. Strategically poised between Europe and Africa, this mystical volcanic land has been a melting pot of every great civilization on the Mediterranean: Greek and Roman; then Arab and Norman; and finally French, Spanish, and Italian. Today Sicily fuses the remains of sackings past: graceful Byzantine mosaics rubbing elbows with Greek temples, Roman amphitheaters, Romanesque cathedrals, and baroque flights of fancy. Messina's ancient history lists a series of disasters, but the city nevertheless managed to develop a fine university and a thriving cultural environment. On December 28, 1908, Messina changed from a flourishing metropolis of 120,000 to a heap of rubble, shaken to pieces by an earthquake that turned into a tidal wave and left 80,000 dead and the city almost completely leveled. For this reason there are few historical treasures but the town makes a good jumping off point for explorations of other treasures.
 
Where You're Docked
Smaller ships anchori nto the port of Giardini Naxos; the pier is within walking distance of the town  and transport passengers to and from a small outdoor dock on tenders. A bus journey from Giardini Naxos to Taormina takes about 25 minutes. Larger ships go to Messina or Catania -- about 30 miles from Taormina -- and passengers travel to Taormina from there.
 
Hanging around at Giardini Naxos is a tender port, and there's nothing there in the way of cruise terminal facilities -- just a small tented area where cruise lines provide seating and cold drinks for passengers. But Giardini Naxos is also an attractive seaside town set on a pretty bay lined with beaches that offer water sports and some jolly local restaurants, gelaterias and cafes. So, if you've previously been to Taormina and fancy a day by the sea, the coastal area at Giardini Naxos will provide it.
 
You'll also find ancient artifacts and chronicles of the history of Naxos (which was the first Greek settlement in Sicily) at the Museo di Naxos, which is located near the cruise tender dock. (+39 0942 51001; open 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. in winter, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. in summer)
 
Of the other two ports, Messina is marginally closer to Taormina, while Catania lies about 34 miles away in the foothills of Mount Etna. Tours to Etna run from all three ports, most meandering up to Rifugio Sapienza, a hotel on Etna's north side, which acts as "base camp" for various hikes around the impressive Silvestri craters.
 
Getting around from Giardini Naxos, a taxi up the hill to Taormina can cost between 12 euros and 20 euros one-way -- so travel with three pals or take a bus from Taormina-Giardini railway station (at sea level) for around 2 euros each way. Buses and taxis stop at a car park below the main town and you ride up to street level in a lift (press the button for Level 7).
 
Taking a taxi in from Messina or Catania costs an even heftier 150 euros to 200 euros (though that's round-trip and should include a couple of hours' waiting time, so it can still work out cheaper than a ship's "Go As You Please" tour if you can travel as a party of four). Be sure to negotiate the fare and waiting time in advance.
 
Alternatively, you can catch a train to Taormina from Messina Centrale station (about 15 minutes' walk left, right and left again from the port) for 3.50 euros each way.
 
A train ride to Taormina-Giardini from Catania costs 4 euros each way, and you'll find the station in Piazza Giovanni XXII, less than a mile from the port.
 
Check return times, though; allow yourself plenty of time to get back to your ship, and don't even consider this if your ship calls at Sicily on a Sunday because train service then is very erratic.
 
Sights
Messina. The reconstruction of Messina's Norman and Romanesque originally built by the Norman king Roger II in 1197, has retained much of the original plan, including a handsome crown of Norman battlements, an enormous apse, and a splendid wood-beamed ceiling. The adjoining contains one of the largest and most complex mechanical clocks in the world, constructed in 1933 with a host of gilded automatons, including a roaring lion, that spring into action every day at the stroke of noon.
 
The reconstruction of Messina's Norman and Romanesque Duomo,originally built by the Norman king Roger II in 1197, has retained much of the original plan, including a handsome crown of Norman battlements, an enormous apse, and a splendid wood-beamed ceiling. The adjoining bell tower contains one of the largest and most complex mechanical clocks in the world, constructed in 1933 with a host of gilded automatons, including a roaring lion, that spring into action every day at the stroke of noon. Piazza del Duomo.

Taormina. The view of the sea and Mt. Etna from medieval Taormina's jagged cactus-covered cliffs is as close to perfection as a panorama can get, especially on clear days, when the snow-capped volcano's white puffs of smoke rise against the blue sky. Writers have extolled Taormina's beauty almost since its founding in the 6th century BC by Greeks from Naples; Goethe and D.H. Lawrence were among its more recent well-known enthusiasts. The town's boutique-lined main streets get old pretty quickly, but don't overlook the many hiking paths that wind through the beautiful hills surrounding Taormina.
 
The view of the sea and Mt. Etna from medieval Taormina's jagged cactus-covered cliffs is as close to perfection as a panorama can get, especially on clear days, when the snow-capped volcano's white puffs of smoke rise against the blue sky. Writers have extolled Taormina's beauty almost since its founding in the 6th century BC by Greeks from Naples; Goethe and D.H. Lawrence were among its more recent well-known enthusiasts. The town's boutique-lined main streets get old pretty quickly, but don't overlook the many hiking paths that wind through the beautiful hills surrounding Taormina.

Castello Saraceno. By footpath or car you can approach the medieval castle, enticingly perched on an adjoining cliff above town, but you cannot continue all the way to the castle itself.
 
By footpath or car you can approach the medieval castle, enticingly perched on an adjoining cliff above town, but you cannot continue all the way to the castle itself. Monte Tauro.
Palazzo Corvaja. Many of Taormina's 14th- and 15th-century palaces have been carefully preserved. Especially beautiful, the Palazzo Corvaja has characteristic black-lava and white-limestone inlays. Today it houses the tourist office and the which has a collection of puppets and folk art, carts, and cribs.
 
Many of Taormina's 14th- and 15th-century palaces have been carefully preserved. Especially beautiful, the Palazzo Corvaja has characteristic black-lava and white-limestone inlays. Today it houses the tourist office and the Museo di Arte e Storia Popolare, which has a collection of puppets and folk art, carts, and cribs. Largo Santa Caterina. Admission charged.

Taormina Mare. Down below the main city of Taormina, at sea level, is this beach near Giardini Naxos, where beachgoers hang out in summer. It's accessible by a (gondola) that glides past incredible views on its way down.
 
Down below the main city of Taormina, at sea level, is this beach near Giardini Naxos, where beachgoers hang out in summer. It's accessible by a funivia (gondola) that glides past incredible views on its way down. Admission charged.

Teatro Greco. The Greeks put a premium on finding impressive locations to stage their dramas, and the site of Taormina's hillside theater is a fine one. Beyond the columns you can see the town's rooftops spilling down the hillside, the arc of the coastline, and Mt. Etna in the distance. The theater was built during the 3rd century BC and rebuilt by the Romans during the 2nd century AD. Its acoustics are exceptional: even today a stage whisper can be heard in the last rows. In summer Taormina hosts an arts festival of music and dance events and a film festival; many performances are held in the Teatro Greco.
 
The Greeks put a premium on finding impressive locations to stage their dramas, and the site of Taormina's hillside theater is a fine one. Beyond the columns you can see the town's rooftops spilling down the hillside, the arc of the coastline, and Mt. Etna in the distance. The theater was built during the 3rd century BC and rebuilt by the Romans during the 2nd century AD. Its acoustics are exceptional: even today a stage whisper can be heard in the last rows. In summer Taormina hosts an arts festival of music and dance events and a film festival; many performances are held in the Teatro Greco. Via Teatro Greco. Admission charged.

Villa Comunale. Stroll down Via Bagnoli Croce from the main Corso Umberto to this oasis. Also known as the Parco Duca di Cesarò, the lovely public gardens were designed by Florence Trevelyan Cacciola, a Scottish lady "invited" to leave England following a romantic liaison with the future Edward VII (1841-1910). Arriving in Taormina in 1889, she married a local professor and devoted herself to the gardens, filling them with Mediterranean plants, ornamental pavilions (known as the beehives), and fountains. Stop by the panoramic bar, which has stunning views.
 
Stroll down Via Bagnoli Croce from the main Corso Umberto to this oasis. Also known as the Parco Duca di Cesarò, the lovely public gardens were designed by Florence Trevelyan Cacciola, a Scottish lady "invited" to leave England following a romantic liaison with the future Edward VII (1841-1910). Arriving in Taormina in 1889, she married a local professor and devoted herself to the gardens, filling them with Mediterranean plants, ornamental pavilions (known as the beehives), and fountains. Stop by the panoramic bar, which has stunning views. Via Bagnoli Croce.

Casteloma. You may think that Taormina has spectacular views, but tiny Castelmola, floating 1,800 feet above sea level, takes the word "scenic" to a whole new level. Along the cobblestone streets within the ancient walls, the 360-degree panoramas of mountain, sea, and sky are so ubiquitous that you almost get used to them (but not quite). Collect yourself with a sip of the sweet almond wine (best served cold) made in the local bars, or with lunch at one of the humble pizzerias or panino shops.
 
You may think that Taormina has spectacular views, but tiny Castelmola, floating 1,800 feet above sea level, takes the word "scenic" to a whole new level. Along the cobblestone streets within the ancient walls, the 360-degree panoramas of mountain, sea, and sky are so ubiquitous that you almost get used to them (but not quite). Collect yourself with a sip of the sweet almond wine (best served cold) made in the local bars, or with lunch at one of the humble pizzerias or panino shops.
 
A 10-minute drive on a winding but well-paved road leads from Taormina to Castelmola; you must park in one of the public lots on the hillside below and climb a series of staircases to reach the center. On a nice day, hikers are in for a treat if they walk instead of driving. It's a serious uphill climb, but the 1½-km (¾-mi) path is extremely well maintained and not too challenging. Allow 45 minutes on the way up, a half-hour down.
 
Castello Normanno. The best place to take in Castelmola's views is from the old ruin, reached by a set of steep staircases rising out of the town center. In all Sicily, there may be no spot more scenic than atop the castle ruins, where you can gaze upon two coastlines, smoking Mt. Etna, and the town spilling down the mountainside. As the castle is completely open-air, you can visit at any time, but you should come to Castelmola during daylight hours for the view.
 
The best place to take in Castelmola's views is from the old ruin, reached by a set of steep staircases rising out of the town center. In all Sicily, there may be no spot more scenic than atop the castle ruins, where you can gaze upon two coastlines, smoking Mt. Etna, and the town spilling down the mountainside. As the castle is completely open-air, you can visit at any time, but you should come to Castelmola during daylight hours for the view.
 
A must-do in Taormina is a visit to Mount Etna. This magnificent volcano -- one of the biggest active volcanoes in the world -- climbs to 3,323 meters at its peak.
 
Get back to nature on Isola Bella, a lovely island nature reserve that sits just south of Taormina and is connected by a causeway to the beach just below the main town. Once owned by Florence Trevelyan (who designed Taormina's Trevelyan garden), the island -- also known as The Pearl of the Ionian Sea -- is set in a small bay on the sea and is run by the Italian branch of the World Wide Fund for Nature. It has a small, rocky but popular beach.
 
Mt. Etna. One of the world's major active volcanoes, Mt. Etna is the largest and highest in Europe—the cone of the crater rises to 10,902 feet above sea level. Plato sailed in just to catch a glimpse in 387 BC; in the 9th century AD the oldest gelato of all was shaved off of its snowy slopes; and in the 21st century the volcano still claims annual headlines. Etna has erupted 12 times in the past 30 or so years, most spectacularly in 1971, 1983, 2001, and 2002; many of these eruptions wiped out cable-car stations. There were two eruptions in 2008 and a sizeable one in 2009. Travel in the proximity of the crater depends on Mt. Etna's temperament, but you can walk up and down the enormous lava dunes and wander over its moonlike surface of dead craters. The rings of vegetation change markedly as you rise, with vineyards and pine trees gradually giving way to growths of broom and lichen. Taormina makes a good departure point for excursions around—but not always to the top of—Mt. Etna.
 
One of the world's major active volcanoes, Mt. Etna is the largest and highest in Europe—the cone of the crater rises to 10,902 feet above sea level. Plato sailed in just to catch a glimpse in 387 BC; in the 9th century AD the oldest gelato of all was shaved off of its snowy slopes; and in the 21st century the volcano still claims annual headlines. Etna has erupted 12 times in the past 30 or so years, most spectacularly in 1971, 1983, 2001, and 2002; many of these eruptions wiped out cable-car stations. There were two eruptions in 2008 and a sizeable one in 2009. Travel in the proximity of the crater depends on Mt. Etna's temperament, but you can walk up and down the enormous lava dunes and wander over its moonlike surface of dead craters. The rings of vegetation change markedly as you rise, with vineyards and pine trees gradually giving way to growths of broom and lichen. Taormina makes a good departure point for excursions around—but not always to the top of—Mt. Etna.

Circumetnea Railroad. Instead of going up Mt. Etna, you can circle it on this train, which runs near the volcano's base. The private railway almost circles the volcano, running 114 km (71 mi) between Catania and Riposto—the towns are 30 km (19 mi) apart by the coast road. The line is small, slow, and only single-track, but has some dramatic vistas of the volcano and goes through lava fields. The round trip takes about five hours; there are about 10 departures a day.
 
Instead of going up Mt. Etna, you can circle it on this train, which runs near the volcano's base. The private railway almost circles the volcano, running 114 km (71 mi) between Catania and Riposto—the towns are 30 km (19 mi) apart by the coast road. The line is small, slow, and only single-track, but has some dramatic vistas of the volcano and goes through lava fields. The round trip takes about five hours; there are about 10 departures a day. Via Caronda 352, Catania. Admission charged.
Activities
 
Mount Etna is a natural magnet for adventure-seekers, but because the volcano is active you should consult experts before tackling the peak. Hiking is certainly a popular choice on the lower slopes, while climbing Mt. Etna proves more challenging.
 
Beaches
Taormina -- 689 feet above sea level -- overlooks a beautiful coastline dotted with picturesque bays and lined with sand or pebble beaches. The best known is the stretch of sand overlooking Isola Bella.
 
If you're fit and feeling energetic, you can get down to the beach area on foot from the main town, but in peak summer season, an easier option is to take the cable car (funivia) down to Mazzaro Bay.
 
The three-minute ride takes you to Isola Bella beach from Via Luigi Pirandello, a three-minute walk from Taormina's Porta Messina gateway. Cable cars run every 15 minutes and operate 7:45 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday to Sunday, 8:45a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday. You can travel back and forth all day on a multiple-use ticket. (+39 0942 23906)
 
Eating Out
Taormina has more than 80 restaurants, trattorias and pizzerias. Most are open from noon or 12:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. to midnight or, in some cases, early morning hours. All display full menus with prices outside, so you can take your pick depending on your budget and whether you want a seat on a terrace with a sea view (recommended!)
 
However nice your ship, try to have lunch -- or at the very least, a plate of antipasti -- in Taormina if you can., Sicilian food is a fabulous blend of culinary influences gleaned from the invaders who inhabited the island down the centuries.
 
Thick, hearty fish and vegetable stews reflect Spanish and French influences, while the Moors brought eggplant and a love of rice and richly spiced sweet-and-sour dishes. These influences now blend with the Italian love of pasta, fresh herbs, juicy tomatoes, tangy lemons and olive oil to create a fresh, flavorsome but simple cuisine enriched with locally sourced seafood, chillies, pine nuts and olives.
 
Local specialities include melanzane alla parmigiana (eggplant baked in cheese and tomato sauce), pesce spada affumicato (smoked swordfish), pasta con le sarde (with sardine, tomato, pine nuts and raisin sauce) and -- if you're feeling adventurous -- spaghetti al nero di seppia (featuring a sauce of black squid ink).
 
Traditional Lunch: La Griglia, a classic Italian restaurant, offers great sea views and a varied but affordable menu -- sea bass costs 14 euros seafood salad 14 euros and puddings 6 euros. (Corso Umberto, 54, 98039; +39 0942 23980; open 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. to midnight, closed Tuesdays)
 
For a Good View: Ristorante Al Duomo is a pleasant, unpretentious trattoria that overlooks medieval Piazza Duomo -- home to Taormina's 13th century cathedral and a stunning Baroque fountain featuring Taormina's key symbol, a figure that is half woman, half bull. If you call ahead, you might be able to bag a table for two on the balcony. (Vico Ebrei 12; +39 0942 625656; open daily 12:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m.)
 
For a Splurge: Michelin-starred La Capinera is a beachfront restaurant in Mazzaro. It's pricey but sophisticated and offers fabulous fish dishes. (Via Nazionale Spisone 177; +39 0942 626247; open 12:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m., closed Monday)
 
Shopping
Taormina is the place in eastern Sicily for shopping, especially along Corso Umberto I and the surrounding alleyways, where chic boutiques sell lace and linen, including placemats and napkins. The island as a whole is famed for its ceramics, particularly its practical folk pottery from Caltagirone, close by along the north coast. Marble and wrought iron are also fashioned into souvenir pieces, and antique shops are numerous, though prices can be high.
 
A marzipan devotee should not leave Taormina without trying one of the almond-based sweets—maybe in the guise of the ubiquitous fico d'India(prickly pear), or in more unusual frutta martorana varieties. Locals also swear by the cannoli, and a block of almond paste makes a good souvenir—you can bring it home to make an almond latte or granita. Local wines and spirits, including limocello are worth seeking out.Pasticceria
 
Etna. This is the place for locally made marzipan. This is the place for locally made marzipan. Corso Umberto 112, Taormina.







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