Taormina is a dramatic place. It sits high on Monte Tauro, with its very own Ancient Greek theatre, and boasts Mount Etna as its backdrop. At night, the moon reflects off the sea in the most magical way. And the people of Taormina have that quintessential seaside glamour that only exists in Italy.
So it is only fitting that it should be the perfect setting for a destination wedding. And that is what took me to Taormina at the end of this summer: the perfect wedding of two particularly awesome friends.
While the wedding festivities took place in some rather spectacular locations, we also sampled some of the best that Taormina has to offer by way of cocktails, dining and culture.
To help with your planning, Taormina is approximately a one-hour drive from Catania airport. If you plan to do a bit of travel around Taormina during your stay, it is worthwhile hiring a car, however you’ll need to factor in that driving and parking in and around Taormina itself is tricky. As our visit was only a few days and we were staying put in Taormina for the duration, we organised a transfer from the airport, which turned out to be a stress-free option.
Taormina itself spreads from the beach all the way up the very steep hill to the old town. Most accommodation is either down on the beach or in and around the old town at the top of the hill. The best and quickest way to get from one to the other is via the cable car that departs approximately every 15 minutes and (at the time of my visit) cost 6 Euro for a day pass.
We stayed in the old town and I found this to be the best option because a lot of the restaurants and bars are located there, so of an evening we didn’t have to worry about transport to and from restaurants – it was all within a very pleasant strolling-distance.
2. Where to Eat
The question “what to eat” is just as important as “where to eat” in Taormina. And from now on, my life is divided into two halves: my life before Bam Bar granitas, and my life after Bam Bar granitas.
The custom in Sicily is to have a breakfast granita (an ice drink, kind of like a slushy, flavoured with fruit or other flavours, sometimes topped with cream), with a brioche bun on the side. And the best granita to be found in Taormina is at Bam Bar. I am happy to say that I adopted this custom with gusto, and enjoyed two granitas per breakfast. I highly recommend the raspberry with cream on top.
For excellent beach-side dining at lunch, I recommend Il Barcaiolo, located on the beach at the bottom of the cable car. If you can nab yourself a spot right on the corner of the terrace, overlooking the beach, then you’re in for an idyllic lunch. The pasta couldn’t be faulted at Il Barcaiolo, and I particularly enjoyed the crab ravioli with prawns.
Our best meal by far was at Osteria Rosso Divino, which I can only describe as a very understated-glam little gem of a restaurant. The menu is impeccably curated, and based on the freshest of local ingredients. Exquisite and romantic in every sense.
For gelato, the best in town can be had at Gelatomania, located on the main street of the old town (Corso Umberto, 7), just metres from the Porta Messina gate. The toughest part of your day will be deciding whether to go with the creamy flavours (Bacio being my favourite), or the palate-cleansing sorbets.
While you’re in Sicily, you simply can’t leave without stuffing yourself full of Italy’s finest pastry dessert, the cannoli. And nowhere does better cannoli than Robertos. You won’t see the cannolis in the window display, and that’s because Roberto will make your cannoli fresh for you when you order it. Sit outside and savour a cannoli or two or three. It’s heaven on earth.
One of the many things I adore about Italian culture is the ritual of aperitivo. From around 5pm it’s when you sit on a terrace somewhere, sipping cocktails and watching the most stylish people as they take their passeggiata. And by far the most fabulous aperitivo is at the Belmond Grand Hotel Timeo. The hotel terrace has one of the most spectacular views of Taormina. And as for people watching, you’ll see the most stylish and glamorous of all of Taormina sipping their cocktails. It’s a must-visit for your stay in town.
And while we’re on the topic of cocktails, you absolutely must forgo the Aperol Spritz in favour of the Limoncello Spritz. You can thank me after you’ve had your mind blown by one of these taste sensations on your next visit to Taormina.
Located a little higher up from Corso Umberto is the museum Casa Cuseni, once the home of, and now houses the private collection of Robert Hawthorn Kitson, the British patron and pupil of Sir Frank Brangwyn RA. The house itself is stunning, and the overgrown gardens something to behold as you can imagine the residents and their colourful guests living a bohemian and alternative existence back in the early 1900s.
I recommend the guided tour so that you hear the full fascinating history of the residents of the spectacularly located residence. You can also stay overnight at the residence itself.
Taormina has no shortage of shopping, mostly located on and around the main street of the old town, Corso Umberto. What seems to be the specialty of the area is the colourful ceramics. And while the ceramic shops vary in quality and prices, the most exquisite ceramics to be found were at a little hole in the wall studio right next door to the Bam Bar terrace on the little side street of Via Giardinazzo. The artist hand paints the most intricate designs on beautiful ceramic plates and bowls. The prices do reflect the meticulous detail and love that goes into each design, but they are well worth a look.