Taormina is at the centre of a historic and highly picturesque area which captures the admiration of visitors from Italy and from all over the world, increasing the number of people who crowd the narrow streets of the ancient town every year. The more experienced travellers or those who already know our territory, will certainly tell you that if you really want to get to know Taormina well, you also have to explore its surroundings. Short trips out into the surrounding countryside, to discover neighbouring villages and territories which still preserve the kind of rural charm that one associates with yesteryear, where one can be entranced by the magnificent scenery of the Alcantara Valley and Mt. Etna set off by the bluest of seas.
The surroundings of Taormina
Some of the most enchanting medieval villages in Italy
Just above Taormina, Castelmola is situated about 3 kms from the centre of the town. It is a small medieval village, with steep, narrow alleys, stone houses and steps, that still possess the flavour of the Middle Ages. It is like a veritable balcony, overlooking the view beneath and makes ones head spin when one leans over the parapet of its little main square , to look out onto the breathtaking view of the majestic bulk of Mount Etna, with the villages clinging to its slopes, the Ionian coast, the Naxos Gardens bay, Cape St. Alessio, the straights of Messina and the Calabrian coast. It is a lovely experience to wander along the narrow little streets and you will be bewitched by the scent of aromatic herbs and delicious cooking smells emanating from the beautiful stone houses.
The village of Forza d’Agrò is on the top of a hill just above Cape St. Alessio. Along the road that climbs up from the sea to Forza d’Agrò, one is continually entranced by spectacular views of the Sicilian Ionian coastline, the straights of Messina, the coast of Reggio, Taormina and the top of Mt. Etna – exquisite prospects to be savoured with the serenity of an experienced traveller. Once you reach the little village, you just have to “get lost” in it, exploring the little alleyways that thread through the rocks. The most important buildings are the Mother church, dedicated to the Most Holy Annunciation, the Augustinian convent, the church of the Holy Trinity and the Norman castle of the XIVth century, of which only a few ruins are still outstanding. The belvedere terrace or main square of the town overlooks the Ionian sea – the whole coast from Messina to Syracuse. In 1971 the village was chosen by Francis Ford Coppola for the exteriors in numerous scenes used in all the God-father films.
Of all the attractions in the territories around Taormina, Mt. Etna is certainly the one which needs the least introductions. It is not only the most active volcano in Europe, “a ‘Muntagna” (as it is called by the people who live at its feet) is also a combination of culture and natural interest that has few matches anywhere in the world. Its shape and its (benevolent/malevolent) nature have inspired generations of adventurers and men of culture. It has been a UNESCO heritage site since 2013 and is certainly one of the places which make a visit to Sicily worth-while. Several times a year, one can witness the spectacular activity of the volcano, the explosive power of which explains many of the myths that have grown around the volcano. The force and energy exhibited by these events redden the average Etna night-scape.
The village of Savoca welcomes its guests with its lava-stone paved roads, flanked on either side by the distinctive houses in local stone, all elegantly covered in the natural tints of the ancient rural community. The houses are often separated by veritable gullies or split in two by the rocks, on which the elder grows spontaneously, the Latin name of which (Sambucus Nigra) was the origin of the name of the village. Ruins, little alleys, cisterns dug out of the rock lend a special taste to the place. Medieval Savoca was a walled citadel with two gates, one of which is still in existence. From the 13th century City Gate , with its Gothic arch in local stone, one enters the historical centre, where one can see the Town Hall and the Palace of the Archmandrite, of which, unfortunately there is very little left. Savoca is also famous because it was one of the sets used in the God-father. One of the most unforgettable scenes is the one in which Michael Corleone meeds Apollonia’s father in front of a very recognizable Bar Vitelli.
Seven thousand years of history, together with exceptional natural beauty, as well as geological aspects, make the Aeolian archipelago one of the most attractive tourist destinations in Sicily or Europe. Seven remote islands are fascinating and exotic and, because of their geographic position, are the ideal destination for a cruise far from everyday drudgery. Vulcano, Stromboli, Alicudi, Panarea, Filicudi, Lipari and Salina are the stops on a rapid journey in the “terrible” calm of solitary natural surroundings: from one island to the other, one can retrace a legendary voyage , dreaming of Aeolus. The Aeolian Isles are ancient creatures: situated in the southern Tyrrhenian sea, about 12 sea-miles from the Sicilian coast, they emerge from the sea and have evolved over time, assuming diverging geological features.
Catania is a large city, the second largest in Sicily. It is vital, full of an attractive, chaotic energy, and Mt. Etna looms, dark and majestic, above it, as if it wanted to make its presence known merely through its shadow. Its squares, and Baroque mansions adorn most of the roads. The Chalcidians founded Catania in 729 B. C., but other populations, like the Romans, the Byzantines and the Normans forged its temperament over the following centuries. Once it became a flourishing market town and emporium, Catania was partially destroyed by the terrible eruptions of Mt. Etna, which twice, in 1669 and in 1693 covered the whole of the city and the nearby towns with cinders and lava. Catania did not give up and its architects rebuilt the city. They had learnt from the two disastrous events and constructed the escape routes that the technical knowledge of the times enabled them to plan. The result was the exuberant, pompous Baroque that is visible all over Catania and still – although in parts somewhat decadent – gives the city its flavour.
The Taormina territory
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