A picturesque pedestrian street
Taormina’s main street is the beautiful Corso Umberto, bounded on both sides by the ancient city gates, Porta Catania and Porta Messina. The street showcases a wealth of architectural styles, and if you look closely, you’ll find a Star of David on the front of the town hall – as well as alley names like Vico Ebrei, alluding to the long-time Jewish presence in Sicily.
Corso Umberto is the place for a leisurely stroll in the evening, with a variety of shops, ice cream parlors, restaurants, and bars. However, go down (or up) the stairs leading to side alleys and inner courtyards, and you will discover many more restaurants and hidden gems. One of the best places for a granita or ice cream is Bam Bar. And for a light meal of arancini or pizza al taglio, look for Antica Rosticceria Da Cristina, very close to the beautiful Piazza Duomo.
You simply cannot miss a visit to the ancient Greek theater, considered the second largest in Sicily. It is well preserved and is therefore still used today for a host of plays and other events, such as film screenings, so you can join the thousands who flock to the stands to enjoy the magical atmosphere and the beautiful view of the bay.
A public garden
Just a short walk from the theater, another point of interest is the beautiful Villa Comunale. The park was initially planted by a Scottish noblewoman named Florence Trevelyan, who was forced into exile following rumors of an affair she had with the heir to the throne, Edward VII. She arrived in Taormina in 1882, purchased the land, and planted a beautiful garden that still bears her name. The serene park is full of fish ponds, flower beds, shady paths, and follies, the perfect background for some Instagrammable moments.
A tiny island
Take the cable car from Taormina to Mazzaro, and go down about a hundred steps to the rocky coastline. There are cafes and beach beds for rent along the narrow pebble-strewn beach, and you can swim or snorkel in the clear waters. Still, most people come here (at low tide) to walk to the beautiful tiny island of Isola Bella, which once belonged to the above-mentioned Florence Trevelyan and was recognized as a nature reserve in 1990.
A most luxurious hotel
Even if you’re not staying at San Domenico Palace Hotel, part of the prestigious Four Seasons collection and the star of The White Lotus (season 2), you simply must visit this beautiful property (or come for an aperitif). The historic hotel used to be a monastery; in its previous incarnation, it hosted some of Hollywood’s biggest stars; and is worth a visit today to admire the works of art, the inner cloisters, and the beautiful garden that overlooks the infinity pool and the Ionian Sea.
The Godfather village
The Godfather aficionados certainly don’t want to miss a visit to Savoca, about 40 minutes from Taormina. Several key scenes in the movie were filmed in this tiny village, and though the visit here is short, this picturesque and well-hidden gem justifies the trip. You can take a tuk-tuk up to the highest church for the best vantage point, then walk down the narrow streets until you return to the main square. Once here, you can refresh yourself with a granita (go for the original lemon flavor) at Bar Vitelli, which has become a small museum dedicated to one of the greatest films ever.
A village upon a hill
A ten-minute steep drive from Taormina will get you to the town of Castelmola, considered one of the most beautiful in Italy. It boasts a gorgeous view of Etna, picturesque alleyways, and a small square crowned with a church. Castelmola became famous mainly thanks to Bar Turrisi, which became quite an attraction due to its unique design (it is hard to miss the phallic theme when you go inside). Surprisingly, the food was also quite good.
Another recommendation we’ll have to save for our next visit is a small pizzeria called Ciccino’s, a long-time favorite of Lorenzo Mariviglia, GM of San Domenico Palace Hotel. The pizzeria is his go-to place for fabulous pizza and a hearty welcome by the owner, who also sings and plays the guitar. According to Mariviglia, it is the place to find billionaires sitting next to boisterous Sicilian families.
Nature in all its glory
Calling all nature and extreme lovers! Don’t miss a trip to Alcantara Gorge, about half an hour’s drive by car to the foothills of Mount Etna. The canyons created here by the flow of lava thousands of years ago are today considered the Grand Canyon of Italy (their total length reaches 33 miles). This is a great place for those looking to cool off at the height of summer in natural pools, go on a trek along the gorge, do some whitewater rafting or rent ATVs.
An active volcano
You can see Mount Etna, the most active and largest volcano in Italy, from almost anywhere in Taormina and its surroundings, as it is hard to miss the smoke billowing from the top. If you wish to get to know the mountain that shaped the face of Sicily and was declared a UNESCO heritage site, you can drive up to the cable car station at Rifugio Sapienza and climb to a height of 8200 ft. The bravest among you can also join a guided trek that climbs closer to the crater, and in the winter, you can also ski on the mountain.
Some wine tasting
The fertile volcanic soil on the slopes of Mount Etna is fertile ground for growing grapes, and the foothills are rich in excellent vineyards and wineries. You can join a tasting tour in many of them, and some even have rooms for rent, from luxurious resorts to rural accommodations (agrotourism). Two of the wineries we were heartily recommended by the excellent concierge at the San Domenico Palace Hotel are Barone di villa Grande and Cottanera.