We were really excited to visit Sicily as it had been on our wishlist for a while. Some of our friends who had been emphasized the importance of renting a car during our stay but as I haven’t driven a car since passing my test eight years ago (yikes!), I didn’t feel confident getting back behind the wheel on an island notorious for its chaotic driving. So we decided to take a chance on public transport. We spent six nights in three different cities, which all had their own character and charms, and complemented each other well. We decided the following itinerary:
- Land in Catania and immediately take a bus to Taormina
- Stay in Taormina for two nights
- Take a bus from Taormina to Siracusa
- Stay in Siracusa for two nights
- Take the train to Catania
- Stay in Catania for two nights
- Fly home to Germany.
We used Interbus to travel from Catania airport to Taormina. The bus company provides connections between Sicily’s main cities and towns, along with offering day trips, tours and excursions. We found the ticket booth easily and were pleased to find two tickets to Taormina only cost €7.50 per person (for a 1hr 30 journey). In true Italian style, the bus arrived 15 minutes’ late but soon enough we were in Taormina. Before leaving the bus station, we bought tickets to Siracusa, where we would be heading in two days’ time.
We were staying in a spacious, attractive two-bedroom Airbnb apartment on top of a steep hill, with a large balcony and gorgeous views of the sea, hillside and coastline. However the hill wasn’t just steep, it was super duper steep. Our Airbnb host probably regretted picking us up from the bus station as his car struggled to make it up the near-vertical hill. We wondered how much wine we’d need to drink to not care about the physical excursion later that evening.
Once we’d checked in, it was time to explore Taormina town centre. We headed to Bam Bar, a graniteria that we had heard a lot about. Granita is a more sophisticated slush puppy/slushies, served semi-frozen and made from sugar, water and different flavourings. Originating from Sicily, it can be served smooth or coarse, depending on which region you are in. Typical flavours include lemon, watermelon, strawberry, coffee, hazelnut, almond, chocolate and many other types of fruit. We ordered two granite (almond, strawberry & peach), and followed tradition of having ours with whipped cream and a brioche bun.
Taormina has several large piazzas (town squares), which were buzzing and lively during the day and night, along with a medley of small, winding side alleys. After several hours of strolling and window-shopping, we stumbled upon
Ristorante RossoPeperoncino. The menu included lots of Sicilian classics and it was difficult to choose what to have. After some dithering, we ordered two pasta dishes (primi). I chose handmade ravioli filled with ricotta cheese, almonds and honey with a pistachio sauce. It was delicious! My boyfriend ordered handmade ravioli filled with aubergines, in a swordfish, tomato and wild fennel sauce. For our main (secondi) I ordered swordfish gratin with tomato, wild fennel and pine nuts. My boyfriend had stuffed sardines, served with caponata. Caponata is a Sicilian aubergine stew, which is bursting with flavours – oily richness from the fried vegetables, tanginess from the tomatoes, sourness from the olives and capers and sweetness from the raisins. The different flavours might sound chaotic but it’s very well-balanced. We had a side salad of fresh Sicilican oranges with red onion & herbs. Overall it was one of our pricier meals in Sicily, but we really enjoyed the food and friendly service.
The next morning, we took an Interbus coach to the Alcantara Gorges. The gorges are beautiful, natural rock formations, created by Mount Etna and the Nebrodi Mountains. Apparently Mount Etna erupted and the subsequent lava flow reached the Alcantara river and was cooled by the water. The lava crystallized and formed some really eye-catching, unusual shapes.
It took us an hour to reach the Gorges by bus. By car, it would be less as we stopped several times along the way. There is a rocky beach, alongside the river, which was popular with tourists and locals alike. It wasn’t possible to really swim in the river; the water reached ankle, knee or waist-height depending on where you stood. We took some sandwiches to snack on, but in hindsight a picnic might have been a better idea. To reach the water, you can either take the stairs from street level, or use an elevator. There are two entrances; the first being a privatized one directly opposite the bus stop, which sells tickets costing €8 for adults. The second entrance can be found 150 metres from the bus stop, in the direction away from Taormina. Tickets at the public entrance only cost €1.50.
After a couple of hours, we caught the bus back to Taormina and spent the rest of the day sightseeing. We wandered around the picturesque city park (Giardini della Villa Comunale), drank glasses of white wine from Mount Etna at a wine bar called Al Grappolo D’uva and indulged in delicious cannoli and some biscuits from Pasticceria Roberto. Dinner was quite casual – we bought arancini from Stritfud. Arancini are incredibly more-ish fried rice balls, stuffed with different ingredients like ragù, cheese, ham or pistachio cream. Stritfud also serves pizza and fried bread with various fillings and is open until midnight. Perfect for a late-night snack!
Our second day in Taormina started with another visit to Bam Bar, this time for chocolate granite and brioche buns. Then it was time to hit the beach. Taormina is close to several beaches; we chose to visit Mazzarò, which is nearby and easily accessible. It’s a pebbled beach, but there are sun loungers that you can rent if you don’t want to lie on the pebbles. From Mazzarò, you can walk 500 metres to Isola Bella; an eye-catching island connected to the mainland by a narrow strip of beach, which is covered by water at high tide.
Both Mazzarò and Isola Bella can be reached by cable car. The cable car station is on Via Luigi Pirandello and cars run every 15 minutes. There are some different ticket options (single journeys, daily and weekly tickets) that you can read about here. I should add that the cable car cashier short-changed us (and didn’t seem particularly apologetic) so make sure to count your change before walking away from the ticket office. There are restaurants, bars, cafes and beach shops between the lower cable car station and beach so you don’t have to bring everything down with you from Taormina town centre.
After several hours on the beach, we went to Teatro Antico di Taormina, an ancient theatre thought to be built by the Greeks in the 3rd century BC. It was later transformed and expanded by the Romans. Nowadays it is a tourist attraction and a venue for cultural events and concerts. It costs €10 for adults to enter, although there are some ticket reductions that you can read about here. You can also get an audio guide for €5, which I’d recommend. While we were exploring the theatre, there was a sound crew setting up for an evening performance – chatting and clattering equipment – so it wasn’t as atmospheric as we’d hoped. Nevertheless, I am glad we went as it’s a stunning example of ancient architecture and is well-preserved. The site also offers fantastic views of Mount Etna, the coastline and surrounding hills.
Once we had finished walking around the theatre, it was time to catch our bus to Siracusa and continue the rest of our Sicilian adventure. If we had had more time in Taormina, we would have tried to visit Castelmola (a small village not far from Taormina), Monte Tauro castle or the Madonna della Rocca church.
Have you been to Taormina? What did you think of it? And most importantly – did you try the granita at Bam Bar?
Ciao for now
The Curious Sparrow