TUSCANY + BEYOND

Enchanting Taormina

by Rocelle Del Borrello   (issue no. 12/2005 / July 7, 2005)

Taormina has long been Sicily’s most favourite resort town.  Situated in the northwest of the island, it is perched on a coastal escarpment that looks out onto the Tyrrhenian sea between Messina and Catania. Its ancient narrow streets are full of small specialist shops, cafes, and restaurants, which invite visitors to step into the spell cast by this intriguing town.

 

Indeed, this romantic city has been the inspiration of writers and poets alike, including D.H. Lawrence who lived in the town for a number of years. Here in Taormina he found the inspiration to write his most famous work:  the passionate love story of Lady Chatterley’s Lover.

 

Taormina was settled in 395 BCE by residents from the nearby town of Giardini- Naxos, Sicily’s oldest Greek-established city dating back to 735 BCE. Taormina flourished during ancient Roman times, its beauty and culinary products praised by many ancient writers. Taormina survived the fall of the Roman Empire, but her importance did decrease after later invasions by the Arabs, Byzantines, and Normans, who all left their mark on the city with the fortifications they built above it.

 

The ancient quality of the town is truly magical; even a simple walk through the main street will have you smitten. The array of specialty shops full of fashion designer clothing, jewellery, ceramics, mosaics, puppets, antique books, and artwork are fascinating to browse through. The sunny squares along the main street are perfect for soaking up the golden sunshine and admiring the views. The narrow streets, with their characteristic wrought iron balconies, lanterns, and lava stone pavement, are full of delicate homes and intricate churches.

 

The best view in Taormina is to be seen from the Greek Amphitheatre, which looks out onto the crystal clear Tyrrhenian Sea towards the Mount Etna volcano, a true symbol of Sicily. The amphitheatre was built in the third century BCE by the Greeks and is still the site of summer festival performances. Below the theatre are the enchanting public gardens, home to rare plants and characteristic stone structures, which are scattered throughout the gardens like little magical castles.

 

June is dedicated to the annual Taormina BNL film festival, which begins on the 11th and runs until the 18th and features screenings of both Italian and international films in the charming setting of the Greek theatre. At this year’s festival, Ingmar Bergman will be awarded the Fellini award for cinematic excellence.  He is only part of this year’s line up of international guests.

 

Apart from the film festival there is the equally impressive Taormina Arte festival which features a variety of visual and performing arts. A terrific array of events are performed in the Teatro Antico and the Palazzo dei Congressi of Taormina. This year the list includes: Diana Ross (in concert on July 9); Womad in Taormina, a three-day festival of world music (from July 14-16); Italian classical artists like Edoardo Bennato (July 10); and contemporary music from the Italian singer Giorgia, who will host a concert with Ricky Fanté on July 12.

 

August in Taormina is dedicated to those with more classical tastes, and begins with the Vilnius Festival Orchestra, featuring violinist Vadim Repin, on the first of the month. Following is the third annual opera season of Taormina with a new production of Madame Butterfly by Giacomo Puccini on the 9th, 10th and 12th. The Summer winds down with the ballet of Don Quixote, choreographed by Milena Zullo and featuring the Ballet Company of Rome, on the17th.  A final concert by Francesco De Gregori concludes August festivities on the 21st of the month.

 

This year, Taormina Arte features the newly-started Sinopoli Festival, whose impressive programme includes an opening concert with the La Scala Philarmonic, conducted by Daniele Gatti, and the Sinopoli Chamber Orchestra of Taormina Arte, which will perform the music of maestro Sinopoli.

 

Staying in Taormina can be costly but don’t overlook the nearby coastal town of Giardini Naxos; it is a good alternative for more reasonably priced accommodation. A good idea would be to stay on the beach at Giardini Naxos during the day and then climb up to Taormina during the afternoon to browse the shops and eat an exquisite seafood dinner.

 

It’s easy to reach Taormina by express bus from Catania airport. You’ll have to park your car outside town as the centre of Taormina is closed off to traffic in the Summer.  The good news is there’s really no need for a car as Taormina is small and best negotiated by foot anyway. A funicular cableway connects the town to coastal Mazzarò below.

 

For information on the Taormina Film Festival:

www.taorminafilmfest.it/2005/english/

 

For information on the Taormina Arte Festival:

www.taormina-arte.com/2005/

 

For accommodation suggestions see the Taormina Hotel Association site:

http://www.taohotels.com

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