We love all of Italy – we’ve yet to find a city we wouldn’t enjoy coming back to again and again, and Taormina Italy was no exception. We visited in September on a cruise ship shore excursion, and the weather was absolutely perfect like it usually is in the Mediterranean (especially in September when the heat has died down a bit). The cruise ships dock in Messina Italy, a medium size city, though the third largest on the island of Sicily, and of course located conveniently close to the mainland boot of Italy. For those not limited to one day, the ferry ride to the mainland of Italy takes just 25 minutes to the mainland through the Strait of Messina. The port itself is uninspiring as most ports are, but it does place you in the middle of the city and close to the Messina attractions like the gothic and quite picturesque, Messina Cathedral.
Since it was a shore excursion, we hopped on the bus and within about 45 minutes we arrived at the parking garage in Taormina. Despite beautiful coastal views along the way, our first impression was a bit disappointing. The busses park below the town level so you have to take elevators to get to the village level, and even stepping out of the elevator was a bit of a letdown – looked like a big, empty piazza with not much to do or look at. That impression changed quickly after our 3 minute walk to the first gated entrance to the Corso Umberto, the main street running through the town.
Immediately we were in love with Taormina. When you think of quaint, picturesque Italian resort towns, this is what you ideally expect. Narrow, medieval streets filled with colorful shops, small piazzas filled with cafes, bakeries selling fresh cannoli (the famous dessert of Sicily), and flower filled balconies rising above the alleys and streets. You know you’re in Europe, and specifically, you know you’re in the Mediterranean!
Corso Umberto and Piazza Aprile
Aside from the quaint, Mediterranean atmosphere of the whole town, Taormina has some major draws for tourists looking for the “big ticket” items. Chief among those is the ancient Greek Theatre located right in town, just off the main street and up a slight hill. For history fans, this is a must-see, but for “view” fans, this is a “can’t miss”. Not only are you looking down on the coast of Sicily and out over the Mediterranean Sea, the lookout point offers incredible views of the famous, and still active, Mt. Etna, the tallest active volcano in Europe, one of the other major draws on the island of Sicily.
Ancient Greek Theatre
Make sure you wander around the ancient Theater and and appreciate the beauty from all angles. There is a very small museum/exhibit to wander through, but the main draw is probably the view for most people. You can just imagine what it was like 2000 years ago as the ancient Romans watched plays by the light of flames as they looked out over their island and the vast sea. Truly a wonder…
For souvenir and shopping fans, there’s no shortage of choices, most featuring the traditional triskelion symbol with three legs surrounding a head. Interesting, if not a little creepy. We went for the cat t-shirts of course, and there was no shortage of those either. Though the main town is centered around the Corso, there are quite a few small colorful piazzas and lively streets branching off the Corso. Even with those, the town is small enough that you can check them all out in one day if you’re the fast-paced type.
Corso Umberto. We picked up some cannolis at the orange colored shop
When lunch time rolled around we were faced with our usual dilemma of too many dining choices, all looking fantastic. Taormina has no shortage of sidewalk cafes, dessert shops and quick pizzerias, but we settled on Wunderbar Caffe. We had passed it when we first arrived on Corso Umberto, and the perfect location for people watching on Piazza Aprile, combined with the incredible sea views, meant that even if the food was sub-par, it was going to be a good experience. It turned out to be one of the nicest meals we’ve had in all of Italy.
We sat down in the patio close to the Corso since all the view tables were taken, but luckily within minutes a table at the sea opened up and we snapped it up quickly. We were so glad we did! As we sat and marveled at the blue Mediterranean sea and watched the boats go up and down the harbor, we made pigs of ourselves and gorged on piazza, caprese, olives, pasta, breadsticks, and of course several refreshing local Messina beers . Not an inexpensive meal, but worth every Euro. The service was fantastic, the ambience was perfect, the view was spectacular, the food was tasty, and we fell in love with Taormina even more.
View from our table at Wunderbar Caffe
But never mind that – what about the cats?
The average visitor to Taormina is probably not going to be too lucky in their cat photo safari unless they get off the main Corso Umberto. The good news is that there are dozens of narrow, steep alleys just waiting to be discovered. Within just a few hundred feet of the main gate, we hit the jackpot and got the quintessential Italy/cat photo of all time, taken just steps from the main gate and up a steep staircase. You can’t go wrong with a vintage red Fiat and two beautiful cats on a picturesque Italian street.
Italian cats and cars
But that’s not all the cats we saw, there were a few more roaming around. While we didn’t see a huge number of cats, we left satisfied that we’d gotten some great, typically Italian photos of the local feline population. In general, they all looked healthy, though one was a bit scruffy, and they seemed to be taken care of. Check out the video clips below to see some of these little beauties in action.
All in all, a beautiful day in Sicily and we will be back!
Inside a souvenir store. Notice all the symbols of Sicily with the 3 legs
Quaint side streets
Mimi at the top of the stairs on the left looking for cats
DO try to see all the major sites listed, but DON’T forget to slow down and enjoy the smells and sounds of this Italian gem.
DO try to take photos that capture the essence of this amazing city, but DON’T take so many that your memory of the visit is primarily through the eyes of your camera.
DO stop by a bakery and pick up a famous, fresh Sicilian cannoli, but DON’T leave one in your purse and then eat it the next day (doesn’t travel well, too fresh).
DO walk the entire Corso Umberto. The views at the main Piazza Aprile offer amazing sea and Mt Etna views, but if you head down the Corso you’re rewarded with a completely different coastline, including Isola Bella, a picturesque island just off the coast.