If you see just one place in Sicily, we believe that it should be Taormina, Italy.
It’s the most picturesque and requested location in Sicily because it wraps around a silly gorgeous landscape.
Taormina teeters off a cliff overlooking the Ionian Sea, carved into ancient rock with majestic mountains and active volcanoes for its nosy neighbors.
Truly, it’s a slice of heaven –– that’s why we spend three nights in Taormina on our hot Sicily Tour.
It’s where we dream of snapping up seaside villas (don’t you love cruising the real estate listings while you’re traveling?), falling for a hottie on a gondola and channel our sexiest Sofia Loren.
Taormina, Italy is non-negotiable for your Sicily trip, and we wanna spill the almond vino on why it rocks its Greco-Roman ruins.
The Beginner’s Guide to Taormina, Italy
There are three reasons people love to love Taormina: the majestic mountains, the serene sea, and the gorgeous Greek amphitheater. It’s a historic holiday resort, with luxe-y-exotic-y-historical-y vibes. Think Sicilian Monte Carlo.
While most people who visit Italy like to hop around –– Taormina is The Best Place to settle in for your entire vacation, if you want a hassle-free trip that lets you relax from your brain to your sandy tippy-toes.
Taormina was one of the first colonies founded by the Ancient Greeks in Sicily, and over the years the Greeks and Romans have left their mark on this thriving town. And since it was good enough for the likes of Tsars and Oscar Wilde (it was a must-see spot on the Grand Tour) and for The Godfather to film, Italians love to go back as often as they can. Ourselves, included.
So, let’s break it down –– what to see, where to stay and eat and how we’d choose to spend a day in Taormina, Italy.
Taormina: What to See
Taormina, Italy is all about the groovy Greco-Roman architecture and the sexy landscape. If we could prioritize a few things for you to see and do (when you’re not having a siesta post-swim in the sea), this would be our smoldering hotlist.
Visit the Greco Teatro
The theatre that causes all the fuss, with good reason. The Greco Roman Theatre in Taormina is probably the most photographed spot in Sicily. It’s a crazy cool fusion of Greek design and Roman material (beautiful brick), which makes for an incredible view.
Having Mount Etna smoking in the distance and the Ionian Sea as a backdrop, to boot? C’mon. You gotta go. And possibly tempt yourself into donning a toga afterward.
Taormina Tip: Check out the local events calendar to see if you can catch a concert or theatre performance here while you’re visiting. (Sting played there recently.)
Swimming at the Beach, Like Isola Bella
Taormina has many pretty beaches. You can pick a hotel down at the beach (find one with a beach club access). The beach connecting Isola Bella is Taormina’s most beautiful beach. It was acquired by Lady Florence Trevelyan in the 1890s, when she was exiled from Sicily (for love!) –– and it oozes hard-to-find charm and cacti alike.
The beaches of Taormina are in Mazzarò (more on that, below). You can get to Isola Bella by taking a cable car to the foot of the town to Mazzarò or walking through Via Pirandello to take the path that leads directly to the island at low tide. Pack your bikini and a towel and spend a few hours swimming and getting your glow on.
Explore Mount Etna
You can’t come to Taormina and pass up on the volcano peeking out of the corner of your hotel room –– Mount Etna can be seen from just about any angle in Taormina, and you’ll kick yourself if you don’t take a small trip to see one of the world’s most active volcanoes.
Mount Etna is about a 1.5 hour drive from Taormina, and we recommend looking into a local tour to get there –– or renting a car or hiring a driver to take you.
If you opt to explore it yourself, you’ll be content exploring the foothills at the base –– it’s about a 3-hour hike. If you’re curious about navigating the upper crater, it’s best to go with a local guide.
Take a day trip to surrounding villages
You’d be remiss to travel to Taormina and not explore some of the surrounding villages –– it’s one of the main reasons we love to go on our Sicily tour (we’ve got experts on the ground who always have something cool up their leather boots).
Here are some of the villages we love, and what you should do when you go:
- Marzamemmi: Have lunch (order a seafood dish) al fresco at this cutie-pie seaside village and snap some new photos for your friends –– every corner here is a photographer’s heaven.
- Noto: Explore this baroque city at sunset if you can, and stop here for dinner or to swim at Lido di Noto, a gorgeous stretch of blindingly white sandy beach.
- Savoca: Go to this mountaintop village if only to have a cappuccino at Bar Vitelli, where scenes of The Godfather were filmed and you can forget about real life, behind an oversized pair of sunnies.
Taormina: What to Eat
Strong Sicilian, earthy flavors are the name of the culinary game in Taormina. You’re spoiled for choice in this tasty town –– from Michelin-starred restaurants to cute sidewalk cafés, it serves up plenty of Sicilian classics.
By that, we mean dishes like spaghetti alla Norma (ft. tomatoes, aubergine, and pecorino cheese), pasta con le sarde (sardine-topped macaroni with pine nuts and raisins), octopus salad and of course, fried seafood –– like golden breaded swordfish with olives.
Oh –– and don’t forget to take home some almond wine. So stupendo.
Here are our favorite spots to wine and dine in Taormina:
- For lunch in the old town: Pizzeria Villa Zuccaro
- For a bite after the beach: Il Barcaiolo
- For a romantic view above Taormina: Al Saraceno
- For a fancy-pants meal: Ristorante Granduca, Principe Cerami (book this Michelin restaurant in advance)
- For mid afternoon pick us up: Bam Bar (for granita), Pasticceria Etna (for torta di mandorla –– almond cake)
Taormina: Where to Stay
Before we dig into where you should stay in Taormina, Italy –– you gotta understand the difference between your two options: the historic center, and the sea.
The Historical Center
The historic center is our personal favorite –– it’s filled with winding, walkable medieval streets (it’s basically pedestrianized). If you dig resort-y feels and a bit of a buzz, it’s the best spot to stay in Taormina. Candlelit tables, Italian families laughing over vino and enough shops to satisfy your itch to whip out your wallet (save some room in your suitcase for fab finds as the shopping in taormina is great).
When we visit on our Sicily tour, we stay in traditional hotels in the historic center, with a sea view. Even though you can see the Ionian Sea from the town, it’s high up in the cliffs –– there’s a funicular/gondola to take you down though, so you can have it all.
Where to stay in the historical center of Taormina, Italy:
- Value lodging, apartments and guest houses: Hotel Condor Taormina, Hotel Villa Nettuno, Al Teatro Greco
- Fancier 4 & 5 star hotels: Hotel Taodamus, Villa Ducale, Hotel Villa Taormina, Hotel El Jebel
The Seaside (this area is called Mazzarò)
Stay by the sea if you’re in Taormina solely for a beach vacay. Here’s where you’ll find stretches of seaside villas, and you’ll have to pick your spot carefully –– there are small stretches of sand and pebble beaches, but you’re more likely to enjoy being by the water if you stay at a beach resort. If you’re visiting Taormina to just soak up the sea, this is where you should be. The area around Isola Bella is called Mazzarò. The area of beaches of Taormina is also called Taormina mare.
To get up to the main town of Taormina, you’ll travel by the cable car, a cab or bus. There is a walking path (and a million stairs).
Where to stay by the sea in Taormina, Italy:
- Value lodging, apartments and guest houses: Mendolia Beach Hotel, Hotel Jonic Mazzaro, Maison Blanche
- Fancier 4 & 5 star hotels: Villa Sant’Andrea, Grand Hotel Mazzaro, La Plage Resort
Taormina: A Perfect Day On Our Sicily Tour
We spend three nights in Taormina on our Sicily tour, and our favorite moment is surprising our guests with the super fly views as we roll in from Ortigia the day before.
Our best day starts at our gorgeous seaside hotel, smack dab in the historic center, where we start with a light brekkie (more eating is on the agenda for the day), with balmy warm breezes setting the tone.
We jump into a car with our private driver, and we whisk you off to the surrounding villages of Taormina, which are the true gems in the area. Where we stay is filled with tons of small coastal and hidden mountain top villages, and we line up a selection of stops to show you the real, honest-to-goodness Sicilian lifestyle that brings people to Italy in the first place: the pace, the food, and the people. (If you wanna know which ones –– you should come to Sicily with us in October).
We spend the day eating and chatting our way through these uniquely Sicilian villages with our local guides, and you’re bound to be wowed by one of three things: getting a smokin’ view of Mount Etna, sipping an espresso at Bar Vitelli (feeling like a celebrity on The Godfather set) and seeing how real, rural Sicilians live.
When we return, we freshen up and head to Ristorante Granduca. By this point, we’re on day nine of our tour and our group gets on like a nonna in her kitchen on a Sunday –– like family.
Bellies full, we’re ready to doze off and wake up to the pastel sunrise over the Ionian Sea –– the best view from our hotel.
Sounds pretty dreamy, right?
Well, if you wanna come to Taormina with us –– we’ll show you all this and tons more.
You can join us on our Sicily 2019 Tour (we have only one date left):
October 12 – 22.
We’ve got a cushy seat at Ristorante Granduca with your name on it.
Leave a comment below or book a call with Bianca here!