Undoubtedly, Taormina is one of the most picturesque locations in all of Italy. If you’re planning to stay a couple of days in Taormina before or after the conference, here you can find the must see sites.
Taormina’s Greco Roman Theater is probably the most visited and photographed site is all of Sicily and for good reason. The site is simply spectacular. Perched on a hill overlooking the Ionian Sea, and with a perfect view of Mount Etna looming in the distance, it makes for an absolutely beautiful setting. The ancient theatre is built mostly of brick, which would indicate that it is of Roman origins, but its layout follows what is considered to be a Greek design so it is sometimes referred to as the Greco Roman Theatre. Most likely the theatre was of Greek origins and then rebuilt on its present site by the Romans. No matter its origin, the theatre is a must see on any visit to Taormina. Because of its remarkable preservation the theatre is still used today for concerts and theatre performances. If you happen to be in Taormina during a performance look into attending a show here for an unforgettable experience.
Located on the top of a hill above Taormina is the quaint village of Castelmola. Considered one of the most beautiful towns in all of Italy its precarious setting high above Taormina provides for an amazing view of Taormina, the beaches of Giardini Naxos, and Mount Etna. The Duomo of Castelmola, also known as the church of San Niccolo’ di Bari, is worth a visit and has a balcony which affords some great views. The remains of the castle itself are not much, but it is worth the few extra steps to climb to the ruins of the castle if for no other reason than the view. The village is a great spot for a mid day lunch break and some shopping. Getting to Castelmola can be done with a short taxi ride or you can take the bus. The bus station is a ten minute walk from the center of Taormina and the bus trip takes about fifteen minutes. For the adventurous souls out there you can walk/hike up to Castelmola. Plan on at least an hour each way and possibly more depending on your physical condition.
This tiny island is located in a small bay on the coast just below Taormina. The island is connected to the mainland by a small and narrow path that depending on the tide may be submerged. The island itself was actually private property up until 1990 when the owners went bankrupt and auctioned the island, which was bought by the Region of Sicily. Since then it has been designated as a nature reserve and is home to numerous species of birds and lizards. The island also has a very small beach area that seems to be very popular with sun bathers. There is a larger beach area on the mainland side and folks seem to come and go from the island with relative ease. To get to Isola Bella from Taormina you will have to take the cable car down to the coast. From here it is a short walk to the beach at Isola Bella. Please be forewarned that the beach here is not sand but pebbles so bring the necessary footwear.
The Alcantara Gorge is something that I highly recommend. As it’s about a 40 minute bus ride from Taormina you should probably dedicate at least a half a day for a visit here. Located on the north side of Mount Etna, the Gorge was formed thousands of years ago when a lava flow from the volcano was cooled quickly by the flow of the Alcantara River. This quick cooling resulted in the lava forming columns through which the river eroded a channel, eventually resulting in the gorge that you see today. There is a beautiful path that you can walk that follows the top of the gorge and you get some great views looking down into the gorge from this vantage point. You can also take an elevator down to the river where there is a small beach where you can swim, sunbathe, and walk the shallow river if you like. For the more adventurous, you can do some river trekking with a guide and the appropriate equipment can be rented here if you like. A visit to the Alcantara Gorge is a great break from the crowds of Taormina. The site has facilities including a restaurant and the bus stop is right at the front gate to the Gorge site.
Many visitors either bypass the public gardens or are simply not aware that they are here. I found the gardens to be a beautiful shady respite from the crowded Corso Umberto. Also known as the Trevelyan Gardens, this English-style garden has a panoramic walkway that faces the sea and Mount Etna. Numerous flower beds, bushes, trees and finely trimmed hedges adorn the garden and make for a pleasant walk or a great spot to just sit and admire the view. The garden also contains a few old artillery pieces from WWII, a play area for children and a few cottages and towers. A small terrace area is also found here and is used for small outdoor concerts or gatherings. If you’re looking for a break from the hustle and bustle of Taormina head to the public gardens for a little rest and relaxation.