Food and Drink in Taormina (Messina)
Taormina has more than 80 restaurants, trattorias and pizzerias. Most are open from noon or 12:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. to midnight or, in some cases, early morning hours. All display full menus with prices outside, so you can take your pick depending on your budget and whether you want a seat on a terrace with a sea view (recommended!)
However nice your ship, try to have lunch -- or at the very least, a plate of antipasti -- in Taormina if you can., Sicilian food is a fabulous blend of culinary influences gleaned from the invaders who inhabited the island down the centuries.
Thick, hearty fish and vegetable stews reflect Spanish and French influences, while the Moors brought eggplant and a love of rice and richly spiced sweet-and-sour dishes. These influences now blend with the Italian love of pasta, fresh herbs, juicy tomatoes, tangy lemons and olive oil to create a fresh, flavorsome but simple cuisine enriched with locally sourced seafood, chillies, pine nuts and olives.
Local specialities include melanzane alla parmigiana (eggplant baked in cheese and tomato sauce), pesce spada affumicato (smoked swordfish), pasta con le sarde (with sardine, tomato, pine nuts and raisin sauce) and -- if you're feeling adventurous -- spaghetti al nero di seppia (featuring a sauce of black squid ink).
Traditional Lunch: La Griglia, a classic Italian restaurant, offers great sea views and a varied but affordable menu -- sea bass costs 14 euros seafood salad 14 euros and puddings 6 euros. (Corso Umberto, 54, 98039; +39 0942 23980; open 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. to midnight, closed Tuesdays)
For a Good View: Ristorante Al Duomo is a pleasant, unpretentious trattoria that overlooks medieval Piazza Duomo -- home to Taormina's 13th century cathedral and a stunning Baroque fountain featuring Taormina's key symbol, a figure that is half woman, half bull. If you call ahead, you might be able to bag a table for two on the balcony. (Vico Ebrei 12; +39 0942 625656; open daily 12:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m.)
For a Splurge: Michelin-starred La Capinera is a beachfront restaurant in Mazzaro. It's pricey but sophisticated and offers fabulous fish dishes. (Via Nazionale Spisone 177; +39 0942 626247; open 12:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m., closed Monday)
Best Cocktail in Taormina (Messina)
Sicily is famous for its wines, so if you're lunching there, sink a glass or two of ruby-red Nero d'Avola (made from one of Sicily's oldest indigenous grapes) or Etna Rosso, made from grapes grown on the slopes of Mount Etna.
Beaches in Taormina (Messina)
Taormina -- 689 feet above sea level -- overlooks a beautiful coastline dotted with picturesque bays and lined with sand or pebble beaches. The best known is the stretch of sand overlooking Isola Bella.
If you're fit and feeling energetic, you can get down to the beach area on foot from the main town, but in peak summer season, an easier option is to take the cable car (funivia) down to Mazzaro Bay.
The three-minute ride takes you to Isola Bella beach from Via Luigi Pirandello, a three-minute walk from Taormina's Porta Messina gateway. Cable cars run every 15 minutes and operate 7:45 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday to Sunday, 8:45a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday. You can travel back and forth all day on a multiple-use ticket. (+39 0942 23906)
Don't Miss in Taormina (Messina)
A stroll along Corso Umberto, Taormina's main street and the place to shop. You'll find everything from designer clothes shops and jewelers to fabulous delicatessens stocked with mouth-watering Italian goodies. Drapers also are stocked with exquisitely embroidered tablecloths and linens. Look out for little art galleries set in the narrow streets, which climb up or lead down to the sea on either side of Corso Umberto.
A photo stop in the lovely Piazza IX Aprile, a broad terrace, offers sweeping views over the Mediterranean Sea. It's the prettiest place in Taormina (that's some contest) and home to the Caffe Wunderbar, one-time haunt of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor and a suitably glamorous place to grab a drink.
The Teatro Greco (Greco-Roman Amphitheater) is the second largest ancient theater in Sicily and a sight to behold. Originally built by the Greeks in the third century B.C., it was rebuilt by the Romans in the first century A.D., when it was used for gladiatorial contests. A 15- to 20-minute walk from Corso Umberto (just go right at Piazza Vittorio Emanuele and along Via Teatro Greco), the theater is set at the top of a hill and offers fabulous views of Mount Etna, the Calabrian mountains and the Ionian coastline. (+39 0942 23220; open 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. April to September, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. in winter)
The Giardino Trevelyan (also known as the Parco Duchi di Cesaro) is a lovely public park on Via Bagnoli Croce, between the Greek theater and the sea. The English-style garden -- designed by 19th century British noblewoman Florence Trevelyan -- has a bench-lined walkway overlooking the sea and Mount Etna, and there is a lovely terrace and an aviary, as well as several Victorian follies (including a cottage, tower and pavilion). (Open 8:30a.m. to 7 p.m. in summer, 6 p.m. in winter)
A must-do in Taormina is a visit to Mount Etna. This magnificent volcano -- one of the biggest active volcanoes in the world -- climbs to 3,323 meters at its peak.
Get back to nature on Isola Bella, a lovely island nature reserve that sits just south of Taormina and is connected by a causeway to the beach just below the main town. Once owned by Florence Trevelyan (who designed Taormina's Trevelyan garden), the island -- also known as The Pearl of the Ionian Sea -- is set in a small bay on the sea and is run by the Italian branch of the World Wide Fund for Nature. It has a small, rocky but popular beach.