The French philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville called Sicily "the land of gods and heroes," and if that's the case, Taormina is its Mount Olympus and the big attraction for cruise passengers visiting the Mediterranean island.
This charming cliff-top town has pretty much everything you could want -- varied shops, a lively atmosphere, beautiful churches, medieval walls, lots of restaurants featuring good quality local dishes at affordable prices and best of all, fabulous views across the Med (particularly from its spectacular Greek amphitheater, where you can get a glimpse of Sicily's other big attraction, Mount Etna).
Better still, Taormina is compact and easily explored in a short time, so first-time visitors can get a lot out of a day visit (including a chance to splash about in the Med off the town's pretty Isola Bella beach).
Meanwhile, repeat visitors will find plenty to do further afield in Sicily, a beautiful and richly historic island that has been shaped over 30 centuries by invaders from Africa, Asia, Arabia and Europe.
Down the centuries, Sicily has played host to many legendary figures including Archimedes, St. Paul and Richard the Lionheart and (more recently) Goethe, D.H. Lawrence and those twin Hollywood deities, Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor.
So, although you might find tourists thicker on the ground nowadays than either gods or heroes, at least you'll know you're treading in some famous footsteps.
Good to Know
Hidden charges if you choose to have a refreshing gelato while sitting on a cafe terrace, however humble. (This added 2 euros to the bill for two ice creams.)
Uphill walking and -- at the amphitheater -- some steps and uneven ground. Wear sensible shoes and take a walking stick if necessary.
Crowded streets -- especially in the peak summer months.
Siesta time, generally from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., when many shops close. If you're set on a serious shopping fest, head to Taormina in the morning. That said, this is a tourist town and tourist-oriented stores -- particularly along the Via Teatro Greco -- typically stay open at busy times.
Take home a bottle of speciality liqueur. Limoncello is Italy's most famous, but in Taormina, you'll find falling-down water available in all kinds of weird and wonderful flavors like orange, cinnamon and pomegranate.
For a real taste of Sicily, buy some Marsala, a fine fortified wine first produced on the island by the Englishman John Woodhouse in 1773. Rich and addictive, Marsala is a little like sherry. Although it's known as a sweet wine, it has dry varieties that make an excellent aperitif when chilled (ask for Marsala Vergine).
If bottles of booze are too much to lug home, you can pick up prettily ribboned packets of speciality pasta -- some shaped like large conchiglie (seashells), or frilled at the edges and tinted lovely shades of delicate ochre and pale dusky pink -- for a few euros in one of Taormina's many delicatessens. While we can't vouch for the taste, the pastas make a fine visual addition to a foodie's kitchen. Or pick up some biscotti, candied fruits and other goodies you'll find in ample supplies at the food shops.