Rain on your wedding day is meant to bring good luck. Rain on a beach holiday doesn't have quite the same charm. On our first day in Sicily, a huge storm turned the sky black and the sea a brilliant shade of green but it cleared pretty quickly and while it rained on and off over the next week or so, I can honestly say it didn’t really affect our plans here.
I really struggled deciding where we should stay in this part of the world. Normally, we look up hotels in our price range, determine their proximity to the beach or to the old town, read some reviews and book online. But Taormina threw me. I knew that’s where I’d want to stay but I couldn’t work out how hard it would be to get to the beaches, where I knew the kids would want to be every day. We decided on Giardini Naxos and I’m not sure how I convinced my hubby to splash the extra cash but I somehow scored an amazing deal at the Hilton, which has its own private beach. It was perfect. The kids swam every day; it was easy to get to and from other beaches and tourist attractions.
Taormina truly is amazing. Perched high on cliffs, some 200 metres up, the views are spectacular. We drove up, with the intention of parking the car and spending the afternoon up there but were forced to do a very hairy u-turn two thirds of the way up. The single lane of traffic going into town was not moving. So my husband drove home with the kids, while I stayed on to battle the crowds. This is a town that was settled 700BC – ancient parts of it from the first century still exist. Now, thousands of years later, it’s absolutely heaving with people – bursting at the seams as one of Italy’s most popular tourist attractions. Hopefully, it can survive the onslaught because the crowds are showing no signs of abating. Taormina is the most perfect combination of history, culture, shops and what Sicily is so famous for - food. But the shops! The shops!!! I don’t think I’ve enjoyed a better mix. There were all the usual Italian suspects but some fabulously quirky and eclectic boutiques thrown into the mix. I had an absolute field day and came back with 3 pairs of swimmers (I HATE buying swimmers!) sunglasses and a dress or two.
Mount Etna was also a huge highlight for our family. We were totally unprepared for the chilly conditions when we got out of the cable car and had to wrap ourselves in our beach towels to get warm but the thrill of being on a volcano was just fabulous. You clamber up big black hills and take in an almost moon-scape choked by cloud. The drive up and down the mountain is beautiful, particularly on the southern side, where crops thrive in the volcanic soil. The kids had endless questions about volcanoes, lava and Etna’s most recent eruption, which coincidentally, was the very next day.
Isola Bella is an absolute must. Known as the Pearl of the Ionian Sea, this beach is at the bottom of Taormina and it’s stunning. You can walk out to a little island and set up camp for the day. But bring your snorkels or goggles - this is a protected marine reserve, so the fish life here is fabulous and you don’t have to swim out far to see it. The beach is rocky so you’ll need your beach shoes here and if you forget a picnic, there are a couple of very tempting seaside restaurants.
Where we stayed: Hilton Giardini Naxos
Where we ate: La Sirena Ristorante – we came here a few times. The pizza and pasta are made on-site and tasted amazing. It’s affordable too. I can vouch for the seafood mixed grill! La Cambusa was also fabulous – and right on the water, with views of Taormina above.
Another recommendation (which was closed when I went) was Tischi Toschi in Taormina.
How we got there: Plane to Catania and hire car
What worked: I loved our little holiday but if I went without kids, I’d stay in Taormina.
What didn’t: Definitely bring thick coat and long pants for Mount Etna!