This week, people in Sicily’s ancient, east coast town of Taormina will have felt slightly less chilled than normal. Mount Etna was in volcanic mood, spewing ‘molten rocks, burning boulders and boiling steam’.
Captured first hand by a BBC film crew, accidently caught up in the middle of Mount Etna’s latest activity, the turbulence would have produced a certain wariness up top, which would have filtered down to Taormina’s Monte Tauro hillside below. This is nothing unusual, as residents are used to keeping a careful eye on Europe’s largest volcano. For centuries, the potentially destructive powers of Etna have always gone hand in hand with what is arguably Sicily’s most pleasant coastal metropolis.
Always a favourite with Nomadic Thoughts’ clients, Sicily’s mild winter climate gives way to glorious spring and late summer temperatures. Mid-summer brings out the island’s heart and soul with long hot dry siestas, balmy summer nights and an ever-so-welcome south-Mediterranean coastal setting.
Taormina’s position, with its exciting harbour-side cacophony and the vibrancy and bright colours of historical sites and old-style elegance, is further enriched by the stunning, snow-capped backdrop of Mount Etna.
The surrounding region benefits from the volcano’s almost perpetual state of activity, with super-fertile volcanic soils supporting prodigious flora and fauna, and wide-ranging agricultural landscapes dominated by vineyards, orchards and farmlands.
On non-active volcano days, I recommend taking a trip from Taormina up to Mount Etna’s peak. Whether travelling up by road or cable car, you are guaranteed an outa-island experience with dramatic views, ashen domes, lava fields and the odd sunken house – a reminder of how destructive this most mythical of spectacles can be. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with over 500,000 years of eruptive history.
The combined charms of Sicilian citrus groves dotted among rural landscapes, with magnificent panoramas over ancient sites will delight any and all. Once back in town, I recommend catching your breath and soaking up the distant views from the ancient Amphitheatre. Equally, make sure you factor in a gentle visit to IX Aprile Square, Duomo Square and Alcantara Gorges.
No doubt you will be seduced by the pace of life in Taormina, as much as by the history and sense of finery so revered by those embarking on an 19th century Grand Tour. The town’s popularity has hardly waned over time, with wafts of ancient cultures enriched by its reputation as a high class playground enjoyed by D.H. Lawrence (who wrote Lady Chatterley’s Lover in Taormina), Oscar Wilde, John Steinbeck, Francis Ford Coppola, Marlene Dietrich, Greta Garbo, Cary Grant and Elizabeth Taylor among others. Today’s visitors will still delight in all aspects of life in Taormina and Mount Etna.