Sicily in a Week: Savoca and Taormina

Castelmola Village

Our last full day before we flew home and still so much to see.Some fine views of Etna from Castelmola as we made our way to Pier de Cat cafe for breakfast.Our room deal at Borgo Medievale gave us vouchers for this little place, which turned out to be excellent. Lovely guy running it, the village still quiet as we sat at a small belvedere with wonderful views over the craggy green landscape.

We were persuaded by our host after coffee and croissants,  to try some homemade Arancini – very tasty deep fried balls of savoury rice with different flavours; fuel for a hard day’s sightseeing and likely to add an inch or three to the waistline.Chris below, staying calm as he examines the military campaign that is ‘Another Day in Sicily.’

First stop on the agenda (well, my agenda) was the village’s beautiful small church, a haven of cool air and peace. Then a stiffer climb in the already sweltering heat up to the very top of the village,  where the remains of an ancient castle offered sensational views over Etna, the coast and pastel coloured Taormina.

Castelmola from below

Savoca – one of Italy’s Most Beautiful Villages

My ‘Godfather’ film research led us to our next sightseeing gem – tiny, pristine Savoca, about 40 mins drive away. It sits perched on a crag 300m above sea level and is classed as one of Italy’s most beautiful. It is here, in the Bar Vitelli, that Michael and his two Sicilian peasant guards see Apollonia for the first time and have a conversation with the wrong man about her beauty – her father! Here also is the church where Michael and Apollonia get married; and the little narrow winding road the wedding procession wander down after the ceremony.


We parked easily at the edge of the village and walked up to Bar Vitelli, completely recognisable from the film, a square traditional building, very lovely and with its small courtyard now heavily shaded by vines. It really was the kind of café you dream of finding in Sicily. Amazingly, we were able to sit at the very table used in the film so there we were, ordering lattes and pistachio cake and sitting where a very young Al Pacino created one of cinema’s most fascinating and ruthless characters, Michael Corleone. And then I realised that playing softly in the background was The Godfather’s gorgeous main theme – ‘Speak Softly Love.’ I have to admit, it was quite overwhelming for a film buff like me and the tears began. I think this was the moment I began to really fall for this part of Sicily: sun-drenched and craggy, Etna sweeping elegantly and impressively 11,000 feet above the sparkling sea, bougainvillea spilling voluptuously from walls and gardens. And of course, we were about to discover how beautiful and classy the area’s most famous town, Taormina, was.

I spent ages looking at the film memorabilia inside the cafe – photos of a very handsome Al Pacino, so young amongst many others.There are speciality film tours of The Godfather sites and a coach had already deposited a large group of fans outside Bar Vitelli. Oddly, noone seemed bothered about actually going inside which seemed bizarre.

The Bar as it was then, more open

A quiet little road led through a lovely 12th century stone archway, the Porta della Citta di Savoca , taking us up to the church of San Nicolo/ Santa Lucia (it’s known by both names.) This is where the wedding party and the off key band marched down after the ceremony. It was beautiful inside, quiet and simple.From the outside, the views over the village and the Ionian sea were glorious.


We spent a good few hours in Savoca, wandering out to the very end of the village , looking inside the interesting and very beautiful Chiesa San Michele.Built in 1250, its interior was dazzling white with soft pastel coloured painted scenes, very different to Palermo’s Cappella Palatina.

It was a short pull up to the very top of the village where once stood Castle Pentefur, now a ruin, shaded by pine trees and giving the best views of all over Savoca and Etna. A wooden crucifix used in the Easter Procession lay on its side inside the walls.

A Quiet Beach

Then back down to the coast with some fine views to quiet and fairly undeveloped shingly beaches which looked very inviting in the searing afternoon heat. Difficult to work out access to this coast but somehow we managed by turning off the dual carriageway and bumping down a tiny road which took us quickly to a rough parking area and a little footpath.
We walked along a 100m section of coast with lots of ‘danger, no swimming’ signs, possibly because of the very bouldery shallows; once in,  it would be very awkward to get out. But 5 minutes later the water looked much more inviting, shelving gently and we were stripping off to our underwear (like numpties, we’d both left our swimming stuff in the car) and were wading out on the shingle before plunging into the lukewarm, clear water. Bliss! Oh, the relief of cooling down! There wasn’t a soul around though much further along the beach we could see a few people, sun umbrellas and a couple of cafes.

Bay of Mazzaro

 

A quick change of underwear when we got back to the car (one advantage of living out of a suitcase) and it was time to make for our self catering apartment in the Bay of Mazzuro, below Taormina. It was a small bay packed with beach umbrellas, cafes and hotels but attractive in a busy resort kind of way. I didn’t fancy swimming in those crowded waters however and was glad we’d found our lonely spot earlier.
We had been told to park in the underground car park beside the Taormina cable car – 20 euros for 24 hours which seemed acceptable given what I’d read about this being a pricey area and that parking could be a nightmare.
The apartment – after a nightmare trying to find it in the maze of buildings around the bay – was huge, beautifully decorated in blues and whites, with a small view of the bay, super quiet; we loved it. Huge kitchen too.

Had a chat about dinner as Il Barcaiolo, a locally renowned seafood restaurant, was a stroll away. I have to admit, neither of us is a fan of seafood and how they cook it , in southern Europe. We have too much world class seafood at home (in fact I think a lot of our shellfish is exported to southern Europe in large quantities, langoustines and the like. ) We’ve both been very disappointed with many seafood meals abroad so were wary of spending silly money on another one. I will also admit, at the risk of sounding like a grumpy old woman,  that I find food in too many restaurants to be fairly disappointing overall especially given the cost, so am never motivated to eat out too much; I’d rather have a long day sightseeing and exploring , then enjoy our accommodation (hopefully charming  – I spend eons choosing places) relax and do our own thing.Chris also usually finds restaurant wine in Europe to be average at best and enjoys far more what he selects himself from supermarkets (rather than local shops.) Exceptions to this rule to some extent are eating out in South Africa and wine in California (and to a certain extent, wine in S.Africa too.)

Taormina

The day was yet young at 4pm, so we headed out to the cable car to be whisked up to Taormina and to visit a must see for me – the town’s ancient Roman Theatre. It was jaw drop gorgeous. Yes, it was half covered in wooden slatting for an event as these places always seem to be, but that backdrop of Etna and the craggy landscape, the beautiful pastel coloured villas and hotels, the sea shimmering below and the Roman columns of the theatre were just stunning. It’s the most beautiful location for a Roman theatre I’ve yet seen and we have been lucky to visit quite a few.

We spent a good hour or so enjoying the site with its interesting small museum and admiring the views. I adored it; a place to enjoy again and again on multiple visits.
I don’t know what I expected of Taormina itself – over developed, too busy, too touristy from what I’d read –but I just fell in love with it. But then, much as my heart lies in wild places, I do love a bit of chic and glam!  And the town had both in spades with an upmarket look about it unlike anywhere else we had seen so far this trip. The main thoroughfare, the Corso Umberto 1, was busy but it was incredibly elegant, with beautiful shops and pastel coloured buildings, all interspersed with beautiful old buildings and facades; the 10th century Palazzo Corvaja, 13th century Cattedrale di San Nicolo, a beauty, and many 16th century palazzos and public gardens.

 


The main piazza below the cattedrale was really gorgeous, a dream. Oh, I could take more of Taormina!
I’m not a shopper but the shops were gorgeous – there was one of these amazing men’s shoe shops, only in Italy, with fine leather brogues and boots displayed like a work of art. Dolce and Gabbana and other big names were dotted around, way beyond my budget but oh, great window shopping.


Then it was back down the spectacular cable car to Mazzaro, a short stroll along the now empty beach and we were back in our cool, bright apartment. The sun was going down now and it had been another LONG day. We’d stopped at a local shop nearby so it was pasta and fresh tomato sauce and salad for dinner, lots of fruit and some decent Italian wine to wash it down. This was the last night of our trip before the flight home tomorrow, late morning and what a hugely enjoyable week it had been. We are mostly happy travellers, excited to explore new places.Maybe some this trip hadn’t quite wowed as expected but it had been fun none the less. And what HAD captured us the most had been the unexpected  – Palermo with its ‘bad’ reputation and the busy resort of Taormina, tiny, quiet Savoca and that little shingle beach we had all to ourselves.

Sicilia,  we will be back enjoy to one or two of your loveliest corners if – as my mother in law always says – we are spared!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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