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Empty Nester Adventures In Italy: 4 days in Taormina, Sicily

“Were a man to spend one day in Sicily and ask, What must one see? I would answer him without hesitation, Taormina” ~ Guy De Maupassant

Our July 2022 visit to Italy was our first international journey abroad since before the pandemic. We segued from a 5 day visit to the Amalfi Coast into the beginning of a magnificent 4 day trip to Taormina, Sicily. We flew from Naples to Catania and rented a car for the approximately 45 minute drive to Taormina, a magical city perched high atop a mountainous hillside. The winding roads we traversed to get to the top rewarded us with entrancing views of Mount Etna and two crystal blue bays settled under delicate, billowy clouds. We have traveled to Italy 5 times and this was our maiden voyage to Sicily. It took hold of our hearts in ways we’d never imagined.

Below is a photo gallery of some of the highlights of our precious time in Taormina.

The Hotel Villa Belvedere – This is a charming and historic hotel. Our room was bright and airy with large windows and we had a generously sized patio with expansive and alluring views of the pool and the Ionian sea. It is situated in a location that makes walking to restaurants and the main streets easy and accessible. We enjoyed an abundant breakfast on the patio every morning and we often ordered pasta lunches near the pool. A special thank you to Rita who greeted us like family with every interaction, her genuine warmth and hospitality are bellissima. We found the entire staff to be kind, responsive and helpful. We were assisted with parking, restaurant reservations, bus tickets, suggestion regarding our day trips and more. Grazie to Joshua for arranging our very early morning breakfast on the day of departure.

Cannoli at Lab Pasticceria Roberto – We consumed the mouthwatering cannoli from Lab Pasticceria Roberto regularly during our time in Taormina. They are crave-worthy and are brimming with a creamy filling that is added upon ordering so the cannoli shells remain crisp and flavorful, then they are rolled in crushed pistachio shells and dusted liberally with powdered sugar. I can’t stop thinking about these cannoli and would love to take a lesson in how to make them from scratch on our next visit.

Day trip to Ortigia/Syracuse – On our Saturday visit we came upon quite a gathering in the Piazza Duomo. Dolce & Gabbana was hosting a grand event to celebrate 10 years of their contribution to high fashion in Italy. Music, Models and icons of style filled the streets surrounding the Duomo. Being taken by surprise with unexpected happenings such as this is just one of the reasons we are passionate about travelling. After spending some time enjoying the energetic revelry, we were able to find a bit of peace and tranquility while passing through the side streets. We saw the majestic Greek ruins of Ortigia and we meandered past one of the popular public beaches where colorful umbrellas dotted the sand. It was full of sun seekers taking advantage of the gentle sea breezes and lounging in and near the water.

Fresh Food Market “I think food, culture, people and landscape are all absolutely inseparable” ~ Anthony Bourdain

Observing the sights, sounds and aromas of the local markets are extraordinary ways to immerse ourselves in the food culture of the regions we visit. We were thrilled that we had the opportunity to encounter the fresh food market in Ortigia.

Afternoon visit to Noto – A foray into Noto would not be complete without popping into Caffè Sicilia for a bowl of their refreshing granita. We ordered an icy caffè espresso granita and it was a divine snack on a hot July day. We practiced the dessert first motto but followed the granita up with a delightful lunch at Ristorante Manna. John had a splendid bowl of fresh pasta topped with lamb ragu. I ordered chilled gazpacho with burrata. The sweet finale was a small plate of popcorn drizzled with chocolate, 2 perfectly ripe cherries and 2 cookies. This was the perfect way to close out the meal. Noto is often referred to as the Baroque beauty of the south and it is aptly named. We delighted in the magnificent architecture and the abundance of colorful walkways and steps as we took our post lunch jaunt.

Morning visit to Castelmola – Our morning adventure to this city, which overlooks Taormina was awe-inspiring. As someone who suffers from a fear of high places, the ride up and back gave me a few “skipped heartbeat” moments but I wouldn’t have missed the opportunity to see Taormina from this vantage point.

Dinner at Andreas (Michelin Listed Restaurant) – Andreas was recommended to us by Joshua, one of the many helpful staff at the Hotel Belvedere. It was a phenomenal dining experience. We requested a spot on the patio as we welcomed being cloaked in the warm sicilian temperatures. It is a soul-stirring experience to listen to the background sounds of people walking by on the sidewalk, often laughing and conversing in a multitude of diverse languages. As dinner progressed, the twinkle of street lights softly illuminated our table.

Teatro Antico di Taormina – We spent one morning checking out the Ancient Greek Theatre of Taormina. We felt steeped in the past while roaming the Teatro and these remarkable Greek ruins. Mount Etna is visible in the distance. See the panoramic image below.

Piazza IX Aprile

Street scenes

The Public Garden – The gardens are located adjacent to The Hotel Villa Belvedere so it was convenient for us to stroll through first thing in the morning and again after some of our sumptuous meals. This is such a peaceful space!

Dinner at Vineria Modi – This was our last meal in Taormina before departing for home. The food we dined on here felt like such a fitting culmination of our time in Italy. The dinner and the service were spectacular from start to finish. The tomato that is pictured in the amuse bouche photo is actually made of tomato paste, it was a work of art and so flavorful. The 30 yolk pasta and the lamb chops are highly lauded menu items and they were both divine. Dalila Grillo is the talented Executive chef. She is expert at curating magnificent dishes and lasting culinary memories. Reservations are recommended here.

Grazie Mille for reading this article on Taormina. I would love to hear comments, suggestions/recommendations on readers travel experiences so please don’t hesitate to share!

I’ve included a few helpful Empty Nester travel tips below:

This might seem obvious but travel with a carry-on if possible. Not only is the risk of misplacement or loss while flying eliminated, but certain areas of Sicily are do have hills and stairs. There is a good chance you may need to navigate them to get to your hotel or Airbnb so the lighter you can go, the better. John has been doing “carry-on only” travel for years. It took me a bit longer to come around to the possibility that I could do it. Lightweight colorful tanks, dresses, swimsuits, and slip on sandals were easy to pack. I didn’t think it was feasible to over-pack for a 10 day trip in a carry on but I managed it (5 days in Amalfi and 5 days/4 nights in Taormina). I had 2 pairs of jeans, an extra set of leggings and a light sweatshirt that I never wore once we arrived as July was hot, hot, hot. For my hair products, cosmetics, lotions and more, I utilized travel size containers that I purchased at Target and on Amazon.

We flew Delta Airlines from Minneapolis to Amsterdam to Naples. Then Naples to Catania on Easy Jet for the Taormina leg of the trip and Delta back home.

While it was convenient to have a car available for longer day trips (ie: to Ortigia and Noto) we utilized local transportation when possible. Parking spots are in extremely short supply in many areas. At the time of this publication, wearing a mask is still required to ride public transportation. On the bus to Casteloma KN95 masks were necessary to board.

If you plan to rent a car, make sure you apply for an International Driving Permit before departing. While you may not be asked for it, if it is requested and you don’t have it chances are that you will not be able to rent the vehicle. We obtained our permit through AAA. When you leave the car rental facility upon arriving at your destination, make a note of where the rental return is on the property and whether there are gas stations close by so you can easily fill the tank before returning it. Some gas stations have attendants to assist with this, and others do not. Make sure you allow yourself enough time to navigate this process.

Request the smallest car possible! This is a region where a bigger vehicle is definitely NOT better. You will be sharing the roads with scooters, tour buses, and travel vans galore. The smaller your car, the easier it will be to navigate the roads and to park.

Fun Fact: After visiting Taormina we discovered that the second season of the HBO Max series The White Lotus was filmed there. It was marvelous to immerse ourselves in the breathtaking scenery a second time via this program. The story spans the course of a week and was filmed primarily at the San Domenico Palace, a Four Seasons Hotel.

Recommended travel activity:

The Eat Your Words Puzzle Book is a perfect food and beverage themed travel activity! Enjoy it while waiting to board your airplane, while flying, riding on the bus or train, while relaxing at the beach and more.

Eat Your Words: 125 Food & Beverage Themed Puzzles for Hungry Minds

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