Taormina visit – Giardini Naxos, Sicily, Italy

After posting yesterday, we had a bit of indecision on our overnight pitch, as when surveying where to watch the sunset we saw a better spot with one other van. So we drove round and got a great spot to watch the sunset. Whilst we did so, we spotted we were being microwaved from multiple directions by the massive phone mast behind us. Around this time the wind swung round and the Etna smoke started coming down the hillside at us, I believe it has dilute sulphuric acid, it certainly hit your throat and eyes simultaneously. So a quick on/off with the silver screen and reposition to the lee of the restaurant.

It turned out to be a good thing to have some shelter, as although it was almost perfectly still in the evening, like Le Mistral wind in the Alps, the wind off the Etna mountain seemed to come in lumps. Perfect stillness for say 30-40 minutes then a strong gusty wind that rocked the van. Most blogs we have read describe feeling like they are going to be blown off the mountain side though so I feel we did ok.

We were however woken in the early hours by some Instagram grabbing millennials excitedly whooping as they arrived in the car park about 3 am and took photos of each other in front of the twinkly lights of Catania. There was also another car, we had thought was empty, who were there most of the night to get photos of sunrise. That is quite impressive considering the condensation drip from our heating had formed a small stack of ice this morning, so it was certainly below freezing. Our van stood up well to the frozen temperatures, a good test for future skiing. The girls in their beds in the cab footwells with a warm vent each, were not for moving and warm to the touch 😍.

We were up before sunrise due to our disrupted sleep. We opened the blinds whilst drinking our first cup of tea to see both all the lights of Catania twinkling and simultaneously the first indigos and ambers of dawn arriving above. Utterly beautiful 😍 Kevin went out for photos and said there was a wierd spherical cloud just over us that seemed to be rolling on the same spot rather than being blown on the wind. We guess it might be some heating from the volcano phenomena.

So we had an early breakfast alongside our German neighbours. Like us, he was outside taking photos, she was inside with a coffee hanging out the windows. we were out on the road heading to the coast before 8 am. The road down was covered in frost and black ice ❄️ we took it very steady heading down. We were probably most worried about the local drivers coming up, who appeared not to slow down at all.

We had hoped to visit Pozzilo, a small fishing village on the coast that a family friend’s family hail from. However, after tackling 2 of about 6 small villages with tiny streets we would have to traverse to get there, our nerves were already shattered and we re-routed to Giardini Naxos, our overnight stop tonight. We pulled into a campsite, as after a bit of research this was the closest we could get to our target today of Taormina.

We were slightly surprised based on the availability we have found almost everywhere, to get the last spot they had available and that only because someone had literally just left it. There is probably 100 vans here. I walked ahead of Kevin to go to reception and a guy walking a Yorkshire terrier beside us clocked the van registration and asked me in an English accent and slightly surprised way if we were English. I confirmed we were and said morning but then had to dash to check us in.

The super friendly attendant walked us to our space and got us checked in. No sooner had we switched off our engine than Paul, the Yorkshire terrier walker arrived to say hello. We asked the usual, when did you get here question and were somewhat surprised by his “3 years ago” response! It seems they were here for COVID lockdowns and because they liked it and had some subsequent ill health, they have not left since. He and his wife are from a small mountain village in Tuscany, where they moved from Devon 20 years ago. He gave us some good tips for our stay, he was clearly pleased to meet another rare UK visitor. Even though he clearly knows everyone else on site. We understand many are locals from Catania here for the weekend.

Anyway, we had a target for the day to get to Taormina for the ultimate view in Sicily, compromising ancient ruins and a volcano, an iconic shot. Standing on the Greek Amphitheatre looking out at Etna. According to Google maps it was an hour along the seafront to get there. We could see Taormina perched on the hilltop as soon as we reached the beachfront. Everyone was out though for a Sunday stroll down the beachfront and progress was steady. However, the weather was glorious, we were in shirt sleeves, standing out from the crowd, with the locals in puffer jackets.

Our walk from Giardini Naxos to Taormina

After a short walk along a main road with no pavements carrying the dogs we found the path up to Taormina. A near vertical ascent to 204m / 669ft up a very narrow and rather rickety pathway up the cliff side. We emerged eventually into the Taormina streets though it was past noon on a Sunday and most of the shops were closed. The narrow streets were certainly not suitable for motorhomes and we were happy to have walked.

We climbed still higher to the top of the town where the tat shops lined both sides and were open, we were clearly on the right route to the Greek Amphitheatre. We paid our entrance and walk up yet more steps into the amphitheatre itself. It is ingeniously built into a cliff side to provide an absolutely stunning view over the town of Taormina to Mount Etna. This eastern side of Etna has even more snow and was glistening in the sunshine, as we were blessed with more clear skies to see the fantastic view.

Taormina Amphitheatre with Mount Etna in view

The amphitheatre is obviously still used for events as all of the seating area appears to have been replaced and additional steel rails added. The Greek amphitheatre dates from an amazing 3rd century BC, although it was rebuilt by the Romans around 3rd century AD (600 years later). It has much more extensive stage / orchestra areas than we have seen elsewhere but really it is the setting that makes it. We just sat on the top row of the auditorium in the sun, looking at Etna, marvelling we were up there only this morning. It feels like years ago I first read blogs about Etna and Taormina, it seems unreal to be here ourselves now.

We walked round the site and got amazing views over Taormina and Etna and to the lovely Isola Bella below. We could even see along the coast to the “toe” on mainland Italy

By the time we climbed back down all the steps and along the seafront we were starving. We walked past several closed restaurants then several very full restaurants desperately looking for a table. We eventually found the last one before the campsite had tables outside and reluctantly due to hunger took a seat roadside. It was bit chilly in just a shirt in the shade and the one waitress serving about 20 tables was struggling to keep up. Anyway, we eventually got to move indoors and enjoy a good but not great meal after nearly 7 miles of walking.

It’s been a very full day, we are back at the van now, all the local weekenders are leaving the campsite all around us. Can’t believe we are on the Messina ferry tomorrow and on to mainland Italy. Sicily has just flown by.

Taormina Amphitheatre and Mount Etna

2 thoughts on “Taormina visit – Giardini Naxos, Sicily, Italy

  1. Hi Jo and Kev

    That was a quick visit to Sicily, it’s only a week isn’t it. When are you booked in for ski-ing. Speak soon

    Love Mum


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