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Trip Report Continued

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Tallahassee, Florida
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Trip Report Continued

First part of the trip report is here: tripadvisor.com/ShowTopic-g187890-i418-k4430…

We were originally scheduled to stay at the Hilton Giardini Naxos in Recanati but they were overbooked so we ended up staying at the Grand Hotel Mazzaro Sea Palace which is the town below Taormina on a bay (for 6 nights) which was an unexpected treat since this hotel is “grand” indeed! The rooms were huge and we all had our own beautiful terrace overlooking the bay. The cable car that took you up to Taormina was a 2 minute walk from the hotel and made it very easy to get to Taormina.

It rained all the way on the drive from Agrigento to Mazzaro and continued to pour when we left to go into town to Taormina for dinner. Dinner was provided that night at La Piazetta in Taormina. Unfortunately, we all got soaking wet on the walk to the restaurant but the great dinner made up for the lousy weather! I had risotto with fennel and then a huge plate of mussels in wine sauce with garlic – absolutely fantastic!

The schedule the next day was a walking tour in Taormina including the Greek Theatre and rain was predicted for the next couple of days. According to the forecast the predictions were for clearing or light rain in the morning and heavy rain in the afternoon so we went ahead with the scheduled walking tour. Of course, it rained heavy in the morning and then cleared up after lunch.

The included walking tour ended before lunch and some of us stayed in town and had I lunch with 2 very nice women I had met on the tour (at Gambero Rosso which we all enjoyed very much) and luckily the weather cleared after lunch. I had already planned not to take 2 of the optional excursions and come back to Taormina to walk around on my own and I’m so glad I did. It was raining pretty heavy when we toured the Greek Theatre and I’m sure the local guide usually gives her talk while everyone is sitting at the top of the Theatre but our tour was at the bottom because of the rain and no one walked up the stairs to get to the top. From pictures I knew how gorgeous that view from the top is so I knew I would come back on my own.

One of the optional tours was to Messina for the next day and then a day or two after an optional tour to Siracusa/Ortygia which I planned on going on. Since rain was forecast for the next day the order of the tours was switched so the Siracusa/Ortygia tour was the next day. Luckily we had no rain and I enjoyed our visit to both Siracusa and the little island of Ortygia. The main square is absolutely gorgeous and the Duomo is amazing! A few of us went to see the Caravaggio in the church at the far end of the square. Our time here was too short and this is where I would like to base myself on my next visit to Sicily to take day trips to Noto, Ragusa and Modica.

The next day was the Messina optional tour so I returned to Taormina and since the weather had now cleared up it was a beautiful day. I was hoping that if I got to the Greek Theater when it first opened I would avoid the tour groups. There was only 1 tour group who started on the bottom so I took the stairs to the top and saw that incredible panoramic view (and took many pictures). What a shame that no one else in my group had planned to return – I probably spent at least 1 hour inside (both at the top and down below again).

I then started my walk through Taormina and enjoyed the charming squares and the beautifully decorated balconies and all those narrow side streets with the many steps. Taormina may be “touristy” but there’s a reason we all flock there!

After my walk, I headed back down to the bus depot to take a bus up to Castelmola and enjoyed the winding road leading up to this picturesque little village above Taormina with its stunning views. By this time the clouds around Mt. Etna had disappeared and I got some great views of snow-capped Mt. Etna and the surrounding mountains.

I had lunch in Castelmola and had pistachio penne that was incredible! When the bus returned to Taormina, everyone got off at a stop that I didn’t recognize (I realized later it was up the hill to the right from where the cable car is) so I asked the driver if he was going back to the bus depot and he said yes so I stayed on but when he made the turn down the street to the cable car I realized where I was and asked him if he could drop me off there instead and he was nice enough to do that. It turned out to be a very nice day and I realized how lucky I was at how much time we had in Taormina and that I was able to go back and walk around with no rain.

The next day was an optional excursion to Mt. Etna which I decided not to go on and instead decided to take a day trip to Randazzo. In searching the Sicily forums, I came upon this great post tripadvisor.com/…25717340 which piqued my interest in Randazzo and decided that sounded more interesting to me than visiting Mt. Etna.

With Vagabonda’s help I was able to figure out the train schedule from the website and thought I had everything figured out. I let my tour director know what I was planning to do and I had taken her cell phone # with me just in case I didn’t make it back in time for the “Farewell Dinner” (the tour bus was scheduled to leave our hotel at 7:00 p.m. – we still had one more full day to go but since we were going to have to leave very early in the morning to go to the Catania airport, the dinner was the day before our last day).

My plan was to be back by around 3:30 but unexpected things can happen in dealing with public transportation – so my adventure to Randazzo begins early in the morning with a taxi from the hotel to the Giardini train station.

To be continued . . .

Here & There
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1. Re: Trip Report Continued

The Grand Hotel Mazzarò Sea Palace in Taormina Mare was an interesting turn of events - Taormina Mare is so much more convenient for Taormina than Recanati! And yes, there’s a reason why Taormina is touristy – It is a stunningly beautiful mediaeval hill town!

Please consider writing hotel, restaurant, and attraction reviews – You could copy and paste what you have already written.

As you’ve discovered, the weather forecasts are less than accurate....

How wonderful that you were able to steal some time for yourself away from the tour!

Siracusa wins the hearts of many – Siracusa would be a fantastic base for your next visit to Sicily and Siracusa is very well positioned for day trips to Noto, Modica, and Ragusa.

What a cliff-hanger ljaguar!!! :-)

Vagabonda

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2. Re: Trip Report Continued

I then took the train from Giardini-Naxos to Giarre and my next connection was then to Randazzo on the Circumetnea Railway which I knew was separate from the main train station – but it wasn’t obvious to the eye when I walked out of the Giarre train station so I went back in and asked and was told “in front of” this train station. So I walked out again and it still wasn’t that obvious but knew it couldn’t be that difficult since the train tracks were “in front of” the train station. There was a bank in the building next to the train station and I decided to walk around the side (or to me what seemed like the back) but it faced the railroad tracks – and around the corner to the left was the Circumetnea Railway station. I had to cross the tracks to get to the platform but the departure board said the next train arriving was the train I wanted to Randazzo.

It’s a two carriage train and it seems to be used mostly by locals to get around the small villages (especially what looked like teenagers I guess going to school). The conductor came to punch my ticket and smiled at me (I got the feeling that not that many tourists have discovered this train or maybe he was amused by something else) It was a very enjoyable ride with great scenery and the closer I got to Randazzo the more lava rock I saw on the ground. It was probably a 10 minute walk into the medieval part of the town and when I got to the church there was a café where I had my breakfast since I had left the hotel before the breakfast room opened at 7:30.

The church didn’t seem open (I realized later there were side doors that were open) so I started walking down the main street and enjoyed my walk along the way to another church which I went into. I took some side streets (little alleyways really). Randazzo is quite an atmospheric medieval town and when I got to the tourist office I decided to go in and see if they had a map and exactly where the bus stop was for the bus back to Taormina. (I decided it would be nice to take the bus back so I had a bus schedule but now I realized I should have double-checked with the tourist office in Taormina first).

They had no idea what I was talking about but at this point I still thought I could figure it out and if I couldn’t I knew what time the train back left so I figured there would be no problem. I walked around a little more and ended up back at the church I first saw and saw people coming out a side entrance so I went in a sat down and admired the inside of the church. I found a travel agency and asked them about the bus and they said it was near the train station so I head back to the train station and I did see a bus depot but no ticket office. I go into a Tabachi shop and asked and he just shook his head.

So back I go to the train station to get my ticket back to Giarre. There was a train already on the tracks but when I asked I was told that was the train to Catania and was shown the schedule board with the time for the next train to Giarre. So I waited until the appointed time and got on the train.

Now I’m going to interrupt this story to explain that anytime I have ever traveled by train in Europe I have ALWAYS asked and/or double-checked to make sure I was getting on the correct train. I even did that when I lived in New Jersey and worked in Manhattan for the summer and took the train from a small town in New Jersey into Penn Station. That train station had only a couple of tracks but it was a busy train station with trains always coming and going and for the first couple of times I always asked to make sure I was getting on the right train.

In my 35+ years of traveling I don’t ever remember getting on a wrong bus or train (and my family can tell you how remarkable that is considering how easily I can get lost in the States just by driving!!). Of course, that’s not the same as saying how incredibly lost I can get on land once I’ve arrived at where I’m going to. But the good thing is that since I do have a habit of getting lost (I have no sense of direction) I’ve learned not to panic and think of it as an adventure. I’ve certainly seen lots of areas of towns that I wouldn’t normally have seen if I knew where I was going!

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3. Re: Trip Report Continued

This one time I didn’t ask because I was so positive that this was the correct train to Giarre leaving at the correct time. So now you can guess what happened – I got on the train going in the wrong direction – and I realized it when I saw the Bronte railroad station sign! I had to make a split second decision on whether to get off and get the next train back or stay on to Catania.

I knew the Circumetnea trains were intermittent and decided my odds would be better with just going all the way to Catania and hoping I would have a greater selection of trains that would get me directly back to the Giardini-Naxos train station. So I enjoyed the ride and the closer I got to Catania the more I realized I wasn’t sure where the main train station was in Catania.

It was now around 3:30 and I’m hoping I can get a connection to get me back to the hotel before the 7:00 departure for the farewell dinner otherwise I’m going to have to call my tour director on her cell to let her know I’m not going to make it.

I was very lucky that a very nice Sicilian girl (probably in her 20’s) offered to take me to the main railroad station since her car was parked there. So after getting off the train we head downstairs and you use your train ticket to get through the turnstile to then take a subway? (not sure what the proper name for the conveyance is) that will then take you to the “FS” stop (4 or 5 stops down) for the main railroad station. I thanked my very helpful Sicilian friend and got a ticket for the next train to Giardini-Naxos.

When I asked what track the train left from they were making the last boarding announcement and I ran as fast as I could but the train was literally pulling away by the time I got to the track. I checked the departure board and the next train left in about 45 minutes (to Messina) so I made it back to the hotel by 5:30 – with plenty of time to spare! Of course I have no one to blame but myself for not double-checking the direction that train was going in but it all worked out well in the end!

Our last day was spent in Savoca which I absolutely adore! OMG what an absolutely spectacular setting. For those of you who don’t know this was the location for some scenes in The Godfather but that’s not why I was so impressed. The walk up the hill is just unbelievably stunning. And that little church is such a treasure! There happened to be an older gentlemen in the church who told our tour director how proud the town was that they (the town and not the government of Italy) paid for the “excavation” of 2 beautiful frescoes found in the church. I think Savoca was my favorite village (and that’s saying a lot considering how many remarkable little villages we saw in our 13 days!).

Although I didn’t mention food that much, the food, wine, pastry/deserts and bread were all incredibly delicious. I can now add Sicily to my list of favorite vacation spots and I hope to return to do more explorations!

Ohio
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4. Re: Trip Report Continued

Thank you for such a wonderful review, we depart for Sicily end of next week. Vagabonda is a huge help on these boards and has helped us plan most of our upcoming trip!!

We cant wait to go!!

Here & There
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5. Re: Trip Report Continued

Your decision to stay on the train was probably the better option, but the Etna excursion may have been your best option. You’re a gutsy traveller to have attempted this adventure on your own! :-)

Savoca is a charmer, an adorable little village perched in the hills of Messina province, and obviously special to have been chosen for the filming of “The Godfather”.

Prego M-LOhio – Wishing you a wonderful holiday!

The best -

Vagabonda

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6. Re: Trip Report Continued

Ahh Vagabonda if you knew my infamous story about trying to visit my relatives in Romania during my first trip to Europe at 22 (by myself) in 1976 and getting thrown off the train at the Hungarian border because I didn’t have a transit visa to enter Hungary that would probably explain my fearlessness sometimes. But the reality is tour groups are great for the logistics of getting from one place to another but it can be a sterile environment with not much contact with locals so I feel it’s important to wander off on my own and made my own discoveries.

Vagabonda - you are a treasure and wealth of information for anyone visiting Sicily and helped me tremendously with planning my “free” days to make the most of it. Mille grazie!

Here & There
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7. Re: Trip Report Continued

So true ljaguar – Tours are great for the logistics of getting from one place to another, but often lacking in authentic experiences and contact with locals.

It’s been a pleasure ljaguar, and thanks so much for giving so much back to these forums!

Vagabonda

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8. Re: Trip Report Continued

Fab Trip Reports ljaguar !

I also agree Vagabonda is full of valuable information......

Here & There
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9. Re: Trip Report Continued

Thank you Ellemay – And thanks for all your contributions as well!

Kind regards,

Vagabonda

10. Re: Trip Report Continued

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