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 . . .