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From Taormina to Catania, admiring the beauties of Eastern Sicily


A journey in the company of Mount Etna, the volcano which rises up above the city of Catania and gazes out over the sea of Taormina. The much-traveled writer Guy de Maupassant described this part of eastern Sicily as "a landscape in which it is possible to find all that which has ever been made to seduce the eyes, the mind, the imagination". In fact, if Taormina's beaches never fail to enrapture lovers of the sea, the historic center enamors both those wishing to visit the city's many historic edifices and those eager to indulge in some serious shopping.

A city which for decades been attracting all the major protagonists of Italy's dolce vita and the international jet set, Taormina is the perfect spot for a little celebrity watching. For those who would rather admire the many ancient monuments in the historic center than the movie stars, our tour commences with the splendid Greek Theater, used in Roman times as stage for every genre of raucous entertainment, including particularly well attended battles between gladiators. Nearby lies a Greek temple and the Antiquarium, this latter a fascinating archaeological museum. Walking through the historic center, visitors come across any number of interesting churches, including the 14th century Cathedral, and a string of sumptuous town houses, once inhabited by the local aristocracy. Palazzo Corvaja is by far the most famous of Taormina's patrician residences, and offers a magnificent display of Arabian, Norman and Gothic architectural styles.

Shortly after having left Taormina, we stop at nearby Giardini-Naxos, so as to take a dip in the Ionic sea and to admire the town's archaeological treasures, which include a tomb dating back to the bronze age. Dominating the historic center, the Schisò Castle and the Church of Santa Maria Raccomandata, ancient symbols of the town's considerable political and religious power. Just a few kilometers from Naxos we find the famous Gole dell'Alcantara, a spectacular gorge carved in to the rock by the Alcantara river.

As we travel towards Catania we take time to stop in two towns, both of which influenced by their vicinity to Mount Etna. Acireale, thanks to the geological activity present in the area, boasts thermal waters, health-inducing waters which constitute one of the principal reasons for a visit. Another reason is its splendid baroque historic center, in which to admire Palazzo Musmeci and the Cathedral, dedicated to Santa Annunziata and Santa Venera. Constructed entirely in black volcanic rock, the Norman Castle is the symbol of Acicastello. From this imposing edifice, a stunning view of the Cyclops Riviera can be admired.

The next stop on our journey takes us to the 3300m Mount Etna, an active volcano, the slow eruptive activity of which rarely provokes alarm, even in the populations living immediately in its shadow. In the periods when the volcano is particularly calm, its fertile slopes, now part of a protected area and national park, provide ideal trekking and mountain biking terrain. In winter, skiers experiment the unique sensation of skiing down the snow covered slopes of the volcano. The winter landscape, a stunning contrast of white snow and black volcanic rock, is perhaps best admired during the journey towards the summit in cable car.

With its marvelous historic center, Catania deserves more than a fleeting visit. Much loved symbol of the city, the statue of an elephant supporting an Egyptian obelisk, takes pride of place in Piazza Duomo, beneath the gaze of the imposing Baroque Cathedral dedicated to Saint Agata. A great number of Catania's most important edifices, many of which gravitate around Via dei Crociferi, heart of the historic center, were built in ornate baroque style after the devastating earthquake of 1693, which all but annihilated the city's population. Among the few buildings to have survived the earthquake and subsequent 10m high tsunami, we find the 13th century Ursino Castle, now a Civic Museum, and the Amphitheater, theater and baths, all of which dating back to the times of the ancient Romans.


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