To celebrate my wife’s birthday (to be honest we didn’t really need an excuse, but this was the pretence), we decided to leave cold and wet London behind, and chase some sunshine and blue skies in Sicily, Italy. This was my first time in Italy, and being a big fan of the food, I was pretty excited.
We flew in to Catania and hired a car for a week with the plan to drive around the island and see as much as we could before hopping on a ferry for a few days in Malta.
The original plan was to quickly head up and get a look at Mount Etna, however the skies were hazy – possibly due to the activity of Etna, which was steaming away, and judging by the reactions of the locals, I can only surmise that it was usual.
We made a conscious decision to skip the motorways, to give us a chance to see ‘the real Sicily’. However, after two hours of struggling through towns and traffic, and switchbacks on mountainous roads, we both agreed that in future, we should probably just make use of the toll roads, or we wouldn’t get anywhere.
Our first stop was the hillside village of Castelmola, which loomed large above Taormina below. It was, of course, reached by a never-ending series of switchbacks, as we slowly snaked our way vertically up the steep hills. As always, I wished that I’d been on a bike (and had the fitness to really enjoy the climb). As this was all still new, I was still loving the hairpins, and the precipices below should we made a wrong move (there were guards, we were safe).
There wasn’t a great deal to see in Castelmola, and after making our way to the ruins of the castle at the summit, taking in the grand views of the area, and a quick wander through the narrow streets, we were back in the car bound for Taormina.
We were lucky when we arrived in Taormina, finding a park only a short walk from the start of the main pedestrian/tourist street in town – Corso Umberto. We’d been given the name of a supposedly fantastic pasta restaurant, however as we arrived between lunch/dinner outside of the peak season, it was shut. So instead we grabbed a quick pizza from a nearby restaurant, and then made our way to the ancient Roman theatre.
We’d previously spent a few weeks travelling in Turkey, and had seen our fair share of Roman ruins and amphitheatres, however what set this one apart was the location! It might not have been the postcard perfect skies that I’d been hoping for (that I always hope for), yet seeing the steaming Mount Etna, and the old town of Taormina at the same time was stunning. There was something about the rugged volcanic plugs that littered the landscape around the area that made the theatre seem that much older and rugged. It’s only a small area, so it didn’t take long to explore the grounds.
Returning back to Taormina, we were a little disappointed with the commercialisation of the area, with the main street being nothing more than shops catering for tourists. I know I frequently complain about this, and I know that there isn’t much that can be done about it, it would just be nice to escape the advertising and the signs, and be free to wonder around an old town.
We’d hoped to make it down to Isola Bella, however we’d run out of time, and we’d both agreed it wasn’t hot enough to want to swim.
Risa decided to spoil herself for her birthday, and booked a really nice hotel for the night at Resort Borgo San Rocco in the absolutely surprising town of Savoca. It too was up in the hills, with more narrow winding roads to access it, which turned into even narrower cobblestone lanes once we’d actually arrived in town – thankfully we didn’t encounter any oncoming traffic!
We rushed check-in to quickly explore the town before the sun set. We both had fallen in love with this little village from the moment we arrived. It was everything that I had hoped for from a town in Italy, and all I needed was some beautiful coastline, and I was satisfied with my trip to Sicily. There was none of the commercialism and advertising that we’d been bothered with in Taormina, just a few small pensions, a small café and a bar (which I later learned some of Godfather was filmed, thanks to the monument to F.F. Coppola). We would have visited Bar Vitelli, but we’d already booked dinner at the hotel.
It was like finding a gem arriving here. I came with zero expectations, and I’d arrived in truly one of our favourite towns we’d ever been to. Our only regret was we didn’t have the time to really relax here.
The menu is created daily, depending on what the chef finds fresh. Tonight we had a phenomenal tuna tatare, Risa had some equally amazing sea urchin pasta, and our mains were a cod casserole, and sweet and sour chicken – which didn’t live up to the grand impressions formed from the starters. I’d told the hotel while booking that it was Risa’s birthday, and they’d arranged for a birthday cake for her, as well as a few glasses of aperol and some prosecco!
If I’d been enamoured with Savoca when we’d arrived, after throwing open the curtains (after a well deserved lie in) to a brilliant blue sky, I was now intoxicated on the views. I have no doubt my friends were getting sick of the pictures that I was sending them, especially the ones we’d left back in London.
With no fixed plans for the day, and after stuffing ourselves on the gourmet breakfast, we wondered around the tiny village, doing our best not to miss a single sight.
We climbed up a nearby hill, and got another perspective on the town, the ruins of the old castle and the landscape in all directions. I’ll let the pictures do the talking, because I’ve exhausted my vocabulary.
We eventually had to leave, and after saying our good-byes to the amazing staff and the owner (who kept trying to convince us to stay a while longer and have something to drink with him), we spent the next few hours gushing about our short time in Savoca as we drove to Cefalu.