The tour The Taste of Beauty in Eastern Sicily begins in Taormina, a city that since 1700 has enchanted many artists and personalities of the international jet set. Taormina was the right place to escape from routine, a destination reserved for elite tourism, to surround yourself with the archaeological beauties and the amenities present.
The first place to visit is Palazzo Duchi di Santo Stefano, a palace of the end of the 14th century, a masterpiece of Sicilian Gothic art, with its façades animated by the chromatic contrast of the dark lava stone and white stone.
We walk on Corso Umberto, the shopping street, where we go for a stroll and arrive at Palazzo Ciampoli. It was built in 1412, when buildings lose the structure of fortress to assume that of elegant residence. The building is in Catalan style and features heraldic elements of each family that had anything to do with this palace.
We return to Corso Umberto and reach the Odeon, a small theatre in Roman architecture with the columns of a pre-existing Greek temple as a backdrop stage. The Odeon is divided into cavea, orchestra and scene and probably in all likelihood it had to be covered.
Next stop towards the Greek Theatre is Palazzo Corvaja, which rises on the Roman forum of the ancient city of Tauromenion. Originally it was a tower built for military purpose by the Arabs between the 10th and 11th century, it had cubic shape reminiscent of the Holy Ka’aba in Mecca. Today it houses the Civic library and the Sicilian Museum of Art and Popular Traditions with finds from the 16th to the 20th centuries.
We enjoy a delicious granita (in summer we recommend the mulberry slush) and then we arrive at the Greek Theatre. This is one of the best-preserved theatres of the world, built in a viewpoint that has no equal. In fact, if you sit in the cavea, behind the scene you have a terrace overlooking the Sicilian coast, dominated by the majesty of the volcano Etna. In Sicily the Greek theatre of Taormina is second only to the Syracuse one in size. Since the 1950s various forms of entertainment are staged: comedies, concerts, ceremonies, given that still nowadays its acoustics is perfect.
We stop for lunch in the municipal gardens, park of the residence of a Scottish noblewoman, Lady Florence Trevelyan, who lived here since 1884 after her cousin, Queen Victoria, exiled her. This garden had a breathtaking view of the Eastern coast of Sicily, on Giardini Naxos and Mount Etna. Lady Trevelyan managed to cohabit native plants such as olive, almond and carob trees with plants from the southern hemisphere, such as Araucaria, Caliandra and Bahuinia. The buildings that embellish the park were created on an idea of the Scottish noblewoman: besides the dolmen in memory of her dogs and a cromlech, there also buildings called beehives, halfway between the eastern pagodas and the gazebos. We visit this timeless place before descending to Isola Bella. Purchased in 1890 by Lady Trevelyan from the town of Taormina, she could spend the hottest hours of the day in a little house, surrounded by typical plants of the Mediterranean shrubs and other imported tropical plants. The Bosurgi family bought the island in 1954 and then lost it when the family business failed. Since 1998 it is a nature reserve. We spend on the beach what remains of the afternoon and in the evening we go to dinner in a typical restaurant.
On the second day we arrive in Piano Provenzana, 1800 meters above Mount Etna, for a guided tour to the summit craters (to be decided on the basis of weather conditions and volcanic activity). In the afternoon we go to the Alcantara Gorges, where you can try out different experiences. You can admire rocks of fanciful shapes thanks to the participation of two protagonists: the red-hot lava from the nearby Mount Etna came in touch with the icy waters of the river Alcantara during many eruptions.
We stop in a cellar for a tasting of local wines accompanied by typical dishes and then we head to Catania to spend the night.
The morning of the third day of the tour The Taste of the Beauty in Eastern Sicily we begin from the Castle Ursino. It stood on one of the oldest inhabited areas of Catania, close to the shoreline. The walls built with lava stone made the fortress very safe, but either an eruption of Mount Etna that filled the moat around the castle covering the ramparts or the earthquake of 1693 damaged its structure, made them lose its military role. The halls on the ground floor were modified when the castle was converted to prison. Prisoners engraved graffiti on some walls and doors. It is worth visiting the Civic Museum housed within the walls, to admire the works of Caravaggio and Van Dyck.
Going towards Piazza Duomo we visit first the Baths of Indirizzo and then the Achilliane baths. The first date back to the late Imperial period and have been found about 10 rooms. Of the second what we can see is only a small portion, dating back to the 4th century AD. It is believed that the capitals in the Cathedral came from this site.
We stop at the typical Fish Market of Catania, a whirlwind of colours, noises and smells that exudes tradition, where time seems to stand still.
With its imposing white silhouette Saint Agatha Cathedral stands on the square paved with the dark lava stone. Inside we can admire various friezes and ornaments, such as capitals from pagan temples and Roman ruins scattered throughout the city.
Once out of the Cathedral we pass in front of the Liotru’s fountain, the elephant in Catania dialect, symbol of the city.
We stop for a break in one of the many cafés for a granita, an arancino or a cannolo, the choice is yours!
Probably built on a Greek theatre of 5/4 century BC, but what we see today is a Roman theatre dating back to the 2nd century AD. Over the centuries it was embellished with marbles and side towers but during the Middle Ages inside were built houses and even a butcher shop. In the 1950s all the buildings were demolished and the decorated marbles, the columns and the fake rooms came to light. During its golden age the white marbles that covered the seats contrasted with the dark colour of the lava stone staircase.
We find the Odeon next to the theatre, built in the same period and it hosted music and dance performances. A strong canvas supported by ropes was its roof and large slabs of light marble covered the orchestra, while the cavea was built in lava stone. It underwent the same fate of the nearby theatre housing some buildings. At the end of the 20th century the missing parts of the ima cavea (the lower part of the cavea) were added and in summertime hosts open-air concerts.
Last monument that we visit before leaving Catania is the Roman Amphitheatre. This imposing structure was built in the 2nd century AD and was second only to the Colosseum in Rome. Today we can see only a small portion of its original structure. Unfortunately during the centuries it was allowed to the citizens to take all these materials and we can find them in other works, such as in the Cathedral or in the Castle Ursino or in private buildings. When it was at its peak was a triumph of colours: the dark lava stone of the stairs, the red blocks of the arches rings, the marble that covered the podium and the white of the seats.
We continue to south to get to Syracuse, where we check-in and dine.
We start the day by visiting the Neapolis Archaeological Park. On the slope of Temenite Hill there are some of the most important monuments of Syracuse of different historical moments: the Roman Amphitheatre, carved into the rock, which hosted games and water fights; the imposing Triumph Arch of Augustus, of which we can see only the foundations. It was the access to the Roman area; the Altar of Hiero II, unfortunately the structure has been lost since the upper part was used to build the Spanish fortifications; the Greek Theatre, built in the 5th century BC is one of the largest in the Greek world, where in antiquity tragedies and comedies were represented and, since the last century, in spring and summer period it is possible to watch the same performances; the Grotta del Ninfeo, in the highest part of the theatre, inside there were two statues dedicated to the Muses and votive niches; the Ear of Dionysus, name given by Caravaggio in 1608, because the tyrant kept the prisoners here to listen to their speech, thanks to the good acoustics of this cave; the Rope Makers’ Cave, so called because thanks to the high humidity the rope makers could work the ropes more easily.
Returning to Ortigia we stop at the Roman forum, built on the Greek agora. All we can observe today are three marble columns that belonged to a porch. In 1910 this space became a parade square, then converted to its current appearance of public garden. Continuing we pass in front of the place where Charles V had built the Marieth Castle, now incorporated in the building that took its place.
Once arrived on the island of Ortigia we stop at the Temple of Apollo, the most ancient Doric temple of the Greek West, datable to the 6th BC. Over the centuries it underwent several transformations and in 1860 he was brought to light. The inscription on the temple, absent on any other Greek temples, narrated the accomplishment.
We stop for lunch and then proceed to the Fountain of Diana, built in 1906. It tells the legend of the nymph Arethusa, who escaped from Alpheo and asks protection to the goddess Diana, depicted with the bow and arrows. The fountain is also animated by other figures, such as horses and tritons and the whole express movement thanks to the continuous flow of the water.
We arrive at Piazza Duomo, where overlooks the Palazzo Borgia del Casale, property of a patrician family, who lived at the time of King Martin I of Aragon. The most striking element of the building is the red coloured central part, embellished with domed wrought-iron balconies, while inside each room has walls and vaults decorated with frescoes and stucco of the 18th century.
Now we visit the Cathedral, risen up in one of the places always considered sacred by all the civilizations that followed each other. The columns of the Greek Temple of Athena are incorporated in the walls. Under the Byzantine Empire it became the first Christian church in the West, and remained undamaged during the Muslim raids, and it was converted into a mosque. It was again a church under the Normans, who gave it a majestic and austere façade, destroyed during the earthquake of 1693 and rebuilt according to the Baroque-Rococo style of the first half of the 18th century.
We stop at the Fountain of Arethusa, a fresh water spring populated by fish and papyrus plants, the only place in Europe where they spontaneously grow. The current appearance of pond was given in 1847. The myth that inspires it is the same one we met in the Fountain of Diana and which takes shape here.
We finish our walk to the Castle Maniace, in this place have arisen fortifications to defend the port since the time of the Greeks. Although over the centuries were added moats, mouth of fire, towers to support the main structure, but the typical elements of a fortress lack, such as: the parade square, housing and storage facilities.
We return to the chosen accommodation and dine in a typical restaurant.
The morning of the fifth day, on the way to Noto, we stop first at Noto Antica, abandoned after the earthquake of 1693. It was a Syracuse colony under Hiero II and in 263 BC was established a Roman Senate. During the Arab domination were born several tanneries dug in the rock that gave impulse to the economy, as did the silk industry, thanks to the cultivation of mulberry trees. After the earthquake the city was move 8 km downstream. On the site of Noto Antica we can observe the remains of the Royal Castle, built in 1091 by the will of the son of Roger I and in 1430 Peter, Infante of Aragon, endowed it with imposing walls that fortified the city centre. The Aragonese add a master tower and during the 17th century were added mouth of fire. Leaving this site we stop at the Cave of the Hundred Mouth, which resembles a uvula, and it houses a catacomb of Byzantine era. It was reused before as a sheepfold and then as a bunker during the World War II, because of its strategic position. The Cave of the Artichoke owes its name to the presence of graffiti depicting the Jewish menorah, which were confused with artichokes by peasants.
Going down to Noto we enter from the Royal or Ferdinandea Gate, built in 1838 on the occasion of the King Ferdinand II Bourbon’s visit, commissioned by the Marquis Cannicarao. The style is neoclassical and on the top there are three figures: a tower, a dog and in the centre a bird, either a pelican or a stork.
Taking Corso Vittorio Emanuele we arrive in Piazza Municipio, where on the left we have Palazzo Ducezio and on the right the Cathedral of Noto. Palazzo Ducezio bears the name of the founder of the city and it was built on the model of the French palaces of the 17th century. The ground floor was finished in 1830 and the first floor in the first half of the 20th century. Inside the Hall of Mirrors was used as a small theatre and then was a representative hall.
Crossing Corso Vittorio Emanuele we climb three flights of stairs and enter the Cathedral. The façade is in late Baroque style. The construction work of the new cathedral began after the earthquake and finished in 1703, after there were many restorations. In 1996 the dome collapsed for a failure of the pillars supporting the structure and fell down also the right and the central naves. The reconstruction of the church started immediately, inspired by what was done in the 18th century, combining it with seismic techniques, such as the use of carbon fibre.
Returning to the coast we stop at Villa del Tellaro, where under a farm of 18/19th century was found an extra-urban residence of late imperial age. Floral, geometric and figure mosaics have been found.
Once arrived at the Vendicari Nature Reserve we start from Eloro beach to arrive at Marianelli beach, one of the most isolated, wild and uncontaminated stretch of coastline, where we can stop and rest. Continuing south we arrive at the most famous Calamosche beach and continuing along the coast we see Torre Sveva, a lookout point for pirates and enemies raids. Then we visit the Tonnara (Trap) of Vendicari. After the allied landing in 1943 and cause of the low profit the factory was definitively closed. For its beauty the location is often used as a filming set.
We move to Marzamemi, a fishing village, born near the tonnara, one of the most important in Eastern Sicily. The tonnara was completed in 1752 and worked continuously in the post-war period but closed permanently in 1969. The most famous product is the tuna bluefin bottarga, worked with ancient Arabic-Phoenician methods. Although in recent years has emerged its tourist appeal, Marzamemi keeps its genuine soul of fishing village and for this it is used as a location for movies.
We go inland to visit a wine cellar for a tasting of local wines and typical products, then we head to Modica to spend the night.
Today, Modica is famous cause of its chocolate, but until the 19th century enjoyed a strong political, economic and cultural influence throughout the Italian Mezzogiorno. Like other cities visited in these days, in 1693 the earthquake demolished its centre. The oldest part of the city is located on a hill, where the Castle of Counts of Modica stands, a rock fortress difficult to attack. Its structure underwent several transformations, since it was the political, administrative and justice Headquarter for many centuries. Coming down from the hill we stop at the Cathedral of San Giorgio, one of the symbols of the Sicilian Baroque, which with its high tower façade dominates the impressive staircase of the Orti di San Giorgio, reminiscent of the most famous Spanish Steps in Rome.
We continue visiting the Chocolate Museum of Modica. Here, we find statues carved in chocolate blocks and a sensational map of Italy, which represents the most famous monuments of some cities: the Colosseum in Rome, the Leaning Tower in Pisa, the Mole Antonelliana in Turin and so on. This amazing chocolate is grainy and crumbly thanks to the ancient tradition of “cold working”. In the 16th century the Spanish had taken this ancient working from the Aztec.
After the lunch break we head to Ragusa Ibla, one of the oldest district of Ragusa, to visit the beautiful Baroque city. We stop at the Ibleo Garden, set up in 1858 thanks to the commitment of local nobles and the population. The Mediterranean shrubs match with a late Romantic taste and unpreparedness. Only the 15th century Gothic-Spanish portal of the church of San Giorgio survived the earthquake of 1693. The church was built on San Nicola church on top of a slight climb. The church is slightly oriented to the left of the square, so that you could see the dome behind the tower façade. This part of Ragusa is often set of many movies and episodes of the TV series “Inspector Montalbano”.
We move to Puntasecca, where is the famous house of the Inspector Montalbano, to spend the rest of the afternoon on the beach. After the check-in we meet for an aperitif or dinner in a typical restaurant.
The morning of the last day of the tour The Taste of Beauty in Eastern Sicily we still enjoy the beach of Puntasecca and after lunch we move inland.
Arriving at the Castle of Donnafugata its neo-Gothic lavish façade strikes us. Its first construction is due to the Chiaramonte family, Counts of Modica, in 14th century. Since 1648 its property is owned by the La Rocca family, who built the monumental park, where numerous species of plants, a Coffee House built for refreshment, caves and a white stone labyrinth, reminiscent of the one of Hampton Court, nearby London. Inside the castle there are 120 rooms on three floors, of which only a small part is open to the public. Each room has a different decor depending on its function, some are: the Hall Coat of Arms, the Halle of Mirrors, the Billiard Room, the Music Room and so on.
The tour The Taste of Beauty in Eastern Sicily ends here, where you can decide whether to come back to the departure point or carry on with another tour.
A guided tour to admire the wonders that Sicily offers us enjoying its typical products, renowned worldwide, and that make this island a paradise for body and soul.
09:00 Taormina: Palazzo Duchi de Stefano
10:00 Palazzo Ciampoli
11:30 Palazzo Corvaja
12:40 Greek Theatre
13:00 Lunch in the Municipal gardens
15:00 Isola Bella
08:30 Guided tour on the Mount Etna
15:00 Alcantara Gorges
19:00 Tasting in a winery
22:00 Check-in in Catania
09:00 Castle Ursino
10:30 Baths of Indirizzo
11:15 Achilliane baths
12:30 Saint Agatha Cathedral
15:00 Roman Theatre and Odeon
16:15 Roman Amphitheatre
17:30 Departure for Syracuse
09:00 Neapolis Archaeological Park
11:00 Roman Forum
12:00 Temple of Apollo
14:30 Fountain of Diana
15:30 Piazza Duomo: Palazzo Borgia del Casale and Cathedral
17:00 Fountain of Arethusa
18:00 Castle Maniace
08:30 Noto Antica
09:30 Royal Gate
10:00 Palazzo Ducezio
11:30 Villa del Tellaro
12:45 Vendicari Nature Reserve and lunch
19:00 Tasting in a winery
22:00 Arrive in Modica and check-in
09:00 Castle of Counts of Modica
10:30 Cathedral of San Giorgio
11:30 Chocolate Museum of Modica
13:30 Ragusa Ibla: Ibleo Garden and lunch
15:00 Cathedral of San Giorgio
16:30 Puntasecca: check-in and rest on the beach
19:30 Aperitif or dinner
Free morning on the beach
15:00 Castle of Donnafugata