When planning an overseas holiday from Australia, that internal debate between booking something cultural and historic versus scheduled relaxation (read: eating everything, while doing nothing on a beach) forever niggles on. And when budget and time present limitations, travelling all the way to Europe for only one can seem like a sacrifice. Enter: Taormina, the Italian city that truly delivers the best of both worlds. The small but majestic city set on the east coast of Sicily, Italy, sits high on Monte Tauro and pairs epic views of Mount Etna and an ancient Greek theatre, with stunning beaches and some of the best Italian food you’ll find on the island.
Taormina is less about the stress of sightseeing (meaning zero guilt about sleeping in or spending all day at Isola Bella beach, see below) and more about enjoying the views, the rich history and the medieval character of the town, which is punctuated by piazzas that are more than enough to satisfy the mind and ignite your imagination. Below find what to pack and where to stay, play, wine and dine in Sicily’s must-visit city for style-seekers, history buffs, art lovers, foodies and sun worshipers, alike.
Sitting in the most spectacular position (it’s just below the Greek theatre, literally) the Belmond Grand Hotel Timeo hotel has full views of the medieval rooftops of the town, across the coastline and around to the peak of the active Mount Etna – and all that from the hotel’s terrace. The grounds are grand and the gardens are lush, but from the second you walk through the gates you’re met with the kind of old-fashioned courtesy – from the front desk and waiters to the drivers and chambermaids – that makes you feel instantly at ease and at home. Service is swift and comes with a smile, but also dotted with a slice of warm, Sicilian character that’s never sterile or impersonal.
The pool is peaceful and flanked by the impeccably kept gardens, but you’ll likely be tempted to take the free shuttle bus to the private beach of sister hotel Belmond Villa Sant’Andrea, which Timeo guests can visit free of charge. It’s all crowd-free swims, ample sun lounges, Instagram-bait umbrellas and San Pellegrino on tap.
When it comes to the rooms, conjure old-world European indulgence and a unique antique feel, with all the modern luxuries. Bathrooms are impeccably opulent, fresh flowers adorn every corner and the amenities from Penhaligon’s (whose bath salts offer the ultimate antidote to one-too-many-Aperol-Spritzs heads) and Molton Brown satisfying even the fussiest travelling groomer.
Essentially a sweet, verdant interlude from the tourist-packed streets of Taormina, staying at the Timeo feels like you’re living in a movie that you never want to switch off.
Credit: Getty Images
Packing light has its place but after your first afternoon sunning at Isola Bella or passeggiata down Corso Umberto you’ll see why the town and its surrounds have inspired Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana for infinite seasons. Meaning? If there ever was a time to team a printed dress with statement earrings, this is it. As for beauty, channel Dolce and Gabbana’s main muse, Sofia Loren in a statement red lipstick that doesn’t quit.
ELINA LINARDAKI, Sandals, $304. SHOP NOW
Giorgio Armani, Lip Magnet in Glow, $58. SHOP NOW
DOLCE & GABBANA, DRESS, $3,200. SHOP NOW
Acqua di Parma, Blu Mediterraneo Cedro EDT, $140. SHOP NOW
CHRISTIE NICOLAIDES, Earrings, $209. SHOP NOW
WINE AND DINE
Taormina’s trattorias are plentiful and trusted, but there are some eateries worth visiting during your stay. The terrace at The Grand Hotel Timeo is the best place for sunset drinks, even if you aren’t staying there and Bambar’s famous granita is a must for the flat-lay ready tables alone.
Credit: Instagram @bambartaormina
You’d completely miss Vicolo Stretto if you didn’t know it was there, but you’ll be missing their eggplant and prawn gnocchi for months afterwards. For something sweet, Pasticceria Etna have some of the best cannolis and lemon sorbet on the Corso.
You can walk to the Greek theatre from almost anywhere in Taormina, just follow the signs. Sitting in the cliffside, the exisiting Roman remains are in tact and the views are breathtaking. Head there when it opens at 9am to avoid the crowds if you can or just before sunset.
Credit: Getty Images
Sandy beaches are not on the menu but the crystal waters of Isola Bella beach feel like another world, or you can take a boat down the Riveria dei Ciclopi to stop at secluded swimming spots, sans tourists and traffic. If you have the time, take day-or-two trip to the Mt Etna. The active mountain offers a beautiful walk and delicious local wines, though be sure to pack some layers as it gets chilly once the sun sets.