by Sacha Bunnik
The first thing most people think about when they hear the name Sicily is the mafia. Since the global spotlight shone on Sicily after the release of Francis Ford Coppola’s Godfather movies, Sicily has been associated with the Italian Mafia; this might be accurate as I did see some tourist Don Corleone t-shirts at the night markets in the old town of Taormina. Being serious, Sicily has a lot to offer and is so much more than what Hollywood portrays it to be.
Dennis, our American mate Bob and I spent 5 days touring Sicily and fell in love with its natural beauty, relaxed lifestyle and tasty cuisine.
We based ourselves for 2 nights in the small coastal town of Giardini Naxos on the eastern side of the Sicily, with its beautiful beach front promenade. During our time in Giardini Naxos we explored the nearby town of Taormina, perched on the hillside overlooking the ocean. The Greeks were in Taormina around 700 BC and built the famous Tentro Greco (Greek Theatre) that today is one of Sicily’s most famous archaeological sites.
The old town of Taormina is great to visit at night with its narrow streets, many shops and cafés. We enjoyed the best tiramisu I have ever eaten in a small local café in Taormina, my mouth waters just thinking about it as I write this. On a sadder note James Gandolfini, the actor that played Tony Soprano in The Sopranos, had a heart attack and died in Taormina about 3 weeks after we were there.
The next day we dedicated to Mt Etna, the still active volcano that has helped shape Sicily over the last million years. It most recently erupted in 2012, but it seems to have small eruptions every year, that help to reshape the mountain. About half way up Mt Etna is a large car park, a few restaurants and shops as well as two massive craters that have formed over the last 20 years during different eruptions, which can be explored by foot.
The whole mountain is covered in small black volcanic rock, that is full of air (like an aero bar chocolate) and it crunches as you walk on it. An interesting fact is that volcanic rock is so much lighter than real rock, as you see in the photos even Dennis can pick it up!
From the car park we took a chairlift further up the volcano, with the idea to join a jeep tour to the summit. However, once we reached the top the weather turned on us and all jeep tours were cancelled.
We did manage to play in the blackish snow for a while (had a snow fight), had a coffee and then journeyed back down the mountain. Cefalu, Palermo, Agrigento were next up on our travels – stay tuned for part two to learn more about these amazing towns.
Explore our Southern Italy, Sicily & Malta small group tour here.