Escape to Sicily (Parte Prima)

I did specify that my next post would be written with an Aperol spritz in hand, but we’ll have to settle for a glass of Vena Aetna rose wine instead.

Yes, I’m writing from the balcony of our hotel in sunny Taormina, Sicily, overlooking the azure blue sea and scenic cliff top resorts. It has been a fantastic week of minimal effort. We set out with as little planned and almost zero pressure regarding timings, other than getting up for breakfast between 7 and 10 am and dinner at 8 pm, and it’s exactly what was needed after an intense few months of exam preparation (and doing). The only tours we planned were a half day to visit Etna and an evening food and wine tour.

The view from our balcony

It’s a very different approach to my average holiday. On a typical excursion, every day is packed with activities and travel for fear of missing out on something we could have experienced. The more I travelled like that, the less I wanted to; it normally required a stay at home holiday to recover. Now I’d far rather leisurely explore a town, stop at a cafe for a drink, hike up a trail, have a relaxed lunch then call it a day.

Taormina provided all that we were looking for including crystal clear water and beautiful beaches. There’s a preponderance of Taiwanese masseurs wandering around the beaches offering massages in an overly familar way, although most of them leave when you tell them you don’t carry cash. Even the restaurant reps aren’t too pushy, save for the occasional one on Corso Umberto, the main shopping street. I mean, it’s the main street full stop. There isn’t a lot else to Taormina off the beaten track.

Instead of a detailed account of all the things we did in Taormina which would become overly dull and boring, here are some things you could do if you come and visit.

Laze Around Pasticceria (pah-stitch-a-ree-a)

Pasticceria are (most often) little shops selling pastries and cakes. Many will also sell gelato and granite/granita (shaved ice, one of the delectable Sicilian specialties) and of course, a range of alcoholic beverages. Brioche and ice cream is a particularly popular option for breakfast (decadent, I know) and paired with lemon granite it’s hard to beat for a mid-morning snack. This is also the time to pick up an Aperol spritz and soak in the surroundings while sitting at a little table watching the world go by. We’re in off season at the moment but Corso Umberto is stil a hive of activity. Try the cassata, layers of sponge cake with ricotta cream topped with candied fruit, or cannoli, pastry tubes filled with sweetened ricotta and chocolate chips (or a variety of other fillings including local pistacchios).

The fabled Aperol spritz

Get hit by a car

Yes, if you’re not ever so careful it’s a real possibility. Driving here is some of the worst I’ve seen, and pavements are a luxury not often afforded. Luckily Corso Umberto is largely pedestrianised aside from official vehicles, but streets in Mazzaro (the coastal part of the town) are a death trap. One car stopped for us mere inches from the pushchair. Cars and motorbikes will overtake with barely enough space and remain unfazed. I’m glad we chose not to drive.

Wander up some stairs

Taormina is hilly. We caught the cable car (funivia) from the seaside area to the main town multiple times per day, a journey which can be stepped by the brave of heart (and strong of knee). The uphill need not end there, however. The climb up to Castello Saraceno is a steep one but offers excellent views across the countryside. Those who make it to the top (particulary those brave souls who have a baby strapped to them) are rewarded with a little drinks stand offering Aperol spritz alongside some ready salted crisps and a bowl of olives for €6. A vertiable bargain! We had some excellent food at Ristorante Pizzeria Al Saraceno next to the drink stand (which bizarrely doesn’t serve pizza at lunch, or at least didn’t that day, despite it being part of the name). They were fantastically welcoming and we needed the energy before making it back to the centre of Taormina.

Eat some pasta (and rice)

What the Italians consider the first course (pasta or risotto) is more than adequate for a main back home. Sicily offers a number of pasta dishes which are as delicious as they are elegant in their simplicity. Specialties like linguine al limone (cream and fresh lemon), pistachio cream, pasta alla norma (aubergine and tomato sauce) and spaghetti vongole (clams and a simple sauce) are widely available and make the most of fresh local produce. The volcanic soil is extremely fertile and combined with ideal weather conditions, the landscape provides a bounty of fruits and vegetables. Lemon and orange trees are on every corner.

While the pasta is exquisite, it’s not the only carb on the menu. Aranchini are balls of risotto typically filled with ragu and cheese, breadcrumbed and deep fried. They’re mouthwatering and ubiquitous. It’s hard to go more than a few minutes without seeing the golden triangles sitting in a warming cabinet in a shop window.

How to eat aranchini

Have an old fashioned dinner service

The hotel we stayed in (Hotel Ipanema) offered half board, and in an attempt to do as little as possible, that’s the route we took. The food was not quite restaurant standard but it was pleasant enough, and each night we had a three course spread with a choice of options for each course. Usually a pasta, risotto, salad or soup for first course, followed by meat or fish for the main, and a slice of cake or fruit salad for dessert. The desserts were the best bit, with some exquisite cakes and cassata on offer.

Dinner on the last night was rather special though: spaghetti with mussels and a tomato sauce, whole grilled sea bass (spigola) with a side of broccoli and roast potatoes, and almond semifreddo. Mario (restaurant server extraordinaire) organised a special pasta dish for Evie (our daughter) and a whole sea bass for her which he painstakingly picked through for bones. Of course Evie tasted one bite of fish then decided she would rather eat the lemon slice on the side. A true Sicilian already.

Dinner at the Overlook…I mean, Hotel Ipanema.

That’s it for part one of the post. I’ll be back for more with part two. Check back next Thursday for more!

One response to “Escape to Sicily (Parte Prima)”

  1. […] This post is part two in a series about Sicily. Part one can be found here. […]

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