The Treasures of East Coast Sicily
Discovering Sicily Pt.1
Sicily Lifestyle is excited to launch its online series, Discovering Sicily. We’ll be sharing travel inspiration, stories and joy from our beautiful Sicily, and if you allow us we’d love to craft your Sicilian story, whether it’s a wedding, an event or a trip of a lifetime.
First in our online series we unveil Sicily’s East Coast, a jewel box filled with some of the most beautiful baroque and medieval towns, rugged coastlines of turquoise beaches and majestic views of Mt. Etna.
Catania provides the perfect entry point for visiting Sicily’s East Coast. CTA (Catania Fontanarossa Airport) is connected to major European airports, and strategically located in the mid-point of the East Coast.
Naturally, one could spend a whole month discovering the secrets of this coast and there’s no shortage of beauty. However, realistically we recommend a minimum of 4 days.
Taormina is a quintessential part of an East Coast Sicilian vacation. Even the ancient Greeks knew that Taormina was a place of wonder, hence they built the most panoramic Greek Theatre on its hilltops.
The theatre’s view spans along the Ionian coastline dotted with mesmerizing beaches and perched above them the hero of the view is majestic Mt. Etna with all her glory. It is truly an enchanting sight to see and even if you’re not a history enthusiast, you must visit for the views.
Taormina was ruled by many empires over the centuries, but always played a key role due to its strategic location. Its architecture is dominated by beautiful medieval buildings made of stone and charming narrow alleyways that give you a chance to wander around freely and explore Taormina’s hidden beauty.
The town’s main street Corso Umberto is the artery of Taormina. Walking along this street you can discover Piazza Duomo with its medieval fountain and the Duomo di Taormina; followed by a breathtaking view of the coast from Piazza IX Aprile which is lined by blossoming oleander trees and guarded by a medieval clocktower.
When you get tired from all the exploring, you should grab Sicily’s beloved granita, a cold and refreshing treat that we can’t live without on hot summer days. Our favorite spot for a delicious granita is Bam Bar (and besides the granita, you are guaranteed to snap an Instagram worthy photo here).
A mandatory stop of Taormina is a short cable-car or bus ride down from then hilltop to its beaches – is Isola Bella, the “pearl of the Ionian”. This tiny island is a treasured spot of all who live in Taormina.
A narrow stretch of sand connecting the land with the small patch of paradise of Isola Bella. If you can, spend the day at the beach of Isola Bella at one of the many lidos offering beach beds, cocktails and food. Walk the narrow strand to the little island and visit the nature reserve. Or take a boat tour around the coves and grottos.
Last, but not least if you want a fantastic sunset view from high above, there is one place to visit you must visit while in Taormina. Just above Taormina, Castelmola is suspended on the hilltops.
As you arrive you will find yourself in Sant’Antonio panoramic square with a breath-taking view on the Sicilian Ionian coast with its bays and on Taormina and its castle. Make your way to Chiesa di San Nicolo di Bari and find yourself at the cutest little square with bars and restaurants and a lovely view.
Siracusa/ Ortigia Island
Siracusa and Ortigia Island are synonymous and you may hear their names interchangeably. Siracusa is towards the south end of the eastern shore of Sicily, about an hour drive from Catania.
Ortigia island is part of the city of Siracusa, it’s an island but its separation is unnoticeable as it’s only divided from the city by a small stretch of water.
Siracusa is a gem and has been for centuries, it was the most powerful Greek city in Sicily and according to Cicero it was “the greatest Greek city and the most beautiful of them all”. Another fun fact about Siracusa is that it was the birthplace and home of Archimedes. He made his famous discovery about the density of metals in his bathtub in Siracusa and ran the streets naked screaming “Eureka”.
While you certainly won’t see naked scientists running around Siracusa anymore, you will be treated to a wonderful experience exploring this ancient city. For history lovers, the Siracusa Archeological Park offers amazing historical treasures like the ancient Greek Theatre, Roman Amphitheatre, Altar of Hieron.
For food lovers, shoppers and photography enthusiasts alike, Siracusa is a beautiful and romantic treat. After passing the bridge over to Ortigia island, you will arrive at the Temple of Apollo built in the 7th century BCE. To the right of the ruins of the temple, you will be greeted by the most delicious smells, ripe produce, fresh fish and the colors of the Siracusa market.
There will be hustle and bustle, sellers shouting about their products and you’ll feel the energy of the market exploding. Feast your eyes and stomach on Sicily’s abundant fruits and vegetables, and make sure to come here just before lunch-time for a special treat.
At the end of the market, there are a handful of food-vendors with small bar-like shops and plenty of outdoor seating. They make delicious cheese & meat boards and fantastic sandwiches with the best Italian ingredients.
Our favorite place is Caseificio Borderi, a family run salumeria that makes the most mouthwatering sandwiches literally stuffed to the brink with artisanal cheeses, meats and vegetables. This is an authentic and unforgettable Sicilian experience.
After the market, walk to the Fountain of Arethusa and admire the beautiful nymph in the center of the fountain. Then make your way to the center of Ortigia, the Piazza del Duomo. On the way, you can admire a mixture of Greek and Roman, Mediaeval Norman buildings and some baroque architecture.
Piazza del Duomo is a stunning square and perfect for taking some classic Sicilian photos, if you want a bird’s eye view of Ortigia, you can take the stairs to the top of the cathedral and admire the coast from up there.
If you wander around a little further, you will eventually arrive to the sea and can walk along to the tip of the island to Castello Maniace. Once you explored the city and have more time in the area for a beach day, definitely visit the beaches near Plemmirio. Absolutely stunning rugged coastline with turquoise beaches await you.
Venturing a little away from the coast, you will find the “city of sun”, Noto. Noto is a baroque jewel box, built entirely of limestone and its buildings positioned so they receive constant attention from the sun. As baroque would have it, the buildings are pompous, dramatic and full of detail.
Enhancing all the detail is the limestone that shines bright and emits an otherworldly golden glow when the sun hits its surface, creating a golden aura around the entire city, especially at sunset. Noto is the epitome of urban perfection.
The main artery of Noto is Corso Vittorio Emanuele and walking down this street you will find all the main attractions. Cattedrale di Noto is probably the most imposing and impressive of all buildings with its long cascading steps.
Across the street, you can visit Palazzo Ducezio and admire its baroque frescoes and interior details. Make sure to head out on its balconies so you can take some amazing photos of the cathedral and the street down below.
If you’re yearning for more baroque interiors you can visit all the churches and Palazzo Castelluccio and Palazzo Nicolaci are also open to the public and show the opulence of this period.
To relax and satisfy one’s sweet tooth, stop at the famous Caffé Sicilia. Local’s favorite since 1892 and made internationally known by Netflix’s Chefs Table, Caffe Sicilia serves a traditional menu of Sicilian desserts, made fresh with only local ingredients. There is absolutely no wrong choice here, order the entire menu, you deserve it!
There is no wonder why Noto is a UNESCO Heritage Site, it is a true expression of fantasy, devotion and humanity’s desire for beauty.
Mt. Etna & Mt. Etna Wineries
Last but definitely not least on our must-visit list of East Coast Sicily is Mt. Etna. Mt. Etna’s majestic present has shaped much of Sicily, not only its landscape but our culture, our cuisine and our traditions as well. She’s a constant presence in our lives. Mt. Etna is Europe’s highest and most active volcano and your visit to Sicily is not complete without spending some time exploring her beauty.
Not everyone is an avid hiker, so we don’t recommend climbing to the top of Mt. Etna to everyone, but if you want a challenge you can take the 8hr round-trip trek and experience the marvel of being on top of an active volcano.
These treks are only allowed with a professional guide and proper shoes and gear. We are more than happy to help you book the hiking excursion if you’re the adventurous type.
If hiking is not your cup of tea, Mt. Etna should still not be skipped. To experience the lava covered terrain one can drive up to Rifugio Sapienza at 2000 meters over sea level and take a leisurely walk around the two nearby craters.
From here you can also take the cable-car to higher elevation where the cable-car company offers 4×4 bus tours that reach up to 2500 meters elevation. The surface of Mt. Etna is truly wonderful, covered in black lava rock and dotted with moss, tundra grass and other interesting flora; you will feel like walking on an alien planet.
But the Mt. Etna adventure does not stop here. On the slopes of the volcano the soil is fertile and abundant in nutrients, hence making it a perfect place to grow wonderful produce and most importantly quality grapes. Mt. Etna has some of the best wineries in Sicily and due to its unique microclimate wine produced here is very special.
Most wineries offer wine tasting combined with antipasti or with a 3-4 course lunch made from local ingredients grown and produced in the area. A feast befitting the wine god Bacchus awaits you on the slopes of our beloved Mt. Etna.
The East Coast of Sicily is a captivating and diverse region of Sicily and we could provide you with endless more inspiration for your visit. Taormina, Siracusa, Noto and Mt. Etna are just the beginning of the possibilities for a vacation that you will not forget.
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