A passeggiata (stroll) along Corso Umberto: Taormina, Sicily

by Madra Rua

I have walked Corso Umberto on many occasions and never tired of its eagerness to please, delight and surprise. Why not join me now, on my passeggiata, and enjoy the sights and sounds of Taormina.

As I travelled along the motorway from Catania airport, the iconic Mount Etna revealed its grandeur, its snowy top smouldering. Ahead lay the most beautiful town in Sicily; Taormina......or so I’d been told. Its buildings terraced on the side of a small mountain, the hamlet of Castelmola balancing upon its summit.

It was to be my first visit to Sicily and I was somewhat sceptical of Taormina's purported rustic beauty. That mindset remained with me even as I drove up the winding road to within less than one kilometre of the town. But the negativity soon evaporates in the midday heat as I am smothered in the ambience and simplicity of a town that pulsates with energy yet soothes with calmness.

Taormina’s main drag is Corso Umberto I. It mildly meanders for one kilometre through the old medieval town from one ancient gateway to another, from Piazza Sant’ Antonio to Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II.

The entire population of the town and beyond seem to take advantage of its pedestrian only status and in the evening heat come to talk, stroll, people watch and most importantly; be seen. Mingling with the rich and famous is not compulsory but can be sometimes, unavoidable. Having a beer or two with Liam Neeson is not unheard of. Dressed to impress and perfumes that intoxicate; young and old hold court on the Piazza Aprile IX. Musicians serenade, pavement artists twist and contort beautiful faces, while newly weds mingle and pose. Children laugh, play and tease on the steps of Sant’ Augostino, a small gothic church built in 1448. The old men with crisp white shirts sip on corecttos at Caffé Concerto Wunderbar, discussing the latest news. Their wives and mistresses take long animated intakes of cigarette smoke as they dramatically express their thoughts and wishes. It was here that Tennessee Williams wrote over coffee and Elizabeth Taylor awaited the arrival of Richard Burton. Most just take in the beauty of its vista; the Bay of Naxos and the beach resort of Giardini-Naxos, all admired from its grand terrazzo.

Piazza Duomo attracts a younger crowd. They sit around the piazza's baroque fountain talking intensely and relentlessly, only pausing to take photos or strike a pose. The impressive Church of San Nicola dominates the square and once again has a great choice of restaurants and bars.

This drag is the town’s heart, its steady beat unrelenting. The trendy but expensive boutiques and jewellers that adorn the street beckon you to part with hundreds of your hard earned euros. Like arteries, small alleys leave the Corso downwards and upwards, each offering an abundance of choice and variety in eateries, trendy bars and cafes. As you reach the end of the Corso at Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II, rest your weary feet at Bar Oranges Di Podoto. But beware, do not take a table below the orange trees or you could end up with a sore head that will not be caused by alcohol.

To the right of the piazza is Via Teatro Greco with its abundance of souvenir shops. Walk this short street and the gem that is the Greco Romana Theatre awaits you. Be prepared to be wowed by with its grandeur and its views of the Bay Naxos and Etna. Try to visit here when the sun is at its lowest as it can be stifling in the midday sun. Or treat yourself to one of the many concerts held in the amphitheatre in the cooler evenings. But no matter what way you intend to spend your evenings, you will never tire of your passeggiata along Corso Umberto.

Where to eat

Ristorante Casa Niclodi (Salita Alexander Humbolt 4; +39 0942 620037)
Dine on the roof garden with its flowers and orange trees. Nice atmosphere, good traditional peasant food. They not only open their doors to you, but also their hearts…very apt indeed. Three courses with one litre of house wine for two; average 70 euros.

Granduca Ristorante Pizzeria (Corso Umberto 172; 39 0942 24983)
The food is as the good as the views from their terraces. Book to avoid long waits. Staff a bit impersonal, but still worth a visit. Three courses with one litre of house wine for two; average 85 euros.

Ristoranta Terrazza Angelo (Corso Umberto 38; 39 0942 24411)
Excellent restaurant. Small homely and welcoming. Great staff and service. Good varied menu. Three courses with one litre of house wine for two; average 65 euros.

Trattoria Mamma Rosa (Via Naumachie 10; 39 0942 24361)
Situated on the steps of Naumachie, this is a good restaurant to eat, look and listen. Food cannot be faulted and the staff are attentive. Three courses with one litre of house wine for two; average 70 euros.

Re di Bastoni (Corso Umberto, 120; 39 0942 23037)
A popular pub, with live music without the noise. Enjoy a light snack and drink as you watch the world go by. Great, friendly staff and very affordable prices

Where to stay

The three star Villa Schuler was converted from a Sicilian villa into a hotel almost 100 years ago. The family run establishment has been modernised but maintains its original elegance and charm. Excellent location with great amenities, but does not have a swimming pool. Double rooms from 99 to 278 euros per night.

Excelsior Palace Hotel Taormina - this four star hotel set in a beautiful location offers all that you will require for an enjoyable stay in Taormina. Rooms and amenities are excellent, whilst maintaining its old Sicilian, Moorish charm. It has its own swimming pool set in its wonderful gardens and views that wow. Double rooms from 260 to 280 euros per night.

Beside the public gardens and below the Via Roma is the Monte Tauro Hotel. This modern hotel offers all the services that you expect of a four star establishment. It is a great base to explore the delights of Taormina and beyond. Double rooms from 115 to 330 euros per night.

The Residence Schuler offers fantastic self contained house apartments. Located very close to Corso Umberto, this residence is value for money. It does not have a pool but the views are exceptional. A large apartment with equally large terrace, it has three bedrooms and sleeps six persons. The cost is approx 1100 euros per week. Smaller apartments are available.

Madra Rua

Liam spends his days transforming people’s bathrooms and kitchens into an oasis of beauty. Utilising his skills as a tiler, he believes that he gives his clients the dream and sanctuary they wish for. As for his travel dreams, well they began at the tender but adventurous age of fourteen. His friend Dessy and Liam both set out on a life changing youth hostelling holiday, from the counties of Donegal to Kerry and Mayo to Wexford. Since then he has zig-zagged his way across America on a greyhound bus; hitch-hiked from Belfast to southern Spain and back; visited most major European cities and a few American; staying in the very best and the very worst of hotels. He has skied in some of the Alps most heavenly resorts; enjoyed the hectic, chaotic, but brilliant holidays that are camping and scorched his fair Irish skin on the beaches of Spain, Greece, Italy and Los Angeles. But he shall always have a very, very, soft spot for Italy and all this wonderfully; delicious and exciting country has to offer.