“Here Galatea escaped Polyphemus, and Akis, on the verge of falling under the blows of his rival, enchanted yet these shores and there left his name…In the distance you can see the lake of Hercules and the rocks of the Cyclops. Sicily, the land of gods and heroes!” –Tocqueville
Taormina, the gem of Sicily. Clinging to the cliffside perched above the turquoise waters of the Ionian Sea, this lovely town has been coveted by all who invaded Sicily–from the Greeks, Romans and Arabs to the British, Germans and Americans on the Grand Tour. Today its invaders arrive by cruise ship and tour bus and leave behind their hearts, and most importantly their money.
Taormina is the Mediterranean distilled. Land of lemon trees, agave plants, seductive jasmine and dizzying views, its aesthetic value is incalculable. It has been home to great writers such as Goethe, D.H. Lawrence and Tennessee Williams, and frequented by stars like Greta Garbo, Audrey Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe.
Architecturally, Taormina is a showcase of design, both building and landscape. Villas and gardens spill over the hillside in an outrageous display of color. The narrow, medieval streets provide private refuges for lovers’ embraces, and the piazzas are fresh air ballrooms for all ages.
Today we visited Taormina’s iconic theater. Built by the Greeks, this theater boasts the greatest views of any other Greek theater in the world. With Mt. Etna smoking in the backdrop, the stage cradles this famous scene of snowcapped mountain, fire and sea. We also learned from our guide Diana delightful stories of visitors past and the legacies they left Taormina and civilization. Tennessee Williams for example. He stayed in this town while writing Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and story has it that he would venture to a cafe in town every morning, order a glass of bourbon, and sit all day, writing and refilling his glass with his own bottle he’d stashed in his bag. He was not a favorite of the cafe, nor the Hotel Timeo where it is said he would return to type out his writing into the night on his portable typewriter, keeping the other guests awake. Or there was Winston Churchill who it was said drank a glass of almond wine each morning before climbing the steep path to Castelmola–the picturesque town perched far above Taormina–because he said it gave him energy (the wine, or the hike I’d like to know!).
We savored our final hours in Sicily wandering the streets, indulging in gelato, granite, aperitivi, pizze, views, conversation, and the sighs of pre-departure. Our final Mythical Happy Hour was upon us.