Sunday, 28 April 2013


Last Monday Andrew had a Significant Birthday so we decided to take a few days off and visit Sicily, an island we hadn't been to before. We based ourselves in Taormina, in the Villa Greta, a small hotel which should rate higher than it's 2*. Located at the top of the town the view of Taormina and Mount Etna is stunning and it's less than ten minutes walk into town. Well it is on the way there, on the way back it takes a little longer as it's all uphill. The pain wasn't over when we reached the hotel as there were 108 steps to our bedroom!
Taormina at night

The main street, Corso Umberto I is lined with 14th & 15th century palazzi and a myriad of shops, offering traditional hand painted ceramics, tempting food and quite a few designer retail outlets. There are some antique shops and I was pleased to see some old puppets, with which Sicily has a long history, as I have a friend who is a puppeteer. Taormina is quite a glitzy town but off the main street are alleyways, quaint corners and balconies galore.

Ceramics galore
Antique  Sicilian puppets

Typical Taorminan street
Not overly suitable for cobbled streets

Flower laden balconies at every turn

Best of all was the constant scent of citrus blossom, everywhere you turn there are orange and lemon trees; lying in bed the perfume drifted in.

Citrus fruit everywhere

Orange & lemons at every turn

Our first day we spent celebrating Andrew's birthday, which involved a long and leisurely lunch and sitting watching the beautiful people go by.

Substitute birthday cake

On Tuesday we decided to explore and drove to Cefalú. We had brought with us 'Naggy Nora' the sat nav, just to make life easier. We climbed out of town into the mountains behind us. It got a little twisty and the road was a little rustic but I checked the map and we seemed to be on the right track. I say track because that's what it was in places. It wasn't that the sat nav was playing up, it's what Sicilian mountain roads are like. Fortunately for me Andrew is an excellent driver, phased by very little and enjoys a challenge. On the plus side the views were spectacular and when we stopped to take some photographs all I could hear was the bells on the goats. Everywhere you looked there was fennel growing wild and masses of wild flowers. Eventually we reached a fast road and continued to our destination.

Right road

Sicilian mountain road

Mount Etna

I have to confess to being a little disappointed in Cefalú which the guide books had said was a warrren of medieval streets. They were old and narrow but most of the buildings have been restored without much thought to retaining their history. There were lots of balconies (I like balconies) many with washing stretching over them. The small beach is still home to some fishing boats and is a popular place for the men to gather.

Etna rises behind Taormina and had had a small eruption the day before we arrived, thick black smoke marked the passage of the cooling lava flow, but we decided with a forecast of minus 3 and snow to give it a miss. Instead we explored the town and joined in the national pastime of just sitting and watching.

Evening is the best time for this as everyone, visitors and locals, heads for the Corso Umberto. We found a café in a prime position and discovered 'Apero-spritzer'  - martini rosso & sparkling wine. All I would say is don't knock it until you've tried it!

Evening stroll

Watching the world go by

Apero Spritzer

On our final day we headed to Noto, a baroque town in the south of the island. The original town was destroyed by an earthquake in 1693 and the government decided to rebuild away from the original site and commissioned the finest architects of the day. They co-operated to build a city with wide streets, squares to act as focal points and views everywhere. All the buildings are of honey coloured limestone and therein lies the problem. In 1986 a structural survey was undertaken and it was discovered that the buildings were in a state of such fragility that the slightest tremor would destroy them. The seriousness of the situation became apparent when the cupola of the cathedral collapsed in 1996. In 2002 UNESCO designated Noto as a world heritage site and funding was gained to save some of these stunning buildings.

Unrestored in Noto


Walking round the city you can see extreme contrasts between the buildings that have been restored and those that haven't. Some are now just façades, the buildings behind destroyed. But everywhere the details are beautiful, particularly some of the balcony supports.

Balcony support

The church of the Collegio has a white and gilded stucco interior and stairs up the bell tower with magnifcent views over the city.

Baroque interior - Noto

I'm not good on heights, nor slippery stairs, but I gritted my teeth, hung on to the rope and headed up. I have to thank Andrew for most of the photographs as I couldn't go near the edge, just stayed in the middle and took detail shots! Descending was even worse and at one stage Andrew seriously thought he would have to talk me down! My hand ached for ages from gripping the rope so tight and it took a double espresso to get me back to normal.
It was a long way up, just that rope to hold

View from the bell tower

As you can imagine we took a lot of photographs and if you want to see more then I've created a slide show for you to have a look. If you want to the them in a larger format just double click to get to the album.


  1. Those photos are amazing - I want to go there now! Your friend the puppeteer! x

    1. Thank you! I've more puppet photos if you want them!

  2. Great photos, which have really whetted my appetite to go there. So 'Naggy Norah' lives in your car? Our scold is the less imaginatively named 'Sally Sat-Nav'

    1. Thank you Margaret, it really is a stunning island. The northern end is more dramatic & greener than the south, which is dry and much flatter. There were times when we Nora was getting very agitated (as were we!) but we wouldn't have seen the mountains if it wasn't for her.

  3. Sicily's been on my list for years but I've never quite made it - we always intended to take a quick flight from Stansted, though those days are gone now! It looks wonderful. I love your photos, but especially the man in the beret behind the roses.

    We don't have, and have never used, a scolding harridan in the car - in fact if you ever come here you'd need to turn her off completely to get here. The last guests to ignore my advice to do just that phoned me apologetically to tell me that they were stuck down a muddy track almost into a lake (I resisted the urge to say 'I told you so', but I've been ribbing them about it ever since - and they're coming back this year so more opportunities coming up!).

  4. The roses photo was a complete fluke! I was taking the man sitting and clicked a couple more shots and all of a sudden there was a bunch of roses in the way, but I'm really pleased with that one. We resisted a sat.nav. for ages and never rely on it 100%, there's always a map in the car, but I have to say in Sicily & in France we've seen some wonderful places that we'd probably never have seen with it.

  5. I forgot to say... 'Happy Birthday Andrew'. We're slightly SatNav phobic too - ours was a gift. Best experience was when we threw her into the glove compartment once in Rouen when she sent us the wrong way, and forgot about her. The next day, nearly 36 hours later, driving through Toulouse, a small plaintive voice suddenly announced from within her prison 'Turn around when possible'.

  6. Andrew says thank you Margaret - he's coping with a new decade rather well at the moment. Your lucky the sat nav got a signal in the glove compartment. I was walking down the aisle of an Auchan and a voice in my handbag told me to 'do a u turn'. Still couldn't find the foil though.