Isola Bella/Taormina

Friday morning, we were scheduled to return the car at 9 am to the rental car office in Giardini Naxos (thank the goddess).

Naxos, you may recall, was the original Greek colony, founded in the 8th century BCE by second sons from Naxos, Greece. Taormina was formed in the 3rd century BCE by refugees from Naxos after Heiron II of Siracusa decided to add the city to his real estate portfolio. (Remember that gigantic altar is Siracusa with room to slaughter 500 bulls at once? That guy.) Today, Giardini Naxos is a small city nestled between hills with lots of beaches, and shops selling goods that normal folks might actually buy. We caught the local bus at a stop conveniently near the car place  and rode the bus along the coast to the Mazzaro Bay stop in lower Taormina.

Disembarking from the bus, we walked uphill and down a flight of steps for a boat ride rendezvous arranged by our host, Massimo.

Our boat driver, Luciano, bade us shed our shoes in the soft sand, then loaded us up for spin around the peninsula, into Isola Bella Bay and back. The shores are lined with beach resorts for the public and hotels for the super-rich. One family owns all of the peninsula (and maybe most of Taormina) according to our guide.

The weathered, volcanic rock forms eerie shapes, with iridescent coral clinging to the tideline in sheltered locations.

The Blue Cave (Grotta Azzura) is normally a boat tour highlight, but a boulder had fallen the week before and entry was prohibited for safety reasons. We were able to get close enough to view the lovely turquoise water.

Isola Bella is an almost-island connected to the shore by a narrow walkway. Florence Trevelyan (remember the eccentric Northumberland lady who created Taormina’s lovely public gardens?) purchased the island in 1890 and carved her house and gardens into its rocky promontories. If you look closely, you can some of Florence’s terraces and rooms jutting out of the rock.

Today Isola Bella is a nature reserve. The house is a ruin, which is fortunately being renovated – although not so fortunately for us, since access to island is closed while renovations are underway. This is what we would have seen if we could have walked onto the island.

Luciano returned us to Mazzoro Bay, where we retrieved our shoes, walked up the stairs, around the corner, then down a long, long set of stairs to the Isola Bella beach.

In high season, this public beach is wall-to-wall people, we were told.

We had a tasty and surprisingly inexpensive lunch at the Mendolia Beach Club (the line of blue loungers in the background in the picture above).

After lunch, we climbed back up the stairs (which seemed even longer going up) and made our way to Taormina’s Funivia, a cable car connecting the beach to the center of town several hundred feet above.

Back in Taormina proper, we stocked up on provisions at the CoOp, then rode the bus back up to our hilltop aerie for some down time.

In the late afternoon, we tromped back down the stairs into town one last time, for an excellent dinner at Trattoria Tiramisu (and yes, the tiramisu was mighty fine).

Saturday was a laundry-packing-blog catch up day. In the evening, we strolled up the block from Casa Manuel for dinner on the terrace at Ristorante Al Saraceno (the yellow building below), with its stunning views of the valley below. We enjoyed watching the clouds roll towards us from the south, until the waiters quickly stripped the tables of settings and linens and hustled all of the diners into the covered portion of the terrace. There we watched the rain fall in sheets, quickly flooding the narrow lane. Fortunately, it was a dash of less than 5 minutes to our door, so we weren’t too terribly drenched.

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