Cultural Crossroads And Coastal Charms

Updated: Aug 31 2003, 05:30am hrs
The beach of Mazarro instantly stops you in your path. I am momentarily wonderstruck by its uniqueness, quite like nowhere else that I have encountered.

Instead of the usual sand, my feet are greeted by stretches of ivory-tinted gravel and pebbles that tease my toes at every step. Taorminas famed playground of the bold, beautiful and the very rich is a stunner on every count. Your sights and senses are stimulated by the sheer beauty and the dramatic setting of Sicilys most favoured international seaside resort.

FACT FILE

Taormina on the north-eastern tip of the island of Sicily is well connected by road, rail and air from mainland Italy. The road from Messina over the peninsular bridge brings you to a fine network of highways that lead towards Catania, before which you exit to Taormina. Alitalias domestic connection between Milan and PalermoSicilys capitalmakes the trip easier and shorter. Alitalia, with its splendid range of Italian wines and great inflight meals, operates daily flights from Milan to Mumbai.
ENIT, the Italian State Tourist Board, recommends visiting Taormina between October and April, when the pleasantly mild winters permit unhindered exploration of this charming region.

Turquoise and deep cerulean tones wash the sea in dazzling contrast to the crystal clear waters near coves and bluffs. On this sunny strip on the Bay of Naxos, Taorminas celebrated Isola Bella, the jutting outcrop of geological amazement forms a swinging concave sweep to the beach where topless beauties tan their lissome curves and rippling hulks cavort with purposeful gait. An elitist getaway spot for the big spenders of the showbiz, media, fashion and corporate worlds, Taormina offers the satiating appetite fun, frolic, fascination and fantasy on par with the ultimate international hotspots.

A favourite with celebrities like Liz Taylor and Francis Ford Coppola, this coastal stretch, which spreads languidly from the Bay of Naxos at one end to the Calabrian Coasts at the other, encompasses the Taormina Mare, the beaches of Spisone and Mazarro and the Capo Sant Andrea, dotted with majestic rocky grottos that overlook the Mediterannean Sea.

The highlight of a holiday here is reaching the caverns formed around these grottos, especially the Blue Grotto, by paddle boat. Deep dive and explore the mirror glass world below, soak up the Sicilian sun and sea with a period bottle of Sicilian Rosso Vino, drinking in the endless vistas of the bluffs and rocks known as Scoglio di zi Gennaro and the enigmatic Mount Etna far beyond inwards.

The place is hued with several boutique and premium hotels boasting global hospitality standards. Names like San Domenico Palace, Casa Luna and Grande Albergo Capo have their guest rooms and outlets commanding vantage locations on the regions most outstandingly romantic lookouts.

Walking trails abound around Taormina, one of them taking you right up to the village of Castelmola and Mount Vernese opening up to breathtaking frames of the countryside. For fun-loving globetrotters with very deep pockets, theres enough by way of great cuisine and exquisite Sicilian and Estate blended wines.

Musically inclined, are you The ultimate musical experience isnt too far away. The ancient Greek sand and stone amphitheatre, one of the finest edifices of Hellenic architecture on Italian soil, presents you with an extravanganza in sights and sounds with local and international music groups and orchestras presenting the best in musical repertoire.

Taormina, Sicilys most picturesque town, set on the terrace of Monte Tauro, has been a crossroad of tumultuous events and invading influences from across the Mediterannean shores, right from Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Arab and Norman conquerors to Spanish falleons and French and baroque cultures over the centuries.

Their indelible mark of permanence is evident everywhere. In churches and monasteries, towns and villages. Representing the unchallengeable might of nature is Sicilys famous Mount Etna. This remarkable volcano, which spews lava with periodic eccentricity even now (the last eruption was in 2001), stands as a constant reminder of natures unpredictable omniscience. Mount Etna is just an hour and a half by motorable road from Taormina. Excursions planned to offer you the best lavaic views on the edge of its coarse and fertile crater, reach either Rifugio Sapienza at 1,910 metres or Piano Provenzana at 1,800 metres. Alternately, you could take the Circumetnea (Etna Railway), a secondary rail line that originates from Catania and passes through all the towns at the volcanos foot. One can trek up the slopes to the crater heights. At the base of Mount Etnas lava-strewn hectares, visitors can buy unique artifacts crafted out of lava moulds, from several outlets, while on the winding road to the summit, an authentic Sicilian ristorante serves probably the most mouth-watering gnocchi I have ever relished, moistened with an exclusive almond dessert wine that seemed to ingest me with the irrepressible Sicilian passion for hearty living!

I decided to ride up most of the way by bus accompanied by my host and friend, Salvatore Ianniello, the hot and sultry weather allowing only limited walking pleasure initially. My trek to the mouth of Etnas orifice (they change with her volatile moods!) found me in pleasantly chilly and invigorating climes that offered me uninterrupted views of the Sicilian terrain for miles below. Brown, amber, sienna, ochre and sepia... colours of Mother Earth. Down the gaping chasm, I shivered at the prospect of visualising rivers of neon-gold earth washing down to the plains in angry ablution. All around me, the indomitable spirit of the Catanians and Taorminans stood out in their handsome villas, typical sprawling Sicilian homesteads, villages, towns and cultivated hectares. And in their vineyards and spirited nurturing of fine local wines, in their excellent cuisine and their repeated resolve to hang onto the stability of a land often tormented by the spectacularly rages of the mountain I was now on.

But Mount Etna continues to grip visitors with aggressive allure. Visitors make it to the volcanos crest to size up an altitude changing positions, an enigma changing colours at will and its surroundings offering a once in a lifetime insight into a fascinating culture glorified right from the Roman times to limited edition coffeetable versions freeze-framing the many-sided moods of this earths 6,000-year-old living legend.