A few months ago, we wrote a post about our honeymoon in Taormina, Sicily. Since then, we’ve received a handful of follow up questions. In case you too are wondering where to stay and what to do in Taormina, or are trying to decide if you should enjoy a honeymoon in Taormina, we thought we’d post our answers for all to see:
1) Do you think Taormina is a good place to stay for four nights?
The answer here is a resounding YES!
Sicily is a honeymooner’s paradise, with drop-dead gorgeous views, amazing crystalline water, food that even the rest of Italy reveres, fantastic local wines, and world-class hotels. And Taormina is like a fairytale hill town, complete with a medieval center, ancient Greek amphitheater overlooking the sea and Mt. Etna (those Greeks really knew how to pick their spots), and a startling diversity of landscape. In fact, we read (sorry, can’t quote the source!) that nineteenth-century visiting poets and artists who described or depicted the terrain were met with complete disbelief: How could pines, and palms, and cacti, and deciduous trees all coexist in the same climate? We even saw wild calla lilies growing around our honeymoon suite at the Villa Ducale.
But what really sets Taormina apart is the warmth and hospitality of the Sicilians. Rick Steves says they’re the nicest people in Europe, along with the Irish. They’ll go to extraordinary lengths to make sure you have a wonderful time, because if there’s anything they love as much as babies, it’s lovers. And after all, doesn’t everyone want to be adored and coddled on their honeymoon? You’ve probably just finished a ceremony where you were showered with compliments about your looks/intelligence/talent/luck. And you’ve probably been feeling pretty charmed because you’re going to spend your life with the world’s most fantastic person. So you might as well keep that post-wedding glow a while longer!
However, do yourself a favor and avoid the month of August. Most Europeans vacation during that time, and the vast majority head to the coast. That means if you head to the Mediterranean, you’ll find yourself dealing with the hottest temperatures at the same time you’re jockeying for space at restaurants, beaches, hotels, and highways. And expect to pay a premium … on everything. You’ll undoubtedly be happier if you stick to late spring, early summer, or early fall.
2) What can you tell us about the beaches?
There are several sandy beaches in the area, and a couple of them are over a mile long. You can take a taxi (we don’t recommend renting a car unless you plan to head straight out of town!) or take a gondola down the mountainside from the center of town.
Be prepared for row after row of beach chairs interfering with the natural beauty of the beaches; that’s just the way Italians do beaches. You’ll be expected to rent a chair, and while that might
seem strange at first, you’ll at least have the advantage of an umbrella and table service! And you can also expect the “private” beaches to be litter-free.
However, since the color and clarity of the water is best appreciated with a little more depth and a little less sand, our top suggestion is to take a private, guided boat tour around the grottos and coves. There you’ll be able to dive straight into water that looks about five feet deep, but is really more like fifteen. Plus, the view of Taormina and Castelmola makes quite an impression from that vantage point. The sheer cliffs are breathtaking, and the water is so clear and vividly hued that you’ll question your memory afterwards. (Thank goodness for photographs!)
You might even check into the possibility of renting a Zodiac for the day, which is a must-do in other areas of Italy, like Sardinia’s Gulf of Orosei. We didn’t know this secret at the time, but if you find the means to do so, jump at it! Nothing beats the privacy and leisure of captaining your own mini-yacht.
3) Where do you recommend we eat?
One of the best perks of staying at Villa Ducale was its detailed list of “approved” restaurants. Let’s face it: Taormina is a touristy place. It’s really tough to find anywhere on the Mediterranean that hasn’t been “discovered.” Luckily, you don’t have to stay right in the thick of the touristic areas, and
you don’t have to eat at the most touristy restaurants.
Truthfully, we spent most of our evenings eating right at the hotel. The food was fantastic, so we didn’t need to look far. Besides, that’s what newlyweds do!
However, we have to give at least one shout-out to Da Nino, which was recommended to us by – who else? – the staff at Villa Ducale. It’s a simple trattoria with modest appearance but over-the-top food. The owner served us, and was so warm and attentive that he even gave us a ride up to our hotel afterwards (he said he lived close by). We started with local artisanal meats and cheeses and finished with homemade ravioli stuffed with prawns and pistachios, served with large prawns on top. Though tempting, I won’t bother to describe the experience of eating that ravioli because it
would sound like a cliché. Instead, I’ll settle for Ben’s favorite descriptor: wow.
4) What else can you tell us about the Villa Ducale?
This was a true example of a hotel choice that defined our stay in a new town. Our experience just could not have been the same if we had stayed elsewhere.
- First, the view: If the photos in our photo gallery don’t completely knock you off your feet, maybe the folks at CNN will:
That’s right, check out number 5. Villa Ducale makes the cut for one of the seven most spectacular hotel views in the world. (Now that we’ve whetted our appetite, stay tuned for posts from other
hotels on that list!).
- Service: TripAdvisor members rate it number 1 in Taormina and among the top 10 luxury hotels of the world. There’s a reason for that. In case you haven’t noticed, hotels and restaurants are far more likely to rank well on TripAdvisor when they establish a personal connection with their clients (and when they ask their clients to put in a good word for them).
This is a family-run hotel, and I guarantee that by the time you leave you’ll know the name of everyone on the staff. If any part of your visit to Taormina is less-than-perfect because you lacked ample information, they will take it as a personal failure. Therefore, they’ll make sure to ask if you need advice. In fact, as soon as you arrive they’ll sit you down and give you a tour-guide-worthy overview of everything to do in the area, where to eat, and what to expect. Anything we wanted, they made happen. It’s hard for me to even imagine an instance where they wouldn’t have accommodated us.
Here’s just one example of how they went out of their way for us during our trip. We fell in love with the amazing cheeses they laid out during the cocktail hour(s). The proprietor Paolo told us they came from a local cheese factory. Most conscientious hotel managers would then have proceeded to tell us how to get to the factory, having established already that they served their guests only the finest local cheeses. But no, that’s not enough for Paolo. He actually offered to pick us up a “small sampling” from the cheese factory on his next visit, so we wouldn’t be inconvenienced. (Since we all know that “small” portions of food are entirely relative in Italy, it should come as no surprise to learn that we eventually ended up with about six pounds of heavenly provolas, barattas, and ricottas, which we’re still working through three months later!)
- Facilities: Villa Ducale belongs to the Small Luxury Hotels of the World consortium, which, in my experience, tends to deliver. When you arrive, you descend a set of stairs that overlooks the world-famous view. Next, you enter the lobby, which drips luxury in a very charming, unpretentious way. There’s the heavy stone interior of the villa, the open fireplace, the stately furniture. There’s an immediate and friendly reception, upon which you’re led out to the terrace that overlooks Mt. Etna and the sea for a glass of prosecco and a personalized overview of your itinerary and the region.
And lastly, the rooms, with each one decorated distinctly with loving detail. There’s a special feeling when it’s obvious that someone really cares about their work, which has got to be why the rooms here are so hospitable, with each one a showcase for Sicilian art and artisanry (tiles, ceramic sculpture, wrought iron, coral work, woodwork…).
We stayed in the Villa Ducale honeymoon suite, in a building across the street from the main villa. Our view was of mainland Italy. In reading guest reviews of the hotel, it seems some people weren’t pleased with the view and would have preferred to overlook Mt. Etna. Since we spent so much time on the hotel’s terrace, we actually enjoyed the alternate view. (They serve delectable brunch, afternoon tea, and cocktail-hour hors d’oeuvres. And be sure to take them up on their “wine tasting”: With six full glasses of wine and a gigantic antipasti plate of meats and cheeses, it’s a meal in itself.) Also, since the building was flanked by other apartments, we felt like locals who had rented a flat for the week! (With that “local flavor” came the sound of neighborhood dogs barking. If you enjoy sleeping late and aren’t comfortable with ear plugs, then an Etna view is probably what you’ll prefer.)
We hope this provides a better understanding of what to expect during your trip to Taormina, but feel free to ask if you think of anything else. You can post your questions here or contact us by email or via Twitter at @jenna_harrison.