Italy without Sicily forms no image at all in the soul; only here is the key to everything.
J.W. von Goethe, Italian Journey (1786–1788)
||Taormina map from tourist office. For sketch map of route please see Walk 1.|
||To reach Taormina see Walk 1. The occasional Interbus run climbs to Castelmola itself.|
This rewarding walk departs from picturesque Taormina to gain the dizzy perch of Castelmola, erstwhile fortress constructed to defend the prominent settlement through the ages. Paved lanes climb to a height of 531m above sea level to reach the peaceful village overlooking the Ionian Sea, Monte Etna and a tract of northeastern Sicily. The return, on the other hand, is on a path that drops through old orchards and wilder hillside colonised by masses of prickly pear, whereas the final stretch is a delightful stroll along Taormina’s main pedestrian-only street. Several steep parts make it unsuitable for the middle of a hot day.
At the northernmost entrance to Taormina (200m), a short distance uphill from the bus terminal and cable-car is Porta Messina, where the walk starts. Take Via Costantino Patricio in gradual ascent, and turn right at the fountain under the arch onto Via Cappuccini. Curving left the road passes extant arches of a Roman aqueduct, and you bear left again at the next junction onto Via Dietro Cappuccini. A little after a hotel and masses of brilliant bougainvillea take the way signed Salita Branco. The old stepped track, now mostly concrete-ridden, climbs a dry side valley cutting the northern flank of Monte Tauro below the Castello Saraceno, while offering sweeping views back to the Calabrian coast. After the tarmac road for Castelmola is crossed (Via Leonardo da Vinci), a steeper surfaced ramp opposite leads quickly upwards – keep right at the arrow. The original track, for foot traffic only these days seeing as a wider vehicle road has been constructed on a lower level, has been pleasantly paved. It passes beneath buildings constructed in somewhat precarious positions on the cliff edge. A final stretch along the bridge-cum-road, quite a feat of engineering, terminates in the charming shady main piazza of Castelmola (531m). A rest at one of the inviting outdoor cafés to drink in the breathtaking panorama along with an apt refreshment is a suitable reward after the effort of the climb.
Subsequently it is recommended you follow the side alley on the uphill side of the square. Marked ‘Salita Castello’ it leads through restaurant premises to an even higher lookout point with stunning all-round views (1hr total). The gently sloping flanks of Monte Etna provide a particularly interesting landscape even at this distance: the succession of lava flows can easily be made out, some of the most ancient clearly reaching right down to the coast around Catania.
Once back down at the piazza for the return walk, direct your steps downhill towards Piazza Duomo and the immaculately restored church. Take the lane under an arch, then follow signs down steps for the Pizzeria Le Mimose. After crossing two minor roads you quickly reach the lower edge of Castelmola, and close on hand left is a wide flight of steps high over the motorway. The way quickly becomes a lovely panoramic path winding through abandoned gardens thick with all manner of aromatic herbs, and olive and fruit orchards, now the domain of towering prickly pear, ablaze with pretty yellow blooms in early summer. A curve left leads through an old arch in view of a hillside pitted with the ancient tombs of the Sicel necropolis dating back to the Iron Age (10th–7th centuries BC), and now at risk from encroaching construction above.
View to Castello Saraceno from Castelmola
The path passes well below, in a blaze of pink oleanders and shaded by fig trees, before joining a surfaced road lined with broom close to a spread of modern apartments. Minutes later you touch on Via Leonardo Da Vinci once more, and essentially follow your nose for the final stretch back to town – namely take the steps down right, cross straight over the intersection for Salita Celestino Penna, and notice the lovely angle onto the Castello Saraceno and sanctuary. The subsequent leg is called Via della Chiusa, part of the route dating back to prehistoric times between Taormina and Castelmola.
These steps between houses bring you out on Via Diodoro Siculo–Via Apollo Arcageta, just uphill from the town’s original cathedral, now the church of S. Francesco di Paola. Next is the square and car park preceding Porta Catania (keep left), leading back into the heart of Taormina along Corso Umberto I°, reserved for pedestrians. This broad avenue faithfully retraces the axis of the Graeco-Roman settlement, while the Via Valeria, the 3rd-century BC Roman road that linked Messina with Siracusa, also passed this way. Nowadays it is lined with ceramic workshops, pasticcerie crammed with mouth-watering almond pastries, and cafés where thirst-quenching granite can be had. This western medieval section of town includes a stately duomo and monumental fountain, before the Porta di Mezzo (clock tower) leads to the charming Piazza IX Aprile, featuring a terraced belvedere and several pastel stuccoed churches.
Proceeding along the Corso don’t miss the brief detour right on Via Numachia for the massive Roman 122m-long brick wall, former support for a cistern or gymnasium. The Corso soon takes you past the magnificent 15th-century Palazzo Corvaja (and tourist office) which once hosted the Sicilian parliament, its striking two-tone facade the result of alternating limestone and lava blocks. After Piazza Vittorio Emanuele, erstwhile agora and forum, is Porta Messina and the conclusion (1hr for the return).