Taormina – Sicily, Italy

On Its Own Natural Balcony Overlooking Mount Etna

More than twenty-three centuries ago, when Sicily was part of Magna Graecia, this tiny mountain town was already famed for its sweeping views. As Sicily’s most fashionable resort, Taormina was described by Guy de Maupassant as “all that seems made on the earth to entice eyes, spirit, and imagina­tion.”

Its ancient Greek amphitheater, the Teatro Greco, enjoys one of the loveliest sites anywhere. Framed by the stage columns is the snowcapped summit of Mount Etna and, beyond, the Straits of Messina and the terra firma of Italy and Europe.

The acoustics are just as impressive, and the theater, hewn into the rock face of Mount Tauro at an altitude of 675 feet, is still used every summer for a fes­tival of the arts, film, and music. Attending one of the Greek classics performed just before sunset is an experience without peer.

The city’s favorite pastime is a leisurely passeggiata along its one bougainvillea-swathed strip of boutiques and curio and ceramic shops, inter­spersed with intimate piazzas and dramatic belvederes. Be sure to stop by one of the cafes and have a traditional Sicilian dessert of granita (flavored shaved ice) while you watch Etna puffing gentle plumes into the Sicilian sky.

Then retire to the hotel that proves an old saw: The church and the government always know how to pick the finest real estate. The Hotel San Domenico, a luxurious hotel with transfixing views of Mount Etna, was built as a Dominican monastery in 1430.

Today it is Sicily’s finest and one of Italy’s most romantic hotels, its rooms the actual (albeit enlarged) cells of monks until the last century. The brothers would never recognize the cushy wrought iron or richly carved wooden beds, the crisply ironed linen sheets or the gracious service.

Enjoy a cool pomegranate juice before dinner in the former chapel, now the atmos­pheric hotel bar. Dining in the main hall, once the refectory, is a culinary event. The vast garden is a serene jasmine-scented oasis with palms and lemon trees and a near-perfect view of the azure Ionian Sea.

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