Taormina could hardly be accused of being undiscovered, but it long ago decided not to resist the floods of tourists eager for charming photo opps and pistachio gelato.
It has a lot to work with.
The most remarkable monument remaining is the Teatro Antico. It is built mostly of brick, and is probably of Roman construction, though the plan and arrangement are more Greek. The theory is that the present structure was rebuilt upon the foundations of an older Greek one. This theatre is frequently used for operatic and theatrical performances and for concerts. What a spectacular setting, which was beautifully captured in a painting of 1778.
Starting from the 19th century Taormina became a popular tourist resort for the whole of Europe: people like Oscar Wilde Czar Nicolas I, Goethe, Nietzche and Wagner helped create its cachet, which was added to by D.H. Lawrence, Truman Capote, Tennessee Williams, and Jean Cocteau, plus all the usual movie people. By one point in the 1930’s, Taormina had become “a polite synonym for Sodom,” thanks to the legacy of Oscar and his friends, who definitely came here to be naughty. His hotel still stands and might be a bit of a shrine – who knows.
We live very near another relic of the Greeks – an odeon on top of which a church was later built. Imagine sitting here to hear poetry read or sung.
And then there is just the glory of Taomina today. Though Mount Etna is hiding under a haze, we know it’s there, and other vistas compensate.
Don’s Food Corner
We had the time to track down a restaurant of promise instead of settling for something ready at hand. It turned out to be worth the effort. We knew immediately that this was a restaurant taking food seriously with some very interesting possibilities — of which we sampled four dishes.
We started with a shared timbale of shrimp and shredded zucchini with a light, almost sweet, sauce of balsamic vinegar. It was served hot as one of the antipasti choices. Superb.
Then we moved to a risotto with smoked provolone and squash. The English translation on the menu said the squash was “pumpkin” but it wasn’t pumpkin as we know it. It was a very rich dish that could not have been consumed by one person as a single serving, so we split it. Risotto seems to be the one thing we’ve had in Italy that has been consistently good from on place to another. As you know, we will continue to test that.
For our main courses, Jo turned again to scallopine. This type was prepared with smoked cheese and zucchini. The sauce was rich. The accompanying roasted rosemary potatoes were delicately browned on the outside and properly cooked inside.
I went for fish fillets in an almond sauce. The fish was some type of white fish, but I have no idea what type. The sauce was creamy (almond milk?) with ground almonds folded in throughout. The fish was perfectly cooked — poached, I think. We also had a nice bottle of Sicilian white wine with the meal, from the Corleone vineyards. Don’t mess with them.
Finally, a feast worth remembering, nicely served in a small piazza away the bustle of the main street.