Have you ever been afflicted with the travel syndrome of ‘too high expectations’? After hearing stories from friends, reading articles, and seeing pictures of somewhere that has been on your ‘travel to do’ list for a long time, you finally get to go, and upon arrival, are underwhelmed?
I feared this would happen during my recent trip to Taormina, Sicily, often called the most beautiful village on the island. I’m happy to report that the opposite occurred. Perched in the cliffs above the sea I was just as struck by the location and views as the Greeks, poets, and philosophers who first set eyes on Taormina before me. It is simply spectacular.
Arriving into Catania and securing our rental car, we set our sights north, past Mount Etna to the seaside village of Taormina. The ever-eager travelers, we took the first exit signposted ‘Taormina’ and wound up a few miles south of the main village. This mistake couldn’t have been more pleasant, as we found ourselves following signs to the village along a coastal road, past the train station, and ultimately winding up hairpin turns, climbing to reveal somehow better and more sweeping views. Everything was in bloom. Cars were honking at us to go faster. We had finally arrived in Sicily.
While most of this trip I was traveling on assignment for Luxury Travel Magazine, I also wanted to spend one night in a traditional guesthouse. With a recommendation from Budget Travel Magazine, we pulled up at a quaint guesthouse called Villa Nettuno, where Famiglia Sciglio, and our white-haired host have been welcoming guests since 1953. The review from Budget Travel couldn’t have been more accurate, and when they promised sea views, they meant it.
Climbing a set of stairs to the front entrance, we passed through a gate into a small garden. The largest lilies I have ever seen were potted and surrounding the welcoming door. With the ring of a bell, we entered the home of the Sciglio family. We were greeted by a white-haired man who I imagine has been doing the greeting since 1953. Despite the warm sunshine outdoors, he was wearing a heavy wool cardigan, and carried a tissue, citing the pollen as an irritant. He pointed around the house and into the garden at all of the lovely blooming flowers.
Given the key to our room, we climbed to the second floor. This affordable accommodation offered private bathrooms and a small wrought-iron balcony with a seat faced towards the ocean. Pulling up the shutters and opening the French doors, the coastline beneath was revealed. A garden was below our balcony, full of lemon and apricot trees, blooming flowers, and a few tables where I imagined having a cappuccino the following morning. And all of this was located right smack in the center of Taormina, just across the street from the cablecar that brings visitors down to the beach.
The best part of Villa Nettuno wasn’t our private balcony, but the series of terraces that are open for guests. After a ride on the cablecar and short snooze on the beach, we returned to Villa Nettuno to with a bottle of prosecco, freshly-baked bread, cheese, and strawberries for a picnic on the terrace. We were in prime position as the sun set, and no one disturbed us from our perch on top of the peach-colored building.
This was my first evening in Sicily. A bottle of prosecco, a setting sun, and the pastel colors of ancient villas built into the rocky coastline. Everything I had heard about Taormina was true – and even better than I’d imagined.