Archive for September, 2017

Exploring Italy: Where to Eat in Taormina, Sicily

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Burrata for breakfast at the Belmond Villa Sant’Andrea

Tell people you are going to Sicily and you are sure to get a positive response from those who have visited that will some variation of “the food is amazing.”

Sicily has a reputation for being part of Italy, yet separate from it with it’s own unique traditions, customs and food. It’s definitely still Southern Italian cuisine, but with Greek, Arab, Spanish and French influences. Sicilian dishes often have olives, pine nuts, saffron, pistachios and an enthusiastic dose of exotic spices.

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Perfect plate of pasta at The Giardino dei Limoni

Be sure to read the fine print on the menu– it’s not uncommon to see horse or donkey meat on the menu. I saw donkey listed as an ingredient for the “hamburger.” Curiously enough, on the Children’s Menu at the at same restaurant, the dish was simple called “hamburger” with no mention of what type of meat was used.

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Spritz o’clock at the Belmond

Of the local specialties I found the stand out to be the arancini (deep friend rice balls filled with ragu sauce, mozzarella and peas and covered in bread crumbs), which were surprisingly light and completely delicious.

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Perfectly plated appetizers at the Hotel Metropole Lounge

Sicily is famous for it’s sea food and I was looking forward to enjoying some octopus. My visit took place during a heatwave, and after seeing flies on some of the fresh fish set up for display in restaurants, I decided to avoid it.

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Belmond breakfast options at the Villa Sant’Andrea

I did indulge in the spaghetti all vongole (spaghetti with clams) which was light, savory and delicious. The restaurant in Taormina which served the best one I found was at Ristorante Da Giovanni, just a 5 minute walk from the Belmond Villa Sant’Andrea Mare hotel.

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Heart shaped caprese salad

Ristorante Da Giovanni turned out to be my favorite dining spot in Taormina. The casually elegant cliffside restaurant became my go-to spot for lunch and a few Aperol Spritz, where were served at bargain prices compared to the restaurant bars.

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Left: Frozen fruit bars in Taormina Right: Yummy arancini at the Belmond Villa Sant’Andrea bar

Sicilian deserts tended to be light and appropriate to the August heat. Frozen fruit bars seemed more popular than gelato and are easily found at many spots along the main streets of Taormina. Mango, lemon and melon were light and summery.

Spritz O’Clock at Ristorante Da Giovanni

The two hotels where I stayed, The San Domenico Palace and Belmond Villa Sant’Andrea, both served excellent breakfasts. While the San Domenico Palace had a fine dining restaurant that gets rave reviews, but in the heat I preferred dining at The Giardino dei Limoni, the casual  pergola-covered pool side dining spot. They serve an excellent Penne alla Norma, a Sicilian pasta with eggplant, tomatoes, olives, and basil.

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Spritz with a view at Ristorante da Giovanni

Breakfast at both hotels was typical five-star Italian, with a variety of meats and cheese and eggs served all the usual ways. There was plenty of yoghurt and muesli as well. Mozzarella di bufala for breakfast might have tasted extra good when paired with stunning views of the Ionian coast.

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Left: Spaghetti alla vongole at the Belmond Villa Sant’Andrea bar, Right: Pasta alla Norma

At dinner be sure to try some wine grown on the nearby hills of Mt. Etna. The nutrient-rich volcanic ash makes it ideal for vitoculture. The Lounge at the Hotel Metropole has a lovely deck which serves up five star sea views along with classic cocktails and fine Sicilian wine. In lieu of a heavy dinner, happy hour here was delightful. They have a nice riff on a mezze platter complete with a lovely eggplant parmigiana, which is much lighter and served cold like a salad.

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A glass of wine from Mt. Etna and water views at Hotel Metropole

Contact details for my favorite dining spots in Taormina, Sicily are below.

San Domenico Palace Hotel

Piazza San Domenico, 5, 98039 Taormina ME, Italy

Tel: +39 0942 613111

Belmond Villa Sant’Andrea

Via Nazionale, 137, 98039 Taormina ME, Italy

Tel: +39 0942 627 1200

Hotel Metropole Taormina

Corso Umberto, 154, 98039 Taormina ME, Italy

Tel: +39 0942 24013

Ristorante Da Giovanni

Via Nazionale, 105, 98039 Taormina ME, Italy

Tel: +39 0942 23531

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Exploring Italy: Mt. Etna Helicopter Tour in Sicily

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The otherworldly landscape of Mt. Etna

I find volcanic landscapes oddly compelling and helicopters are my favorite mode of transportation. So it did not come as much of a surprise to me that the highlight of my trip to Sicily was the helicopter tour of Mt. Etna.

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Helijet’s sweet ride

Arranged by the excellent concierge at the Belmond Villa Sant’Andrea and booked with HeliJet, the 45 minute tour departed from the airfield at Calatabiano, about a 30 minute drive from Taormina in early morning traffic.

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Aerial view of Castello degli Schiavi

As an added bonus, the Mt. Etna helicopter tour gives you an aerial view of Castello degli Schiavi, the villa used as the setting for Micheal Corleone’s wedding to Apollonia in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather (known locally as Il Padrino). The villa, located in Fiumefreddo, is privately owned and can be visited with special arrangements. The fly by was enough to satisfy my inner film buff.

Video of helicopter tour of Mt. Etna

It was interesting watching the plumes of smoke expelled from Mt. Etna and how they drifted and merged into the cloudscape against the bright blue sky.

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Harsh volcanic landscape of Mt. Etna

The rich volcanic soil of Mt. Etna makes for good grape growing. With an altitude of over 3,500 feet, the slopes of Etna are the highest commercial wine producing vineyards in the world. Wine tasting tours are also popular in the area.

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Interesting clouds over Mt. Etna

With a current altitude of 10,922 ft (3,329 meters) Mt. Etna is the tallest active volcano in Europe. It is the largest volcano in Italy. It’s last summit eruption was in 2012.

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Mt. Etna from above

If you’re looking for interesting things to do in Sicily, I’d highly recommend taking a helicopter tour of Mt. Etna. Those interested in taking pictures should sit next to the pilot for the best views.

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Plums of smoke from Mt. Etna in the distance

After viewing the crates of Mt. Etna, our helicopter tour headed along the coast towards Naxos, Taormina and Isola Bella, with lovely views of the Sicilian coast.

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Our Helijet pilot

Helijet can provide transfers to and from hotels to the Etna Volo airfield. Photos in the Helijet office show off that Rihanna enjoyed her helicopter tour of the area.

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View of Naxos

HeliJet
Via F. Atenasio 2, 98039 Taormina (ME)
casella postale 7
E-mail info@helijet.it
Tel +39 345 1528975
Tel +39 347 5928546

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