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The east coast Ionian Rivieria, Etna, Taormina and the bay of Naxos

THE GEOGRAPHY OF SICILY

Villas on the east coast of Sicily and Mount Etna >>

The Ionian Riviera, running up the east coast of Sicily from the bustling lava-stone city of Catania through a series of charming fishing villages and beaches to the enchanting town of Taormina, is certainly one of Sicily’s most intriguing areas. The entire coastline is dominated by the magnificence of Mount Etna, whose presence has shaped the entire area both geologically and historically from time immemorial.

Nature, food and wine

Mount Etna is undisputed king of the area, and hiking on its slopes is an unforgettable experience at any time of year. In the winter and spring, excellent skiing is possible and the upper slopes of Europe's highest active volcano are rarely without snow. The towns and villages that dot the flanks of Etna, all built in lava stone, are well worth stopping off at for a stroll or a spot of lunch in a local trattoria. North of Taormina, running up to Messina, are the Peloritani mountains, home to millennial villages, deep valleys and stunning views. The east coast Ionian Riviera has some of Sicily's most picturesque pebbly and sandy beaches including those of Isola Bella, Mazzaro', Giardini Naxos and Letojanni (below Taormina).

The area around Mount Etna is famed for its mushrooms, sausage and cheese, while in Catania you should try pasta alla Norma (tomato sauce, fried chunks of aubergine, basil and grated salty ricotta, named after the opera of the city's most famous son, Bellini), arancini (deep-fried rice balls filled with meat sauce or mozzarella and ham), ice cream and granite (originally made with snow from Mount Etna). Vineyards cover the lower fertile slopes of A Muntagna, as the locals call their volcano, and the wine produced, using local grape varieties such as Nerello Mascalese, is of excellent quality.

The east coast Ionian Riviera has some of Sicily's most picturesque pebbly and sandy beaches including those of Isola Bella, Mazzaro', Giardini Naxos and Letojanni (below Taormina).

History and Monuments

Greeks first landed in Sicily at Giardini Naxos below Taormina in the 8th century BC and during the following half century colonisers from various mother cities founded settlements at Catania, Megara Hyblea, Syracuse and Gela before pushing west to Agrigento and Selinunte.

The 17th century provided two defining events: the first, in 1669, was the eruption of Mount Etna that engulfed Catania in lava, the second, the earthquake of 1693 which destroyed swathes of Catania, Syracuse and the smaller centres of Noto, Ragusa, Modica, Caltagirone and Scicli, killing around five percent of the population of Sicily in the process. The 18th century rebuilding of these areas is a delight for anyone who finds perfection in baroque architecture.

Catania, with its vibrant markets, restaurants and bars (and more baroque) is relatively free of tourists. North of Catania, the traditional resort towns of Acireale, Acicastello and Acitrezza have long been a magnet for local day trips and offer arguably the best granita to be found anywhere.

Taormina draws more visitors than any other town in Sicily, thanks to its splendid position, its beaches and its Graeco-Roman theatre, whose view of Mount Etna hard to beat. During the summer months the theatre plays host to a series of concerts, operas and other events featuring international stars.

Villas on the east coast of Sicily and Mount Etna >>

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