In less than an hour from the center of Naples, the two iconic Greek cityscapes of Positano and Taormina make for an exquisite contrast. Positano is a bastion of the Pacific Coast design tradition; Taormina, on the inland plains of Sicily, is a Caribbean-style resort town that has become an international base for the best food, fashion and culture in Mediterranean life. Both resorts are linked by the magnificent and renowned Laglio-Chianti Highway, and the 28-kilometer drive from Florence to Laglio is the most beautiful drive anywhere in Italy. Taormina boasts the incomparable Isolani Gardens, which in the Mediterranean light-reflects dramatically on the ocean, and from there is a walk along the water to the beautiful Costa Isola
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Where to stay
For a particular taste of Italian tradition, you can not leave Taormina without staying at the grandest resort in Positano, La Valliglia, the 15th-century historic residence of the father of Giovanni Battista Siciliano (1491-1596). The Palazzo Vecchio retains original features, and the residence has been carefully restored and meticulously refurnished. Rates from about $660 per person per night, including breakfast, at their hotel on the fourth floor of the Villa Siciliano .
Where to eat
People love Taormina for the expansive offerings of the traditional island restaurants that populate the town. One to visit is Pazzo Monteclara, a neoclassical manor house that has been converted into a sleek modern gastronomic institution. The decor is traditional, the food fresh and prepared with meticulous detail, and the service impeccable. It has nothing to do with the quality of the food. We’re not talking about some regional high street restaurant. Order the “Table Ciao” spaghetti with mango and white truffle; then warm up with the house signature sommelier’s wine, the Amarone. The white wine made famous by Marcello Mastroianni in the film “La Dolce Vita,” in which he learned the sangiovese grape — a white variety produced in the wineries of southern Italy, of which Pessina is the only emirate producing it — from Alessandro Mastroianni’s father. You’ll adore it, if you don’t run screaming from it afterward. Ask for Mastroianni, the toast of the town. For more information, visit pazzomomo.com .
Where to shop
Apart from the restaurants, clothing, linen, jewelry and other traditional gifts and objects are a key feature of the merchants’ ranks in Taormina. A good place to start is the famous Agostino necklace in orange (hand-carved by a local woman), which produces bursts of color against the darkness of the sun. And the favorite time of year to visit is during the summer, when Taormina is on vacation mode, with vivid summer sunsets. Visit The Wine Bazaar (ya and c) a well-organized trade fair selling wines made in Taormina, and Grapestoveto where you can buy after hours wine at a ridiculous price, much as you can if you go down to the wine cellar under the Piazza del Marca and have a tour with the owner.
Where to eat
A specialty of both cities is the cuisine of the local fishermen and farmers. If you’re to eat this way, Laglio is an essential stop. Drinks and food specials during the cruise in my 24-passenger catamaran named “The Bean” have been designed with fisherman’s delicacies in mind. These include pizzas made with spicy pickled peppers and calabrian olives, or one stuffed with cheese and a bellyful of calamari. The tuna carpaccio is the answer to all tuna carpaccio. Other local delicacies range from wild king fish sautéed in olive oil, and pecorino-sautéed truffles, to dolce vita-infused melon or piatto di calcio, made from cheeses smoked for more than a year. Visit the restaurant in the Vace family home in Laglio and join Mario to eat a sumptuous meal. Any other time of the year, ask the restaurant for a recommendation.