Destination: Giardini-Naxos

Up to now, we’ve stayed mainly on the west coast of Sicily, but this time we decided to head east for a few days. This requires renting a car and driving the roads of Sicily, which we suspect will be a challenge, as many things are in this beautiful island.

Because we were unsure of how we would be able to negotiate the streets of Palermo, with its one-ways and unmarked streets, we decided to get the car from the airport. The shuttle (Prestia e Commande) costs 11 Euros each, but we feel the price is worth the headache.

We get a late start due to diluvian rain, a rare occurrence, but have no problem picking up the car — once we’ve figured out where to go. There’s a free shuttle that leaves from outside the arrivals terminal to the “terminal” where all the rental companies are assembled.

Armed with a detailed map of the island and the GPS on my tablet, we leave toward Messina on the A-19, which changes into the A-20 after Termini Imerese. That latest is a toll road, but the principle is dead simple: making sure you don’t end up on a “Telepass” lane, you pick up a ticket, then pay once you take an exit. Cash works well. From Termini Imerese to Messina, a 2-hour trip, it costs 10,10 Euros. A bit expensive, tunnelbut when faced with the engineering genius of the Italians, it’s not surprising. The autrostrade do not follow the country’s geography, but go through or over it: tunnels, sometimes over 2km long, pierce the ever present mountains; bridges, with piers columns hundreds of meters high, straddle the valleys. It gives you an almost straight road from beginning to end.

After bypassing Messina and another toll road (A-18), we arrive at Giardini-Naxos. The ancient city is a maze of narrow streets with incomprehensible directional directives. The same street becomes opposite ways at a junction, other streets change names four or five times in a few hundred meters, two-way streets are barely large enough for one car -not that it bothers most drivers- and traffic is insane. We finally find our way to our apartment facing the water, an exercise that was well worth the fantastic view.

NaxosIt is in Giardini-Naxos, and in Taormina, that the Greek influence is the most prominent.

Theocles of Chalcis, a Greek from the Island of Euboea, after having washed ashore after a strong storm at sea, noted that the land was fertile and the locals, the Sicels -who gave its name to Sicily and brought the Iron Age to the island- would be easy to defeat. Upon his return to his homeland, he was charged to return with a group of Chalcidian and Naxian colonists.

They settled into a stronghold overlooking the ocean, the first site with which the conquest of the island started. It would be named Tauromenium, later Taormina.

Theocles settled, almost at the same time, the village of Naxos in 736BC. From there, Catania, to the south, was settled. Naxos was captured several times by pirates between 494 and 403BC. Because of its precarious situation, all important activities, including the goverment of the times, moved to more defendable Tauromenium up the mountain.

In 1544, the corsair invader Barbarossa Kheir-ed-Din had several structures built to defend the Schiso Cape -at one end of the bay of Naxos. The castle Schiso still exists.

With time, Naxos changed into a quiet fishing village. It is in 1970 that it started being appreciated, by foreigners and Italians alike, as a holiday spot, known for its amazing beaches, the panoramic view of the bay of Naxos, and it small, busy harbor.

giardininaxosThe Lungomare is now full of good restaurants, pizzerias, pensione, hotels and appartments for rent. The Via Nazionale climbs steadily from the edge of the water to the beautiful city of Taormina, seen in the distance up the hill. Right at the very top sits Castelmola, like a bird of prey overlooking its domain. These two cities are our next stop.

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