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When I originally envisaged a summer trip travelling around Italy my focus destination was Naples and the Amalfi coast.
I wanted to visit the birthplace of pizza and taste it true Neapolitan style. I wanted to get a picture postcard snap of the multicoloured façades on buildings in Amalfi and add it to my growing collection on Instagram. I wanted to head south beyond the metropoles of Milan and Rome where I went the year previous, and explore more of Italy.
Not least because I have Italian blood from ancestors on my father’s side of the family, a reason I had for visiting another part of the country – Bari – where my Italian heritage originates from.
So in true backpacker spirit I ended up booking a two-week trip to homeland of the Romans with three of my friends, and we’ll end up hitting none of the destinations I’d originally planned to.
It seems like a disaster on the surface, going to a place and trying out none of the places originally intended. But one of travel’s greatest facets is the discovery of new places, and that’s something we will get the opportunity to do when we fly out to Bergamo and then move onto Verona before heading down to Florence in Tuscany.
But perhaps the most intriguing destination of all won’t be in northern Italy or central Italy. In fact, it isn’t on the mainland at all.
That’s because we’re signing off the adventure with a few nights in… Sicily!
Yes, Sicily, the largest island in the Mediterranean and the football to Italy’s boot. Naples may have brought us pizza, but Sicily infamously gave birth to another piece of folklore Italia – the Mafia.
Okay, so that doesn’t sound like a legitimate reason to go, but I certainly wouldn’t mind visiting the Museo della Mafia and learning about the origins of one of the biggest crime syndicates in history because, well, that sounds really interesting!
We could live the high life like some of their members once did with villa rentals in Sicily although we’ll be taking up a more modest approach in living the Sicilian dream as we gaze out from our hotel room balcony which overlooks the Ionian Sea.
But that’s the thing with Sicily – there are options, and more than we initially thought. The original intention was to head to the north of the island and sample the delights of Palermo.
The average British person’s knowledge when it comes to Palermo may just about extend to the distinctly pink kits that their football team wears. But there’s a lot more to the city than that, as Palermo is a hub of history, culture, architecture and gastronomy, formed over its 2,700 years of existence.
Then there was the possibility of Catania due to its convenience. Catania is Sicily’s aviation gateway with an airport named after native composer Vincenzo Bellini.
Catania sits on the east coast and is the second of two major cities on the island. Like most European destinations it has a whole host of historical buildings and monuments that would easily fill up an itinerary.
But although Palermo and Catania were worthy candidates, Sicily’s third amigo entered the fray with an eleventh hour salvo, emerging as our destination of choice.
Yes, Taormina, that quaint microcity within Messina and spectacularly perched on the side of a mountain.
To put it into some context, Lonely Planet describes Taormina as “a chi-chi resort town popular with holidaying high-rollers and those wanting a taste of Sicilian dolce vita.” So when you consider that four lads from Liverpool [insert Beatles reference here] will be rocking up for three nights in July, it’s clear that some sort of mismatch will arise.
But there should be nothing to fear. After all, some of the best experiences that I have had have come when I wasn’t in my comfort zone, and I’m sure Taormina will be no different. It’s been earmarked as a place to chill and to relax, and will surely be a change of pace from the several whirlwind days before it that will be jam-packed with daytime sightseeing and partying the nights away.
There is plenty to look forward to including the intimidating but epic Mount Etna, a stroll along Sicily’s wonderful coastline, and the traditional Sicilian lemon trees, which I’ve heard smell as good as they look.
And perhaps best of all is the Teatro Greco amphitheatre which, judging by the pictures, is an incredibly stunning piece of Roman architecture surrounded by incredibly stunning beauty. It may not be tequila shots in a Florence nightclub followed by a rousing rendition of the latest terrace chants, but it’ll do.
Sicily may not be Naples and may not be Amalfi, but sometimes the best things that come are unexpected delights.
So when we head to Sicily this summer, I’ll be able to sit bad, relax and stuff my face with as much pizza, pasta and Sicilian lemonade as possible.
Not a bad life, if I’m honest.