#24 Italy: Visiting Sicily with the baby globetrotter

“Going to Sicily is better than going to the moon.”

Gabriel Garcìa Màrquez

The grandeur and throbbing intensity of Rome. Venice and its aching romance. Florence, full of artistic beauty. The Amalfi coast, drenched in colour. Naples, with its appealing grittiness and delicious pizzas. The film star stylishness of Capri, the glamour of Lake Como and the poignancy of Pompeii. Wines in Tuscany, shoes and handbags in Milan, amazing coffee, food and gelato everywhere … It’s safe to say I’m pretty enamoured of Italy.

Our first trip to the boot-shaped country with the baby globetrotter was a short break to Sicily, based in the hilltop town of Taormina, which peeks up at Etna and out over the Mediterranean. The people could not have been more welcoming and our bambina was exuberantly greeted and cosseted everywhere, by everyone, from handsome young men to elderly grannies.

We were keen to get to the top of Mount Etna, but having taken the impressive cable car ride up from Rifugio Sapienza to the first station at around 2500m, one place we weren’t sure she would be welcome was on the 4×4 moon bus type vehicle that ferries visitors up to Torre del Filosofo at the foot of Etna’s main crater (around 2900m). At the base station they’d told us she was too young, so when my fiancé came back from the booth clutching our tickets, I was jubilant, and didn’t even baulk at the hour-long wait for the next shuttle. I passed the time striding up to panoramic viewpoints with the baby globetrotter, snapping volcanic views madly and leaving my long-suffering fiancé holding our place in the queue. My mood was soaring as high as the altitude.

The short journey in the bus was fun. Its mammoth wheels thundered over the plain of crunchy rock, cinders and ash as we gazed out at the bleakly beautiful landscape and marvelled at the clear cone of Etna beckoning us on. The scenery reminded us of our trip to Iceland a few years earlier, and much further back in time, I recalled a day marching across a similarly windswept ashy plain on my hike up Kilimanjaro. It did feel like being on the moon – only better, as Garcìa Màrquez would have it…

Piling out of the bus, we crammed the bambina into her warm layers and set off enthusiastically up the powdery grey slopes of a crater. My joyous mood was soon punctured by an eruption, and not by Etna. Never a fan of wind, the baby globetrotter was soon caterwauling loudly. As she spewed out screams, seemingly without pausing for breath and drowning out the guide’s commentary, we dropped behind our group and valiantly took some photos before trudging, deflated, back down to the parking area, to hunker in the wind shadow of the bus.

Back at sea level, things went a little more smoothly. This trip had been planned to coincide with a visit to Italy by my dear friend Shannon and her husband, the lovely Mike. After a morning basking in the sun-dappled squares of Taormina and browsing the tempting boutiques jostling for our attention as we sauntered along the main pedestrian drag in the heart of the old town, we joined them at their luxurious beach hotel. The baby globetrotter got her first sampling of bathing in the sea, as Dean and Mike took turns to dip her in and out of the crashing waves. She didn’t seem too sure, so we soon retreated to the calm of the hotel pool where she happily swam with the boys while Shannon and I just as happily sipped our Aperol Spritzes.

Other highlights included a short but steep drive up from Taormina to the tiny town of Castelmola where the morning’s heavy clouds were suddenly shunted along by the breeze to reveal dramatic views of Etna’s classic cone.  We sipped cappuccinos with the locals on the cosy main square below the ruins of the Norman castle and along with our coffee drank in the views of the Med below, the honeyed sunlight drizzling silver stripes across the sea. And what better way could there be to spend a stormy Sunday afternoon than sampling local wines and munching antipasti in an established vineyard? We met up with Shannon and Mike at Gambino Winery to do just that. A few weeks later we revisited the pleasures of our all-too-short long weekend as we received a delivery of the red wine we’d drunk that day from our generous friends. A trip to savour!

HIGHLIGHTS

Sleep

We stayed at the Hotel Villa Fiorita in Taormina. Lots of stairs but otherwise incredibly baby-friendly. We stored our buggy in the luggage room on the ground floor and the staff just doted on the baby globetrotter. A travel set of baby toiletries, a baby bath seat to use in the shower and even a baby-sized pair of slippers greeted us in our room were among the thoughtful touches that made us feel very welcome.

Eat

The traditional Sicilian pastry, cannoli. Taormina is packed with eateries. As you’d expect from a much-visited tourist town, they are of variable quality, so it’s worth getting recommendations from your hotel, other visitors or websites you trust. One of our loveliest discoveries was a newly-opened wine bar just outside the walls of the old city, where we sheltered from an evening storm and gorged ourselves on delicious antipasti served on wooden platters and sampled local wines and delicious desserts. I think it was La Bottega di Formaggio. The Gambino Winery is also well worth a visit if you enjoy wine tasting in a beautiful setting!

Nature

Etna!

Culture

Sicily is littered with impressive ruins of ancient cities and temples. Taormina itself has an ancient Greek amphitheatre which is reputedly very impressive. Normally I’d be rushing to see these sights, but on this occasion I managed to restrain myself and instead we took it easy, enjoying the atmosphere of Taormina, the company of our friends and the insurpassable highlight of Etna. Another time …

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