Travel 2000 Sicily: Cosa? No, Sir; Judith Simons Finds It Easy to Forget the Shady Side of This Sunny Island

By Simons, Judith | The Mirror (London, England), January 15, 2000 | Go to article overview

Travel 2000 Sicily: Cosa? No, Sir; Judith Simons Finds It Easy to Forget the Shady Side of This Sunny Island


Simons, Judith, The Mirror (London, England)


WE WERE listening to a jolly Sicilian singing group when their leader made his plea. "When you hear the word `Sicily', please don't think only of Mafia. Mafia is a tourist myth."

Next day, a taxi driver had a similar message: "Cosa Nostra is not part of our life here today. It is history."

True, as we toured this island slightly bigger than Wales, we were untroubled by men in black suits with matching shirts and dark glasses. Rather our eyes were on fields of flowers, fragrant citrus groves, impressive architecture left by centuries of invaders, and the massive presence of Mount Etna, Europe's most active volcano.

Our 15-day Archers' Discover Sicily coaching holiday included a restful break in the smoothly run, four-star Hotel Hallenia Yachting, on the beach at Giardini-Naxos.

From this pleasant little seaside resort a ten-minute bus ride carried us 1,000ft above sea level to Taormina, one of the loveliest - and smartest - holiday spots in the world. The narrow main street, with geranium-filled window boxes, is a shoppers' treat.

Designer clothing names like Maxmara and Armani catch the eye, alongside shops selling such Sicilian specialities as pottery, puppets, fancy tiles and marzipan sweets, nougat and delicious lemon liqueur.

Looking down across the mountain from the main square, set on the edge of a precipice, there's a giddy-making panorama of cliffs and gardens and sea, with Etna looming in the background.

The volcano, which last erupted seriously in 1992, was a must. Bus and cable car will take you to a level where you see streams of fiery molten lava. It amused me to find souvenir shops and cafes on these gritty, grey- black slopes ... hardly an inviting place to stop for a cuppa.

Syracuse is a showcase of Sicily's past. For me, the most impressive building in this attractive city is the cathedral. Flanking an 18th-Century frontage built by the conquering Spaniards are the grand columns of a Temple of Athene built in the 6th Century BC and now integrated into the church.

Parts of Syracuse have a shudder-making history. A Greek theatre dating back to 474 BC was later adapted by the Romans for their bloodthirsty spectacles, when gladiators fought to the death. A hygienic lot, the ancient Romans - they devised a piped water system to clean the arena of the gory remains after the show was over. …

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