We had arrived in Sicily the day before, traveling from the airport in Catania to our hotel in Taormina on a gloomy, rainy day. The next morning dawned clear, with temperatures already climbing toward 50ºF (which for these Minnesotans was akin to beach weather).
We only planned for one night in Taormina, so we would not have time to exhaustively explore the area. But I was determined to make room in the schedule to see the mountaintop village of Castelmola. What better way to battle jet lag than by lacing up the running shoes for a morning run with my son …. winding our way through Taormina to reach the zig-zag path up the mountainside.
My much-speedier son bounded up the steps, and on to the path that led to Castelmola via the Madonna della Rocca. At one point, striped tape was tied across the stony steps. When I paused and questioned whether perhaps the path was washed out up ahead, my son cavalierly responded, “Looks like fake news to me.” And away he went … as I huffed and puffed behind him, trying to maintain some semblance of running form.
Thankfully, there were many reasons to pause and take in the view of Taormina below, with the Ionian Sea beyond. Periodically along the path were sculptures depicting the Stations of the Cross, giving the rigorous morning outing a feeling of a pilgrimage, as well.
Upon reaching a plateau, the street sign reminded us that the climb to Castelmola was not over yet.
The last stretch of the path sent my heart rate through the roof, as the incline seemingly never-ended, with the tease of the village straight above us.
Our climb finally opened to the Piazza Sant’ Antonio with the charming Caffe’ Bar San Giorgio perched on the edge of village square. The combination of jet lag and a challenging run/hike uphill left us parched, with the downhill journey back to the hotel still ahead of us.
Thankfully, I had stuffed a 10 euro note in my jacket pocket, so we could take advantage of the picturesque cafe seating and a classic cappuccino, with a bottle of water to rehydrate for our downhill trip. We also ordered a freshly squeezed glass of orange juice, which ranks up there with the tastiest and most refreshing beverage ever! What we learned as the week went on, is that everywhere in Sicily the fresh-squeezed orange juice is spectacular — a benefit of visiting during January, when the oranges are in season.
We entered the square in Castelmola and a rustic truck drove by with its loudspeaker calling out to the residents, announcing the arrival of fruits and vegetables for sale.
My son and I took a few minutes to wander the narrow, meandering paths of the village, still quiet as the day began.
Mt. Etna provided the postcard-worthy backdrop to Castelmola’s public library.
Knowing my husband and younger son were waiting for us to join them for breakfast back in Taormina, we headed down again, refreshed and refueled after our mountaintop stop.
Completing our run with a circular route, we took the path off of Via Branco to Taormina.
The village of Castelmola quickly receded from view, as we bounded downhill and wound our way along the narrow path leading to the touristed streets of Taormina. I encouraged my son to go on without me, since he had so patiently waited for me to catch up on several occasions on the first half of the trek, but he kindly hung with me as we finished what ended up being an almost 5-mile outing.
Oftentimes the best vacation memories are not the iconic sights, but instead the times when you soak up your surroundings without the fancy window dressings of a tour or excursion or timetable in hand. Do more than just visit a destination … enjoy the journey.