Messina and Taormina, Sicily

May 26, 2019 - Sea Cloud


We could feel the change in the weather overnight, with the news of an incoming easterly storm forecast to arrive on Sunday afternoon. While the expedition leaders scrambled to change land arrangements and adjust the planned activities for the day in Toarmina, Captain Komakin and his navigation officers wrestled with the legendary winds and currents of the Straits of Messina for a sunrise passage. Home to mythological Scylla (the Rock) and Charybdis (the Whirlpool), the challenging and rapidly changing sea conditions that tormented Odysseus remain an intense navigational challenge today.

By 8:00 that morning we were alongside in the port of Messina for an early disembarkation and a drizzly Sunday morning drive to Taormina. The drive along the mountainous coastal strait was dramatic nonetheless, and we were delightfully surprised to find ourselves almost alone to walk the streets and admire the detailed architecture of the historic resort and vacation town of Taormina. It’s high perch above the Ionian Sea made it a popular place for the settling ancient Greeks, and the famous theater that was later modified by the Romans and used for gladiator events and other spectacles is still in use for summer performances today.

We enjoyed a peaceful stroll through the Porta Catania archway, up the renowned Corso Umberto past the Duomo, the gorgeous platform views of Piazza 9 Aprile, and turned uphill at the Church of Santa Catarina just as Sunday mass was ending to hike up to the Greek Theater. The rest of the long morning was left to explore the streets, shops, cafes, and floral balconies on our own. It was one of the calmest and most peaceful visits we can remember to Taormina, with plenty of time and space to drift through the town and admire it in detail.

As the wind increased on the sea below, we drove to a very special lunch event at the private villa of Castello degli Schiavi, which had been used for much of the site filming for the Godfather movies. Owner Don Franco Platania had been gracious enough to reschedule our private dinner as a Sunday afternoon lunch. He hosted us and gave an introduction and tour of the villa that had begun as a rock quarry, evolved into a wine cellar with a chapel, and later became a summer residence. We were welcomed with a garden reception, and when it started to drizzle he took us into a side hall to show us a film of some of the Godfather scenes and recount the stories of the filming years. As we moved down to the wine cellar for an unforgettable lunch with musical accompaniment, we couldn’t help but notice that there were a few makeshift tables set up in an antechamber where don Franco had moved his own family’s Sunday afternoon meal to accommodate our changes.

Delighted by pasta, wine, music, and atmosphere, we drove back to Sea Cloud in the port of Messina, reflecting on an unforgettable lunch experience.

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About the Author

Tom O'Brien

Expedition Leader

Tom O’Brien has been leading and designing expeditions for Lindblad Expeditions since 1985. With a background in physical geography and conservation, a Bavarian heart and a Celtic soul, Tom has been one of the most passionate advocates of the expedition experience around the world for the last twenty years. Many of the local people and communities that we work with today are the result of friendships that Tom and his expedition mates developed many years ago.

About the Photographer

Massimo Bassano

National Geographic Photographer

Massimo Bassano has worked as a freelance photojournalist since 1990. His work appears in National Geographic Traveler and National Geographic online edition, as well as many publications throughout Europe. Massimo's photographic subjects know no bounds—his recent assignments have covered social issues, international travel, fitness and health, fashion, and portraiture. In 2004, he was awarded a Ph.D. in journalism from the Italian Association of Journalism.

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