Master’s Weekend Away in Sicily

On arrival in beautiful sunshine, the BA travellers met up with the Easyjet travellers for a welcome drink and a light lunch on the terrace of the Villa Schuler, our home for the next four days, with amazing views of Naxos Bay and Mount Etna.  We were then given a guided tour of the hotel garden by the owner, Gerard Schuler, whose family has owned the hotel for over 140 years.  The garden has more than 300 species of trees and plants and is the oldest and largest private garden in Taormina, with one pine tree being over 250 years old. There is also a very special citrus tree which flowers and bears fruit every month of the year.

We had time to unpack and relax before walking into town for dinner at Le Naumachie restaurant where we feasted on a four course meal which included ravioli stuffed with sea bass followed by sea bream wrapped in paper film with plenty of Sicilian wine to accompany each course. Back to the hotel for a good night’s sleep before embarking on a very full sightseeing programme over the next three days”.
                                                                                                                                                                                    Sue Martin

The first full day of the Masters Holiday was blessed with perfect Sicilian sunshine as we all made our way to a coach to take us south of Taormina to Syracuse and Ortigia.  On the way, our attentive guide pointed out the remains of the lava flows which had descended from Mount Etna ending up close to the main road at Catania.  He excited all with his explanation of the volcanic process of explosion - expansion – extinction. This led to some of us casting nervous looks towards the mountain which obliged with mini explosions albeit not, thankfully, leading to extinction mini or otherwise.

Our voyage then took us past many historical excitements including Bronze Age cave dwellings where the troglodytic lives of the inhabitants were thrown into stark contrast to the lives of the ancients inhabiting Syracuse, enjoying, as they did, the delights of architecture and theatrical entertainment. This became our next adventure into history when we enjoyed a visit to the amphitheatre located on the edge of modern Syracuse. Our guide talked us through a host of compelling detail on the creation and use of the theatre pointing out the handy rock cut tombs ready to receive the bodies of those involved in some ancient spectacular performance who became victims of regrettable over enthusiastic swordplay. He explained that the tyrant ruler of Syracuse would place himself in a particular position in the auditorium to listen for helpful or unhelpful murmurings of the audience about him. Not that the Master was seen to be quietly positioning himself for similar reasons? If he had, he would only have heard early whisperings of happiness and contentment about what a brilliant time was being had by all, which was the experience of the entire holiday.   

Our next port of call was to visit Ortigia, a small island connected to Syracuse. As it happens, a favourite destination of the writer. We walked through pleasant streets to lunch at the famous Don Camilo restaurant. After an excellent lunch washed down with a glass or two, we were all in good spirit and voice to be able to wish Sue Martin a happy birthday. Next and sadly, finally, we visited the Duomo where it can be seen that Christian architecture skilfully incorporated a large part of an Ancient Greek temple. Uncannily, immediately outside the Duomo is a fountain where the goddess Diana is to be seen with her bow and arrow ... a fitting image to mark the end of the visit. We all then boarded the coach back to Taormina with our guide continuing to assist us albeit not quite in the style of ‘Just a Minute ‘ !  
                                                                                                                                                                                    Philip Shears


After another excellent breakfast at Villa Schuler we boarded the coach for Mount Etna, Alfredo keeping us entertained on the way.  Travelling up the mountainside, the vegetation became more and more sparse until it felt like we were on the moon.  We arrived at Etna base station – at 1900m – and several adventurous souls then took the cable car up to 2500m to enjoy a closer view of the summit and its dramatic puffs of smoke.

The lunchtime trip to Benanti vineyard was most pleasant.  Following a welcome drink of sparkling wine we were taken on a tour of the vineyard which is on the site of a previous eruption, hence the fertile soil.  After a lunch of antipasti followed by pasta in the beautiful dining room, we all took part in a highly entertaining wine identification challenge.  This was won by the superior olfactory skills of the A-Team, led by Nikki Scott Knight.We enjoyed drinks on the terrace at Villa Schuler as the sun set, followed by a sumptuous buffet overseen by Mario, celebrating many local dishes including octopus salad and beef roulade.  The pastry chef Maria piped cream into the cannoli right in front of us – never has dessert been so fresh.                                                                              Josie Gowler


Friday - rain didn't stop play!
Despite a horrid forecast of thundery rain all day, the Fletchers still turned out in force for a walking tour of Taormina in the morning and then up to the hilltop village of Castlemola in the afternoon.  Our local guide, Martina, told us her nickname was "Dry Martini", but by the end of the day we had renamed her "soggy martini" !
Even in the heavy rain, the visit to the 2500 year old Greek amphitheatre was fascinating, especially when Martina pointed out how it was modified by the Romans a mere 2200 years ago.  The location perched on a cliff overlooking the coastline and Mt Etna is extraordinary.  The view on a fine day must be absolutely stunning. After lunch we bussed up to the tiny medieval hilltop village of Castlemora, which was a lovely spot, again with stunning views.  Sadly the church was closed because of the weather (we suspected the priest had set up a card school for the afternoon?).  Whilst missing the church was a disappointment to some, this was offset by finding refuge from the rain in a local cafe.  At first it was thought this was a male members only club, until, to the great amusement of many, it turned out that this was actually the decorative theme for the establishment!!.  Nothing ventured ... !                                                                                                                                         Tim Eltringham



Last modified on Thursday, 08 October 2020 20:43