Before sunrise, Sea Cloud sailed softly to a point off the breakwater at Giardini Naxos, Sicily, and dropped anchor. The rising sun cast beautiful colors on the large and dramatic clouds over the Sicilian town of Taormina, and on the dome of clouds covering Mount Etna to the south. After an early breakfast we took ship’s tenders to the small dock, close to where the earliest Greek colonists from the Island of Naxos likely landed some 2,800 years ago. We met our local guides and boarded coaches to travel along the rocky coastline. Picturesque coves and luxurious seaside resorts came into view as we climbed 700 feet up to reach Taormina. From the parking area it was a short walk to Porto Catania where we entered the colorful, varied, elegant, and very Sicilian old town. It was fortunate that we arrived early — before greater numbers of tourists did the same — and our guides gently led us through both the ancient and modern histories of this storied town.
As the morning progressed, the weather only improved with mostly clear skies and fantastic visibility. By the time we arrived to the top of the Greco-Roman Theater much of Mount Etna was visible, along with sweeping views of the coastline to the north and south. The ancient Roman scaenae frons, now in partial ruins, framed clear and colorful views of Taormina, the volcano, and the turquoise bay below. After exploring the upper areas and viewpoints of the theater, guests strolled back into the now-busy town for shopping, photography, and of course gelato.
After our time at leisure, we reboarded our coaches and traveled further south to Castello degli Schiavi; dating from the 18th century, it is easily recognizable as the ancestral home in the Godfather films. Owner Franco was a welcoming and gracious host, sharing the history of the house and its use by director Francis Ford Coppola. After the tour, we proceeded down into the cool and spacious former wine cellars for a full Sicilian lunch. We enjoyed antipasti, two pastas for first course, and a tasty second course of meat infused with leaves of the lemon tree. We finished with dessert and coffee.
Back on our coaches, we traveled north along the steep coastline, across many bridges and through tunnels, to arrive at the port of Messina. Sea Cloud had repositioned here during the day, and soon we were back on board. We sailed through the famous Strait of Messina as the sun was setting over the Island of Sicily. We easily traversed the visible currents and eddies of the strait — feared in antiquity as the abode of the fearsome monsters Scylla and Charybdis. A beautiful, nearly full moon welcomed us into the Tyrrhenian Sea; after dinner, expedition leader John offered the first stargazing session of our trip on the spanker deck.