One of the best viewpoints for Etna is from Taormina. A sprawling town, it’s built into a hillside, with a beach far below at its base but climbing way up to a peak. The town centre is largely medieval, car-free, with narrow streets, intriguing shops, decent hotels and restaurants. It can be a bit of a tourist trap but is a great base camp from which to explore the island. (The writers DH Lawrence and Truman Capote both lived here for a spell.)
Taormina’s highlight is its ancient open-air theatre. High up on a hillside, it may be crumbling but it’s still in use; opera and other musical concerts are regularly held in the summer. Sting performed here in July 2012. It’s open during the day to visitors and has unparalleled views across the island and towards Etna.
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If you’re still in the mood for location hunting, the largely unspoilt villages Forza d’Agro and Savoca just outside Taormina were used in The Godfather trilogy. Much further round the northern coast near Palermo is Bagheria, the birthplace of director Giuseppe Tornatore and where he filmed his nostalgic 1988 classic, Cinema Paradiso.
Palermo is the bustling capital, a cultural hub, its landmark buildings a fascinating blend of Islamic and Roman Catholic architecture. The daily Vucciria market is a must and the closest Italy gets to a casbah.
Completing a circuit of the island, on the southern slopes you should visit Agrigento. It has a medieval centre, ornate churches and another important museum of archaeology. Just outside the town lies the Valley of the Temples, a complex of ancient Greek ruins dating back to the fifth century BC. The Temple of Concord is startlingly well preserved and one of Sicily’s gems.
If you just want to relax, Sicily has glorious beaches (especially at San Vito Lo Capo on the north-western tip), and if you like a glass of wine, the island has more vineyards than any other region of Italy. You can book day-long tours that take in a couple of cantine (wineries). Head west to Marsala for the town’s famous fortified wine, or look out for Etna Rosso, a velvety red born on the volcano’s fertile slopes.
The Young Montalbano begins on Saturday 2nd January on BBC4 at 9pm
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