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November 1, 2008

Matera to Taormina

Filed under: Italy Rome-Sicily 2008, Travel — anotherheader @ 6:05 am

Matera in the morning before our departure

Matera in the morning before our departure

In the morning we departed for the drive to Sicily. We somehow navigated through a tangle of road closures in Baslicata. Eventually we worked our way to the autostrada and into Calabria, the southern most province of the mainland portion of Italy that includes the toe of the boot.

Along the way, I became dead tired and it was time for Becky’s turn at the wheel. You can see from the pictures (click on the link, you might need to manually advance the pictures with the right arrow) that I found Becky’s driving to be refreshingly invigorating and that I was soon wide awake.


The road construction in Calabria continues to amaze us. Approaching Villa San Giovanni, the autostrada traverses a long stretch of hillside along the sea in a connected sequence of tunnels and viaducts. At points on the viaducts, it felt like the sea was straight down a thousand feet below, though we couldn’t tell for sure. Nevertheless, there was a definite sense of vertigo as you drove along the edge. You definitely would not want to go over the edge.

Becky, keys in hand, watching me desparately trying to find alternative transportaion south

Becky, keys in hand, watching me desperately trying to find alternative transportation south

In Villa San Giovanni, we connected to the ferry to Sicily. All the guidebooks say little about this transfer, implying that it is pretty straight forward. In the end, after driving around in circles for 30 minutes, we’d agree that it is very straightforward and there’s no way you can miss it!

Our problem (or one of our problems) is that we expected only one ferry option. What we found were multiple options, some of which might work for our car and others that might not. It was also useful to know that “traghetti” means ferry in English. Unfortunately it took us 29 Sicilian traffic filled minutes to look up the meaning of traghetti in our 5 pound Italian to English dictionary that we were carrying. To be fair, whizzing by the signs in the car, it was hard to sort the Italian out fast enough to make a decision. Eventually, we figured out where to go (we took the Caronte and Tourist Ferry) and Becky got the bonus of visiting the Worst Toilet in Italy at the ferry ticket office. When Western-style toilets are real, real bad, you can definitely see the advantage of the squat or Turkish-style toilets.

Heading to Messina on the ferry

Heading to Messina on the ferry

We were on the ferry and halfway across the Straight of Messina before we knew that the boat had left the dock. We disembarked and headed through the knot of Sicilian traffic in urban Messina. Eventually we cleared the city streets and the entered the autostrada that took us to Taormina.

Taormina is striking small town tucked into a saddle high above the Mediterranean Sea. The sea, with its beaches below, and the smoke rolling off the peak of nearby Mt. Etna can both be seen from the town. We arrived in the town, checked into our B&B, and strolled over to the main drag to see the sights in the evening light.

Reaching the main area of Taormina, we found something that we didn’t expect. The street was absolutely jammed with people. The cruise ships were in, the beaches were empty, and the throng filled the streets amongst the tourist shops and restaurants. This is not what we expected from Sicily! We retreated to a restaurant recommended by out host at the B&B off the main street. After dinner, we returned hoping in vain to find the crowds gone. The masses of tourists in Taormina were probably the single most disappointing part of our trip. But that’s OK, as were off to Mt. Etna tomorrow.

Taormina at night (HDR)

Taormina at night (HDR)



  1. Good day,

    I wish to drive from Matera to Taormina, as you did in 2008. How many hours for such a trip, please ?

    Are the roads very bad in that region of South Italy ?
    Did you feel secure ?

    Are the landscape interesting ?

    Thank you in advance.

    Best regards,


    Comment by Dan — September 7, 2013 @ 11:41 am

    • Dan,

      Don’t recall exactly the amount of time that it took. Google maps says it takes about 5 hours and that seems roughly correct.

      The highways in Italy are technological wonders that are amazing feats of civil engineering. The number of viaducts and tunnels is amazing. Nobody builds roads quite like the Italians. It’s worth a trip just to visit. Travel is easy though there is a viaduct that was closed on the way into Matera from the north (not a big deal). Never thought about security. Certainly it’s safer than driving through many places in the US.

      The landscape is rugged and interesting if not amazing.

      BTW, Taorima is incredibly touristy. It is fed by the crowds from cruise ships. It’s OK if you like your streets lined with tourist shops. We wouldn’t go back. Matera is unique and worth a visit. Be sure to check out Mt. Etna.


      Comment by anotherheader — September 7, 2013 @ 10:05 pm

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