Trips & Excursions
A selection of half day and day trips starting and ending in Forza d’Agrò, provided you have a car. Alternatively, similar trips may be booked at some travel agencies in Taormina such as ► Saistours (Corso Umberto, 222, Tel. 0942-620671), with early morning pick up at Marina d’Agrò (bus stop down at the coast road) with their tour bus.Taormina ▼ Short to half day trip, a 30 minutes drive.With a mere 20 kms off Forza d’Agrò, a visit to ► Taormina is inevitable: towering at similar heights above the Ionian sea and with comparably beautiful views as Forza, the marvellously refurbished old city centre with its splendid boulevard Corso Umberto remains the ultimate shopping paradise — even after the jet set has moved on, ages ago. While this medieval shopping mall is catering rather for the well-heeled, there’s always an ice-cream or cannolo to go for the low-budget visitor (to be consumed preferably on Piazza IX Aprile with its great views). The cultural highlight is undoubtedly the Greek Theatre close to Porta Messina, and a visit of one of the summer ► performances with erupting or snow-capped Mt. Etna in the background certainly will be an unforgettable experience. Do not forget to get lost in these countless small side alleys of the town — you’ll always find your way back to Corso Umberto.
Uphill form Taormina on Monte Tauro lies pretty village Castelmola, well worth a side trip. The rather bizarre decoration of Bar ► Turrisi at the cathedral square will not match everybody’s taste and probably won’t be suitable for children either — but definitely doesn’t lack originality.
Getting There: From Forza, drive down to the coast road and turn right. Take the second turnoff to Taormina after 10 kms (if you choose the first turnoff at the motorway ramp, you’ll miss pretty Isola Bella, one of the most popular postcard motives in Sicily). Now a serpentined road leads you up to town and through a tunnel to the parking deck at Porta Catania. From there, you may explore Corso Umberto in its whole length until Port Messina; just before this town gate, on Largo Santa Caterina square, take a right to find the greek theatre.
Savoca and SS Pietro e Paolo church ▼ Short to half day trip, direct drive to Savoca 30 minutes, with SS Pietro e Paolo side loop 45 minutes.Savoca is a must see for all „Godfather“ fans. This is the place, where Michael Corleone (Al Pacino), during his Sicilian exile, asked the owner of ever since famous Bar Vitelli for his beautiful daughter Apollonia’s hand in marriage, with shouldered gun. The bar still exists, and mostly due to all the „Padrino“ adepts. Outside the bar, where Corleone used to sit, the owners left an old fashioned commercial sign for Itala Pilsen, a beer of the thirties, on the wall, and inside you’ll find dozens of paper clippings on the walls, and Corleone’s and his bodyguards’ guns are also still there. Do try a granita al limone with a dash of limoncello or Zibibbo, just as Al Pacino did in the old days.
Further uphill you will see church San Nicolò which had been used as the wedding church in the Godfather movie, it resembles Forza’s main church quite a bit. A footpath leads you past it and up to the castle ruins. You will see Forza d’Agrò in the distance on the neighbouring ridge.
Savoca has more to offer though. At its upper end, along the road to Casalvecchio Siculo, you will find to your left a Capuchin convent (Convento dei Cappuccini) from the early XVII century, whose crypt hosts an eerie sight: well guarded by a group of nuns of Indian descent, a collection of mummies are slowly decomposing before the eyes of the terrified visitor... nothing for weak nerves or small children!
If after this your stomach needs some reinvigoration, try the paninoteca „Il Sambuco“ just below the road where you’ve parked your car: here you get all kind of sandwiches made of bread with olive oil, simple but hearty fare.
You may combine this trip with a visit to the church SS Pietro e Paolo, an architectonically impressive building made of black lava, white limestone, and red bricks in a mixture of Byzantine, Arab and Norman style elements, well hidden between olive groves in the Agrò valley, a pleasant surprise. Opening hours are 9am to 1pm on weekdays, and 9am to 5pm on weekends. Information: 0942-761008 or 0942-761122.
Getting There: Turn left on the coast road to Sant’Alessio Siculo, cross the town and over the Agrò river bridge to Santa Teresa di Riva. To get to SS Pietro e Paolo church, turn sharp left immediately behind the bridge and drive through a narrow tunnel undercrossing the train track. Now follow the signposts to „Chiesa SS Pietro e Paolo“ through several small settlements. Thereafter you will be led to the river bank where you turn right and follow the river on increasingly small streets. Things get progressively rough now, in fact you will have to cross a side river through its (dry) river bed virtually „off road“! But by then you will already see the church on a little knob to your left. Follow the tiny road up to the parking lot in front of the church.
From the church, some more serpentined parochial roads bring you up to the provincial road to Casalvecchio Siculo and finally to Savoca. Do not attempt to take the street to the right of the church, it is extremely narrow and steep! Track back some 200m instead, then turn sharp left into a better road. From Savoca, carry on following the provincial road downhill and thus return to Santa Teresa di Riva.
If you want to go directly to Savoca, you also have to drive to Santa Teresa di Riva, down to the sea promenade „via Lungomare“, here turn left and follow this street for about 800m until a left turnoff to „via Savoca“ (first left turnoff with a turnoff lane).
Catania ▼ Half day to day trip, 90 minutes off Forza. Can be easily combined with a visit to Mt. Etna.By some, Catania is considered a bit Sicily’s „ugly duckling“ and left aside by many tourists. Which is not quite fair, since the city does have its own charm. It, however, did suffer a lot under the many volcanic eruptions of neighbouring Mt. Etna and earthquakes alike, one of which, in 1693, left large parts of the city devastated. The reconstruction thereafter was carried out almost entirely in Sicilian Baroque style using black lava stone, which gives the city its very distinct shape until today.
A must see is the lively fish market and neighbouring fruit and vegetables markets in the city centre, easily found following your nose and/or the other tourists from cathedral square Piazza del Duomo: behind the „Fontana dei sette canali“ fountain it’ll suddenly open to your view on Piazza Alonzo di San Benedetto like a huge theatre — up to the fish vendors who act as if on stage. Just mingle and drift with the crowd, admire the swordfish’s swords, enjoy the mussels’s spitting contests, and hold on tight to your handbag.
If you made it to the fish market from the cathedral square, you’ve already stumbled over Catania’s landmark and emblem: the Elephant fountain. The elephant itself is locally called „U Liotru“, a malapropism of Heliodorus, the name of a wizard, who according to the legend rode on the back of this elephant he had personally carved out of lava stone between Catania and Constantinople. The odd combination of the lava elephant with the Egyptian obelisque standing on top of it is a creation of famous Baroque architect Giovanni Battista Vacarrini, who had contributed a great deal to the city’s reconstruction after the earthquake and is responsible for the facade of the cathedral. Inside the cathedral you may, if you keep you eyes open, find a historic painting, on which the whole coastline from Catania until Forza d’Agrò is shown.
Another highlight of the city is the Greek-Roman Theatre, a ruin enclosed by residential houses inmidst the city (300m west from the cathedral square along via Vitorio Emanuele II). — Shopping addicts will meet their needs along strung-out via Etnea.
Getting There: Starting in Forza, track back, as if returning to the airport, entering the motorway at the Taormina turnoff; however, in Catania get off the motorway directly behind the toll booth and follow the signs „centro“ until you reach the train station. Keep right and follow via 6 Aprile which runs parallely to the railway viaduct, and search for a parking space in this area.
Mount Etna ▼ Half day to day trip. A good hour’s drive from Forza/Catania to Etna-Sud/-Nord. Can be easily combined with a visit to Catania.An absolute „Must“ for any Sicily traveller! Being one of the most active volcanoes in Europe, 3300m high Mt Etna dominates the island almost from any perspective and is visible even from the Aeolian Islands. It has determined the destiny of the Sicilians over millennia, most notably, of course, its immediate neighbours, which until the very present have to be prepared for sudden evacuation due to an acute eruption. The last massive eruption in 2001/2002 destroyed the funicular at Etna Sud / Rifugio Sapienza, most of the Etna Nord / Piano Provenzana station, and parts of the access roads. Always check the current situation before you go.
Generally, there are two main access routes to Mt Etna (Italians also call it „Mongibello“, an Italian-Arabic composite literally meaning „mountain-mountain“, or „mountain of all mountains“), firstly via Rifugio Sapienza („Etna Sud“) and secondly via Piano Provenzana („Etna Nord“). The ascent via the southern access is way more comfortable, because from Rifugio Sapienza, a ► funicular brings you to 2660m altitude, and there you’ll be expected by special jeeps which transport you just below the crater rim. The funicular closes at 4:45 pm though, and if you want to make it all the way to the top, you’d better be at Rifugio Sapienza by around 3 pm. And to avoid disappointments, do enquire at the valley station, before you buy your tickets, how the conditions are and how close to the rim you’ll be allowed to get.
If you don’t want to make it all the way up, a drive through the extensive lava fields above Nicolosi already are quite impressive. Next to Rifugio Sapienza there are some small extinct side craters called „Crateri Silvestri“ where you may stroll around and enjoy the great view on Catania and the Mediterranean.
Piano Provenzana (Etna Nord) also offers transport services to the top; since demand may be considerably lower than in the south, you should arrive there no later than 2 pm and be prepared to wait until the 4WD buses are full. A much more challenging trip, of course, is the ascent by foot — never attempt to do this without a local guide! Access is possible from both south and north.
Another nice alternative to the peak crawl: Anke and Jan Stimpel-Sörensen suggest to walk from Rifugio Citelli (turnoff off SP 92 some 3kms behind the Piano Provenzana turnoff) to the Monti Sartorius, an easy one hour walk with great views on Mt. Etna (clear weather provided), also suitable for children. Around the mountain slopes there are countless other walking and hiking trails.
A visit to Mt Etna also is attractive in winter, especially for skiers. Both stations operate a small skiing station. They may look a little ridiculous with their 3 respectively 5 lifts and 4 pistes each — but who wouldn’t like to ski for once on an active volcano, enjoying the contrast between the black lava and the white snow, and the blue Mediterranean always in the distance?
The trips to Catania and Mt Etna can easily be combined to a day trip, but leave early. Visit the fish market first which is most lively in the early morning, and leave Catania at 2 pm at latest to arrive at Rifugio Sapienza in time.
As the ending point of your Etna expedition, Guus and Christine Gugelot recommend to dine in the Trattoria „Giorgio e il Drago“ in Randazzo. „No further details disclosed!“ they wrote in our guestbook, so we will also keep our mouths shut, just this: it’s worth a side tour.
Getting There: All the following access itineraries take around a little more than an hour’s drive. To get from Forza to Etna-Nord, take the Taormina motorway ramp towards Catania, turn off at Fiumefreddo exit and turn left in the next roundabout towards Piedmonte/Linguaglossa/Randazzo/Etna on SS120. In Linguaglossa drive past the main church on your right and turn left at the next intersection into via Umberto (brown sign „Etna Nord“). You will now get to „via Mareneve“ („Sea-snow road“) which you follow for a good 15km until the road to Piano Provenzana branches off to the right.
To Etna-Sud, stay on the motorway until exit Giarre; behind the toll booth turn right (brown sign „Etna Est“), and follow the signs to Zafferana and Etna. In Zafferana you have to dart a bit back and forth following the one way system, first right, then, at the Tamoil petrol station, left again, yet it’s all well signposted. Zafferana Etnea, by the way, is the town which in 1992 came frighteningly close to be swallowed by one of the mountain’s lava eruptions. And an excellent place to buy some honey. Past Zafferana there’s not much you can do wrong, the small road sidles in endless serpentines up to Rifugio Sapienza.
Starting in Catania, if you parked in the area between train station and harbour, carry on in the same direction towards the airport which is how you will find the motorway and finally the „tangenziale CT“ which you’ll remember from your first day driving from the airport to Forza. For Etna-Sud, take the exit Gravina after 13km, turn right at the following intersection (sign „Etna“) into via Etnea and follow this road to Nicolosi and further up to Rifugio Sapienza. For Etna-Nord, take the Giarre exit, turn left after the toll booth towards Giarre, and the next turnoff left again towards Milo. 750m further down the road, turn left again towards Milo and cross the motorway. Now follow the signs to Milo passing the villages Macchia and Praino, until you reach, after 9kms, tiny village Fornazzo, where you turn left, and follow the signs „Etna Nord“ for another 18km from there until you arrive in Piano Provenzana.
Aeolian Islands ▼ Day trip. 90 minutes drive to Milazzo; from there by hydrofoil.This set of islands is a Mediterranean dream. Black lava beaches, the prominent volcano cones, and crystal clear blue sea everywhere. Every islet has its own character, and even as a day tripper you will succumb to the charm of this small archipelago. The Aeolian (or Lipari) Islands are well manageable as a day trip from Forza d’Agrò if you don’t overdo it and restrict your visit to two, or three at most, islands.
The first of this island chain, Vulcano, could well keep you busy for a whole afternoon. Starting at the ferry harbour, you could explore the island’s main crater in a steep 45 minute ascent, which may become pretty agonising in the full summer heat. Fortunately, about 300m off the road you will stumble over a small kiosk with a veranda, where you’re not only charged the entrance fee but may enjoy a refreshing granita (preferably on the way up and the way down). Up on the rim you'll be met by sulphuric stinking fumaroles and a circuit trail all around the crater with exceptional views over the whole archipelago and over to Mt Etna. — Back down again, expose yourself, if you dare, to the sulphuric mud: right next to the harbour there is a public mud bath where you, for a small fee and together with other spa guests, get rid of all your skin diseases at once... But be warned: whatever you take in there will invariably stink like sulphur for weeks! If you don’t want to sacrifice your bathing suit, the lady at he entrance will happily sell you the world’s ugliest swimsuits for 5 Euros.
A short 10 minute hydrofoil trip brings you to neighbouring Lipari, the archipelago’s main island, with the homonymous town. Here you may stroll up to the fortress hill and enjoy the views to Panarea and Stromboli. Or cross the island to the vista point Quatrocchi 3kms away, where a beautiful view over to Vulcano awaits you. Lipari certainly has the best infrastructure of the archipelago and the widest variety in restaurants and accommodation, but also is arguably the most touristic of these islands.
In about half an hour you’ll cross over from Lipari to Salina, probably the most romantic and greenest island of the area. Characterised by two conical volcanoes divided by a valley through which a road connects the small settlements of Malfa and Leni in the north and south of the island, the ferry instead lands at the main town Santa Maria Salina in the east. ► Rent a scooter (or a bicycle) some 100m to the left behind the ferry mooring and cruise the island at your own pace. Relatively unspoilt when compared to Lipari, Salina unexpectedly gained some popularity by the movie „Il Postino“ (The postman), which was shot in the town Pollara (13km off Santa Maria on the other side of the island) and a small hut above. (This beautiful movie, which you can find in our „Sicilian Library“ in Forza, is the best way to mentally prepare for the islands.) Nevertheless tourism hasn’t spoiled the island, and the local economy still relies mainly on capers, which the island is most famous for, and a special sort of grape called Malvasia which is used to make a sweet white wine. Salina is as far as you can get on a day trip, and leave early! Or otherwise, do it like Hanna and Simon did, and spend a night on the island in order to climb the higher of the two volcanoes, Monte Fossa delle Felci (see their trip report under „Walks & Hikes“).
Stromboli is the last island in this chain and consists basically of a nearly perfectly conical volcano dotted with some small villages on its slopes. The volcano is permanently active and an ascent certainly a unique experience; however, the tiring climb on the 3300m high mountain is only permitted with a guide, and the whole trip a greater excursion, by no way manageable in one day from Forza. So, if you want to go Stromboli, plan ahead, enquire if an ascent is possible, leave very early, and make it at least an overnight trip.
Getting There: By car from Forza on the motorway towards Messina; remain on the motorway until Milazzo exit some 30kms beyond Messina. Get information on the hydrofoil passage times beforehand; there are two companies, Siremar and Ustica. Plan at least two hours for the trip to Milazzo to allow time for parking and ticket purchase. You will be approached by several motorini drivers offering parking spaces „for rent“ already before you reach the harbour area, if you’re desperate, you might give them a shot. Opposite the ferry landings you’ll find the ticket offices, make sure you buy tickets for hydrofoils and not car ferries which are much slower. Approximate travel times from Milazzo: Vulcano 40 minutes, Lipari 1 hour, Salina 90 minutes, Panarea 2 hours, Stromboli 3 hours.
(...to be continued...)