As most hotels here have one view of Etna or another, you will feel tempted to get closer as soon as you arrive. This can be done either by car (through Alcantara, Castigliari or through Linguaglossa but that is less scenic) or by coach tours. If you are not already travelling with a tour organising company, you can join the local tourist office's tours. Booking can usually be done a couple of days before, either at your hotel or in the Recanati bus station ticket office when it is open. Most tours include the Alcantara Gorge or some other sight along the way and most have the opportunity to add the extra jeep fare to the sulphuric peak. Just be aware of extra breaks in restaurants etc. that might not have been what you would have spent your time on yourself once you're on a volcano (even if the food is perfectly alright).
This fascinating gorge was formed during and Etna eruption and you can see the impressive layers of basalt rock once you climb down the gorge (or take the lift). See my travelogue for what it can look like.
Down here you can wade into the stream and in between the rocks. You can also study birds and frogs if you like since they thrive amongst all the good food for them here.
Only 20 minutes away by local bus from several stops in the area, this is the most well known town on all Sicily because of its stupenduous beauty. On my Giardini-Naxos intro page, you have already seen what it looks like from the Bay of Naxos. Do take the time to visit it (and maybe nearby Castelmola even higher up) as well - you won't be disappointed, even if it is usually heaving with tourists. The Greek theatre with its Etna view and the glittering Mediterranean below can make anyone want to marry their ugly cousin! :-))) See my Taormina page for more pictures and information.
A trip from Giardini to Taormina is very easy: first, there are hourly bus-services from the railway-station Giardini/Taormina (it takes about 40 minutes to reach Taormina center via the steep and winding road); secondly, there is a funicular from Giardini Center to the center of Taormina.
In Taormina you will have to cope with the hordes of tourists, but, if you are a seasoned traveller, you soon will find the small alleys and stairs, leading to typical Sicilian places and great views !
If you are a seasoned driver, accustomed to Italian / Sicilian traffic, you may also drive directly to Taormina, where you will have difficulties to find a parking-lot !
But, give it at least a try!
Just a short 30 minute drive from Giardini Naxos is Parco dell’Etna – home of Mount Etna – making this town a good home base for day trips into the park. The northern part of the park, Piano Provenzano, is the closest to Giardini Naxos and an easy drive up the mountain.
Parco dell’Etna was a must-see stop for us on our holiday in Sicily. Mount Etna is Europe’s highest volcano and one of the world’s most active volcanoes. The park encompasses more than 59,000 hectares and should not be missed when traveling to Sicily.
We spent the day touring the north side and the south side of Etna. We drove from our hotel to the northern Piano Provenzano where we saw the most recent lava fields from the 2002 eruption. Later we would drive around Etna to the southern side to have a look at one of the craters from 1892 and explore around it.
The vegetation on Etna changes with elevation and depending on the side you are on. The northern side had more trees – and different types than the southern side. As you went higher up, you were sometimes in the clouds that move quickly near the summit. The temperature drops the higher you go. The winds pick up. It is a different world altogether at the top than it is at sea level.
There is something for just about everyone at Parco dell’Etna. For the adventurist, there are excursions and hikes designed for those fit enough to endure them. For those unable or unwilling to indulge in that kind of fun, there are things to see that don’t require the level of exertion as some of the long trails. If you are interested in flora and fauna, there is a variety of new types on the slopes of Etna. Photographers will relish the various views and angles one can get at the different levels. Children will enjoy running up the slopes and playing on the hardened lava fields.
Enjoy Etna – but be careful to remember that this is nature in progress. Some areas are strictly off limits for safety reasons – be sure to adhere to these warnings. Be careful with the new vegetation and allow nature to take back what the lava took away.
However you get to Etna and whatever you do while on Etna, you will bring back memories of a wonderful experience.
To read more about our time in Parco dell’Etna, visit my weekend at Mount Etna page.
Naxos was the first place where the Greeks landed on Sicily (hence its Greek name as already said) and in a part of town you will find the archaeological part with some scattered remnants amongst the lemon groves. There is also a lava beach here since the "Alcantara eruption" but as far as Greek history goes, there are more interesting sights on this island.
If you made it to Taormina and your condition is still fine, you could also make it up the rest of the hill to the small village of Castelmola (either by foot or with your rental car!)
Your sweats will be honoured by an unique view down to Taormina and Giardini, as well as to the Etna vulcanoe and the Eolian islands, weather permitting.There are also an old castell and the San Giorgio Church as remarkable sights.
The site below gives all the necessary information about the attractions nearby which can keep you busy during your whole stay in Giardini Naxos. Now that I returned from Sicily I discovered that isolina_it (see http://members.virtualtourist.com/m/fe35/40/a/) also mentions a popular flea market in Giardini Naxos Parcheggio Recanati ("third Saturday and last Sunday of every month, except July and August" -quote). Well, I didn't notice any market activity in Recanati on the last Sunday of May 2007, but I never looked out for it, and moreover, it was raining all that day, but maybe you'll be more lucky and get a chance to buy some local handicrafts there.
Giardini Naxos has two beaches, one is the Recanati Beach and the other is the one in the centre, at the main beachroad, Lungomare.
The one in Recanati is not very nice, and it is getting smaller evvery year, however this is the area where most of the hotels are found. The beach has one or two small "lidos" with sunbeds and shade, but the most part of it is free. It is not the best thing for families because the waves are often high and it gets deep very quickly.
The beach in the centre is a lot bigger, and a lot cleaner. From here you also have a nice view of Taormina and Etna. Dotted with "lidos" and every now and then some space for those who do not whish to rent a sunbed. Well suited for families, the lidos have toilets, showers, restaurants and often sell icecream and cold drinks.
This is the site of first Greek settlement in Sicily.
There is a small museum and a larger park area where excavations have taken place. Unfortunately the information panels in the museum are only in Italian, and some of the information boards are rather tatty and faded, so if your Italian isn't that good, bring a good guidebook (or a smartphone with translation facility at a pinch).
Admission to the park and museum costs 2 euros.