Sicily is a fabulous place to visit if you are interested in history, beautiful landscapes and great food and wine. Accompanied by warm weather even in October (when the crowds are much, much smaller!) and some beautiful beaches and architecture, it is a delight to spend some time relaxing and soaking up the laid back vibe of the island.
Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean and one of the 20 regions of Italy. It has been a melting pot for a variety of different cultures and ethnicities from about 8000 BC which has contributed to the diverse and regional cuisines of the island.
For my first visit we stayed in Taormina on the east coast. The old town, full of restaurants, quirky shops and greek and roman architecture, sits perched on a cliff overlooking the sea, with breathtaking views around every corner. Much as I would love to spend time recommending all the interesting places to visit, this is all about the food, which turned out to be surprisingly vegan friendly.
Here are my recommendations for eating well in Taormina (ordered by how happy I felt whilst I was eating):
La Zagara – my favourite place to eat (we visited twice in a week). The restaurant has a separate vegan menu which includes some typically Sicilian dishes. It is a nicely chilled place just off the main Corso Umberto and on the nights we visited it was busy with both locals and very excited vegan tourists! We ate Caponatina and Pasta Trapanese from the vegan menu (pop over to my recipe section to see my versions of these Sicilian classics). The portion sizes were huge and both dishes packed the flavour in and felt really authentic. Sadly there are no vegan desserts but given the size of the portions, you probably won’t need one.
Ristorante Badia – from the outside this looks like another touristy place, but trust me, head inside and you will find a truly Sicilian restaurant. We visited on a Monday night and it was packed with locals – we had to wait for a table for a short while. The service is exceptional, it feels authentic without being overbearing and has that efficiency that you only get in places that really love what they do. It might not seem that exciting to order pasta pomodoro as your main, but it is absolutely my favourite meal and I will always order it on almost any menu. This one was luscious, with a deep, smoky tomato flavour in the sauce and another huge portion of perfectly cooked al dente pasta. My idea of heaven! We also ordered the potatoes with rosemary as a side dish (not that we really needed it, we just really wanted to try it). With a free shot of limoncello and a sweet mouthful of fruit with the bill, the evening could not be bettered.
La Gelateria – this is a must for any vegan in Taormina. Located on the main Corso Umberto, they offer a selection of soya ice creams which taste exquisite. My Pistachio and Coffee was heavenly. Buy one and eat it in the palazzo a few metres away whilst people watching and enjoying those views.
Mendolina Beach Club – this beachside place is right opposite Isola Bella (make sure you have a paddle across to this tiny island before lunch) so you have wonderful views from their terrace. As it was lunchtime, we opted for what we thought would be a light lunch of a sandwich – but being Sicily, this was an enormous crusty baguette, hollowed out and stuffed with a version of capotina rich with tomatoes and aubergine.
Rosamarino – this restaurant is always cited as the place for vegans to visit in Taormina. Personally, I just felt it lacked the Sicilian flavour punch of some of the other places I ate at. I don’t think it helped that they had cancelled our original booking without explanation the day before and then had no record of our updated booking when we arrived. Anyway, back to the food, I ate the spaghetti with mushrooms, tomatoes, chilli, garlic and black truffle flakes, followed by a lovely zingy orange cake with vegan cream for dessert. For me though, the highlight was the fennel, caper and orange salad that I ordered with the main. It was a pleasant enough meal (with the exception of being shown the catch of the day on arrival) but maybe expectations my were too high.
Hotel Ariston was our base for the week. This 4 star hotel is perfectly located for walking to all the major sites and also to pick up local buses for your daily adventures. It has a terrace bar with those fabulous views again and a small main. pool. The hotel offers a good range of vegan options at breakfast, with a small dedicated vegan/gluten free area. There were plenty of non-dairy alternative milks for tea and cereals, fruit, salads, breads, margarines and some exceptional fresh squeezed orange juice.
PS: One additional worthy mention is the quality of the bread you get with every meal. Rustic and delicious, dip in Sicilian olive oil and enjoy.
Sicily, for me, combined all the things I look for in a holiday – that little bit of luxury whilst discovering a new place. I hope to visit more of the island soon.
A lovely morsel – lunchtime on the beach, and we decided to visit the beachside restaurant by the free beach the locals use rather than the more upmarket restaurants near the tourist beaches. We weren’t disappointed with delicious local wine and olive tapenade and tomato bruschetta, eaten overlooking the sea.
Tip – for affordable luxury, book yourself a lunch at that luxury hotel you can’t quite afford to stay at. You can enjoy the facilities, have some lovely food and drink and have a good snoop about while you’re there. In Taormina, we visited Hotel Villa Angela – on my bucket list due to my longtime love of Simple Minds (Jim Kerr owns it). Sitting on the terrace with a glass of wine and views of Castelmola, Etna and the Ionian sea was the perfect way to spend a lazy afternoon. They even gave us a free lift back to town in their shuttle bus.