Friday, 16 May 2014

Interbus (Etna Transporti)

Taormina to Recanati, Sicily
Sunday May 4th 2014

Once a bus user, always a bus user.
This must be one of Europe’s more scenic routes.

Sicily is surprisingly hilly/mountainous and so was this bus route. It runs about once an hour to a time-table from the bus station just below the (largely) pedestrianised  town of Taormina.

The story behind Taormina is that the original Ancient Greek residents of Naxos, cosily situated down by the port on a lovely wide bay on the East Coast of Sicily, took the wrong side in a big battle between the cities of Athens and Syracuse so the winners, Syracuse, destroyed their fishing/trading town down by the sea. Not too beaten down, they headed up to a rock which was more easily defensible and settled in what is now Taormina, a very popular tourist destination for visitors to Sicily. Taormina has narrow streets, city gates at either end of a main drag and a large Greek Theatre so any buses have to stop short of the Messina Gate.   The rock that is Taormina is about 800metres high so the bus needs to descend very steeply….which is the fun part.

There is a kiosk at the bus station where they happily went on selling tickets well beyond the capacity of the single decker bus, so it was a case of first come first served, and some disgruntled would-be passengers booted off.

The slowest part of the bus trip is the initial descent from hill top Taormina via several spectacular hairpin bends down to beach and sea level.  The bus uses the road marked as SP10 on this map… If you crane your neck from the bus you can just about see up the steep rock face you have just descended. (on the non-cliff edge side is a Byzantine Necropolis) 

Once down on the level the bus speeds up a little – obviously there were few stops on the descent save for one in a ‘pull-off’ by the aptly-named Belvedere, from where you can descend on foot. [You walk down a series of 750ish steps which bring you to a beach with a short causeway (roll up trousers and wade at low tide) across to Isola Bella, a small island now a nature reserve belonging to Sicily.  It had been previously in private hands including a  rich English woman who planted her villa garden there with many imported exotic plants which did well in the mild climate.] The bus stops are a bit difficult to spot as more often than not sponsored, quite often by an underwear firm. London bus shelters sport often changing adverts but the stops themselves remain sacrosanct.

The next landmark, where a good number of passengers got off, was the railway station for Giardini Naxos/Taormina – the station itself is a very pretty Art Nouveau Building with splendid lamps and offers a service to Italy (train trundles on a ferry over the straits of Messina) in one direction and back to Catania the other way. Mainly the train runs on time.

The route continues round the bay of Naxos – unfortunately the bus takes a less scenic road round the back of Giardini Naxos, leaving the seaside route for commerce and strolling pedestrians. Giardini Naxos used to be a fishing village set amongst Lemon Groves; however tourists are now the main cash crop. Having said that the promenade is very pleasant; the rental flats and hotels are in the main low rise with a splendid range of restaurants at street level, these interspersed with those shops you only find at the seaside selling flip-flops, plastic balls and sun-hats.  On the other side is a modest beach and the sparkling Ionian Sea.

Reconati is further west along the Bay of Naxos and is really a continuation of the resort with the additional bonus of the roadside Archeological Park – more park than ruins and beautifully overgrown with a view of snow capped Mount Etna in the background.

After 30 minutes or so the bus comes to a halt behind Reconati main street – an end to end journey spectacular in either direction and at 1.90 Euros per adult single journey (3 Euros return) for a trip involving the kind of bend negotiating that you would not like to undertake in a larger vehicle a true bargain. 

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