Just a few kilometres from the Italian mainland, Messina sits on a curved harbour at the northernmost point of Sicily's Ionian Coast. For centuries it has been a major transport hub and today it's an important gateway to and from the island. First impressions aren't especially flattering.
Riviera Dei Ciclopi
Extending north of Catania, the Riviera dei Ciclopi is an attractive stretch of coastline that draws no shortage of beach-seeking catanesi (Catanians). Until quite recently it was a desperately poor area of isolated fishing villages, but tourism has given it a much needed impetus and it is now a lively summer stomping ground.
A few kilometres south of Acireale, the small fishing village of Aci Trezza has a lively seafront and a number of good restaurants. Offshore, a series of surreal, jagged basalt rocks, the Scogli dei Ciclopi, rise out of the sea. These are the mythical missiles that the blinded Cyclops, Polyphemus (who lived in Etna), is supposed to have thrown at the fleeing Odysseus.
The unpretentious resort of Giardini-Naxos is a popular alternative to more expensive Taormina. Action is centred on a long parade of hotels, bars, pizzerias and souvenir shops strung along the beach. It heaves in summer but outside of the high season (Easter to October) there's nothing going on and you won't miss much if you pass it by.
Hidden away in the hills above Santa Teresa di Riva, Savoca is a tiny village with Hollywood credentials. Francis Ford Coppola filmed part of The Godfather here, the village standing in for Corleone. One of the locations used was Bar Vitelli, a rickety bar near the village entrance.
Marking the beginning, or end, of the Riviera dei Ciclopi, the small town of Aci Castello lies 9km from central Catania, making it an easy day trip from the city, even by public transport. Swim off and tan on the volcanic rocks, otherwise, the main attraction is the castello set atop an immense black rock.
Punta del Faro
From Messina the coast curves around to Sicily's most northeasterly point, Punta del Faro (also called Capo Peloro), just 3km across the water from the Italian mainland. South of the cape is the lakeside town of Ganzirri, a popular summer hang-out and pretty setting for a fish dinner.