Riviera Dei Ciclopi
Extending north of Catania, the Riviera dei Ciclopi is an attractive stretch of coastline that makes a good, value-for-money alternative to Taormina. 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.
The main town on the Riviera, Acireale is set on a series of lava terraces that drop to the sea about 17km north of Catania. Although it's not exactly undiscovered, it remains largely tourist free, which is a mystery because it's a great-looking town with a stately baroque centre and a number of imposing public buildings.
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.
A few kilometres south of Acireale, Aci Trezza is a small fishing village with 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.
Sandwiched between the Peloritani mountains and the sea, the SS114 hugs the coast as it heads south towards Taormina. It's a slow drive, past never-ending towns that merge one into another, but with the sparkling blue sea to keep you company it's not unpleasant. (You can cover the same ground much more quickly on the elevated A18 autostrada.
Marking the beginning, or end, of the Riviera dei Ciclopi, Aci Castello is only 9km from Catania's city centre, making it an easy day trip from the city, even by public transport (take bus 534 from Piazza Borsellino). There's swimming and sunbathing off the volcanic rocks, otherwise the main attraction is the castello set atop a vast black rock.
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 hangout and pretty setting for a fish dinner.