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Underrated Messina sits on a curved harbour at the northernmost point of Sicily's Ionian Coast, a few kilometres from the Italian mainland. A major transport hub for centuries, it remains an important gateway to and from the island.

While a devastating earthquake in 1908 razed many of Messina's historic monuments, it allowed the city to re-emerge with a distinctly Belle Époque air. Wide boulevards and lower-rise, turn-of-the-century buildings exude a sense of space and calm missing from other major Sicilian cities. And though the city's cultural cachet doesn't quite match that of its more coveted rivals, it does claim one of Sicily's finest cathedrals and an outstanding regional museum, not to mention swordfish and granita celebrated by connoisseurs across the island.

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