Nature also one of this area's biggest highlights, extraordinary under a limpid sky and sitting above marine depths where another world waits to be explored. So much like a kaleidoscope of hues, the sea changes from nocturnal blue to crystalline defined by slight blue veins.
One of the marvels of this sea? The Aeolian Islands: Lipari, Panarea, Salina, Stromboli, Vulcano, Filicudi and Alicudi are the seven pearls scattered over the waters facing Messina. All of volcanic origin, each contains its individual beauty and historical identity; together, they have been proclaimed a World Heritage Site.
As in the past, Messina is the main portal to Sicily. Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Normans and Swabians landed on its coasts and had a heavy influence on culture here and throughout the Island.
By exploring the small provincial towns, one can discover precious works of art in its churches and palaces, and important traces of great and faraway civilizations.
Local traditions narrate the history of the local people, as do the ancient flavors that have endured to the present.
Once having crossed the Strait to get to to Sicily, we disembark at the port of Messina, right in the heart and pulse of the city.
More modern buildings have invaded the entire urban layout, but some traces of its glorious past have remained.
The facade of the Cathedral, or Duomo, features polychromatic bands on its lower end, which are interrupted by three entrance portals.
Two main works kept in the church are the statue of St. John the Baptist, attributed to Antonello Gagini, and the Sacrament Chapel, created by Jacopo del Duca, a student of Michelangelo.
On the lateral bell tower, a mechanical clock shows the time through its panels arranged on the four facades.
The 16th-Century Orione Fountain stands in the center of the piazza, and was completed by Giovanni Angelo Montorsoli, another of Michelangelo's students.
The Regional Museum offers a very interesting artistic itinerary via its Pinacoteca or Painting Gallery, exhibiting precious works: the “Polyptych of St. Gregory” by Antonello da Messina, the “Adoration of the Three Holy Kings” and the “Resurrection of Lazarus” by Caravaggio.
Finally, take a look inside the The Church of the Santissima Annunziata (Holy Annunciation) dei Catalani, erected between 1150 and 1200 on the remains of a pagan temple to the god Neptune.
Messina Province, of course, is awash in the Tyrrhenian and Ionian Seas.
Both coastal strips are punctuated by gracious localities, which, beyond their natural beauty, offer interesting historical and artistic traces.
Above all, Taormina, dramatically perched on a precipice (and with a great view of Etna in one direction), is a sheer drop to the sea. Very steep and rocky, its coast is full of small bays colored by a lush maquis and all the blues of the sea.
Taormina is considered the “Lady” of the Ionic Coast, port of destination for celebrities and illustrious personages.
The Ancient Theatre, one of the greatest of the Greek-Roman epoch, is immersed in an expanse of olives, oranges and almond groves that fill the air with their exotic perfumes.
Behind the theatrical stage, the scene opens up to the moon and stars that capture one's gaze as reflect their light over the dark sea. Tiny art gems can be found in the alleys of its ancient quarter.
The Piazza Duomo, embellished by the Fountain of Montorsoli, highlights an ancient Cathedral, the exterior design of which recalls the lines of a fortress, graced by a splendid 17th-century portal.
Behind the Church of Santa Caterina, we find the Odeon, a another (tiny) theatre from the Roman era, now used for cultural events.
The active volcano Mt. Etna, dominates over the landscape and reveals a vegetation interrupted by trails of black, solidified lava flows. Caves and different environments alternate along its slopes; traverse them in order to reach the peak, where a great “mouth of fire” awaits.
The Tyrrhenian Coast is marked by the Golfo di Patti, named after the community, boasting a well-equipped beach resort.
The Aeolian Isles, above Messina's northern coast, are an obligatory stopover for those in the area.
A sequence of colors meets the eye, that is a mosaic of tiles of the most varied hues, with shades of the sea framing it all around.
And as if to confirm Mother Nature’s own artistic gifts, it is well-known that the Aeolians were crafted by the volcanoes that, though destructive on one hand, have created masterpieces of incomparable beauty on the other.
Panarea is the heart of local nightlife, whereas Stromboli is the height of natural force, with its incandescent flames that compete with the moon’s brightness to illuminate the night. Vulcano is the archipelago’s black pearl, while Lipari is referred to as the “lighthouse” for the light irradiating from its mountain. Salina, then, is the land of flavors and fragrances, whereas Filicudi and Alicudi are the most solitary and the most wild.
The Province of Messina, in the northeastern corner of the Island of Sicily, sits on two different seas, each in their own right a chest of natural treasures.
Excursions over land and sea allow for the discovery of every corner and angle of the Aeolian Islands, rich in beaches and tiny coves where one can stop to explore, even if just for a few hours.
One definite must is Pollara Beach on the island of Salina; Pollara was the result of a crater formed by the six volcanoes making up Salina, around 13,000 years ago.
Here, one can take a hot bath of mud and saltwater that forms from the fumaroles (lava and gas emissions) of nearby Vulcano Island.
Those arriving with a boat can circumnavigate the coasts and enjoy the spectacular natural hollows and giant boulders, rocks and mounds that surround the islands' shores.
The Aeolian Archipelago is a true paradise for trekkers. Hiking trails go on forever here, and take hikers on a journey of landscapes, putting the islands' diverse beauty on full display.
Lava deposits are a work of art in themselves, having been shaped by flowing seawater to create a splendid show of Mother Nature's talent for special effects.
Indescribable colors and suffused rays of light become an intense chiaroscuro that combines with the rich island vegetation and the shadows of the deep sea floor. Colors that range from white to stone and black pumice put in play a seemingly-infinite merry-go-round of marvels and delights.
In a moment when you might think you have seen all that the islands have to offer, an ancient relict or an anomaly of nature just might surprise you, rendering your journey ever more fascinating. After all, the Aeolians are considered one of the best places in the world for scuba-diving!
Birdwatchers, too, will find that the Aeolians are a dream destination for their interests. During the hottest months, pelicans, red herons, grey parrots, wild geese, cormorants, flamingoes and quails make their transits in the skies above. This is also an ideal locality to watch for diverse species of falcon, such as the Mediterranean falcon and the cuckoo.
Another excellent site for spotting rare, winged creatures is the Regional Park of Nebrodi; in Italian, this park is known as the "lungs" of Sicily, so-called because of its vegetation and monumentally-high trees. This is where Sicily breathes!
In spring, the park's numerous peaks, cliffs and valleys bloom in the colors and scents of the Mediterranean, and numerous small, very-blue lakes alternate with bounteous woods.
Those looking for an even cooler gulp of water can head to the Gole di Alcantara, made up of gorges and ravines that run with the cold waters from the river of the same name.
Nature has much to offer in Sicily, as do its people, who have preserved their very unique artistic and artisan traditions over the centuries. Handmade lace, reed and bulrush baskets, stone and cast-iron objects, colorful mats and carpets made with antique looms, and valuable ceramics are all for the taking, and are great ways to bring a part of Sicily back home with after your trip has ended.
The principal ingredient of local cuisine is obviously fish: fried or baked, baked in foil, or grilled. The preparation can vary, but what matters most is its freshness.
Swordfish from the Messina Strait is particularly delicious and is cooked in a thousand (all equally-appetizing) ways. Fish, crustaceans and mussels make a sumptuous soup and are a condiment for rice recipes and spaghetti baked in foil.
Vegetables and fruits are other outstanding components of Messinese cooking. The caponata eggplants with parmesan and potato fries are three of the best local dishes prepared with the flavorful products of this land.
Meat is never lacking, especially goat meat or mutton, strictly grilled, making it that much more delicious!
Excellent dairy products highlight the canestrato cheese in sweet or spicy versions, sheep pecorino cheese, provola and cottage cheese, all made according to ancient traditions.
Olive oil, honey, hazelnuts, pistachios and berries are the delicacies particularly linked to this land, especially in the Nebrodi.
Local pastries are the Sicilian classics renowned the world over: cannoli, cassate, almond paste, martorana fruit and the typical Messinese pignolata.
The D.O.C. wines of Etna, the Malvasia di Lipari, and typical citrus liqueurs enhance the great flavors of this land.