I Visited the Island Where ‘White Lotus’ Was Filmed — This Is What They Got Wrong
Earlier this year, before anyone knew what absolutely delicious content was yet to come on season two of The White Lotus, I took a trip to Sicily and spent a few days in the resort town of Taormina, where the season is set. We had no idea of this at the time.
About six minutes into the first episode of White Lotus season two, we’re introduced to Lucia and Mia, the two sex workers and Italian principessas of the season. They’re walking down the main shopping strip of Taormina, though I didn’t immediately recognise it. In fact, it took me a few episodes to even realise the show was set in Taormina. It seemed like it could be anywhere beautiful in Sicily.
That’s the thing about Taormina. As one of the most popular places in Sicily for people with money to go on holiday — for literally centuries — it gives a very Hollywood version of Italy.
Given that the entire concept of The White Lotus is storylines based within the walls of an expensive resort hotel, it makes sense that you don’t get a tour around the island of Taormina itself.
Undoubtedly, with the show’s success, Taormina is bound to get even busier next tourist season. So, if you’re among the many planning a trip to Taormina, I thought I’d share the four things the show doesn’t tell you about it so you can be prepared.
It’s Hard to Get Around
Taormina is located halfway up a mountain, which you can only get to by bus or car. Renting a car in Italy is incredibly hard (and expensive) to do, so we relied on the bus, which was never on time, doesn’t wait for anyone and rarely has air conditioning.
Also, if you’re not staying in an expensive hotel or resort (we stayed in an Airbnb), expect that it may be tricky to get to your accommodation. Most of the boutique options are tucked away — down steep, winding laneways and streets that normal cars can’t actually get down. This means you can’t Uber, and it’s too steep to ride a bike or scooter, so there’s no option but to walk.
Honestly, walking is a vibe when on holiday and catching public transport in a foreign country is always an interesting experience, so I can’t complain. I will say, however, that when it’s very hot and you’re very hungover, walking up steep hills is not super enjoyable. Just get yourself some shoes that don’t give you blisters and a big bottle of cold water.
It’s a Very Popular Wedding Destination
One night, when my friend and I were sitting in the Piazza IX Aprile — which has panoramic views of the ocean and mountains — sipping on an Aperol Spritz, we counted seven brides. Yep, SEVEN. Not to mention that while we were there, we witnessed upwards of four wedding parties, a “Just Married” Fiat driving through the main shopping street and one down-on-one-knee proposal.
There are heaps of churches in Taormina, which give it a village feel, but it also has 5-star views, expensive restaurants and streets of designer shops. There are also lots of amazing Chateaus and historic hotels that double as incredible wedding venues for the rich and famous. We may or may not have momentarily crashed a wedding reception because we thought it was a bar, complete with perfectly trimmed hedges, wait staff in penguin suits and men in linen, smoking cigars. If you were to imagine a celebrity wedding in Italy, it was basically that.
One thing I loved about the weddings we saw in Taormina, is that it seems pretty standard for the bride and groom to walk around the main city streets, either taking candid photos with their flamboyant Italian photographer, or just generally parading around their new titles. One bride and groom we saw, were literally wandering around Piazza IX Aprile, hand-in-hand, with people coming up to them left, right and centre giving them kisses and saying congratulations. Nonnas they’ve never met, little kids wanting photos… it was like a full-on spectacle; and I appreciated that. If I ever get married, I want strangers to swoon that hard.
It might’ve also had something to do with the fact that she was wearing a gown that was covered in Swavroski crystals. She was hard to miss.
It Has a Famous Ancient Amphitheatre
While it wasn’t mentioned in The White Lotus, Taormina’s Greek-Roman Theatre is the main tourist attraction and the reason people have been visiting the Sicilian town for centuries.
Named the Greek Theatre of Taormina, the ancient amphitheatre was built by the Greeks around the third century, BC. It was later expanded by the Romans who added columns and statues.
Not only is the theatre still in use, with some of the world’s best orchestras, ballets and theatre companies performing on its stage, but it’s also the second-largest theatre in Sicily and one of the world’s most admired. It looks out onto the Calabrian Coast, the Ionian Coast of Sicily and the spectacular cone of Etna.
It Has Heaps of Greek Influence
While much of Taormina is very Italian, with Sicilian arancini served at restaurans, Italian buskers lining the main shopping street and Aperol Spritzes a-plenty, Taormina also offers up a lot of Greek culture. Many of the restaurants lining the ocean-front serve up Greek food, and many of the cafes offer Greek coffee and cakes.
Historians have confirmed that Taormina was founded by Greeks around the same time they discovered Naxos (circa 734BC). When the Romans won the First Punic War (212 BC), they took over Taormina. It’s always been an in-demand destination for the rich and beautiful people, as well as artists and writers like Truman Capote, Oscar Wilde and D.H Lawrence — only adding to its romance and beauty. Apparently, the Romans and Greeks fought over the island because it was such a beautiful, restful place.
This shared history means that the food offerings span across both Greek and Italian, as does the architecture. So, aside from the fact a visit to Taormina can see you reliving the glory of White Lotus season 2, the town itself has plenty else to offer too.