Isola Bella

L' Isolabella - - History As a result of article 6, Law 14 of 1988, the Reserve was included in the Parks and Reserves Plan issued by the Sicilian Region in order to preserve and protect its particular value. The Territory and Environment Councillorship entrusted the management of the natural reserve "Isola Bella" to the WWF Italia-ONLUS, the Italian association for the World Wildlife Found, through the Regional Decree number 619/44 of the 4th November 1998, as in 1991 it had been qualified as the Administrating Board. UNESCO took notice of this Reserve: in 1983 it roused the Administrations to include the island in the State Property, as the area was a private property until July 1990, when the Sicilian Region bought it. Looking in its past we can notice, that in 1806 the Isola Bella was a present from Ferdinand I of Bourbon to the City of Taormina, then it was sold to Miss Travelyan for 14.000 liras. She built a small house where she used to spend her days, and she introduced many exotic plants which still constitute an important part of its vegetation. After the death of her son, Miss Trevelyan left the island as heritage to his husband Salvatore Cacciola, teacher and major of Taormina for twenty years. When he died in 1927 he left the island to his unique grandson, the lawyer Cesare Acrosso. But Mr. Acrosso, Don Cesare to use a typical Sicilian expression, didn’t obtain the permit to build a villa on the island, from the Local Administration, so he sold it. Its new owners, Lo Turco, were forbidden to build on it, so the island was abandoned for about fifty years and was used by fishermen. Then, in 1954, it was finally bought by its latest owners, the Bosurgi brothers, they owned Sanderson & Son, a firm processing citrus fruit fragrances, based in Messina with a branch in London, and one in Cuba. Bosurgis were able to transform the island’s destiny: they built their home preserving the landscape and bringing out its environment. When they were living on the island it became a meeting point for celebrities, entrepreneur and shipowners, but after the Sanderson’s bankruptcy the island was put up for auction, and in 1990 it was finally bought by the Sicilian Region. - The Environment - The reserve is along the Ionian Coast of Sicily, halfway between Messina and Catania, within the territory of the City of Taormina. So the well known "pearl of the Ionian Sea" includes the natural foreshortening of this island, and its homonymous bay, which is connected to the mainland by a narrow path of sand constantly shaped by streams and tides. Its continuous changes have always fascinated those watching it from the street that borders the Natural Reserve, or from the height of Taormina’s belvedere; this was mainly the reason why the population asked and obtained the island from Frederic I. This natural balcony leads to the path to reach the reserve from the city centre; this path starts from an altitude of 166 meters above sea level and follows the natural slopes of Mount Tauro. Visitors reach the coastal main road through stairs and tracks, where they can find the last 134 steps of the entrance to the reserve. The natural reserve can be visited all year long thanks to the Mediterranean weather, as there are only a few weeks, in December and January, with bad weather conditions and temperatures under 10°C. As a matter of fact, some people dare bathe in the sea even in the chilly months of February or November, horrifying those that feel the cold very much. In any case, the best periods to visit the reserve are spring, with its flourishing of colours, and the end of summer after the first rains, when the temperature and sun can be enjoyed. Once you get on the beach, near the isthmus, you have a wonderful view of the bay nested between the high walls of two cliffs. The northern one, Capo Sant’Andrea with its well known Blue Grotto, shelters the bay from north-east winds; the southern one, Capo Taormina with its charming stacks, screens it from west winds. According to the season, both cliffs can be seen as a painter’s palette: the first one gets lightened by the warm colours of sunset, while the sun rises behind the second one. - The flora - The island has a very unusual flora for a natural reserve, especially in the "A" zone, as in. addition to the spontaneous Mediterranean vegetation there are also some exotic plants, such as the giant strelitzia, Strelitzia augusta; the dragon-tree, Dracena draco; the Cycas, Cycas revolute; in any case, all these plants are from countries with a Mediterranean climate, so the island offers them the island offers them the suitable conditions to grow luxuriantly and even take the place of the original plants as the mastic tree, Pistacea lentiscus; the arboreal euphorbia, Euphorbia dendroides; ; and the alaternus, Rhamnus alaternus; this substitution took place for an aesthetic reason. Part of the Capo Sant’Andrea was reforested by the Corps of Foresters. Nevertheless many of the species in the reserve are very important, especially those growing on the crags, where anthropic interventions are particularly difficult. There we have several rare species, and even some indigenous species such as the white kale, Brassica incana; the Ionian lemon, Limonium ionicum; and Taormina’s bluebottle, Centaurea tauromenitana. - The Fauna - The area hosts many kinds of birds, some of them live there for the whole year, some others for few months, while others only stay there for a couple of days during their migrations. The most populated areas are the crags and the cliffs of the capes. Birds living in these places are mainly sea birds such as the herring gull, Larus argentatus; tha audouin’s gull, Laurus audouinii; the kingfisher, Alcedo atthis, and several birds that generally live on rocky walls like the peregrine falcon, Falco peregrinus; the blue rock-thrush, Monticola solitarius; the alpine swift, Apus melba. Even if the bay is often crowded we can still find some interesting bird species such as the little grebe, Tachybaptus rucicollis; the cormorant, Phalacrocorax carbo; and the grey heron, Ardea cinirea. These latter, unlike the others, briefly stop along the coast during hunting. The arboreal and shrubby vegetation shelters hundreds of birds such as: the roller, Coracias garrulous; the hoopoe, Upupa epops; and the little owl, Athene noctua; or smaller birds such as: the goldfinch, Carduelis carduelis; the white wagtail, Motacilla alba alba; and the blue tit, Parrus caeruleus. There are many reptiles and insects; in particular there’s a particular kind of lizard on the island, with a very colourful skin, its venter is red and can be darker or lighter according to the season. Some studies identify it as a native species, Podarcis sicula medemi, but since these studies are quite old it would be necessary to verify this statement. - The sea - The sea is not included in the field of the reserve’s administration, even if it constitutes one of its essential parts. It hosts thousands of colourful organisms, such as seaweeds that enrich the shoal, sheltering and feeding many creatures. Looking under the sea surface one can meet many interesting species, at a depth of a few centimetres there are many small animals, like crustaceans, molluscs and reef fish, looking for food among the seaweeds. Using a mask and flippers one can only has to go a few metres deep in order to admire the astonishing dance of groups of fish, with their bright colours reflecting the sun beams. Going a little bit deeper, there is less vegetation as there is less sun light; in this case one should look in the cavities or in the shadows, where there are many bigger fish and molluscs guarding their dens or waiting for prey. Then, running out of oxygen we would be obliged to go up again, but reaching the surface we can still observe, thanks to the increasing light, all the small creatures dragged by the currents, these are generally transparent or with iridescent colours. - Main activities and services - The Administrating Board has been working on the territory since August 1999. Its staff includes a Park Director and two foresters. These latter are constantly supervising the area, enforcing the Reserve Rules and the ordinances issued by local authorities, constantly monitoring the activities taking place within the Natural Reserve, with the cooperation of the Police Force. The Administrating Board coordinates and implements the scientific research in the area, in order to deepen its knowledge, and to exploit its naturalistic attractions, through preservation interventions. Together with local authorities, the Administrating Board is involved in environment reclamation activities, and in promoting the information about the natural heritage of the Reserve. The Administrating Board is in charge of the guided tours on the island, these are available for small groups all year long, on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday, at 9.30 a.m. and 4.00 p.m., it is necessary to book the tour; the snorkelling and watching activities take place on weekends from June to September. - How to reach the Reserve - By car, from Messina or Catania take the motorway A18 to Taormina, turn right following the signs to Taormina Mare, then take the main road SS114 towards Mazzarò, where at the km 47,2 there is the entrance to the Reserve. On foot, from Taormina take the cableway from Via Pirandello of Mazzarò, then go to the right, along the main road, and walk for about 200 metres. Otherwise you can keep going down Via Pirandello to the "Isola Bella" belvedere where you will find the path leading to the entrance of the Reserve. By train, from Messina or Catania to the train station "Taormina-Giardini Naxos", go to the right along the main road SS114, towards Taormina, keep walking for a few hundred metres after cross-section to Taormina, at the km 47,2 there is the entrance to the Reserve. By bus, from Catania to the Capo Taormina stop, go towards Mazzarò along the main road SS114 for about a kilometre and you will arrive at the entrance. By plane, to Catania’s airport, then take the car, bus or train.