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233km (145 miles) E of Palermo, 683km (424 miles) SE of Rome, 469km (291 miles) S of Naples.

Overlooking the Straits of Messina to the wooded Calabrian hills, the city of Messina is the gateway to Sicily by virtue of the fact that only 5km (3 miles) separate it from the Italian mainland. Located on Sicily's easternmost tip, the provincial capital is a thriving industrial port, particularly in the summer when boats make their way back and forth along the Straits. Most visitors pass on seeing the city itself in their haste to reach their final destination, but that's a shame, because the city does offer some treasures, such as the Chiesa SS. Annunziata dei Catalani and the Duomo (cathedral).

It's also a good base to take trips to Santo Stefano Di Camastra, which is famed for its ceramics, and to Tindari to visit the ancient ruins of Tyndaris and the Santuario Maria SS. Madonna del Tindari (Sanctuary of Mary the Holy Madonna of Tindari), with its breathtaking views down to the turquoise blue lagoons and white sands of Marinello beach.

If you can face the crowds, the best time to visit is mid-August, to see the Passegiata dei Giganti (Ride of the Giants) on August 14, when two large statues of the city's mythical founders are paraded through the streets on horseback. A day later, citizens celebrate the Assumption holy day with the "Vara," when they haul a huge litter festooned with papier-mâché figures through the city.