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Tyndaris

At Capo Tindari, approximately 62km (38.5 miles) from Messina, stand the ruins of Tyndaris, on a lonely, rocky promontory overlooking Golfo di Patti. It was known to the ancients since it was founded by Dionysius the Elder in 396 B.C. after a victory over the Carthaginians. For a long time it formed a protective union with its ally, Syracuse, until that eastern Sicilian city fell to the Romans in 256 B.C. Tyndaris has had a rough time of it: It was partially destroyed by a landslide in the 1st century A.D., and then suffered an earthquake in A.D. 365. The Arabs in the 10th century were particularly vicious in destroying its buildings.

The view  alone is almost reason enough to go; it stretches from Milazzo in the east to Capo Calavà in the west. On a clear day, there are stunning vistas of the Aeolian Islands, with Vulcano the nearest.

The most serious excavations of the site began after World War II, although digs were launched much less successfully in the 19th century. Most of the ruins you see today date from the Roman Empire, including the basilica, the exact function of which remains unknown. Just beyond the basilica is a Roman villa, which is in rather good condition (you can still see the original mosaics on the floor). Cut into a hill at the end of town is a wide theater, built by the Greeks in the late 4th century B.C. The Insula Romana contains the ruins of baths, patrician villas with fragments of mosaics, and what may have been taverns or drinking halls. Beyond the entrance to the site on the left is a small display of dug-up artifacts. You can also see the ruins of defensive walls constructed during the dreadful reign of Dionysius.

The ruins are open daily from 9am until 1 hour before sunset. Admission, including the theatre, is 4€ for adults, 2€ for adults aged 18 to 25, and free for children 17 and under, and adults 65 and over, coming from the EU, Canada, and Australia. For information on the archaeological area, call tel. 0941-675184.

The site is also a place of pilgrimage for the devout who flock to the Santuario di Tindari (tel. 0941-369167), which contains a Byzantine Black Virgin, or the Madonna Nera. Legend has it that this Madonna washed up on the shores of Tyndaris centuries ago. The sanctuary is open Monday to Friday 6:45am to 12:30pm and 2:30 to 7pm, Saturday and Sunday 6:45am to 12:30pm and 2:30 to 8pm. Admission is free.

Getting There -- Four trains (tel. 892021; www.trenitalia.it) daily on the Messina-Palermo line stop at the station at Oliveri-Tindari costing 4.95€ one way. Journey time: 1 hour. If you're driving from Messina, head west along the main coastal routes (A20/SS113) for 62km (38.5 miles), exiting at Falcone. A small tourist office (tel. 0941-369184), at the site at Via Teatro Greco, is open Monday to Friday 9am to 1pm and 3 to 7pm, Saturday 9am to 1pm.

Santo Stefano di Camastra

Lying at 128km/79.5 miles west of Messina, Santo Stefano di Camastra is one of the cities in Sicily well-known for its ceramic art, an industry that grew here because the area in the hinterlands is said to have some of the best clay in Sicily. The town also commands some outstanding views of the Aeolian Islands.

Once you enter the town, you'll see dozens of vendors hawking ceramics and pottery. If the many choices overwhelm you, head for the shop I've found the most reliable over the years: Ceramiche Franco, Via Nazionale 8 (tel. 0921-337222). Craftsmanship and skill go into the Franco family's ceramics, which are inspired by various artistic movements in Italy, especially the Renaissance and the baroque. Hours are Monday to Saturday 9am to 7:30pm.

Before buying anything, familiarize yourself with the area's artisanal creations by visiting the Museo della Ceramica, Via Palazzo (tel. 0921-331110), in the heart of town in the Palazzo Trabia. The restored palace itself is a thing of beauty, especially its tiled floors, antique furnishings (mainly from the 1700s), and beautifully frescoed ceilings. You'll learn how varied ceramics can be and the technique and skills that go into making them. It's open from May to September, Tuesday to Sunday 9am to 1pm and 4 to 8pm; and from October to April, Tuesday to Sunday 9am to 1pm and 3:30 to 7:30pm. Admission is free.

Getting There -- Hourly trains (tel. 892021; www.trenitalia.it) depart daily from Messina, at a cost of 7.95€, taking roughly 1 hour. From Messina by car, take the A20 autostrada which becomes the SS113 on its approach to Santo Stefano. Journey time: 45 minutes.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.