Taranto to Messina by bus (Onbus / Autolinea Scoppio)
After six weeks and three longer journeys in the country I think I have the hang of the Italian bus network. It seems like each route is awarded to one company, usually one company has a whole region. Sometimes the train company (trenitalia or FSE in the Southeast) will also run busses.
That meant that when it came to moving on from Puglia (the heel of the boot) to Sicily (the large island in the Southwest which the boot seems to be kicking) it wasn’t so much about choosing a company but finding it.
If you wanted to you could get a train via Bari and Neapel. But connections are complicated, with 3 and more changes. And booked at short notice tickets cost around €60 from Taranto to Taormina. I was told, though, that if you book at least two weeks in advance national train tickets in Italy are about half the usual price.
So I investigated the bus and found Onbus (or Scoppio) which operates a service between Brindisi and Messina. There are busses twice a day: one in the morning, arriving in Messina in the afternoon, and one overnight, arriving in Messina at 4:40 in the morning. Usually they run several vehicles. So getting a seat even at short notice shouldn’t be a problem.
Going from Brindisi (or Bari) costs €34.50. But if you go from Taranto the online price is only €23.50.
Nobrainer for me which one I’d chose — going later, on the same bus, for two thirds of the price.
If you are not lucky enough to have somebody take you to Taranto, the city is quite well served by busses from Ostuni, Martina Franca and other places around that part of Puglia.
The Taranto bus terminal, Porto Mercantile, is not far from the train station: just turn left after the bridge coming from the old town island.
Right after Taranto the bus stops for a 25 minute breakfast. There are a handful more stops along the coast in Basilicata, and then a lunch break before the bus finally arrives at the ferry in San Giovanni. It is a picturesque ride, between the coast and the Calabrian mountains, passing olive groves, villages and castles on mountain tops, tunnels and breathtaking viaducts.
On the short crossing through the Strait of Messina you can leave the bus and enjoy the view. Though you’d be hard pressed to see Etna.
The bus drops its passengers in the main bus terminal right by Messina Centrale train station. From there Onbus runs also to Palermo.
Messina to Taormina by train (trenitalia)
other option: by bus (Interbus)
But I had a WorkAway gig in Taormina. And I had been told that there was an hourly bus.
Turned out there wasn’t. Anymore. My bus had arrived at 4 instead of 3:20pm, and the last bus towards Catania, passing through Taormina, had left at 3:40pm.
The guy in the Interbus office (at the back end of the parking lot next to which the Puglia bus stops) wasn’t very sympathetic to my cause of having to go to Taormina today, and kept pointing me to the first bus tomorrow. So I stomped back to the train station which I had already encircled once looking for the bus. There the lady at the counter was confident that, 60L backpack and all, it would be an easy stroll from the Taormina-Gardini train station to Isolabella, Taormina. I gave her €3.95 and 10 minutes later was on the train.
I got a bit anxious along the way as there was neither a list of stops on the train nor any announcements about the next stop. But finally, almost an hour later, I stepped out onto the platform of this marvelous, beautifully restored early 20th century train station that lies a bit closer to Gardini(-Naxos) than Taormina.
Moving along the Sicilian east coast
Had I known that it is, in fact more than 2 kilometers to walk to Isolabella and Mazzaró, the part of Taormina right by the beach, 200m almost sheer drop from the actual village, I would have taken the bus that stops right outside the train station.
Interbus (or Etna Transporti as it is called here) runs a rather tight network of busses along the coast between Messina and Catania, and, of course, a lot more frequently, up and down the mountain between Taormina and the beach.
But I walked instead. And then up about 150m of steps until I arrived at the Residencia Terra Rossa. Welcome to Sicily!