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Sicily experts – help me plan my journey

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Hello everyone, gosh it's been YEARS since I posted for help on here.

I'm planning a June trip to my holiday home in Puglia but am in the early stages of planning a trip to Sicily first, mainly because my partner is desperate to go there. Having explored all travel options from London–Sicily–Puglia, I've decided to take the plunge and fly to Palermo, then spend 7-9 days driving my way up to Puglia (near Brindisi, specifically). I will have 14-20 days for this trip in total, but want to spend at least 5 days at the end of the trip in Puglia.

I don't want a crazy sightseeing trip involving multiple hotel changes, and it's very important we have some relaxation/beach time along the way (my partner gets a bit twitchy if I drag her into too many churches ;-) . Having said that, I certainly want to do some sightseeing as my only other visit to Sicily (to Cefalu) involved eating and sunbathing and not much else!

My current plan – and it's really the middle bit I need help with here – is:

Day 1: Fly London-Palermo
Taxi/bus into Palermo, stay 2 nights
Day 3: Pick up hire car and speed across country (stopping somewhere en route for lunch - any suggestions?)
Arrive somewhere on the east coast for 4 nights which allows beach time, good food, walking from hotel to restaurants in town in the evening (so no country hotels), good base for sightseeing (with the car). I'm hovering over Taormina, although have reservations (poor beach, a bit too glitzy, overpriced food?). I'd love any alternative suggestions.
Day 7: Drive across to Calabria, stopping for 2/3 nights for a journey break in Tropea.
Day 9/10: Full speed across country to Puglia (I'm happy for this to be a purely travel day).

So, can anyone help with the middle portion – a good base for the east coast?

Thanking you in advance!

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