As per my post back in December 2015, my main goal for 2016 was to explore the South of Italy!
Finally, I made it also to Sicilia (Sicily) – the beautiful Italian sun kissed island (largest in Europe), located in the south of Il Bel Paese.
Sicily was a very sought after piece of land, therefore, constantly changing hands (the Greeks, the Arabs and the Spanish to name a few) before and after the fall of the Roman Empire.
The long, battled, history of Sicily seeps through every pore of this gorgeous land. As a result, the architecture, the food and the day to day customs of the locals reflect its history.
Catania has been referred to as, the Milan of the South, for it is one of the economic leaders of Southern Italy.
Arriving in Catania
When I first got to Catania, I was not very impressed, very much like my first trip to Milan :D. My trip started off terribly when the Europcar I had booked (via RentalCars.com) was not given to me (long story).
As a result, all my plans had to change and I needed to get ready to visit everything via public transport (insert scary music here!).
So after the initial stress, I caught the cab (15.00EUR from the airport to the hotel) to my hotel and that is when the holiday really started!
I was greeted by the super friendly Ribella, receptionist at 8MOOD Catania Centro (email@example.com).
I checked myself in and then started the ‘interrogation’ of Ribella, on how I was going to complete Sicily in 5 days, using public transport.
Not only did I get my next 3 days planned to perfection, thanks to Ribella’s help, but I got my Etna Tour booked and could finally go out and enjoy Catania by night (after 6+ hours at the Catania Airport at Europcar)!
I would highly recommend 8MOOD Catania Centro, as it is within walking distance to the various sights of the city and the rooms are modern, spacious and most importantly, clean!
What is the City Like?
At first glance, it reminded me a little of Naples – beautiful but still somewhat a diamond in the rough.
However, you can see things are changing. The buses to reach various parts of the city work, the international airport and it’s proximity to Syracuse, Taormina and Etna, make this a great city to use as a hub for the East coast of Sicily.
Note that the room prices were actually cheaper in Catania than Syracuse and Taormina. The trips are not long and are only 2.5 and 1 hour respectively, by bus.
Six top Highlights
1. The Arancini
First of all, I am not just writing about the food in general, I loved the Arancini! In every city I stopped, an Arancino was had (except in Taormina).
2. The architecture
I guess you could say this about any city in Italy but there is something about the South of Italy, when it comes to architecture, that really blows you away.
3. The Ancient Roman Theatre
Everyone will tell you of the Teatro Romano of Taormina but nearly no-one, except the locals, will tell you of the various ancient theatres that are found in the city.
I got to the Teatro Romano e Odeon di Catania and it was 6.00EUR entry and a good ‘spare of the moment’ thing to do.
Another food based item, this time it is the Granita.
In the 36 degree heat I was facing, a typical Sicilian granita was always welcome! In fact, I only had granitas while in Catania!
5. The Wines!
My trip through Sicily was an eye opener in regards to the wines of the island.
Almost all the wines tried were great (fresh, dry, minerally, with a hint of exotic fruits), with the most noteworthy grape variety being Carricante.
This grape is a dry, particularly dry and characterized by high acidity. Definitely a well balanced wine.
My favourite being the Etna Bianco Doc by Petra Lava. Great wine to pair with any local dishes!
6. That Southern Feel
You just know when you are in the South of Italy. The air is different, the cities are a mixture of chaos and sheer beauty, the relaxed feel of life on an island and the underlying knowledge that things work differently down south.
Google Map of Catania
I did a lot of the city on foot, however, the bus system to reach surrounding areas was good.
Interbus is the main provider for trips to Siracusa and Taormina.
Buses are quite frequent and the prices are fair (compared to what taxi drivers ask!).
The office to purchase tickets is on Via D’Amico, 187 or you can visit the website to pre-book tickets etc here (change language picker is on top right of screen).
If there is one thing I learned from this trip, it is that Sicily is absolutely doable by bus. It is actually quite efficient and a little less stressful than driving/parking.
Recommended Foods and Wines
Of all the places in Sicily, I would almost dare to say that Catania is where we ate ‘least well’.
However, I feel I just got unlucky with the recommendations and do not wish to add any of the restaurants visited.
I strongly recommend you try:
- ‘Polpette’ (meatballs of all types and sizes!),
- Arancini (of course!),
- Paccheri alla Norma (eggplant and tomato sauce pasta – delicious!),
- Granita or Granita con Brioche (of arab descent!)
- & Gelato al Pistacchio di Bronte (pistacchio in particular – as Bronte is the area of the best pistacchio’s in Italy!).
All in all, Catania was a great hub for my visits to Taormina, Etna and Siracusa.
I connected little with Catania and I bring this down to the stress of the first day, along with having to reorganize the whole trip from scratch.
The poor restaurant recommendations did not help either! For us Italians, food is definitely an important part of the experience.
I believe that Catania is the diamond in the rough of Sicily, therefore it is definitely a must visit but some work is needed.
With more of the locals embracing international tourism, it could be a turning point for this beautiful city, consequently helping Catania become more than just the Milan of the South.
Finally, have you ever been to Catania? What did you think of the city? Leave your comments below!
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