We had planned this weekend in Rome to attend the Six Nations Rugby tournament between Italy and Scotland and of course being in Rome and having a full weekend to play with we planned so much more.
Catania & Syracuse| A guide to two beautiful Sicilian Cities
Catania is a fantastic little town on Sicily’s eastern coast. We needed a base from where we could explore this side of the island. Catania sits at the base of Etna and has good transport links with the rest of Italy. We had seen the famous fish market on television and fancied a visit
How did we get to Sicily:
Our trip started in Manchester and we flew to Naples as we had planned to end our trip in Naples. Arriving in the morning gave us the day to spend in Naples, which as you may already know is our favourite Italian city, before catching the ferry to Catania that evening.
Manchester UK – Naples, Italy
We flew with Easyjet which is the most competitive way to fly anywhere in Europe really. You can check out the best prices Here.
Naples – Catania
We took the ferry port to port We’d done a ferry trip before from Naples to Palermo and you can read about that trip Here. The beauty of having done it before is that we knew to pay a little extra and get a cabin.
About the Ferry – what did it cost – facilities on board
It was an overnight ferry service departing at 8pm and arriving in Catania around 6am the following morning.We booked a lovely twin cabin to sleep in with crisp clean linen, a clean and functional toilet and shower It was perfect. Don’t forget to look under the bed when you leave, I left my new shoes there and didn’t manage to get them back!
There was also a really good self service restaurant on board and we enjoyed a really nice meal and some wine and woke up in Catania fresh as a daisy all ready to explore Sicily. The route took us down the coast of Italy and then thought the straits of Messina in the morning before docking at Catania. I would really recommend you get outside in the morning to watch this as its beautiful sailing round the Sicilian coast.
Where did we stay in Catania?
We stayed at the B & B Cutelli which was in the Piazza Cutelli only a short walk from the port where the ferry landed. It was a really lovely B & B and we made a good choice. You can check out rooms and rates Here for hotels in Catania
The double room we had was large with high ceilings and big windows. The en suite was clean and quite new and the water in the sink and shower was hot. Brilliant!
The B & B offered breakfast and it was a continental breakfast which could be taken in the breakfast room or delivered to your room. Basic but enough. Pastries, hams, cheeses, fruit and coffee. What more could we ask for?
The Wifi was good and the host was really pleasant. We could leave our baggage there before checking in as we’d arrived early. There was tea and coffee making facilities in the room. Good information in the reception area about what to do in the city.
What is there to do in Catania?
People ask? Is Catania worth visiting? You bet your life it is. Such a beautiful city, on the coast with history to die for. Some of the things we got up to were:
In the centre of town are the remains of an old Roman Amphitheatre. Much of this is sitting right in the middle of peoples houses. Its incredible. While we were there they were setting up for a performance of Norma and we debated whether to return to Catania for the show but decided not to – one of those “what if” moments. Its so beautiful to wander around and touch the bricks and sit on the seats that people from the Roman era sat on to watch all sorts of performances. This is only 5 mins walk from the town centre and is a must.
The fountain with the elephant is carved out of basalt and is now the emblem of the city. Its in the piazza del Duomo and is a wonderful square to spend some time watching the people and just slowing down to Sicilian life. Grab a coffee or a gelato from the many cafes around.
If you’re up early in the morning then head down to the fish market. Its just behind the piazza del duomo, down the volcanic black steps and you’ll find stalls and stalls of fish and seafood. Its incredibly lively and great to hear the stall holders shouting about their catch of the day.
Like every city, in the summer it can become oppressive. The heat of the day rising and a cool off in the sea is just the ticket. Catania itself sits on a rocky platform and there are no immediate beaches in the town however the clever Italians have come up with a solution. Bathing platforms. These are steel and wooden structures along the coast offering sunbeds, umbrellas, changing rooms and snack and toilet facilities. We visited one of these for the afternoon one day and it was lovely having a dip in the sea. The one we used was Lido Lombardo Beach. For around €10 you can have a lovely day at the beach.
Theatre Massimo Bellini
The Opera house in Catania is quite special. It looks amazing but is named after Vincenzo Bellini and is just off the Piazzo Vincenzo Bellini. Who was he? He was one of Italys most famous operatic composers. You might think that he’s also got a cocktail named after him but that’s another Bellini entirely.
One of the most fun things we did whilst in Catania was take the Circumetnea. This was a cute little train that took you all the way from a station in Catania around Etna and finished at Riposto where you got the mainline train back to Catania. The cost was around €7,50 and the route was spendid, fantastic views of Etna and a lovely way to see the rich volcanic countryside. The journey was about 3 hrs.
Catania – the food
I think its fair to say we were pleasantly surprised with the Food in Catania. Being a seaport the fish was always going to be quite special and there were tons of restaurants to choose from. The variety of food on offer was wide and we found it was good to get away from the main tourist areas and seek out some traditional italian trattoria type restaurants which we always find has the best food. Catania is starting to appear on the street food map and we found one of the best street food, pop up type restaurants that we’ve come across in Italy.
Two suggestions of where to fill your tummy in Catania are Antica Sicilia – Ristorante di Pesce Catania. This was one of the first restaurants we chose and it served typical Italian food as well as some incredibly fresh seafood.
The other place that we would 100% recommend is Sirocco Sicilian Fish Lab – the best Fritto Misto around and all served from a street food type vendor. Loads of varieties of seafood fried up in a light tempura batter and served in a paper cone. Fabulous. There’s also veg versions for the non seafood folks.
As well as the restaurant scene there are loads of bars and cafes for breakfast coffee or an aperitivo before dinner. The ones dotted around the square were our favourites as a people watching spot it was perfect.
Bye Bye Catania
Its time to leave Catania but not Sicily. We make our way to Catania Airport via the Alibus which is a bus that runs regularly from the centre of town to the port and to the airport and continues that circle throughout the day. Its only a few € and the best way to get from the airport into town or vice versa.
The reason we were heading to the airport was not because we were flying anywhere (that would come later in the trip) but because we were collecting our hire car which would take us to other parts of Sicily. We hired a little cinquecento convertible from Europcar at the airport. Collecting the car was straightforward and soon we were off on our way – Next stop Syracuse.
All about Syracuse
I’m going to tell you what we got up to in Syracuse as we only had a day there before heading to the other side of the island.
Visit the Greek Amphitheatre.
In the Archaeological park west of the city you’ll find the greek amphitheatre from around 470 BC. Much of the semi circle remains and its location is fantastic with views out to the sea. You can really imagine the plays and performances that went on here and its a great place to visit.
The Roman Amphitheatre
In the same Archaeological park you’ll find the Roman amphitheatre from around the 3rd century. Like the Greek one its in fairly good condition and you can clearly, like the Colosseum in Rome, the underground passageways that would take gladiators or animals to different parts of the arena. Overgrown with some foliage but still stunning and worth a visit.
Orecchio di Dionisio (Ear of Dionysius)
This is another site within the archaeological park and this is definitely worth a visit. Some say is was hand carved and some say it was natural but the acoustics are irrefutable and even the softest of whispers is amplified. Its said it was used by guards listening to the whispers of prisoners.
The island of Ortigia
The old town and historical centre of Syracuse is. It has many ancient sites such as the Temple of Apollo and the Piazza del Duomo. Narrow winding streets with little shops and cafes. Its a beautiful little part of Sicily
Piazza del Duomo & the Cathedral of Santa Maria delle Colonne
Take a wander through this wonderful square with the fantastic Duomo bearing down on polished marble slabs. Take a coffee or aperitivo in one of the nearby cafes and just watch life go by. We only had a day to check out the sites but there are many more things to see and do for when we return.
Venice, Torcello, Burano & Murano
If you explore the Venetian Lagoon you don’t only get to Venice but also some other islands such as Torcello with its tower to climb, Burano with its colourful houses and Murano famous for its glass.
If you are looking for a traditional Italian holiday hotel then look no further than Villagio Albergo da Ciccio sul Mare It really is a true Italian experience.