Everyone should experience at some point “la dolce vita”. Waking up in the morning to enjoy a great cup of espresso, having some pizza at lunch and some pasta in the evening, next to a glass of limoncello – this is what “having a taste of Italy” means. But what most tourist don’t get is that they can have this kind of experiences not only in Rome, Florence or Milan, but also everywhere else in Italy.
Every inch of this country is different and ready to leave you mesmerized. That’s why you should explore more than just the most renowned Italian cities. One holiday destination to include on your list is Catania, a city located at the basis of Mount Etna, the famous volcano. With its head in the mountains and its feet in the Ionian Sea, this city, which is also named “Milan of the South”, will leave you breathless from the very first moment you visit it.
Don’t know what exactly to visit in the region? We have 5 suggestions you can consider, depending on the way you want to explore Catania, so take a look at them below.
A great experience for architecture aficionados
One of the things that makes Catania a great destination for architecture lovers is its unique Sicilian baroque style, which differs from the original baroque style through its extreme decoration and bright colours. Even though these buildings were built centuries ago (after the terrible earthquake in 1693, more exactly), they are incredibly well preserved.
Among the must-see tourist attractions that emanate the baroque style are:
- The Cathedral of Sant’Agata, or the Duomo of Catania as it is better known, will impress you with its grandeur. There are no less than 32 carved panels in the main door, whereas the entrance is dominated by the imposing statues of St. Peter and Paul. Also, the tomb of Vicenzo Bellini, one of the greatest Italian composers, can be found here.
There are more than 50 churches built in the Baroque style spread throughout the entire city, so you have plenty of places in the 17th century style of architecture to visit and to admire.
- Fontana dell’elefante (The Elephant fountain), also known as “u Liotru”, has become the symbol of Catania and is considered one of the best Baroque art examples.
- Palace of the elephants, also located in Piazza del Duomo, is another building that stands out due to its baroque facade and balconies decorated with elephants.
- Palazzo Biscari is one of the most interesting tourist attractions not only due to its flamboyant facade, but also because there are people who still live in it – the descendants of the Prince of Biscari.
A time jump to centuries BC
Even though the exact date of its foundation is not recorded, it appears that Catania came into existence around 700 BC. This makes it a real treasure for all history lovers who want to learn more about Ancient Romans and Greeks.
If you want to get into the deep history of the city, there are some places you are not allowed to miss:
- The Roman Amphitheatre is located close to Piazza del Duomo and even though it’s not in a very good condition today, it’s still worth the visit. An old structure standing in the middle of various modern buildings gives you the impression that you’re looking directly through a time gate.
- Ursino Castle is an incredibly beautiful Norman fortress and also the house of today’s Municipal Museum (which, by the way, is free to visit). When it was erected, the castle was sitting on a cliff, right next to the sea, but due to Etna’s volcanic eruption four centuries ago, the landscape in the region changed completely, thus locating the castle at about 1 km inland.
- Villa Romana del Casale is a fascinating Roman villa erected in the 4th century, which houses one of the greatest, best-preserved and most complex collections of Roman mosaics in the entire world.
- The Historic Centre of Noto, a city located at about 90 km South from Catania, also included in the UNESCO World Heritage list, is ready to take you three hundred years back in time. Churches, palaces and a mesmerizing view from the top, along with many other marvels, Noto is definitely worth the visit.
- The Ancient Theatre of Taormina, the place that once held battles between brave gladiators and fierce wild beasts, is 50 km North from Catania, but it offers both a stunning view of Mount Etna and a real time jump.
Looking for adventure?
Italy may be one of the best countries to go and relax, but it’s also a great place for those looking for adventure. Here are some suggestions:
- Start with La Pescheria (The Fish Market) to get the energy boost for your journey, even though you are not necessarily interested in buying anything here. Numerous people cross the market every day and you’ll be impressed by the large number of fish and sea food species available here. The vibrating atmosphere will get your adrenaline going.
- If you love the mountains and are thriving for some hiking or trekking, go on a trip to Etna, the largest active volcano in Europe, which is located at about 20 km from Catania. You can go there by car, by bus or by enrolling in a day trip organized by a tour company. There are two levels of Mount Etna. The first one can be climbed on your own, whereas for the second one (the one that takes you to the crater) you’ll need to opt for a guided minibus.
- Want to give yourself an adrenaline boost? Try zip-lining at one of the aerial adventure parks in the region. It’s like a huge playground for both children and adults, where you can go on various obstacles courses guided by professionals.
- Explore the caves in the region. The east coast of Sicily is rich in caves and some of them are of an unimaginable beauty, such as the worldly renowned Blue Grotto Cave and Grotto del Gelo (Ice cave).
Take a moment to relax
If you’re not an adventurous person and are visiting Italy only to relax and enjoy some good time with your loved ones, have no worry, as we have some suggestions in this direction as well. After all, Italy is the best country to look for some relaxation, since one of their most famous expressions is “piano, piano” (i.e. “little by little”).
- Include Casa delle Farfalle Monteserra, or The Butterfly House, on your “to visit” list. Tens of species of butterflies from all over the world, including some rare ones, have their home here, in this magnificent tropical conservatory.
- Via Etnea is a great place for a walk. This is the main street of the city and, as the name suggests, it has some connection to Etna, the volcano. At the end of this street, when the weather is clear, the volcano shows up in its splendour.
- San Giovanni Li Cuti is a very popular beach in Catania and a unique natural place, due to the ashes and black rocks resulted from the volcanic activity of Etna. Other beaches that will impress you are La Playa and Praiola.
- Thermal baths at Acireale is the perfect idea for a completely relaxing vacation in Sicily. It is proven that the water here can help against rheumatic and osteoarticular diseases. The baths contain sulphurous, iodine and bromine water, which is also the combination used by ancient Romans in their thermal baths.
The “dolce far niente” type of holiday
Whether you’ve read it in the famous novel “Eat, Pray, Love” or heard it at one of your Italian friends, the expression “dolce far niente” is the perfect embodiment of the Italian spirit. It literally translates as “sweet doing nothing” and, according to the locals, it’s the feeling you get when you sit at a table, enjoying your drink, while watching the passers-by. It’s the idea of admiring life in its simplicity and doing nothing else but smiling.
To experience this feeling, all you have to do is to go at one of the numerous restaurants and bars in Catania. Here are some recommendations:
- Al Tortellino is known as the place to enjoy some of the best home-made pastas in the region, but also the place to have some mouth-watering pizzas, panini sandwiches, or various fish dishes at very good prices.
- To surprise your loved one, take them to A Putia dell’Ostello. It’s both a restaurant and a wine bar and the most spectacular thing about it is that it’s placed underground, in a natural lava grotto.
- It’s time for some dessert now and one amazing place to go to is Les Crêpes. Here, you’ll find more than 50 different flavours and fillings.
Of course, there is so much more about Catania than what we’ve presented here. Feel free to explore its deepest layers and don’t forget about the souvenirs. The Coffa Bag, some lava stone products or some Caltagirone pottery are only a few examples of unique souvenirs you can buy.