In the capital of Baroque, discover the territory of the “Sicilian Phoenix”!
Brilliant and authentic, the daughter of Etna enchanted writers and artists of all times. Catania evokes the “celestial mechanics” sung by Franco Battiato, with its good-natured rhythms and its streets forged by fire.
Everything here revolves around the emotions of the volcano, that is both father and mother of a rich territory. The citizens almost always have a window from which they can observe it. They fear it and love it. With its immense natural beauty, this UNESCO World Heritage Site manages to penetrate into every aspect of private and community life, even ascending the pathways of taste that pass through grapes, olives or pistachios.
Visiting Catania and its surroundings is a fascinating journey into the relationship between man and nature.
You can spend a weekend discovering historical monuments, religious traditions, street food at the local markets among arancini (fried rice balls), fritters of all sorts and stratospheric sweets (here, too, many with ricotta, as in the rest of the island). This is just the (not exactly athletic) preparation for the trekking routes and excursions that await you on Etna. And then, there is the sea, which provides adequate refreshment from the exhausting working days.
Sicily is the ideal destination for any season, but to enjoy the crazy views at high altitude, it is best to prefer the seasons that are not too hot – here, you can swim in the sea even in October! A single day would not be enough to appreciate the city, but you can wander through the black streets, passing from one historical era to another, admiring the treasures of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Between these lines, you can take your inspiration to visit Catania in one day, then go on to discover its wonderful surroundings, such as Taormina or Zafferana Etnea!
What to do in Catania in a day?
Lava stone and white marble open the route from Porta Garibaldi, formerly the Ferdinandea. An engraving heralds to the visitor the unstoppable character of this city: “Melior de Cinere Surgo“, that is, I rise better from my ashes.
The history of Catania is forged precisely by the fire that destroyed the city repeatedly and violently in 1669. This episode is recounted in a giant fresco in the sacristy of the Cathedral. Here the fury of the lava flow is clearly visible: heedless of any sort of fortification, it destroyed many of the Romanesque and Greek remains from previous centuries. All that remains of the 16th-century walls built by Charles V are eleven bastions, including the Bastione degli Infetti or Bastione del Tindaro, adjacent to the Monastery of San Nicolò L’Arena overlooking Piazza Dante.
A visit inside the courtyards of this Monastery in the early hours of the morning will give you the right serenity to face the day. A stone’s throw away, the austere Church of San Nicolò l’Arena amazes both outside and inside with its grandeur. And, precisely because of this characteristic, it lends itself to the preservation of the great “Ceri” that parade every year in the procession dedicated to Saint Agata.
Taking Via Teatro Greco, you can admire what remains of the former Roman city, namely the remains of the ancient theatre dating from the 2nd century BC and the Roman Odeon. On Via Sant’Anna, a doorway opens to the life of the poet Giovanni Verga, whose House Museum can be visited in a short time. From there, turning onto Via Garibaldi, you arrive straight at the cobblestones of Piazza Duomo. The Central Fountain supports the “Liotru“, the lava stone elephant surmounted by an obelisk. It is not only a symbol of the city, but also a mysterious talisman.
On this square, the Cathedral of Sant’Agata is the casket of the city’s religious traditions. It is devoted to this virgin who iconographically takes the vague likeness of the reigning Constance of Aragon, whose family members rest in sarcophagi in the Cathedral Chapel. The Cathedral is also home to many nobles, clerics and the famous art maestro Vincenzo Bellini, to whom the namesake Massimo Theatre, the Art Nouveau green park, Villa Bellini, a Piazza, a Civic Museum and, of course, a Conservatory are dedicated, as well as the Catania-Fontanarossa Airport.
The side exit from the Cathedral will take you directly to the Badia di Sant’Agata and the nearby medieval Palazzo Platamone.
The Terme Achilliane lie just below the paving stones in this area and open up the world of underground Catania – I recommend a visit during warmer hours, perhaps before lunch. Access to the adjacent Museo Diocesano will allow you to climb right above Porta Uzeda and enjoy a marvellous view over the sea on one side and Mount Etna on the other, following the route of the busy Via Etnea.
At this point, after passing through the gate and having refreshments at the Paci Garden, you can return to Piazza Duomo by turning the corner of Palazzo dei Chierici. You will find yourself in front of the Fontana dell’Amenano, whose water belongs to the circuit that once supplied the Terme Achilliane. Two steps behind the fountain give access to the characteristic Mercato della Pescheria (Fish Market), full of fish, fruit and vegetables, street food and cheerful hubbub along the colourful Via Gisira, sheltered by dozens of super-stylish umbrellas!
Passing by the Terme dell’indirizzo, you will reach Piazza Federico II di Svevia, the ruler who had the beautiful Ursino Castle built in the 13th century, now housing the Museo Civico.
At this point, the advice is to reach Via Giuseppe Mazzini, admire the cathedral from this beautiful viewpoint and prepare for the walk along Via Etnea, past shops, picturesque squares such as Piazza dell’Università, marvellous palaces such as Palazzo Libertini Scuderi and stopping at the Botanical Garden. Catania is studded with Baroque treasures and, if you are not tired of walking, you can take a detour to the right and left of Via Etnea, visiting the Church of San Giuliano, Via Crociferi, the Basilica della Collegiata or the Roman Amphitheatre.
The epilogue of this short itinerary is not a place but a reflection: in a city like Catania, where so many natural elements coexist, enriched by the fortitude of its citizens, nothing should be lost and everything should be savoured slowly! Nonetheless, there is so much to see in the surrounding area…
So much to discover around Catania
After visiting the city of Sant’Agata, to complete or enrich your tour of eastern Sicily, you can stop in one of the places proposed here or, weather permitting, in all of them! The most convenient solution for getting around remains the car, which you can rent directly at the airport. All you have to do is choose the stages of your journey according to your interests. The hospitality is taken care of by the territory!
It must be visited, explored, appreciated in its beauty and ruggedness. If you are in Catania, you can’t help but hike along the most beaten paths, suitable for inexperienced walkers and trekking enthusiasts alike. There is also the possibility of visiting suggestive caves such as the Grotta di Serracozzo, the Grotta dei Ladroni and admiring the sinuosities of the lava terrain such as the Monti Sartorius or the Monti Calcarazzi, walking on the craters, being surrounded by the characteristic smell of the vegetation.
The winter season is purely ski season and will allow you to throw yourself onto the slopes, while enjoying a truly unique sea view! The numerous refuges will offer you adequate refreshment, even at an altitude of 2000 metres, such as the Rifugio Sapienza, in the Nicolosi area.
On the slopes of Mount Etna, many small villages frame a landscape that is spectacular in itself, but some of them are truly unique. From the centre of Catania, the Ferrovia Circumetnea railway runs ancient trains that will take you on a walk through nature.
One of the most beautiful villages is certainly Zafferana Etnea, a small municipality rich in religious and gastronomic traditions – such as the zeppole di riso. Here, every Sunday in October, it is possible to attend the market of local handicrafts, food and wine products.
Bronte is famous for its green gold (Bronte pistachio), a product of excellence from whose meticulous processing it is possible to make sweet sauces, ice creams, pâtés or simply enjoy it in its natural state as an aperitif. Between the end of September and October, you can also participate in the important Bronte pistachio festival that also features other local delicacies. Then there is Randazzo, as small as it is rich in churches, or Adrano or Biancavilla, where they make a delicious zabaglione and chocolate ice cream known as “Scumuni”!
The Ionian embraces Catania and on the shores heading towards Messina, you can indulge in some relaxation by stopping at the San Giovanni Li Cuti beach. Proceeding northwards, Aci Castello is characteristic for its promenade and the Norman-Swabian Castle. On the border, Aci Trezza, known for the unfortunate events of the Malavoglias narrated by the writer Giovanni Verga. Here you can visit the “Casa del Nespolo” where the novel was set and admire the Faraglioni of the Isole Ciclopi Protected Marine Area.
Beyond Acireale, you will find Riposto, a picturesque village where music is the vocation of the inhabitants. It was also the birthplace of Franco Battiato, celebrated with the end-of-summer “Musiche Migranti” festival.
TAORMINA AND GIARDINI NAXOS
Taormina, in the province of Messina, stands on a promontory overlooking the area in front of Giardini Naxos (a purely seaside resort where to spend a summer holiday). The town is incredibly beautiful, full of luxury shops that revolve around one of the most beautiful ancient theatres in Italy. Attending a concert in such a magical setting, watching Mount Etna from afar, is an experience to be had at least once in a lifetime.
On the nearby Isola Bella beach, you can walk to the small island and immerse yourself in a real botanical garden in the middle of the sea. Just before Giardini Naxos, the Canyon of the Alcantara Gorge is part of a reserve that is now promoted by many experiences, including horseback riding, quad biking, body rafting and guided excursions through its icy waters.
INLAND AND SOUTHERN NEIGHBOURING PROVINCES
- Syracuse and Ortigia: the Greek city of Syracuse is one of the places where the Hellenic influence survives, as evidenced by the Greek Theatre. Nearby, the Ear of Dionysius is a cave worth visiting for its special acoustics and is part of the Nymphaeum Caves complex. The Sanctuary of the Madonna delle Lacrime is a very important place of worship and pilgrimage. The historical centre is overflowing with monuments and churches, among which the Duomo stands out. While, in the harbour area, the island of Ortigia is home to myths and legends of the ancient world: the Arethusa Fountain, the Fountain of Diana or the Temple of Apollo are the echoes of a flourishing and majestic civilisation.
- Noto: it is one of the Sicilian cities whose Baroque style elevates beauty to an unimaginable level. The majestic Cathedral of San Nicolò facing the Palazzo Ducezio is the central focus of this jewel. Nearby, the Calamosche Beach is an oasis of crystal-clear waters that will complete your holiday of relaxation and culture.
- Modica: only 15 kilometres apart, Modica and Ragusa are the Baroque daughters of the reconstructions after the terrible earthquake of 1693 (which affected the entire area and decreed the restructuring of many towns). Modica is the home of Sicilian chocolate: here you can taste all the varieties of chocolate, handmade at low temperatures.
- Ragusa Ibla, on the other hand, is the area where the ancient Hybla Heraia stood, later to become Ragusa’s oldest historical centre. Admiring it from the viewpoints on State Road 115 (and especially at night) is a very impressive sight. But the same applies, if you want to take a walk that goes as far as the Iblei Gardens, passing by the Cathedral of San Giorgio, which enchants with its elevated position above the square.
- Caltagirone and Piazza Armerina: linked by ceramics, these two inland towns are famous respectively for their fine ceramics, whose history is encapsulated in the Regional Ceramics Museum, and for the mosaics of the Villa Romana del Casale, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Want to get to know Etna’s sights more closely?
Exploring a place means above all getting to know its people, its traditions and, almost always, this translates into discovering the origin of things.
We at Italia Delight have several food and wine experiences in and around Catania that might just be for you! In the Mount Etna Park, you can discover Bronte Pistachio, understand how the green gold is grown or taste it at an ancient grange with the aperitif!
And, if you fancy a snack in nature, you can go to the educational farm in Comiso to savour authentic local food or taste Sicilian wines in Marzamemi.
Imagine then being able to create a bar of Modica chocolate PGI with your own hands, during an experience that will involve all your senses!
Along with taste, smell is the protagonist when it comes to citrus fruits such as Syracuse lemons PGI. Their fragrance will creep into your mind, imprinting the indelible memory of a Sicily waiting to be discovered with us.
Now that you know the best things to do in Catania and its surroundings, it only remains for me to wish you a happy trip to Sicily! 😉