Catania, the city of Mount Etna, of the Baroque style, the Arancine’s homeland, hiding beauties such as the Cyclops’s Riviera and the wonderful Festival of Sant’Agata. Facing the Ionian Sea, the splendid Catania is the ideal destination for a culture, eno-gastronomy and sport weekend. Here’s our two-day itinerary:
You can only start the city’s visit from its heart: Duomo Square. Here, you can find that ancient Baroque style that characterizes many buildings in the city center: the most important examples are the City Hall and the Palace of the Clerics, located around the Obelisk with the elephant, symbol of the city.
The statuette, called Liotru, was once venerated in an Oriental temple and has Egyptian origins. Legend has it that its name comes from the magician Heliodorus, who lived in Catania around 700 d.c, whose means of transport was told to be an elephant made of Mount Etna’s lava. Go inside to the wonderful St. Agatha Church, the patron saint of the city, admiring the Norman age apses. If you’re in Catania from the 3rd to 6th of February, or on August 17th, you would be lucky enough to attend the Festival of St. Agatha: the Saint statue is carried by a procession of people dressed traditionally between candles and fireworks. It is one of the most important celebrations of all Christianity.
Exit the church and throw a coin into the Amenano Fountain, called “Trevi Fountain of Sicily”. Next to the fountain every morning you’ll find a’Pescaria, the fish market of Catania: charming, colorful, lively, it’s famous for its freshly caught fish.
A few minutes’ walk from the Cathedral there is another of the many highlights of Catania, the Ursino Castle. Founded by Frederick II in the thirteenth century, it has been the parliament’ headquarter and now houses the civic museum.
Continue the tour by visiting the wonderful Roman Theatre, located in the city center and entirely preserved, dating back to Greek period but completely rebuilt in roman age, made of marble and lava stone. Next to the Roman Theare there is the Odeon, another Roman theater that even today in the summer houses shows.
Another important property is the Benedictine Monastery, late Sicilian Baroque jewel, destroyed several times by natural disasters and still unfinished today, example of integration between different historical periods.
Continue your walk on the historic Etnea Street, the main street famous for its nightlife, restaurants and shopping, which divides the city in two, the best way to get to know Catania’s villas and gardens. Rebuilt at the end of 1693 after the earthquake that destroyed the city, takes its name from Mount Etna.
Walking on its lava floor, you can admire 7 churches, public buildings as the University Palace and the beautiful Bellini park, the city park. Take some time to wander through the streets of this garden, often hosting sporting and musical events. Inside the park you’ll find Villa Bellini, built in the ‘700. Go up one of the two hills at the center of the park: you’ll enjoy a wonderful Mount Etna and sea’s panorama.
If you are a shopping lover, you can even take a walk in Corso Italia, the new area of the city, getting lost in its luxury boutiques and more affordable shops.
Wake up early on the second day, because you’ll have to climb one of the main attractions of the Region: Mount Etna. There are several tours, more or less long, more or less demanding, leading to the discovery of craters, caves, up to the top. You can choose either a jeep tour or a walking or mountain bike one. Crossing the natural park that runs along the slopes of the volcano, you’ll admire extraordinary and very beautiful landscapes.
If the walk has tired you, you can relax with the stunning view of San Giovanni Li Cuti harbor, one of the most characteristic towns of Catania, characterized by fishermen’s cottages, mouth-watering fish restaurants and a volcanic sand beach.
If you got a car, in a few minutes you can reach a magical place that has inspired many of the famous Italian writer Giovanni Verga’s books: Aci Castello and its village Aci Trezza. Consisting of a maze of cobbled streets, the two villages offer charming views of the sea and coast, called Cyclops Riviera because located in front of three sea stacks, which are said to be rocks thrown by Polyphemus against Ulysses’ ship. Here, every June 24th is celebrated the ritual “U pisci a mari”, a popular tradition dating back to 1750 that celebrates the installation of the Patron Saint John the Baptist statue. Fishermen in traditional clothes stage a parody of the traditional swordfish fishing that once was carried out in the Strait of Messina.
Literature lovers can follow a route, called the Literary Park of Giovanni Verga, to discover Verga’s places, through the Norman Castle, Acitrezza, the square and the church. This coast is the ideal location to enjoy a sea view dinner in one of the charming fish restaurants.
During your stay in Catania, do not forget to try the Arancine, one of the most famous Sicilian street food, Pasta alla Norma, with tomato, basil, fried eggplant and salt ricotta, and the freshly caught fish. [Read also: 10 things to know about Sicilian cuisine] Don’t miss a dessert: the legendary cannoli, the St. Joseph Zeppole – fried rice and covered with honey – the famous Cassata. All washed down with red or white Etna wine, produced right on the slopes of the volcano. Finish with a sweet Zibibbo wine.