Mount Etna, Europe's largest and most active volcano, has been grumbling since February, but on Saturday 23rd October, it had its most violent activity of 2021, painting villages over 20 miles away in ash!
The temperamental volcano resides on the east coast of Sicily, in the metropolitan city of Catania, exactly where I was two weeks prior to the latest eruption.
Although Catania sits under the shadows of Mt. Etna, it is most certainly not overshadowed by the volcano's powerful presence. I found Sicily's second-biggest city to be a bit raw and gritty in places, but also authentic and charming, with an abundance of Baroque masterpieces, UNESCO World Heritage Sites, great food and critically-acclaimed wine.
Below are the bits that shouldn't missed...
After eyeing Etna from afar, from the rooftop at the Palace Catania | UNA Esperienze Hotel (where I also recommend staying), get up and close with her, on a full day tour.
You'll off-road across lava fields, visit volcanic caves and hike Mama Etna's craters on foot.
Afterwards, you'll be fed a mediocre lunch in a ski chalet before visiting Alcantara Gorge, which was GORGEous (pun intended).
Following the 8-hour tour, I'd recommend getting a hearty and delicious meal at Al Vicolo Pizza.
If you've managed to fight off fatigue, get a cocktail at the intimate Bohéme Mixology Bar thereafter, where drinks are customized to your spirit/flavor preferences and the toilets are accessed through a wardrobe, Narnia-style.
At least one of the days in Catania should be spent meandering around the city. There is plenty to see/do around the city limits.
Start the day off nice and early with a visit to La Pescheria, the city's raucous fish market.
After you've had your fill of fishmonger watching, grab a hot beverage in the Piazza del Duomo, which happens to be a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Walk westward, along Catania's colorful, decorated streets until you get to the Teatro Romano, (on Via Vittorio Emanuele).
Unlike 300 B.C., when entrance was free, it now costs €6 to enter, and you must show proof of both COVID vaccinations.
If you find yourself to be peckish, head to Razmataz for lunch. Try the pasta all Norma, typical of Sicilian cuisine.
Shop along the central high street (Via Etnea), before heading to Via Santa Filomena, to dine and drink the night away! I recommend Il Sale Art Cafe for dinner. On that same street, get yourself an apéritif at either Moon Drink Fusion or L'Horloge...Or both!
Although Catania is not a beach holiday destination, if the weather is nice, you could take a stroll out to San Giovanni Li Cuti, a black volcanic beach, made from natural lava.
Or you could consider visiting a beach club (assuming it's the right time of year). It was early October (off-season) when I visited, and many of the beach clubs were closed, but I found Lido Arcobaleno was still open. It was a beautiful day and the price was right (€5 for a sun lounge).
Because Catania doesn't attract quite the levels of tourism that other Sicilian cities do, there are more opportunities for meaningful encounters and genuine experiences. If you give it a chance, you just find that you lava Catania too!
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