Sicily is a wild and romantic island. Its nature is wild and untamed in some areas, its baroque cities and villages are romantic and inviting. After last week’s post about western Sicily, today I am taking you to the eastern part of the island. We will visit Catania, the islands second largest city, as well as Syracuse, an ancient city in the southeast of Sicily. And we will climb high up – to more than 3,000 meters of altitude to wander the snow and the craters of one of Europe’s most active volcanos Mount Etna. Ready? Buckle up!
Catania is one bustling city. Even though it comes second after Palermo, I felt like it is way busier, there is more going on, the city is very young and the nightlife is buzzing. The city itself matches the Sicilian pattern: Beautiful baroque architecture is followed by crumbling facades and dismal buildings. But the landmarks of the city under the volcano are magnificent – the wonderful cathedral on the city’s central square, the quaint Bellini garden, the picturesque Via Crociferi, the fortified Castello Ursino and the colourful fish market La Pescheria.
The city will also surprise you with its many little piazzas surrounded by restaurants and wine bars. Somehow, I preferred Catania over Palermo for the atmosphere. Some places I would recommend are the pastry shop Savia to enjoy some delicious cannoli, the Caffè del Duomo serves great coffee, ice cream and arancini (fried rice balls, a Sicilian specialty) and the Ciciulena restaurant with good Sicilian food and a funky interior design including plants.
If you prefer to experience a less urban atmosphere, head south to the ancient city of Syracuse. Here again you will have some questionable architecture in the modern part, but just continue to the old town which is located on an island called Ortigia. You will quickly get lost once you enter the old town’s labyrinth of narrow streets. Let go and just wander around – you will discover the most beautiful balconies adorned with plants, you will pass by cute little stores and restaurants and eventually you will end up at the magnificent Piazza Duomo, a pastel colored Italian dream for the romantic soul in you.
Stay in Syracuse to enjoy the evening ‘passeggiata’ – once dusk sets in the atmosphere will become even more magic with the city illumination. My personal top recommendation in Syracuse is the wonderful wine bar/shop Enoteca Solaria – try a good local wine and enjoy some typical Sicilian food in a convivial atmosphere.
Last but not least let’s talk about Mount Etna. Mid March is quite early and still pretty much winter on the volcano. So be prepared for snow, cold temperatures and foggy conditions. I took the car up to the Rifugio Sapienza which lies slightly under 2,000 meters altitude. You pass through various villages on the slopes of Mount Etna and the last part is a crazily winding road through old lava fields. We drove through cotton thick fog and made it to the Rifugio with no sight of anything. But then the magic happened – the fog diluted and we spotted the Etna cable car station. Next thing I know I was tootling up to around 3,000 meters below the Etna craters. I was marching through snow surrounded by skiers and snowboarders overlooking an endless sea of fog below us and smokey tops beyond us. A truly remarkable moment! Don’t miss it if you ever end up on Sicily.
See you next time from another place!