With its coastal location and gigantic active volcano, Catania is a special place to visit. What makes it even better is the variety of the city’s neighborhoods. From piazzas packed with palazzos to sun-blessed beach areas, you’ll be struck by the contrasts on show. Choose from shopping areas, streets teeming with life and the wafted scents of fresh food, or laidback villages just a stone’s throw from the sparkling sea. It’s all about discovering every side of this magical destination.
If we were asked to pick out the prettiest street in all of Catania, we’d have to choose Via Crociferi. In fact, it’s one of the most beautiful in all of Sicily. Running north to south near the old town, it’s one of the most charming strolls you can take.
Take your time to enjoy the sights from beautiful baroque churches to nearby palaces. Much of the architecture here dates from the 18th century, with notable landmarks including the Arco di San Benedetto (you’ll pass under this arch at the southern end of Via Crociferi). It was built by the Benedictines in 1704, close to their monastery and the sumptuous Chiesa di San Benedetto – both must-sees.
There are almost too many distractions and buildings begging to be photographed. While you’re around, drop into either the Contemporary Museum of Art or the adjacent Roman theater – or both.
Be sure to grab lunch or dinner at Locanda Cerami at the northern end of the avenue, which in the winter is dark, atmospheric, and welcoming. When it’s warmer, tables spill out on to the streets – there’s no better place to sample the local pizzas with toppings ranging from a traditional Neapolitan to more exciting creations like eggplant and buffalo mozzarella, or sausage with artichokes.
Running west to east, Corso Italia showcases a different side to Catania, one that’s more strikingly modern. It’s still peppered with fine buildings, but compared to the baroque overload of Via Crociferi or Piazza del Duomo, it has a more contemporary feel. Follow it all the way to its eastern end and you’ll find yourself face-to-face with the ocean. From here, head down the Via Ruggero di Lauria as it curves around the bay for the lava-stone beaches of San Giovanni li Cuti.
Back on Corso Italia, keep your eyes peeled for the ornate Villa del Grado, and swing down onto Via Pasubio, home to one of the best pastry shops in the city – Pasticceria Pasubio. It’s a smorgasbord of sweet treats of all types, but specializes in pistachio cookies and pistachio cream, plus their trademark multi-layered Bausette cake.
Piazza Carlo Alberto
You don’t head to Piazza Carlo Alberto for peace and quiet. Fera ‘o Luni - as it’s known - combines a flea market with a farmer’s market, so you can browse for fresh produce, fruit and vegetables, clothes, flowers, and other items. It’s also a great place to stock up on unique gifts and souvenirs, as there are numerous stalls selling local handicrafts.
Away from the throng of the market, there are some lovely baroque buildings bordering the Piazza. The arresting Church of the Madonna of Carmelo overlooks the square, but there’s an even more interesting place underground. Chiesa die San Gaetano alle Grotte is a subterranean church, with the rich, brooding atmosphere rising up to meet you as you descend into it. The current church, with its catacombs and tunnels, has been here since 1800, although there are records of worship here since 261 AD.
Dramatic, striking, and pulsing with life, Via Etnea is perhaps the most important street in the city. While it can’t boast the baroque bounty of Via Crociferi, it does have its share of buildings worth seeking out. But what most people flock here for are the boutiques. Head from the southern end at Piazza del Duomo to the very north and you’ll be on the lower reaches of the volcano that gives the street its name. There’s an oasis of calm in the Parc Giardino Bellini, with flowers, landscaped gardens, fountains and places to take a picnic or sample some street food. Climb the hill for sensational views. Back on Via Etnea indulge yourself in the city’s best shopping, with both independent and chain stores, all in the shadow of Mount Etna.
Just outside the city itself, Aci Castello is well worth the short drive it takes to get here. It has a pretty harbor packed with boats and skiffs in a spectrum of colors, while locals and visitors cram onto the black lava rocks to enjoy the sun and sea. There’s a Norman castle here, ripe for exploration. It’s been clinging to a cliff face since 1076 and is full of interesting artifacts.
Dozens of seafood restaurants tempt you as you go past, meaning you can cool down with granita or grab a brioche ice cream sandwich to go. Try for a table at Ristorante Osteria dei Marinai di Calabretta Graziano where you’ll find extremely good fresh and raw fish dishes. It’s quieter here in the evenings as the waves crash on the rocks and another perfect day in Sicily draws to a close.
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