Last updated on August 24th, 2022
After some fun in the sun, we followed the coast due north to Catania, Sicily’s second-largest city. If Palermo resembles King’s Landing, Catania’s architecture is more reminiscent of Rome. Our accommodation for the next couple of nights was Let’s B&B. Located on the first floor of a former palazzo, descendants of the aristocratic family still occupy the top floors.
In the morning, we kicked things off at the nearby flea market, which also turned out to be quite a colorful fresh food market centered around Piazza Carlo Alberto di Savoia. Like in Syracuse, animated sellers do almost anything to attract customers to their attractively-organized stalls. The produce is so fresh, and it’s hard to miss the opportunity to stock up on peaches, apricots, and cherries at this time of the year.
We then headed to Catania’s main square, Piazza del Duomo, with its famous fountains and cathedrals. After paying respect at the tomb of famous Italian composer Vincenzo Bellini in the Cattedrale di Sant’Agata, we climbed the tight staircase to the rooftop of Chiesa della Badia di Sant’Agata for a bird’s eye view of the area, including Mount Etna which always looms in the distance. Just beyond the main square is Catania’s legendary fish market. If we thought we had seen animated street markets up to this point, we were in for a pleasant surprise. It’s hard to fathom how much bounty lies in the sea. Actually, just about at every meal, this reality sets.
In the afternoon, we made a very wise decision and drove to the charming seaside community of Aci Trezza. We camped at yet another “luxury” beach club, this time perfectly positioned in front of the town’s star attraction, the Cyclopean Islands. These jagged rocky outcrops are protected areas where many birds nest.
The vista from just about every angle and the clear water kept us from heading back to Catania until just before sunset. Back in town, Catania’s streets were buzzing. For dinner, we headed to A Putia Dell’Ostello. The food was good but the atmosphere even better. Before calling it a night, the owner sneaked us downstairs to the restaurant’s famous lava cave.
Our next stop was romantic Taormina. Despite the high tourist numbers, one cannot say they’ve been to Sicily without visiting Taormina. The picturesque mountainside town warrants a transportation network that resembles a game of “snakes and ladders.” A confusing web of elevated highways and narrow roads somehow snake their way from top to bottom, while steep staircases provide shortcuts, albeit with a hefty price on the legs. We checked into Villa le Terrazze, a perfect choice in the quieter “upper town,” high above the madness of the historic center with stunning views of Mount Etna.
Taking one of the staircase shortcuts from the mountain top, we walked from Port Messina to Port Catania, taking in the sites and sounds of the historic center, including the famous Greek Theater, which dates back to the third century BC and is still used as an entertainment venue. Both ancient and modern guests are treated to breathtaking views of the coastline and Mount Etna.
Taormina’s busy streets were lined with pastry shops specializing in marzipan, boutiques, and ceramic souvenirs. But no trip to Taormina is complete without a stop for some granita at Bam Bar. Choosing from 16 flavors is quite challenging, so you might come for a second visit. The secret, though, is to top your granita with some panna (whipped cream).
We took another steep staircase down to Taormina’s Isola Bella in the afternoon. Real estate is expensive at this pretty beach, with the price for beds and umbrellas in some beach clubs starting at 70€ per couple. We finally settled on something more reasonable and equally well-positioned. After a few hours in the sun, we returned to the upper town using the cable car only to come back for dinner with a view at Trattoria Il Barcaiolo.
Taormina and Catania are excellent jumping spots for visits to Mount Etna, Europe’s largest active volcano and Italy’s second hotspot, together with Mount Vesuvius near Naples. During our visit in early July, there was a 15-degree swing in temperature between the coast and the lower parking lot.
An exhilarating cable car ride took us 600 meters in the air to 2,500m, where we climbed one of the cinder cones and almost melted our shoes from steam seeping through cracks in the ash-covered ground. It is possible to head further up the volcano using a 4X4 bus or hike to the volcano’s summit with a certified guide.
From Mount Etna, it was back to the coast, taking the long way through the heart of the island. The reason for this detour was to check out Enna, one of Sicily’s most charming hilltop towns. Our timing was a bit off, once again, having arrived in the middle of the weekend afternoon siesta. Nonetheless, we were impressed by the lavish interior of its main cathedral and the panoramic views of the surrounding hilltop towns.
Our final stop on the Sicily road trip was the beautiful seaside city of Cefalu. Built in the shadow of a massive fortified cliff, Cefalu is a popular destination both among foreign tourists and Italians. The town’s historic center is something out of Game of Thrones; just swap the brothels with restaurants and the horses with scooters.
Cefalu’s historic center is beautiful by day and really comes to life at night. We spent the morning getting lost in the town’s maze of narrow alleys, checking out majestic cathedrals, and climbing to the Temple of Diana for a bird’s eye view of the town and its coastline. In the afternoon, the beach provided an escape from the heat, and in the evening, it was time for a final Sicilian dinner before catching our flight in Palermo the next day.
This wraps up the account of our road trip around Sicily. Stay tuned for a detailed travel guide and sample Sicily itineraries over the coming months. In the meantime, check out other travel guides to Italy and plan your adventure in one of Europe’s most exciting and rewarding destinations.
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