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Catania

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Europe : Italy : Sicily : Catania
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Catania [1] is a city located on the eastern coast of Sicily at the foot of Mount Etna, the biggest volcano in Europe. It is the second largest city in Sicily with the metropolitan area reaching one million inhabitants, a major transport hub, economic centre and a university city where you will enjoy a busy downtown and an active nightlife. Catania is also well known for its particular baroque architecture and urban design (the downtown area is a World Heritage Site, along with all the Val di Noto), consequences of the great earthquake of 1693 after which the city had to be rebuilt, like most of eastern Sicily.

Understand

The city has a history dating back 2700 years, dominated by several different cultures (Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Normans, Spanish, etc.) and was a rich commercial centre, mainly due to its port. Again, since the 70's, the city economy is growing as the urban area and the suburbs, making Catania a large metropolitan centre, mainly between the volcano and the sea. Today, even if you can find there most of the biggest commercial centers in Europe (especially Etnapolis), the old 17th century downtown area is still the center of the day-to-day life.

Catania is situated under the most major currently active volcano in Europe and has been destroyed many times in the past. As a result, Catania is a city where you can find a great variety of landscape and architecture, a lot of dirty buildings and also a lot of abandoned houses, especially in the mountains. However, since the city is a World Heritage Site, a lot of renovations have been made.

Today, you will feel in Catania a mix of nostalgia and "joie de vivre", especially at night or during festivals.

Sicilian Baroque

The major feature of this city is its architecture, which is predominantly baroque. The major characteristic of Baroque architectural is its theatricality. This style dominated Europe in the 17th century as a result of the reformation/counter-reformation where the statement given was one of grandeur. The preceding style was Renaissance, while the succeeding was Neoclassicism. The three major features are a near excessive amount of detail (statues, lots of gold, columns and pilasters, garlands and wreaths etc), façades which are taller than the nave (to fool the viewer of the size) and frescoes often featuring trompe-l'œil. Baroque from Catania has several unique features such as use of dark lava stone (basalt), the Bell in the façade itself and grotesque masks and putti.


Landmarks

Some of the best feature of Catania's area are

  • The Baroque architecture, mainly downtown
  • Every morning, except Sundays, two fascinating markets are held:
- a large fish market in a beautiful setting off Piazza Duomo
- a bustling food and clothes market off Via Etnea
  • Mount Etna, which has reshaped the city several times
  • The kiosks which act as social area for the locals by selling refreshments, such as coffee, lemoncello or popular unique drinks such as "seltz al limone" (soda water with fresh-squeezed lemon juice) or "mandarino al limone" (soda water with tangerine syrup AND fresh-squeezed lemon juice).
  • The Elephant Fountain, from the 17th century, in Piazza Duomo
  • La Plaja, sandy beaches south of the city along the bay
  • The Riviera dei ciclopi, a rocky, volcano coast north of the city, stretching almost to Taormina

Talk

Sicilian used to be the common language here for centuries, as the Sicilian culture is isolated on an island. Even in Catania, you will notice Italian and Sicilian (as Palermo, Catania has its own dialect) in some neighborhoods, especially in inner areas, while most people speak mainly Italian in the city center.

Get in

By plane

Catania-Fontanarossa Airport [2] (IATA: CTA) with scheduled and charter planes arriving from destinations throughout Italy and Europe.

From the airport, there are half-hourly buses to Catania's bus station. The trip takes about 20 minutes.

By bus

Frequent buses run to Taormina, Messina, Enna, Caltanissetta, Ragusa and Syracuse. Less frequent buses run to local destinations, Naples, Rome etc. The main bus station is opposite the railway station and 10 minutes walk from the city centre.

By train

Frequent trains run up the east coast to and from Taormina (but the station is a long walk below the town, at Giardini Naxos) and Messina, then on to Naples and Rome etc. Trains also run to Enna, Palermo (slower than the buses) and Syracuse. A scenic route runs inland to Caltagirone and Gela. The railway station is 10 minutes walk from the city centre.

By ferry

Several Ferries run from mainland Italy to Catania. There is an overnight car Ferry that runs daily between Naples and Catania as well as ones from Genova and Civitavechia. One can also get a ferry to/from Valletta.

Get around

Downtown

Catania has a compact centre and it is most convenient just to walk around. Travelling by public transport may be quite problematic, (watch out for your wallet too), due to the long waiting times for buses (even more than 1 hour). The city also boasts a very short metro line, which is still under construction; it runs from the Port (Porto station) to the Circumetnea train station (Borgo station), from where you can reach villages on the slopes of Mount Etna. When driving around in a rented car, you may want to put up with heavy, slow, messy, unruly traffic jams. Be careful not to look conspicuously touristy, exposing jewelry, large bags or photo gear that might entice fast pickpockets or robbers.

The metropolitan area

If you want to get along the coast (Acicastello, Acitrezza, Acireale), you better drive or call for a taxi (they are several at Piazza Duomo). You could also use the train or one of the bus.

To get up Mount Etna, you can take the private train line (Circumetnea) at Borgo metro station or a shuttle from the central station that reaches Rifugio Sapienza(usually leaving in the morning and return the evening) from where you can get to the top of the mountain (spring/summer only, regardless of the summer heat the summit will be cold so do bring a jumper).

Please note that the metro and the train to Mount Etna are closed on Sunday.

See

Must see

"U Liotru", the Elephant statue symbol of Catania
  • The baroque Piazza del Duomo is attractive, lively and contains the Elephant Fountain - the symbol of the city and the entrance to the elegant via Etnea, the main shopping street.
  • The adjacent Norman Cathedral (Duomo) is imposing and worth a visit
  • The food and fish markets just below the Piazza del Duomo are a lively and colourful place to visit. This fish market is the busiest and most exotic of all over Sicily and has been described by the British TV chef Rick Stein as the best fish market in the world. Monday to Saturday morning only.
  • Via Etnea - the main shopping avenue, running North from the Piazza del Duomo has most of the city's imposing building and is busy throughout the day and evening. Lots of churches. This road is the equivalent of Las Ramblas in Barcelona, so in the evenings the local people put on their Sunday clothes and walk at a relaxed pace along this avenue.
  • Piazza Stesicoro, the original centre containing ruins of the Roman Amphitheatre. It is also the entrance to the main market (Mercato de la Fiera) which is worth a visit. Additionally it is one of the main bus hubs.
  • Teatro Massimo, a 19th century opera house in Piazza Teatro, which is the main meeting for the local young people. So its neighbourhood is very lively and busy by night.
  • Taormina, a world famous city being both beautiful and the quintessential medieval town on a mountain top.

Other sites

  • Castello Ursino, a great medieval construction near center that host the Civic Museum.
  • The Greek/Roman Theatre and the Odeon, still in good condition.
  • Palazzo Biscari, the most beautiful baroque palace of Catania (can't visit).
  • The Villa, a great urban park of the 19e century (currently closed for renovation)
  • The Benedictine monastery that host now the Faculty of Literature of the University of Catania, the oldest in Sicily. That building used to be one of the biggest monasteries in Europe.
  • The adjacent unachieved church of San Nicolo, which was supposed the be the biggest in Sicily.

Do

Volcano Trek, Via Minicucca 16, +39 333 2096604, [3]. The obvious thing to do is the volcano trek. Go to the top of Mount Etna. There are many organised tours, but you can hire the services of a volcanologist as your tour guide and go off the usual tourist trail.

Visit a minor religious festival, but avoid Sant'Agata on the 5th February due to the excessive crowds.

  • Federico II (School of Italian language and culture), via Garibaldi 9 (first building on via Garibaldi, close to the Amenano fountain in piazza Duomo), +39 095 9890689, [4]. The school is hosted in an ancient Baroque building located downtown, right in the heart of the city. The school offers year-round intensive language courses, full immersion classes for all levels, while the afternoon provides a program of cultural activities to learn the culture and practice the language. The cultural themes of the lectures are: cinema, art history, songs and music, traditions and mythology, visits to museums and monuments, food and wine tasting. During the summer the school offers the Summer School program, which includes language classes in the morning, and in the afternoon a cooking class, a visit to a monument, and three sports or recreational activities, taking place in beach clubs having an agreement with the school. €170.

Buy

The "Pizzo free" shops are a group of shopkeepers that refuse to pay the racket to the Mafia. The Catania's consumers sustain them by going shopping in their stores. The list of these stores is now available (http://www.addiopizzocatania.org/public/cmsms/index.php?page=lista-pizzofree)

You can find fresh fish at the main fish market, Piazza Duomo. You could have to haggle the price.

Eat

Catania is proud of some specialities, like Arancino (cone-shaped rice croquette filled with meat, tomato sauce, cheese and peas) and other many typical tavola calda. The fish is also good, as Catania is a large port. The city is also known for horse meat, especially in some areas around the "Benedictine Monastery". Another famous speciality is Pasta alla Norma which consists in pasta (generally macaroni) dressed with tomato sauce and topped with fried eggplant slices, grated ricotta salata and fresh basil. Catanese pastry include the world-wide famous Cannolo alla Ricotta, the "Cassatella di Sant'Agata" (a small cassata) and the "Pasta di Mandorla" (based on almond meal). In summer, the typical breakfast consists in "Granita" (a kind of sorbet of almond or black mulberry) served with a sweet round loaf ("brioscia"): it is a nourishing and refreshing combination that can be found in almost any bar of the city.


Fast food

Like in most of Sicily, you can get a freshly made cold panini in a “salumeria”, where you choose whatever you want to put in (prosciutto cotto/crudo and cheese is probably the most popular), for €1 to €3 . Don’t forget that most of them are closed between 1-4PM and on Sunday afternoon. You can also have a tavola calda which mean “hot bite”, most of them made with cheese and meat, fried or baked. You will normally pay €1,50 for one piece. There is also the Sicilian speciality of arancino, which are deep fried rice balls with various fillings, meat or eggplant or spinach, that sell for €1,50 at most places. They make a good lunch snack. Finally, you will find, especially during the evening, big kiosks that sell hot, tasty and fat panini with even horse meat inside. Most people add fries into the sandwich. Usually, it’s about €2,50-3,00 and they are very popular among teenagers. Because its quite cheap, there is normally confusion at these kiosks.

  • Spinella Pasticceria, Via Etna 300, +39 095 327247, [5]. Sicilian cakes, cannolis, arancini, espresso. Outdoor seating. $.
  • Trattoria Il Mare, Via San Michele 11, +39 095 0930595. Delicious seafood. Casual atmosphere.

Restaurants

  • Sicilia in bocca, Via Beato Cardinale G.B. Dusmet, 35. Tel “+39” 095 2500208, [6]. To try typical Sicilian food and pizza.
  • Beware that there are in fact two restaurants called Sicilia in bocca. The second one has very poor food quality, long waits, smoky outside section, and bad attitude towards foreigners (along with a different menu). When going to Sicilia in Bocca by taxi, be sure to specify the address.
  • In the proximity of Ursino Castle, there is a good selection of restaurants. Good food quality and decent prices. Camelot is great for the meat lover, Roxy has standard Sicilian/Italian food for a decent price with friendly staff.
  • L'Angolo della Chef, 77 Via Plebiscito. Humble homecooking joint. Traditional Sicilian dishes from caponata to polli alla brace. Not for the posh, but great for lovers of street food.

Drink

  • Barrique Club, Via S. Guliano, 242, Tel +39 3206103478, [7]. Great atmosphere, good bar with Italian and international drinks, excellent snacks and cakes. At night live jazz and Sicilian music.

Sleep

Budget

In Catania

  • Agora Hostel, 6 Piazza Curro, +39 095 7233010 (), [8]. In a backstreet under the Duomo, it's lively and can fill up even out of season. Beds in a dorm rooms from €18.
  • Ananda B&B, Via Muscatello 7 (Near Piazza Roma), +39 095 446760, [9]. Very Friendly B&B in the centre of Catania, walking distance from the Bellini Gardens, Via Etnea and the Market. 30.
  • City Lounge B&B (http://www.cityloungebb.com), Via Gagliani 13, +39 095 2861703 (), [10]. Situated right in the historic centre, in a building typical of the 1800s, the city lounge is an open and sunny place to call home. A two minute walk to Piazza Duomo; with bus stop nearby for day-drips out of Catania. Rooms with either private or shared bathrooms, wifi, parking spot, breakfast included. Doubles available from 24 per person. Rooms able to sleep up to 6.
  • BMoDe, Via Vittorio Emanuele II, 108. Phone: 39 095 7159383 [11]. Set along the Via Vittorio Emanuele 2 main street in Catania, BMode is situated in the 18th-century Palazzo Tedeschi Paternò-Castello building. It offers free Wi-Fi, ultra-modern interiors and rooms with a minibar.
  • Hotel Etnea 316, Via Etnea 316, Phone: +39 095 2503076 (Fax: +39 095 2503076), [12]. Bright and airy 3 star guest house ideal for young travellers.
  • Hotel Valentino, Piazza Santo Spirito 39. Phone: 39 095 2503072 Fax: 39 095 2503072, [13]. Charming little 3 star hotel in the heart of the city with excellent friendly staff and a pleasant and peaceful atmosphere.
  • Suite Inn B&B Catania [14], Via Vittorio Emanuele II, 108, Tel: 393 955 2702.
  • i Vespri Rooms budget rooms [15], Via Montesano 5, Tel +39 095 310036.
  • Bed and Breakfast BAD, Via Cristoforo Colombo 24 (near Duomo), +39 095 346903, [16]. BAD is the first designer Bed & Breakfast in Catania. Much more than a simple b&b, it is a unique mix of hospitality and creativity.
  • Hotel Villa Romeo, Via Platamone 8, Phone: +39 095 534714 (Fax: +39 095 530257), [17]. Elegant, exquisite and comfortable hotel near the railway station.
  • Agriturismo san leonardello [18] San Leonardello farmhouse is situated in the municipality of Giarre, in the province of Catania, a few-minute drive from Etna, Taormina and the sea of Riposto and Acireale.
  • B&B Globetrotter Catania, Vicolo della Lanterna, 14 (close to Duomo square), 0950933021/3936863217, [19]. checkin: 12; checkout: till 11. An antique building that has been recently renovated. 200m from the Dome, cathedral and Via Etnea. Globetrotter rents independent apartments with fully equipped kitchen, bathroom, air conditioning, TV, DVD, HiFi, internet Wifi and hairdryer. €30. (37.500342,15.084812)
  • Gianni House, Via Pergusa, 47 (just off the main street, on the left), +39 3382 383 732, [20]. Close to the main bus and train station. A start-up hostel that offers a wide range of accommodation. Pasta parties are a regular in the summer, held on the fifth floor terrace, which offers a views of the sea (just five minutes' walk from the hostel). From €20 dorms, €23 privates.

Around Catania and Etna

  • La Pietra Antica O'Munti, Via Andronico s.n. - Fraz. Puntalazzo - 95010 Mascali CT, +39 095.7824035 (, fax: +39 095.968792), [21]. Farm house La Pietra Antica O'Munti, between Taormina and Acireale, near volcano Etna. Farm holiday.
  • Farmhouse Accommodation Arrigo, C.da Arrigo Soprano Linguaglossa, Tel. +39 095 643612 (Fax +39 095 7774518), [22]. At the slopes of Mount Etna surrounded by a striking and magnificent vegetation. In the silence of a land of strong and firm gastronomic traditions.
  • Bed & Breakfast Villa Etelka, Via Sagone, 5 - Valverde (CT) Tel/Fax: +39 095 525872 [23]. BB in aristocratic Villa sea view and swimming pool.
  • B&B La Rena Rossa (B&B etna, Sicilia), Via Capuana 6 A, +39 3338628703, [24]. The Bed and Breakfast La Rena Rossa has a quiet and sunny position, it is surrounded by a wide garden and is the ideal way to spend your holiday between mountain and sea. Nicolosi ( the B&B's town, called "the Etna's door") represents in fact a strategic point that enables you to visit all the main East Sicily's wonders. 30.

Mid-range to High

  • Aga Hotel Catania – V.le Ruggero di Lauria 43, - 95127 Catania, Italy [25] Telephone + 39 095 8362406 • Fax 39 095 8362385. The Aga is a four star hotel of Catania. Its bedrooms are divided in single, twin, double and junior suite. The services include the TV LCD, private bath, mini bar, safe, telephone, air conditioning Wi-Fi internet connection and Jacuzzi.
  • Hotel Maugeri (Grande Albergo Maugeri), P.zza Garibaldi, 27 - 95024 Acireale (CT), +39 095.608666 (), [26].
  • Hotel Agathae, Via Etnea 229, Phone: 095 2500436 (Fax: 0957152668), [27]. 3 star accommodation on the main drag running through Catania.
  • Gresi Hotel, Via Pacini 28. Off Via Etnea close to the post office. Tel:+39 095 322709, email:hotelgresi@tin.com, [28]. Shiny clean, AC, bathroom, balcony, high arched ceilings with paintings. €75 without breakfast.
  • Hotel il Picchio Golf Resort , Via Nazionale, S.S. 120, 135 - 95012 Rovittello, Castiglione di Sicilia. - Ph. +39.0942.986426 - Fax +39.0942.986323 [29]. “Il Picchio Golf Resort” is immersed in the most fascinating scenery in Sicily, in the Alcantara Valley, a true oasis between Mount Etna and Catania. Double rooms from €140 to €220.
  • The Parco degli Aragonesi [31], Viale Kennedy. Località La Playa, Tel. +39 095 7234073 and the Jolly Hotel Bellini [32], Piazza Trento, 13, Tel. +39 095 316933, are the two NH hotels in Catania [33].
  • Hotel il Principe, Via Alessi, 20/26, Tel. +39-095-2500345 (Fax +39-095-325799), [34]. Hotel Il Principe, boutique hotel located in a recently restored aristocratic building in the baroque heart of the historical centre.
  • Hotel La Ville, Via Monteverdi, 15, +39 095 7465230 (fax: +39 095 7465189), [35]. One of the oldest hotels in Catania, this large 3 star family run establishment is well designed in a calming and refreshing liberty style and offers a homely welcome as well as business facilities. Self catering apartments also available.
  • Hotel Nettuno, Viale Ruggero Di Lauria 121, =+39 095 712 2006 (fax: +39 095 498 066), [36]. Modern and spacious four star hotel on the beach of Catania with full facilities, including open air swimming pool, restaurants, health spa and full meeting facilities. Ideal for families as well as corporate.
  • Luxury Hotel Romano Palace, Viale Kennedy 28. Beach resort few minutes away from Catania historical center, very close to airport, with Jacuzzi, private beach and restaurant.
  • Sheraton Catania, Via Antonello da Messina 45, +39 095 7114111, [37]. Luxury hotel with 162 rooms and 7 suites, that can be reached through two charming and panoramic lifts, are coloured in perfect harmony with the surrounding Mediterranean environment; each room grants our clients the highest quality and safety standards according to the Sheraton life style: air-condition, balcony/terrace, cable TV, wake-up service, minibar, safe, hairdryer, smoke detector & sprinklers
  • Hotel Villa Cibele, Marletta st. 17/b (Cibele st. corner), +39 095 351480, [38]. The hotel is in an elegant early 19th century building. The villa was restructured and has reached the old time majesty and elegance. In it the villa emerge the ancient and the modern following by a logical line of design and colours. (37° 31' 00.91 N,15° 03' 47.10 E)

Get out

  • Visit Mount Etna - an eerie volcanic landscape, with solidified "rivers" of lava. The top is 3,323 m high, so be prepared for the cold, even in summer. One bus a day runs at about 8:30AM from near the railway station via Nicolosi to the Rifugio Sapienza, 1,400 m below the summit.
  • You could also have a visit along the coast for Acicastello (a nice medieval castle built on a giant rock, over the sea) or Acitrezza, a little fisherman village well known for its giant rocks lying in the sea, supposed to be the ones thrown by the Cyclops at Ulysses. You will also find good restaurants and a great port. You could have a look for Acireale, a town known for the greatest carnival of Sicilia (in February).
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