No day goes by without me thinking back to my days in Catania last summer. That atmosphere is tattooed on my soul and my feelings. A sense of calm, warmth and incredible rooting.
Something like Mal d’Afrique has been permeating me ever since. I don’t know if that’s a coincidence, but sicilians state that their land is North Africa. They feel like belonging to Southern Territories. So I’ll call it Mal de Sicile, a strong, indelible sense of nostalgia for that island and its mellow reality. I just feel my heart drawn to those places, and those incredibly full and honest moments.
When you get back from those lands, it’s like something is missing in your life, a sense of belonging and earthliness and wholeness that no other place seems to be able to give you. This island is so characterised by connection to land, nature, wilderness and Earth. It brings back to such a human condition, a fair dimension.
I’m not saying Sicily doesn’t have its problems, it really isn’t dreamland: corruption, mafia and lobbies control pretty much everything, not allowing things to evolve and “upgrade”. Nevertheless, as Edmonde Charles Roux once said, “For the good or the bad, Sicily is the superlative version of Italy”.
Life gets suddenly simplified in Sicily. Small things finally acquire the right importance they deserve. It doesn’t take much and that is more than enough, actually it really is all you could want. More would be out of tune.
So here is a quick bouquet of memories from Sicily: places and things worth doing around Catania, special moments or simply a few postcards. You won’t find about main sites or touristic advices. These are the places where you would take a close friend, the things you would do and eat with them, spending some moments of truly wholehearted life.
Please remember, in the places you’ll visit, especially natural ones, rubbish won’t dispose by itself. Keep them clean and if you find garbage on the ground don’t leave it there just because it’s not yours. Be careful about “distracted” waste: cigarette butts, paper tissues envelopes, small pieces of plastic. Planet Earth will be very grateful for your contribution.
Now: I do have a thing for food, especially when it comes to Sicily, but even those who don’t love eating will find a culinary paradise there. Arancini, cannoli, gelati and all other sorts of dishes, all at a very cheap price for very large portions…how can you not eat 24/7 when you’re on that island?
So here are a few places where to go:
• Costa (Misterbianco) – Near Catania there’s a small town called Misterbianco. That’s where our friends hosted us and that’s where Costa is, a delicious pastry-gelateria. We had our breakfast there every morning. Indeed, here you can find the best granita of all times. I particularly suggest the pistachio and chocolate one, with whipped cream both on top and bottom – as I’ve been advised by a local lovely lady myself. Also, nowadays granita is normally served with a brioche, which is a kind of sweet bread. However, back in the days it used to be served with Ferro di Cavallo, a white bread with sesame seeds on top. If you have the chance, ask for it instead of the classic brioche. Just perfect!
Address: Via G. Matteotti 132, Misterbianco
• Savia (Catania) – Talking salt, Savia’s Arancini are simply a must. Especially Catanese ones, which are typical from this area. They’re famous all over the city and locals come here to taste them all the time. With a couple of them you’ll have your dinner more than served and your taste buds so happy they’ll thank you forever. Savia’s Cannoli are also very good and always fresh. I suggest to get your food take away and go delight yourself in Giardino Bellini, right in front the shop.
Address: Via Etnea, 302/304, Catania
• Etoile d’Or (Catania) – If you happen to be in Catania’s main square and you’re looking for another good and cheap place where to eat, your answer is the Etoile d’Or. I suggest tasting their amazing Cipollina, even though everything else is delicious too. You can grab a bear at a kiosk nearby (where it will be cheaper) and you can taste your meal in the main square, which is just around the corner. You’ll reach it through famous Porta Uzeda.
Address: Via Cardinale Dusmet 7/9, Catania
• Bianca (Ortigia, Siracusa) – Gelato time! I personally love my gelato and I couldn’t live without it. Who knows me also knows my obsession for it. So I feel confident in saying that Bianca is the best gelateria in Siracusa and Ortigia. You can find many shops spread all over the island and the city and I really suggest enjoying there your gelato and brioche. This is a typical sicilian way of having it and you must try it at least once while in Sicily. I had it in Ortigia’s main square, with a beautiful view and a glorious taste in my mouth.
Address: Via Roma 32, Siracusa
• Condorelli (Belpasso) – On the way to Mount Etna, or on the way back, a must stop is Bar Condorelli, the headquarters of a famous sicilian producer when it comes to sweet food. Everything here is delicious, but I strongly suggest their pistachio arancini, a specialty hard to find elsewhere, especially without meat and especially so delicious. I also suggest their pistachio sweets and their gelato.
Address: Via Vittorio Emanuele III 532, Belpasso
• Pane cunzatu – This is not a place, it’s a typical food from Syracuse which you really should try. It’s a sort of sandwich, made with very thick, soft bread stuffed with local products. We had a great taste of it at La Putia delle cose Buone in Ortigia, a very good and nice restaurant. It’s rather crowded, so I suggest making a reservation for it (address: Via Roma 8, Siracusa).
However, I guess you’ll be able to find it in other places too. Regardless, don’t miss the chance!
• Pistachio – In general, whether you are tasting an arancino, a gelato, a granita or whichever other food, remember that in Sicily you’ll taste the best pistachio ever, so make sure to try it under all forms. What a sensorial experience!
• Typical Paninari – This will be a true act of courage. Like many cities around Italy, Sicily has a deep culture of street Paninari, sandwich street vendors that will make you taste the best, nastiest, most filled up sandwich you’ll ever have. You can have it with all sorts of condiments, stuffings and food. I must be honest, we do have this sort of food cars in Rome, however the ones I saw in Catania are next level. Some of the condiments looked like singular dishes themselves: I was incredulous when they explained to me I could put parmigiana aubergines in my sandwich! There’s no limit to what you can put in it and remember: don’t refuse your chips, they could feel hurt about it. So be brave, enjoy your big sandwich and good luck with you digestion.
Address: they are spread across the city. We had our street panini at 30 e lode, on the way to Misterbianco. This place is so popular and this street food tradition so loved that a McDonalds, which had opened nearby a few years before, shut down because of this vendor. Indeed, no one would prefer it to the Paninaro. What a win!
• Spiaggia di San Giovanni li Cuti (Catania) – If you’re looking for a nice place where to have a splash, this beach is probably one of the best places where to go, besides being the only sandy beach in the area, made even more peculiar by its black sand. Not so long ago, an old retired man decided to clean it up, plant some flowers, install some bins and make it all nice and welcoming. As you will notice, many signs invite people to keep the beach clean and respect nature, not using chemical soaps, shampoos, or leaving cigarettes and bottles around. Such a graceful atmosphere.
Address: Via San Giovanni Li Cuti, Catania
• Isola Lachea (Acicastello) – More commonly known as the Isle of Cyclops, this tiny islet one kilometre away from the coast is the place where Ulysses’ Cyclopes presumably had their homes. Local fishermen will help you reach the island with their little boats for 3 euros per person return. I suggest going to the White Rocks (Scogli Bianchi), less crowded than the rest of the island. Here you can enjoy a better and more intimate time. Bring your snorkeling gear along: a nice time awaits you under the sea as well.
Adress: you can park your car in Via Lungomare dei Ciclopi 141, Aci Castello
• Ortigia (Syracuse) – Ortigia is the old part of Syracuse. Abandoned for many years, it recently regained its beauty and charm thanks to many people who decided to repopulate it and make it the most beautiful part of the city. Here you can admire the ancient Temple of Apollo, as well as take a stroll around its little streets. Eaten by the sea and mostly built with the characteristic Pietra Giuggiulena, its colours and atmospheres are absolutely breathtaking and incredibly evocative, especially at sunset. By simply walking around this little island you can fill your eyes with beauty and your camera with gorgeous tones. I suggest a nice walk along the whole perimeter of Ortigia: magical.
• The Lighthouse of Capo Murro di Porco (Province of Siracusa) – Where the sea breathes.
• Valle del Bove (Mount Etna) – Where trees have eyes and you can feel the Earth alive.
• Piazza Federico di Svevia (Catania) – If you are looking for a place to go after dinner to enjoy a drink and a laugh, then Piazza Federico di Svevia, also known as the Books Square, is the place you are looking for. Thanks to the work and resistance of the Gammazita Cultural Association, this small square has been saved, revalued and enriched with many creative activities, a book shop, a juggling school and many cultural events. Indeed, this used to be an abandoned parking lot, turned nowadays into a “urban library”, as they like to call it. The square’s everyone’s, so respect it, keep it clean and don’t ruin the plants, reminds a sign near the entrance of the Gammazita Centre, inviting everyone to take care of common things and places.
In this square we had many sgroppini, a delicious and refreshing vodka and lemon granita cocktail very common in Catania. You can order it in small kiosks, where it will also be less expensive than bars.
• Teatro Bellini and San Birillo – This isn’t exactly the most touristic place to visit. It actually used to be a rather infamous neighbourhood and still nowadays illegal horse races and a lot of drug dealing happens at night. Nevertheless, during the day it’s a characteristic, real and honest part of the city to visit. Many new realities are coming to life around these streets to revaluate the area and take it back from its bad fame.
• Catania by night – I love how in Sicily everything is incredibly lit at night, even the smallest, secondary street. Lights illuminate the city in all its architectonical and baroque beauty. A nice walk around Catania by night is an interesting way of spending your time and admire the buildings and their typical dark grey plaster, azolo, obtained from volcanic sand. Indeed, igneous materials are very common and much used around this “active” area and create a typical pattern in its architecture and arts.
Postcards from Sicily.
The vegetation is Sicily is absolutely stunning. A mix of mediterranean and tropical. I particularly love its big ficus, very common around cities and towns. The huge ones in Ortigia are incredible!
This writing says: To conspire (which in italian reads a bit like “to breathe”) means that each breath needs the following one to exist.
We found a spot near San Giovanni Li Cuti to do some waterlining and some deep water. I’m not mentioning it here as one of the spits to secure the slackline, which was already very rusty and all broken, broke down completely.
La.boo is a very interesting and new reality from Catania. They produce 100% handmade, green, sustainable bamboo bikes. We had the honour and pleasure to visit their headquarters and see them at work.
Sicily is full of street fruit vendors. They are so typical, cheap and sell delicious fruit. Don’t hold back and prefer them to supermarkets.
Everyone goes around in Vespas around here. They’re so common they are actually more typical than in Rome or Milan.