Catania & Mt. Etna, Sicily

By Ali Karim
This post is part of a series called Sicily Oct 2017
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Sicily 1: Catania, Sicily

Took a trip to Sicily; one of those places on my bucket list. We flew from Dallas to Rome on American Airlines, and then took Alitalia from Rome to Catania in Sicily.

Sicily has a varied and interesting history; it was initially colonized by the Greeks in 8th Century BC. Then followed the conquest by Carthaginians from North Africa or western parts of Sicily. This was followed by the Roman occupation and wars between Romans & Carthaginians in 242 BC; and the Romans ruled for 600 yrs, before the Roman empire started crumbling, and the Byzantines conquered Sicily. In 902 AD; the Saracens (Arabs, Tunisians, Berbers etc) took over the island; but were driven out by the Normans in 1091 AD. THen in the 14th Century, Sicilians revolted and took over control of the island for themselves for 100 years, until in 1479 AD, the Spanish empire took over. Eventually, after various battles with French, British and Italians, the Italians took over in the late 1800’s, and in 1946, Sicily became an autonomous region of Italy. Buy what a history.

So the island of Sicily has a tumultuous past of multiple conquerors who brought their own architecture, religion, food, customers, culture etc. As a result, different parts of the island have different architectures, and foods; and also dialects.

Catania was our first stop in Sicily; and after landing, we rented a Hertz Fiat Tipo, and drove off to find our room at then B&B Globetrotter Catania (49 Euro’s per night), which we knew was in the heart of the old city. The old city has many old buildings; hundreds of years old, that are mostly well taken care of. The old town contains a myriad of small gullies and alleyways. After maneuvering our Fiat through these gullies and getting lost; we finally found our B&B which was located just a short distance away from the Duomo; the heart of the city with its cathedral. Parking was tight as there were many cars all over the place in the gully’s so maneuvering was tight.

Duomo Cathedral
Duomo Cathedral.

Weather was good; mid 70’s, so T-shirts were fine. We got situated in our room, and walked around the old city. Surprisingly, it was quite deserted and shops were all closed. We were told by Daniele (B&B owner, who spoke good english) that this was normal as it was Siesta time from 1-4PM; and shops etc would open after 4PM. We walked around and found a restaurant that catered to tourists that was still open and had a late lunch of pizza (Sicilian’s don’t eat pizza for lunch). We walked around to get our bearings in the gully’s of the old town, and discovered the market area (now closed), the Duomo area; and we even found an old castle; all within a few minute’s walk from our B&B. Lot of old history within a few blocks.

Local fort in Catania; well preserved
Local castle/fort in Catania; well preserved

For dinner; Sicilian usually eat after 9PM; so we went out at 8PM, found a nice outdoor bar where we ordered a bottle of red wine (6 Euros; this was already becoming my kind of place 🙂

Great Wine and …
Great Wine and …

The bar was located opposite the castle, and the area steadily got busier & livelier as it got late. We had a dinner of seafood spaghetti; about 8 Euro’s a plate; in a nearby Trattoria. The food was tasty in this local busy and lively Trattoria; a great start to this travel.

Seafood spaghetti
Seafood spaghetti

Next day, after a continental breakfast of fruit, breads, great Sicilian coffee/cappuccino; we went to check out the market area that was less than a minute’s walk away. This market area was very lively with many small stands of local vegetables and fruits, and lots of locals shopping for their food.

Vegetable market
Vegetable market; purple cauliflower looks great
All kinds of cheese
All kinds of cheese
Fish Market
Fish & Seafood Market
Swordfish was everywhere
Swordfish was everywhere
Sardines and anchovies were very popular and cheap
Sardines and anchovies were very popular and cheap
As were all kinds of prawns, cuttlefish, squid, octopus, snails etc
As were all kinds of prawns, cuttlefish, squid, octopus, snails etc
Feast of fresh seafood
Feast of fresh seafood
Feast of fresh Vegetables and fruits
Feast of fresh Vegetables and fruits
Any idea of what fruit this is?
Any idea of what fruit this is?

After seeing all this fresh stuff in the market we were hungry; so we went off for lunch to Pranza, a local restaurant recommended by Daniele for seafood

Fresh Mussels & seafood lunch
Fresh Mussels & seafood lunch

After this delicious meal, we decided to drive and visit the area around Mt Etna, which is still a live volcano that does erupt regularly. Last major eruption of Mt. Etna in 1669 and a devastating earthquake in 1693 had first buried Catania and other nearby cities completely and then destroyed the remaining buildings; that they had to be totally rebuilt, ironically, using bricks made from the same lava from Etna that buried these towns.

Mt Etna, spewing away from one of its cones
Mt Etna, spewing away from one of its cones

We then drove up the side of Mt Etna, up to about 7,000ft above sea level; to where cable cars take you higher up Mt Enta.

Cable cars going higher up Mt Etna
Cable cars going higher up Mt Etna

It was quite chilly up here, and the landscape was mostly barren, though you could occasionally see a small forest of trees

Barren, moonscape of lava rocks
Barren, moonscape of lava rocks
View from Mt Etna, barren lava rock and the occasional small forest
View from Mt Etna, barren lava rock and the occasional small isolated forest; overlooking the lower level cities to the ocean

After Mt Enta, we drove downhill through a forest of Chestnut trees; with lots of chestnuts & prickly pears; in full season. There were people who had parked their cars along these narrow back-country roads collecting Chestnuts and Prickly pears.

Chestnut tree forest
Chestnut tree forest
Prickly pears ripening
Prickly pears ripening

We then drove to Bronte, a small town on the NW edge of Mt Etna, which is famous for growing pistachios; and here, there were all kinds of foods made from pistachios. After getting full, from tasting different pistachio recipes and ice-creams, we drove back to Catania.

Pitachio town of Barlochi (zzzzzz)
Pistachio town of Bronte

This area was hilly, so we passed through some nice picturesque towns; on our way back to Catania

Picturesque towns
Picturesque towns

Dinner was at Agora restaurant, next to our B&B.

Agora restaurant
Agora restaurant

This place was very lively late at night; and in addition to this dining area, it had an underground cave for dining, complete with a real underground stream; again recommended by Daniele.

Underground cave dining at Agora
Underground cave with clear water underground stream (the stream is running over the small pebbles you see in the picture; water is so clear that you can clearly see all the pebbles), dining at Agora

We had the Antipasti here, which is a sampling of different kinds of hot and cold starters; quite filling. One Antipasti and half a liter of red house wine came to 14 Euro’s. The food so far had always been excellent in taste and freshness; and the price was very reasonable. So far, so good. We walked back to the B&B, and stopped for some freshly roasted hot chestnuts which were delicious 🙂 .

Good first few days in Catania; the food quality and taste has been very high which is very welcome.

Off to Taormina tomorrow

This entry was posted in Europe, Italy, Sicily Oct 2017

11 thoughts on “Catania & Mt. Etna, Sicily

  • Mike November 5, 2017 at 1:34 am Reply

    Great post. As usual very disruptive have to put it in my bucket list
    Thanks

    • Ali Karim November 5, 2017 at 11:00 pm Reply

      THanks Mebs; definitely a bucket list item for everybody

  • Nashir Kassam November 15, 2017 at 8:31 am Reply

    Very nice
    Well photographed
    I will follow your other blogs
    Nashir

    • Ali Karim November 15, 2017 at 8:32 am Reply

      Thanks Nashir;

      Hope you enjoy them as well

  • nelly hudda November 15, 2017 at 8:33 am Reply

    Wow that’s awesome dear beautiful scenery n food. Amazing.

  • zul ramji November 15, 2017 at 8:34 am Reply

    Good job as always. Very fascinating
    Take care. Love to u both

  • Jamila Zindani November 15, 2017 at 8:35 am Reply

    Well Done ,God Bless

  • mahamud jinnah November 15, 2017 at 8:36 am Reply

    amazing as usual. Love the historical summary.

    Mount Etna and the underground caves sound like lots of fun.

    Surprisingly cheap as Italy is quite expensive.

    Its now on my bucket list.

    • Ali Karim November 15, 2017 at 8:51 am Reply

      Sicily should be on everyone’s bucket list

  • nooruddin hussain December 4, 2017 at 11:59 pm Reply

    Excellent views and presentation.

    • Ali Karim December 5, 2017 at 5:24 am Reply

      Thanks Nooruddin

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