Vince and I had made a rather spontaneous decision to head to Sicily in April with our parents. One night we simply decided to google for weekend flights out of Switzerland…and Catania in Sicily happened to be the cheapest and most uncommon option! For less than 40 euros (thanks EasyJet!), off we scooted to the Queen of the Mediterranean coast for our little family getaway.
Day 1: Catania
We flew in from Geneva to Catania International Airport and took the airport shuttle to airbnb.
Our first impression of Catania actually wasn’t too pretty. Walking in the city…you would find dirty streets and walls strewed with graffiti, a stark comparison to its northern counterparts in Rome and Florence. Yet alongside old and crumbling buildings, you’d also find beauty in quiet parks, beautiful cathedrals, as well as historic statues and fountains. Somehow the whole gritty state of Catania adds on to its down-to-earth and unpretentious charm.
We settled down and headed to the city’s main Piazza where the Saint Agatha cathedral stands.
At the centre of the Piazza, right opposite the cathedral is the Elephant Fountain (Fontana dell’Elefant), the symbol of Catania. Legend has it that a Byzantine magician rode an elephant into the town, and thus locals believed that the elephant statue has magical powers to protect the town from the volcanic eruptions of Mount Etna.
We then headed towards Catania’s famous La Pescheria located below the Piazza, to watch some serious fish-buying in action! Before entering the market, be sure to stop and admire the beautiful Amenano Fountain. It’s named after the river that used to run on the same spot.
Bustling and chaotic, here at the largest fish market of Sicily, fishmongers yell (so loud they sounded almost hostile!) and compete to sell their morning catch. You will find swordfish, squirming live octopuses, silver sardines, fresh clams and mussels, sea urchins…any form of sea life imaginable! The floor can be quite soggy and bloody, so it’s best not to wear opened-toes shoes.
At the sidelines, there are other merchants selling colourful fruits and vegetables produced from the fertile soils around Mount Etna.
La Pescheria opens on weekday mornings from 7am to 2pm and all day on Saturdays. It’s definitely worth a gander the next time you find yourself in Sicily!
Above the market, there were tons of restaurants and street stalls selling local seafood. One unassuming hole-in-the-wall establishment called Scirocco piqued our interest. We shared a paper cone of mixed fried seafood, plus another cone of squid and octopus. They were slightly pricy at 7 euros, but still tasted delicious: crunchy, fried with a light batter. I wouldn’t recommend the mussels though, the broth was unfortunately too salty for our liking.
Bellies satisfied, we took a tiny climb to the city park, Giardino Belli. It felt nice just sitting out at the pavilion, enjoying the cool after-rain breeze and the immaculate flora around us.
Did you even go to Sicily if you didn’t try an Arancini? Stuffed with meat sauce and mozzarella cheese, these deep fried rice balls are the most classic of Sicilian street food. We bought two of them for our mid-day snack: Two euros of crispy goodness!
After some window shopping at Via Etnea, we ended our day at a local pizzeria Eat Pizza near our accommodation. Not exactly our favorite meal of the trip, plus the placed lacked atmosphere — but after a long first day hit the spot.
Day 2: Taormina
We set off early and took a 1 hour train ride to Taormina. It’s a romantic little town on the hilltop which overlooks the vast Ionian sea.
One of Vince’s Italian friend recommended that we visit Bambar for breakfast, and it certainly did not disappoint. I simply adore the whole look of the place: the bright and beautiful Sicilian tiles and paintings on its walls are well worth the visit alone!
The brioche served here is so good, don’t even leave here without trying it. Vince’s parents used to run their own bakery decades back, so they know good bread when they see it. The brioche was soft and fluffy, served warm… sheer pastry bliss!
The owner was really friendly and chatted with us out in the sunny terrace. We discovered that number of political leaders actually came here for breakfast when Taormina hosted the G20 summit in 2017! Since then this restaurant’s fame grew even further.
Now, gelato is excellent in every region of Italy…but you can only find granita (a semi-frozen sorbet) strictly in Sicily! The owner offered us their signature raspberry and almond granita with compliments. Creamy yet refreshing, the kind of dessert you would crave on a sweltering hot afternoon. WE NEED THIS in Switzerland when summer comes in June!!!
After breakfast we did some shopping at Corso Umberto. This main street of Taormina stretches on for about 1km, and is dotted with chic high fashion stores, lovely boutiques selling little handmade trinkets, potteries, local spices and much more.
Snacking on pistachio cannollis all day! Fun fact: Did you know that Sicily is the only region in Italy that cultivates and produces pistachios? The best and finest of these “green-gold” are produced specifically in the town of Bronte.
Other parts of our fun in Taormina came from wandering around and discovering enchanting cobblestone lanes, picturesque courtyards, art galleries…and hidden delightful restaurants!
At the end of Corso Umberto is the Piazza IX Aprile. This bustling square has beautifully tiled black and white floors, and offers a paranomic view of the Ionian sea!
Later in the afternoon we attempted to hike up to the Taormina Castle (Castello Saraceno)…for just 10 minutes! We aborted the climb as our parents wasn’t in the best physical condition to climb steep stairs. But if you’re game enough, treat the hike up as a 1 hour workout: Your reward awaits once you reach the top…with spectacular views over the whole of Taormina.
We headed back to Catania for dinner at Il Gambero. We had almost decided against going there, since it was rather a distance away. But thank goodness we went ahead. Because here we enjoyed what was undeniably the BEST Sicilian food for the entire trip!
A humble family-owned business, this restaurant is small, but has a cosy, homely atmosphere. Judging from the humorously inappropriate paintings on the walls (just look at the nipple behind Vince!) you might not think of getting the best seafood in here…BUT YOU WILL.
Now I don’t know what they feed the fishes here in Sicily, but the prawns and mussels were totally next level. Outstandingly fresh and juicy with every bite! For something local, we also tried the paccheri pasta by the Chef, which was savoury and full of flavour.
The meal was also inexpensive overall: With mains costing between 13-15 euros, it’s really hard not to be a fan.
I still can’t get over how delicious every single thing put in front of us! If there’s any recommendation you take from this post, let. it. be. this. one.
Day 3: Syracuse
Our third and final day in Syracuse, we focused mainly on exploring the historic centre of Ortigia.
Here at the remaining ruins of the 6th century Temple of Apollo. A great deal of history has unfolded here: It was a Byzantine church, an Islamic mosque, a Norman church, a Spanish barracks, and then a private home!
Our first stop was to the colourful and lively Ortigia market. Here you will find a fascinating display of fruits and vegetables, local spices, olives and cheeses…the sights, smells and action are a sensory delight and a fun way to experience the locals at work. Also got my freshly squeezed grapefruit juice from this super wacky lady dressed in orange and singing songs in Italian!
We then took a stroll towards the waterfront to take in the view of the breathtaking Mediterranean coastline! It looked amazing in photos, even better in real life.
At the magnificent Cathedral of Syracuse. It was first built as the Temple of Athena, and then subsequently transformed to become a church in the early Christian era. I think it’s definitely one of the most beautiful cathedrals I’ve seen in Europe!
There was a huge crowd for lunch at a Putia, so we were starving by the time it was our turn! But they executed their pasta perfectly so it well made up for the 30 minute long wait.
Exploring more of Ortigia, at the beautiful Fountain of Diana in the main square, Piazza Archimede.
I absolutely enjoyed our getaway to Sicily! Just scrolling through the colourful pictures in this post makes me want to travel back all over again. And honestly, the food scene alone might seriously call us back for a 2nd time!
I hope to post more travel guides (here’s my other one on Interlaken) like this! So do subscribe and stay tuned.