04/10/2017 - 04/12/2017
A relative metropolis between the touristic idylls of Taormina and Siracusa, Catania tends to get short shrift from travelers. Most visitors to Sicily skip it entirely or make a quick stop to visit the Piazza del Duomo, but for us it was always a high priority destination. Larger cities usually have the busiest markets, the most crowded streets, and the best-kept secrets. I'd read enough about Catania's markets that even if we found nothing else there worth seeing, we wouldn't have wasted our two day stay.
Monday morning we left our Airbnb and walked a few blocks to Via Etnea, the main north-south street of Catania. Just that short walk took us through a beautiful square and a crafts market.
We soon arrived at Piazza del Duomo, which was filled with activity and surrounded by beautiful buildings. The Fontana dell'Amenano at the southeast corner separates the Piazza from La Pescheria fish market a few steps down.
La Pescheria was a bustling fish market, although it was probably a little short of the full complement of vendors on a Monday. The market was larger than it initially appeared, continuing underneath and behind the buildings that formed the southern perimeter of the square. Some highlights were beefy red tuna, golden cross-sections of swordfish, wriggly snails, and transparent baby sardines that the Sicilians eat raw with a squeeze of lemon.
Behind the market we found the only street food stall that day, where they were offering succulent artichokes that had been grilled and deep-fried. We bought a couple and ate them in the tiny park across the street.
It was still early for lunch so we walked back through the rear half of the fish market. On the adjacent streets of Via Pardo and Via Zappalà-Gemelli we found produce vendors and a line of butchers.
By this time, the restaurant we'd been eyeing for lunch had opened so we got ourselves a table on the patio with a prime view of the market. The food didn't exactly blow us away but the atmosphere couldn't be beat.
We walked north up Via Erasmo Merletta, parallel to Via Etnea, and almost immediately ran into the lovely campus of Università Degli Studi Di Catania. We were on a steep slope here, so each street to the west was higher by a floor. This gave the campus a very interesting three dimensional feel.
We found our way back to Via Etnea and kept heading north with our eyes on the legendary volcano that gave the street its name. The busy boulevard was lined with cafes and boutiques.
Eventually we reached the beautiful Giardino Bellini, whose immaculately manicured greenery rose up the same east-west incline we had explored earlier at the university campus. The kids were all awake at this point and got to shake off the cobwebs of their afternoon naps in the park's busy playground.
It was only mid-afternoon when we were done with the park and there wasn't anything left to do in Catania until dinner, so we decided to drive up the coast to Aci Castello instead. I'd planned Aci Castello as a stopover on the way to Taormina the next day, but getting it done that day instead meant we would be getting to Taormina a lot earlier and would open up our whole schedule.
The drive to Aci Castello was only six miles but the coastal road was jam-packed and glacially slow. The tiny seaside town was a charming hive of narrow streets. The castle was a remarkable, improbable wedge of stone built into a lava outcropping on the water's edge. Intentionally or not, the front of the castle looked like an enormous boat driving into the land. The levels above contained a beautiful cactus garden and terraces with views of the town and coastline.
We walked for a short time through the largely-deserted old town near the castle and then stopped in a restaurant to get pizza for the kids and Nero d'Avola for ourselves.
Back in Catania, we had a pleasant dinner at Me cumpari Turiddu, a hip restaurant downtown with good beer and decent if unmemorable food.
Tuesday morning we packed up the car and then walked a couple of blocks north to Fera 'o Luni market in and around Piazza Carlo Alberto. The market was so large that at first we had some trouble finding the meat and produce section. Then we suddenly came upon an enormous mound of gigantic, deep red strawberries and I knew that we were home. I bought a kilo and they were the best we had tasted up to that point. After a few minutes walking through the extensive food market, I decided Fera 'o Luni was even better than Ballarò in Palermo.
There weren't many seafood vendors, which was unsurprising considering that La Pescheria market was just a ten minute walk away. The kids found the one shellfish stall to be very entertaining.
It was a good thing we had arrived early because the market soon became too crowded to move comfortably with the strollers. We spent an hour enjoying the atmosphere in the side streets around the market, and then headed back to the car. Our goal was to be in Taormina for lunch.