We were home in Stuttgart for the first time in, for me over 6 weeks. In Stuttgart, Marienplatz Festival was going on that weekend and the apartment was on schedule for a much-needed clean. Well…
Instead of all that, we booked the cheapest direct flight we could outta here. Our destination that early Saturday morning was Catania, Sicily at about 200 Euro per person for flight, hotel and rental car.
We were so glad we booked the rental car too and decided to stay about 40 minutes north of Catania near Taormina. The rental car company though (Firefly) charged a deposit of 1500 euro since we were taking the car outside of the city. Make sure your credit card knows you are out of town, Mastercard of course flagged us with the high charge hold on the account. Thankfully nothing happened, but clearly, car theft and crime must be a thing there as expected in southern Italy. The immediate towns seem a bit shady, this one was more touristy which for two days was a perfect visit. The hotel (Il Casale di Caterina) on the other hand, while it was great and the staff was amazing, it took about 40 minutes drive more to go up the one lane switchbacks to the very tip-top of the mountain overlooking the water and towns. On the drive in, we were commenting about the towns so high up and wondering how they even got there… we found out first hand. Definitely didn’t realize the steep location with nothing really around it when we booked it. So glad we rented a car. The car was about $30 for the 2 days. Next time, we will look for something closer to water even if it’s more expensive, but with parking included.
Parking was the only other negative aspect to the area on this trip. Amongst the switch back roads, one lane roads in the city, no rules or lines really on the highway with drivers clearly taking everything rule-wise as merely a suggestion, the first day was really frustrating on the driving front. Plus, there is absolutely no where to park near the beaches unless you arrive really, really early to get into the paid lot or late in the evening after the sun sets. But who wants to lay out after the sun sets? We know, it’s summer, but we learned and will plan accordingly for the next time.
Taormina Town – We street parked at a church about 15 minutes walk up the hill from the town. We used a restaurant called Dejavu as our GPS point to remember where the car was. The main street is filled with tourist shops, retailers, bakeries and market goods. The prices weren’t bad except for in the pottery shops. We spent most the day walking through there on the way to the Greek Theater which was our ultimate destination for the afternoon.
Ancient Greek Theater (Teatro Greco) – We were disappointed on many levels starting with the 20 euro entry fee (total for 2). Though it was cool-ish and the view was great, the theater is a working space so has been restored multiple time hosting evening plays and concerts. The great photo you see online of the place was disrupted by the current stage props and lighting, and modern stadium seating. We can say we did it, won’t do it again. All in all we were there about an hour.
Isola Bella – One of the most famous spots (so we read), is the Isola Bella beach. Get there early to park in the paid gondola lot that is managed all day. The cost was 6 euro for 5 hours. Grab the cheaper beach chairs/umbrellas (before the white ones) as they go fast. The more expensive ones of course are available almost all day for 25 euro. Either way, it’s worth it to get out of the direct sun and have something to lay on above the pebble beach. Crowded but heaven. I love the beach. There were bars and toilets available, plus the deli’s and convenient stores along the way have water and create-your-own sandwiches for cheap. It was pretty, other beaches we passed were also beautiful though without the island rock off the coast, but we would have been happy at any of them. With limited time, we hit number one and will do the others next time.
Tip: The pizza looking restaurant at the end of the beach is actually not pizza and it’s not the best food. Stay on Isola or go to the deli off the beach.
Castelmola – The highest point overlooking the area with a towns, built right on top with the castle. We went from our mountain top to there and the GPS showed two ways. One was 44 minutes and the other 19. Of course we thought, 19 is shorter. Nope. It was a one lane dirt road where the grass was taller than the car in some areas and it was on the edge of the cliff for most parts of the road. Plus it was dark. We drove as far as we could in our little rental then 17-point U-turned around on the cliff to go the long and safer way. The GPS doesn’t really show you terrain to make the best decisions. Developer tip Google.
We ate at a fantastic restaurant, Castelmola was the best dinner of the weekend at La Taverna Dell’ Etna. Our hotel recommended it too. They served fresh seafood and pasta dishes and house wine for great prices. It was dark, but we could tell the view would have been amazing also during the day or at sunset.
In the town after dinner, we walked up toward the church following the sound of live music to the castle, which also had art exhibits inside. It was some kind of festival going on (at almost midnight) with a great live band playing my favorite oldies but goodies. During the event, the kids had a big balloon release that all ended up in the huge trees (a little hilarious that none actually went anywhere – but environmentally, they really shouldn’t be releasing balloons anyway :)) Leave it to Europe to have a huge party on the top of a mountain at a castle with tons of kids at midnight. It’s awesome.
Mt. Etna – The drive up is over an hour even though we were right under it, it’s clearly hugs and awesome to see. The island is so dry to drive through. We ran out of time to do it this trip but will go back. There is a hike when you reach the park at the top that is on our list to do. We had a view of Etna and the beaches and towns from our hilltop though the whole trip.
Surprisingly not the best food comparably to any other areas of Italy we have been. The food markets were good with loads of huge capers, sun-dried tomatoes, marzipan, Blood Orange Liqueur – Arancello (recipe). I wanted to buy everything of course, but we did not check a bag back this time. It was a short trip so we will do more research next time – I can’t believe there isn’t good food in Sicily, but then again, it’s probably all at home, not in the restaurants. Maybe someone will invite us over next time.
View all the gorgeous photos of Sicily: click here.