Catania gateway to Etna: the city is the starting point for an exciting journey to discover the wonders of the volcano. The amazement begins before you reach Sicily, when the smoking peak of Etna, reflected in the Ionian Sea, peeps out of the airplane window.
A visit through the historic center is a must, where you’ll be overwhelmed by the charm of the Baroque facades of the lava stone buildings, the flavors and smells of Catania’s street food specialties, starting with arancini al ragù – be careful not to call them arancine, it is considered sacrilege to get the name wrong here – with their typical shape of the volcano. The ones by histori city bars such as Pasticceria Savia and Pasticceria Spinella are excellent. At Uzeta Bistrò the arancino is served in a plate, according to the old popular recipe, with frayed meat. To work off the calories, walk the steps of the Church of the Badia di Sant’Agata that lead to the terrace and the dome.
Art, food and nature
The panoramic view from above will pay you off for the effort. For an art-and-design stay, go to Asmundo di Gisira, an original art-hotel housed in an aristocratic palace in the heart of the Pescheria, the old fish market still pulsing with life, just a few steps from the Cathedral.
Another address for food and wine lovers is Habitat Hotel, overlooking Teatro Bellini, where you can try chef Bianca Celano’s signature cuisine. After a breakfast with Sicilian products, off to Etna: on the way, stop in Giarre for the 4th edition of the Radicepura Garden Festival, a biennial Mediterranean garden event. It opens to the public on Saturday, May 6 2023. The Radicepura Botanical Park was born in 2012 from the Faro family’s desire to create a unique place dedicated to the enhancement and richness of biodiversity in Sicily, where the Mediterranean embraces the subtropical climate. A truly unique place between the slopes of Mount Etna and the Ionian Sea, with more than 3000 plant species for a total of 7000 plant varieties.
A ride on the circumetnea railroad
Along the A18 highway to Messina, turn off at the Fiumefreddo exit to take the Etna state road. Uphill, between scenic hairpin bends and lava rocks, you can pass through vineyards surrounded by dry stone walls and the picturesque villages of the northern slope. Among these, Linguaglossa is certainly the ideal route for Etna Park: the Mareneve road starts from here, leading to the ski resort of Piano Provenzana, at an altitude of almost two thousand meters, and to the Ragabo pine forest, where you find the Chalet Clan dei Ragazzi with bars, restaurants and 12 spartan rooms to spend the night. The circumetnea railway also passes through Linguaglossa, a vintage train that connects the small towns in the mountainous area. We suggest Bronte, the famous city of pistachios, and Randazzo, a medieval village where you can enjoy one of the best granitas in Sicily.
The best places to eat, drink and sleep
In the square of the Basilica Santa Maria Assunta, you’ll find the sign of Pasticceria Santo Musumeci. The ice-cream maker Giovanna Musumeci prepares delicious granitas with products from small Etna farmers (the most popular are lemon, mulberry, almond, pistachio and coffee with creme) and sweets of long memory. For wine lovers, you will find the wine shop Il Buongustaio, with a selection of the best Etna Doc labels. The finest address to spend the night in the area is definitely the Shalai in Linguaglossa, a family-run boutique hotel with a small spa and starred restaurant led by chef Giovanni Santoro. For an informal meal, go to Dai Pennisi – Macelleria con Cucina, to taste the famous sausage on the strain (recognized as a Slow Food presidium), that is a section of oak trunk from Etna.
Activities to do surrounded by nature
Those who prefer a country atmosphere can go to the agriturismo Parco Statella in Randazzo, a rural tourism proposal with a typical trattoria attached, open to outside guests too. There are many excursions – by horseback, jeep, helicopter and trekking – on Mount Etna for everyone: from family trails to the volcano’s summit craters for trained groups. Among the best local guides, we point out Emilio Messina. His proposals include trekking in Etna’s forests and canyons, even at night, to admire the stars. Don’t miss the naturalistic site of the Alcantara River Park, in the area of Castiglione di Sicilia, with impressive waterfalls, small lakes (Gurne) and deep gorges of volcanic rocks derived from ancient lava flows. The bravest ones can enjoy body rafting in the cold waters of the Alcantara River.
Wineries to visit
Finally, winery visits: the wine tourism offer represents the real driving force – and soul – of the area. Benanti is Etna‘s historic winery and the Pietramarina white wine is considered one of the most elegant on the national wine scene. There are also new excellent : Tenute di Fessina (A’Puddara Etna DOC Bianco is the most representative label), Tenute Bosco, among the few to make a pre-phylloxera wine, that is to say, centuries-old vines. Without forgetting the virtuous young winemakers, Federico Graziani with his white wine Mareneve and the “golden couple” of Sicilian enology, Giulia Monteleone and Benedetto Alessandro with their award-winning Monteleone wines.
Opening image: the Radicepura Park (ph. by Alfio Garozzo)
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