Mt Etna

Sometime in February, my friend Giulia told me that her boyfriend Pierluca has a house in Sicily near Catania that he and his mother and brother rent to people who want to have a holiday by the seaside. Some of my fellow students told me that we were crazy to go to "Africa" in August, but we decided that a week in Sicily, near the beach, would be fantastic! 
The town is called Aci Castello, near Aci Trezza, which is about 10km north (30 minutes driving!) from Catania. 
We left Florence on the 27th July in Florence - it has been really hot here and very humid and it very occasionally rains.
Lyn says that it is as hot here as it was in Wyndham in the Kimberley when she lived there 20 years ago (see all the moaning and whining from the last few posts).
Anyway, we decided that Sicily couldn't possibly be hotter than Florence!

We flew with Vueling from Florence Airport, a Spanish cut-price airline sort of like Ryanair. We even had to pay to take a suitcase on the flight!! 
First of all, before we even got to the airport, we had trouble with the smartphone app that is supposed to bring you a taxi when you book one - it doesn't work. Taxis don't arrive, they don't tell you they won't come, they just don't come! Maybe when the holiday season is over it might work, but at the moment it's a waste of time. The other thing here is that you cannot flag down a taxi in the street, they do not stop, they only pick up from taxi ranks - might as well walk most of the time!!
Fortunately, we suspected that we might have a problem with the taxi, so we left enough time to wait for 10 minutes before deciding to walk to Santa Maria Novella Station (about 20 minutes away) where we caught a taxi from the taxi-rank (they couldn't pick us up but there were 3 taxis waiting!) to the airport.

The flight was fine and the service provided by Vueling very reasonable.

We had arranged to rent a car from Catania Airport as we had been told by many people that you really need a car to be able see Sicily. Public transport out of the city is not very good, so a car is really a necessity. The car was great- a little 1.3L diesel Fiat 500.
Guy wants one now - we used less than 6 litres to 100 kms while we were there (even with all the driving on windy roads in the mountains) and he fell in love with it.
When we rented the car, we were offered (well, strongly recommended) that we take out extra theft insurance. Apparently, Catania is a real hotspot for car theft (stripped for parts and exported to the mainland) and the girl on the rental desk told us that Hertz had had 4 cars stolen in the previous week. The decider was that apparently, Fiat 500's are a favourite!
Guy was amazing, the traffic was unbelievable and the road-craft in Sicily is insane, but with the help of the GPS we got out of Catania in one piece and found our way to the apartment.
We met up with Patrizia (Pierluca's mother) at the apartment. She showed us around - 2nd floor apartment, 3 bedrooms, air-conditioning in all bedrooms, huge balcony that wraps around the apartment and a sea view. It also had a garage underneath so we could keep the car out of the sun.
There was a great villa in front of us (you can see it in the photo) for sale - it looked huge, maybe someone could buy it and fix it up, put in a pool, air-condition the whole place and invite us to stay because we found it for them???
Guy on the balcony
View from the balcony to the sea. Doer-upper on the left
Just down the road there was a place you could walk down some stairs and through a tunnel (I think it might have been a drain) and then walk out on a concrete path to the sea. There were a few platforms that you could walk out onto and then climb down the ladders for a swim. The only day we went down to actually swim there it was like surf and we felt it was too dangerous to go swimming- we should have gone the day Guy took these photos!

On the first day, we decided to go to Taormina, which is a hill town west of Mt Etna. It is a very pretty little town, very touristy as apparently it has been discovered by the European jet set so is also very expensive. There were lots of people there and it was extremely hot so we didn't feel like queueing up to see the Roman amphitheatre or actually queueing up in the sun to see anything!!
After walking along the main tourist street (in the hot sun), we were quite happy to wander around the backstreets (which were empty of course - and in the shade) and took a few photos.

The square at the beginning of the town
Entrance to the town
Mosaics on the walls in lots of the streets
View from the square down to the beach (Giardini Naxos)
Little garden we found in a back-street (remains of a massive Roman wall)
We then decided to drive down and find somewhere to swim - there were beautiful views from the side of the road leading down towards the coast.

Finally we found a parking spot at Letojanni Beach, just north of Taormina - the main beach at the base of Taormina is Giardini Naxos, but we couldn't find anywhere to park there and apparently it is very expensive.
Letojanni beach was great, we got an umbrella and two lettini (sun lounges) for 10 euros! A bargain!! The water was warm, but the rocks were HOT! I had trouble getting in and out of the water as the large round pebbles kept tripping me up - we are so spoilt in Australia with our sandy beaches.
On the flip-side, I reckon the European beach style with sun lounges, change rooms and toilets, not to mention the cafes at the beaches, are great.

Wall to wall sun lounges!
The next day, we decided to drive into the hills and do a circuit of Mount Etna.
Leaving Aci Trezza, we headed inland, winding through small towns up the gently sloping side of the mountain.
Mt Etna is so big that you really do not realise how high it rises, until you stop on the side of the road (on its lower slopes - before the actual volcano cone starts) and look back down towards the sea.
Looking North-West along the East Coast
We stopped in a small town called Randazzo to have a break and had a chat with the local cafe owner while he made Guy a coffee.

At one point on the road, we went through an area where one of the recent eruptions had destroyed all of the vegetation on the road and caused a building to burn down. All that is left is the stone shell of the house.

After completing the circuit, we drove up to the car-park on the side of Mt Etna (Rifugio Sapienza).
From here, there are great views in all directions, with the volcanic cone continuing to rise well above the carpark.
From here, if you wish, you can take a chairlift higher up the mountain (EU35 each) and from there you can go even further in a 4WD truck that goes close to the actual crater (another EU30 each)!
We decided that we did not need to do this, so we walked around one of the most recent small craters and took in the views.
View from the car-park
Crateri Silvestri

The surface is loose black lava rocks and there is a black powder running through it that is very easy disturbed as you walk.
Some people were walking up a steep slope to another near-by crater, many of them in sandals and open-shoes.
Some people are crazy!
That is a steep climb in loose rock!
View from Crateri Silvestri back at the access road
Lava flows
The car-park from Crateri Silvestri

Our next trip was down the coast to Siracusa, another port town about 70kms south of Catania.
There is a very old section of the city on a small island (Isola di Ortigia - now part of the city and joined by bridges).
There are some Roman ruins (Temple of Apollo) and very narrow, ancient streets running out to huge seawalls.
There is a large piazza and a thriving local market that we wandered through - beautiful fruit and vegetables as well as fresh seafood.

The ruins of the Temple of Apollo

We decided that we needed to find a beach for a swim, so we headed south again about 10kms to a town called Gallina.
We could not find a way down to the beach as there were houses all along the road, so we took a punt and drove into one of the small access roads, following a route to the beach shown on the GPS.
We thought that we had come to a dead-end when we saw the beach in front of us (at the end of the tar-seal) and thought that we would have to turn around and back-track, but Lyn walked down and discovered that there was a small beach-bar at the end of the road, complete with parking (EU3), change-room/toilets, bar, umbrellas for rent (EU3) and shaded tables.
And there were very few people there. Unbelievable!

The beach we found!

We stayed here most of the afternoon, swimming and reading in the shade, cooling off when we needed to. Most enjoyable.

Next on the sight-seeing list was to go to the northern beaches.
To get there, we got onto the autostrada that runs up the east coast from Catania to Messina and then across to Palermo.
We bypassed Messina and headed to a place called Capo d'Orlando.
We stopped at a small beach to have a bit to eat just east of Capo d'Orlando because there was a nice shade spot to get out of the sun.

The beach near Capo d'Orlando
Capo d'Orlando itself is a huge open beach catering for hordes of tourists, so we headed back to AciTrezza via the mountains.
The GPS took us on some pretty hairy (small & winding) roads, but it was very interesting and showed another side of Sicily

Small roads. Luckily we had a small car!
At one point, we were so high that we could see right out to sea to the offshore islands that form part of the Eolian group (island of Vulcano in the foreground).
View of The Eolian Islands from the mountains.
Autostrada bridge going to Palermo in  lower left
A view down one of the valleys
 Our last trip during the week away was down towards the south coast, but into the hills towards the centre of Sicily.
The southern area is much flatter than the north and there are extensive orange orchards across the entire area.
We headed to a city called Caltagirone, which is famous for a staircase with 142 steps that are coated with ceramic design, each step being different.

The city is famous for it's ceramics and this is evident everywhere. Park walls, street signs, doorways, etc. are all covered with ceramic designs in all different colours.
We didn't stay long in this town as the parking was atrocious, so we headed east towards the coast south of Siracusa again before heading back to Aci Trezza on the coastal highway.

The week in Sicily was a welcome break and we both really enjoyed it.
It is a great island, but to do it justice, you would have to spend at least a month driving around the coast and mountains and  meeting the people.
Oh, and we don't recommend doing it is summer. Forget July & August - it is just too hot and humid, Patrizia said that October is the best month- not too hot , but still warm enough to swim.


  1. Think I want to buy that doer-upper and then write a book called " under the Sicilian sun" and then make a movie....😎

  2. It has a huge shed too under the terrace- I am sure Ivan can find some bits and pieces to put there!

  3. Fiat 500's are great cars. I almost bought one! Wonderful pics - so great that you are enjoying all that Italy has to offer and in this case, Sicily. I've heard that Sardinia has fabulous beaches; maybe you should put it on your list?

  4. Looking forward to Taormina next month, with mia famiglia. I really enjoy your stories and photos.