Imagine taking a wrong turn into a narrow deserted street with crumbling buildings just as sunlight is fading. Take it further by having to walk to find your hotel with heavy bags passing funeral parlours and coffins on display. This was our first look at Catania, Sicily’s 2nd largest city.

Posted by Jennie

Coming from the posh resort town of Taormina, we made our way to Catania, the ancient port city of Sicily to spend our last night before heading back home. I didn’t bother to do any research on Catania, I just wanted a city closest to the airport. Entering Catania was not a pretty sight, there was none of the Italian charm we had experienced in Ortigia, Ragusa and Taormina. We also hit traffic and made a few wrong turns. Our GPS wasn’t cooperating so we decided to walk. Probably not the best idea, 4 blocks had never felt so far away. The rest of our family drove to the airport to catch their flight back to Rome. We were alone.

To begin with the hotel entrance is in a back street with a very discreet sign, so it’s easy to miss. But we did find it and we did get settled. I was set on not leaving the hotel and just ordering room service. But the hotel didn’t have a restaurant. So my husband and I decided to have a quick dinner somewhere near and come back as soon as possible and hole up in our hotel room.

door
The signage to our hotel. Very discreet.

But, in the safety of our room, now warm and comfortable, my heart no longer racing in my chest, I started to relax and look around. The room was, as my daughter would say “so extra”. It was fabulous! It had a king size bed with a white dreamy canopy, photo blow ups on the walls and an antique altar table for a console. Later on the manager explained that this was the Saint Agatha room. Saint Agatha is the patron saint of Catania and a virgin martyr who refused to give up her honour. Hence the scarlet red and white motif. She was imprisoned and eventually killed by the Moors. The bathroom done in Moorish flair is the “dungeon”, but what a gorgeous dungeon it is with it’s 7 foot iron door, gold tones and high end Ortigia toiletries.

agatha
The Saint Agatha room
Agatha2
The blown up photos are from the feast day celebration of Saint Agatha, Catania’s patron saint.
bathroom
The Moorish inspired bathroom, Saint Agatha’s “dungeon”.

The hotel is called Asmundo Di Gisira. It is a boutique hotel that was once a palazzo. More than a hotel it is a fantasy created by someone with an active imagination, a lover of art and fine things. Dafne at the front desk was kind enough to show us some of the rooms. Each room and suite is thematic and is designed after a character or story in Sicilain folklore. There’s Sant’ Agata, Uzeta, Proserpina and a few more, all lavishly decorated to celebrate a particular event or story.

room
This room is inspired by the warrior Uzeta.
Ass 1
The hallway at Asmundo Di Gisira.
Balcony
The balcony on the 2nd floor overlooks Piazza Mazzini.
Breakfast
Not your usual spartan B&B breakfast, the hotel serves a generous spread of local cheese, meats, jams, fresh orange juice and more.

The penthouse balcony we discovered the following day offers great views of the town. Flowers are in bloom and the little details are a delight.

So what about Catania? I apologise for my earlier impression. Catania is not the prettiest of cities but I find it to be authentic, a real living city and there lies its charm. We left the hotel thinking we would be back immediately but we found ourselves walking around Catania, to the Duomo, the entire length of the main shopping street Via Etnea, up to the Giardino Bellini, the oldest urban park in  Catania with its beautiful gardens and impressive cast iron gazebo.

The beautiful gazebo in the Bellini Gardens.

Streets
The streets of old town Catania.

We also got to see the ruins of a Roman Theatre right in the middle of the city. The historical centre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site primarily because of the Baroque architecture. Sicily is celebrated for its Baroque architecture. But only Catania has “black” buildings, this is because of the black volcanic stones used. The city sits at the foot of the great Mt. Etna and its history is entwined with that of the volcano.

Roman
A Roman Theatre in the middle of the city.
Roman 2
Black stones used for the facade of Baroque buildings.
Elephant
Night falls on Catania. This is the obelisk and elephant fountain in front of the Duomo.

 

Vong
A smoky spaghetti vongole.

A quick dinner turned into a long passeggiata. It was way after dark when we made our way back to our hotel. Sleep was long and undisturbed below the canopy of white, under crisp fresh smelling sheets.

With daylight came a different Catania. Right outside our doorstep, a Farmer’s Market was in full swing. Like in a movie set, vendors were shouting out to passerby, there was laughing and talking and an amazing variety of fresh produce. We made our way to Catania’s famous fish market just behind the Duomo where tables are set up seemingly randomly, the activity is frenetic and we are told this happens every morning except on Sundays.

Market
Our shady street transforms into a colourful Framer’s Market.

 

Fish
A few streets away is Catania’s famous, lively and noisy fish market.

We left for the airport at 12NN to catch our 3pm flight. Dafne arranged for a van and she walked us downstairs to help us with our bags. Of course I invited her to visit Manila one day. The idea got her excited. She may write about Fear Factor Manila as well, and hopefully like me, she’ll have a change of heart.

Roof Deck
Enjoying the morning sun on the roof deck of Asmundo Di Gisira.