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Colourful Catania celebrates the 150th anniversary of the Unification of Italy with Rossini’s The Barber of Seville, while the little city of Acireale is bursting with May events. And don’t miss a visit to Taormina, one of Italy’s most beautiful towns. Ellen Grady is our city guide
Catania’s handsome Cathedral Square, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is dominated by an ancient black lava-stone statue of an elephant called Liotru – the statue is said to protect the city and its people from harm. Close by is the stunning baroque cathedral dedicated to St Agatha, and the traditional fish market. Enticing shop windows along Via Etnea, the main street, offer the latest spring fashions in shoes, clothes and jewellery.
SLEEP Keep an eye on all the downtown action from the luxurious Una Palace Hotel (218 Via Etnea, tel. 095 250 5111, unahotels.it, doubles from €102), which has a marvellous penthouse restaurant. The Executive rooms have private dining rooms and windows overlooking the main street.
CULTURE From 10-19 May the Massimo Bellini Opera House (Piazza Bellini, tel. 095 730 6111) is staging Rossini’s famous opera buffa (comic opera) The Barber of Seville. The opera house has been delighting crowds since 1890, and is named after local composer Vincenzo Bellini – known as ‘the swan of Catania’ for the elegance of his melodies.
SHOP For beautifully crafted jewellery, go to Fecarotta (172 Via Etnea), the acknowledged experts for local amber.
A stone’s throw to the north of Catania, on a cliff at the foot of Mount Etna and surrounded by lemon groves and wonderful views, Acireale is a great place for a peaceful excursion.
SLEEP To get the most out of Acireale, stay with a family. At the aristocratic national monument Palazzo Pennisi di Floristella (16 Piazza Vigo, tel. 095 763 3079, palazzopennisidifloristella.it, doubles from €70), the owners will spoil you with a wonderful Sicilian breakfast prepared with produce from their farm, and lots of local info.
CULTURE Pop fans can catch Gianna Nannini’s concert on 9 May, or the musical We Will Rock You from 12-15 May (both at the Palasport, Via Tupparello, boxol.it). On 15 May there’s also the chance to see the legendary cycle race Giro d’Italia (Tour of Italy) whizzing through on its way from Messina to Mount Etna. And local bank Credito Siciliano (12 Piazza Duomo, tel. 095 600208) is running an exhibition of watercolours by French artist Yvan Salomone all month.
SHOP Very special ice creams and almond or ricotta confectionery can be found at Condorelli (26 Via Scionti).
It’s hard to imagine a more beautiful place to be in May. Suspended between the sea and the sky, Taormina’s cobbled streets, fashionable boutiques and flower-filled balconies are just waiting to be explored. As one of the first Sicilian towns to declare loyalty to the new nation in 1861, the town is celebrating the Unification with particular fervour.
SLEEP The delightful little family-run Villa Schuler (Via Roma, Piazzetta Bastione, tel. 094 223481, hotelvilla schuler.com, doubles from €90) is a real home-from-home. For a special treat, ask for the gorgeous Garden Villa suite, with private patio and open-air shower. Or choose Edwardian-style elegance at Hotel Imperiale (11 Via Circonvallazione, tel. 094 262 5202, imperialetaormina. com, doubles from €204), with its inviting infinity pool; the Terrace Suite has its own deck with Jacuzzi.
EAT Taormina’s public gardens are said to be the most beautiful in Italy, and there’s a great little restaurant right in front of the gate. At Bougainville (88 Via Bagnoli Croce, tel. 094 262 5218), chef Sandro serves up his latest irresistible creations – such as grilled bluefin tuna with ginger – washed down with local white wine.
TIP Taormina’s Greek Theatre (Via del Teatro) has something to interest everyone. Photographers will gasp at its marvellous position, with Mount Etna looming in the background. Its ancient stones, meanwhile, have inspired the likes of Sibelius, Oscar Wilde, Guy de Maupassant, Paul Klee and Gustav Klimt.
Fontanarossa Airport is 5km from the city centre.
Bus The Alibus shuttle service runs between the airport and the central station.
It’s a 15-minute journey, with buses running from 5am to midnight. The journey to Catania costs €2. Other services are available to all major Sicilian destinations, including Taormina and Palermo.
Taxi The journey from the airport to the city centre for up to four passengers costs €30, and takes about 20 minutes (tel. 095 330966, 24-hour service). All major car-hire companies are represented at the airport.
Tourist office The main office is at 172 Via Vittorio Emanuele (tel. 095 742 5518, comune. catania.it).