Our final day in Sicily was spent in Syracuse and then Catania. We arrived in Catania in the early evening at our hotel Hotel Liberty near the center of town. Catania seems a city that embodies the principle that you should not judge a book by its cover. It is a city without much of the natural beauty of a Syracuse or the charming streets of an Agrigento. Indeed, when you drive through the city you recoil a bit due to the trash and the graffiti. While we stayed at Catania to be close to the airport for our flight, we ventured out and found some interesting sights.
Consistent with the first impression of the city, our arrival at the Hotel Liberty left us apprehensive. I had written that this was an interesting and beautiful hotel. However, you drive through Cantania which looks like a hellscape of graffiti and trash. The dinky and dank street of the hotel proved to be much like the rest of city and we honestly thought of not going into the hotel. That would have been a huge mistake. You enter the hotel off this ugly street and emerge into one of the prettiest and most interesting hotels that I have encountered. The hotel building dates to World War II and the owners gutted the entire property about 10 years ago. They painstakingly created a gorgeous and modern art noveau interior from large Triffany lights to antiques throughout the hotel. The rooms are large by Italian standard and full of lovely art and antiques consistent with the art noveau period. It is incredibly cute. One warning. parking is available down the street in a garage that looks like a real nightmare. The hotel staff said that we could park in front of the hotel and just pay for a street ticket of three euros. You do not have to pay after 8 pm and not start to pay until 8 am the next morning. I was extremely worried about the rental car. I did all of the driving throughout Sicily and I was amazed that we had not gotten nary a scratch. I did not want to blow it on this narrow street. However, the staff assured me that the car would be find and it was indeed without a scratch the next morning by some miracle. (Returning that car to Hertz without a scratch is now one of my greatest achievements in life.)
Having been wrong about the hotel, we walked to a restaurant recommended by the staff: Trattoria del Cavaliere. Ironically, everyone we asked, including the hotel staff, gave directions from the McDonalds at the city centre. Out of curiousity we went in and the Italians have clearly changed McDonalds to get closer to the high Italian standard for food:
Once again, we judged the restaurant by our first impression and it was not good. There seemed little interest in seating us (though like the rest of the Westerners we arrived way too early by Italian standards for dinner at 7:45). Soon however Italians began to arrive and, more importantly, so did the food. It was incredibly good. I had the mushroom risotto, which was “perfecto” with fresh mushrooms and local spices. Leslie had the pesto pasta which was equally great. I then had the local meat roll recommended by the waiter, which were awesome. They are cooked on a skewer and contain meat and cheese. I loved it. Better yet, it was dirt cheap. We ordered a large bottle of the Italian beer (which I love) Moretti as well as sparkling water. The whole lea for two came to 20 euros. The restaurant is classic Sicilian and has steaks and seafood, including horse meat.
We visited the Duomo as well as another church nearby before walking to the Roman amphitheater where gladiator games were held. There are some great ruins in this city and the Duomo itself dates back to 1078. It was built upon the ancient Roman Achillean Baths by Roger I of Sicily. That’s right, the ruler of this part of Sicily was named Roger. Somehow that seems incongruous.
I cannot say that Cantania is a recommended destination for travelers to Sicily, but there is more to this city than the trash and the graffiti (which is everywhere, including on old buildings). While people here may appear a bit harder on the exterior, they are all uniformly nice in our experience and eager to guide lost Americans. If you come here, stay at the Hotel Liberty and eat at the Trattoria del Cavaliere – and ignore your first impressions.