time to explore with esplora

A trip from Malta to Catania

Catania awaits with open arms! Here are some of Patrick J O Brien’s top travel tips that will help you travel from Malta to Catania like a pro

There was never going to be much carnival spirit about Catania airport but at the end of a vast dimly lit arrival hall with my documents in hand, I shared a modest moment of celebration. Most Maltese people haven’t left the country for more than a year. “Good to have you back,” said the smiling woman at the security desk as she grappled with temperature checks as well as reviewing my items.

Italy is open to tourism but with a few caveats. Before arriving at the airport, be sure to educate yourself though regarding entry regulations regarding COVID-19 testing, vaccination requirements, and the European Union Passenger Locator Form (EU dPLF).In the 64 weeks since Sicily went hurtling into its initial coronavirus lockdown, its capital and most-visited city has had moments of subdued, locals-only charm and plenty of stretches of dire stillness. But over a matter of days in a jarring transformation for Sicilian residents the city is beginning to approximate its pre-pandemic self: bustling, doors wide open

But even as tourism returns, it’s still well shy of the level from before. Passengers at Catania Airport are still down 80 percent from the norm. And people from some parts of the world aren’t here at all, a reminder of the inequities of vaccine access. Many of the tourists in Catania are simply Italians from other cities, newly vaccinated, hoping to see their capital before it is overrun.

I chose Catania as it is a great place to use as a base for visiting Sicily, due to its nearby airport, great hotel offering, and its proximity to the Etna, one of the world’s most active volcanos which is almost always in a permanent state of eruption and it was not to disappoint on my visit

The best area to stay in Catania for me is its historical centre. La Piazza del Duomo, which houses two of the city´s most visited attractions, El Duomo (The Cathedral) and the famous Fountain of the Elephant, is the most central point which you can use as a reference to judge how far a hotel is from the city centre. Some hotels also offer amazing views of the Etna from their rooftop terraces.

Via Etnea has great views of the volcano on clear days and is the main shopping street which crosses the centre of Catania. Via Fiorintina is where the majority of restaurants are concentrated, although it’s not difficult to find bars and restaurants to satisfy every appetite in any part of the city centre. Restaurants and bars are open with many having used the time off to renovate or relaunch and indoor seating is now available. Outdoor seating, however, has been a boon to the city. Wooden terraces installed on many curbs have reduced the number of cars that often zoom murderously alongside pedestrians and block beautiful street views. They’re especially beneficial in residential yet touristic neighbourhoods such as Piazza Duomo, which have a higher proportion of resident drivers than the city centre. As I wondered the streets, I found one business which has opened post the Covid lockdown. I wound up at Civico 16, a lounge bar offering a worldwide selection of cocktails, drinks and Wines. I was shocked to find a young man who had just returned from Malta after four years and was positive that Catania and its businesses can prosper once again. Here I experienced the mystical blend of high-end cocktail creations, tasty bites, dedicated quality service and outstanding design in the historic but totally revamped part of old Catania. Cocktails were presented by the talented and passionate mixologist Team and softened my mood as I strolled the city.

In Catania, time has stood still like nowhere else. So many places in the world now somehow look the same, but here even the people haven’t been regularised as they have been elsewhere. Stop at Catania’s main food market, one morning and you might see an elegant, aristocratic queen of a man in his seventies talking to a chap with a face like a prune about the price of anchovies. The market is just the same as it was from the wonderful old painting of it in the 1970s, the same intrigues, the same vibrant street culture, the same street cries. The stallholders are still screaming about how good their tomatoes are that day or, triumphantly: ‘We caught swordfish!’ It’s an incredibly noisy place but not to be missed.

Travel is one of the few activities we Maltese like to engage in not knowing the outcome and revelling in that uncertainty. Nothing is more forgettable than the trip that goes exactly as planned and during these times nothing will.

Both Malta Air and Air Malta have daily flights to Sicily as well as Virtu Ferries and Ponte Ferries operating daily voyages by Ferry to Pozzallo.