It was our last full day in Catania and we decided to spend the morning in Acireale, six miles north east of the city. We travelled there by train taking just 10 minutes with return fares €5 each. On arrival in Acireale station we discovered that it was located 3km out of town. I don’t know why so many of Sicily’s stations are located so far from the town centre but it took us 20 minutes to reach the old town along a main road,
Acireale is a small, elegant baroque town and like many other places in Sicily, is home to several grand churches demonstrating its former wealth. Our path led us to the large Piazza del Duomo in the historic heart of the town which is dominated by the cathedral with its Neo-Gothic facade. The church traces its roots back to the 5th century but was later reconstructed after the 1693 earthquake. Entrance is free and contains some exquisite frescoes by renowned Italian artists and a delightful 19th century sundial decorating the transept paving.
On leaving the cathedral. to one side is another grand church, the Basilica of St. Peter and Paul which has a single bell tower on one side. A second one was planned but somehow never materialised. Although we were able to view the interior of the cathedral, a funeral was taking place in the Basilica so we just admired the church from its exterior.
It was then time for morning refreshments which we enjoyed on the terrace of an attractive bar facing the cathedral. As it was a hot, sultry day instead of my usual cappuccino, I opted for a granita which I’d seen plenty of, but never sampled. There were numerous combinations to choose from, and my lemon and strawberry granita had a fresh, sweet taste making it a perfect accompaniment to the zesty lemon flavour. It was similar to a sorbet but with a coarser texture but very refreshing. It is often served with a hot brioche although I chose to just have it on its own this time.
After a pleasant rest and a little chat with the waiter we continued on our way, exploring the labyrinth of narrow streets that lead up a steep hill through the town. Having seen most of the town, we retraced our steps back to the station for the hourly train back to Catania.
In the station concourse we tried in vain to validate our return tickets as required before boarding Italian trains but all four machines were out of order. I then sought advice from the ticket office but found a notice affixed to its window indicating that it was closed for lunch. Not wishing to receive a fine on board, I quickly took photos of each of the out of order machines as evidence. As it happened, the guard never appeared but I thought it was best to be prepared in case of any issues.
After calling in a supermarket near the station we prepared a tasty salad with local ham, cheese and bread which we enjoyed on our balcony accompanied with a couple of glasses of Sicilian wine. Feeling rested, we decided to take a stroll in the Bellini Gardens facing our apartment. This park is the largest in Catania and contains many exotic and sub-tropical plants. It was completed in 1883 and is dedicated to the local composer Vincenzo Bellini. The gardens have three entrances and we visited through the main gates along Via Etnea. On entering the gardens, a monumental staircase paved with black and white stones leads up to a large fountain surrounded by four statues representing the arts and the seasons. There were also good views from here of the towering Mt.Etna looming in the background.
Whilst travelling on a rail replacement bus earlier in the week, I struck up a conversation with a pleasant 30 year old from Messina who suggested we take a look at the botanical clock in these gardens as it is quite unique. It didn’t take very long to find it and it was lovely to see as the current date is displayed in flowers. Each morning the team of gardeners update and replant the date neatly for all to see which I thought was so nice,
From the flower clock we continued along a tree lined avenue where we found a large gazebo. It was a tranquil spot and perfect for an afternoon stroll as we were able to take advantage of the shade from the large trees.
It was then back to our apartment to gather our belongings together for the upcoming second part of our Sicilian holiday. In the evening we enjoyed a final stroll along the wide streets of Catania, passing the university and the now familiar Elephant Square near the fish market and cathedral.
Our stay in Catania had been very pleasant and in some ways I was a little sad to be moving on to our next destination, but, at the same time, interested to visit the Sicilian capital, Palermo.
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