Catania is the 2nd largest city of Sicily. As in all other city's, it has it's pro's and cons. We arrived in the evening at the airport. Alibus provides shuttle services from and to the center of Catania. Click here to see the route of the bus (20min/ €4). The coast line of Catania is all situated in the Southern part.
In Catania you will find plenty of nice restaurants and bars. You need to know where to go though, as there are a lot of boring and even dodgy areas in this city. One of my favourite restaurants is 'Trattoria'. Lovely food and a nice atmosphere. For the evening (especially weekends) it's real fun to go to the rooftopbar in the hostel Ostello Degli Elefanti. You're allowed to go in when leaving your ID. You get a great view over the city and you can meet nice people who like to socialize. Don't forget to try an arancini for breakfast with an Italian coffee.
From Catania you can go to the Etna without an orgianzed trip. The bus leaves at 8.15 AM and takes you to the highest point for vehicles. From here you can take a cable car that takes you up the volcano. Bus back is at 4.30PM. Make sure you make that one. Both way tickets cost €8 and the ride takes about two hours.
Organized tours will also be cheaper here than other villages, since Catania is more closeby to the volcano.
Where to stay in Catania?
We stayed in Camplus D'Aragona. It has nice, big rooms for a soft price (30E/night). The Camplus is close to the train station and a nice square (Piazza Vincenzo Bellini) with some restaurants and nightlife. Close to this square is also a supermarket and ATM. The coast is about 25 minutes walk from the Camplus.
Milazzo surprised us in a really good way. The area we were staying in is pretty cool and there is a lot to do in the city. On the north side of town you have a big pebble beach. It's not really beautiful, but with 35 degrees it gets lovely to take a dip in the turquoise waters. More north of the city you'll find an amazing view. It's called Cape Milazzo. Take some beers with you and enjoy the sunset. You will also find Castello di Milazzo, a big fort overlooking the city and harbour. Go early in the morning, since it can get quit busy after noon. The best thing of this city is that's not so popular among tourist. So you will have cheap prices in restaurants and souvenirs. For dinner you should definitely go to 'lo Scugnizzo'. It's a small and cosy Napolian pizzaria. Good food for a nice price.
Where to stay in Milazzo?
We had a room in the centre, close by the ferry port (Casa Vacanze Sole & Luna 45E/night). It was a bit expensive, but it's hard to find something cheaper in Milazzo. All of the cheaper places are situated in the south of the city and that's a far (+30 minutes) walk to the ferries.
How to get in the centre/ port?
Milazzo’s trainstation is 3 km south of town, so take the very convenient AST bus from the port to the station. Busses runs frequently and are tuned on the arrival of the trains. Taxi drivers will tell you that the busses are not running on that day. Be patient, a few minutes later the bus will show. It cost €1,80 single way. Taxi is €13. Note that the busses really won't run on Sundays/Holidays.
How to take the ferry from Milazzo to any of the Aeolian islands
From the port of Milazzo there are different ferries to the Aeolian Islands. Boats run frequently and every day. We were not there in high season, but still it was really busy! Book your tickets online or the moment you arrive in Milazzo. The company is called Liberty Lines. Here is the timetable with the departures from and to Milazzo. Note that this is the schedule pre high season. Tickets vary (depends on the islands you want to visit) from 15-40E single way. Bit expensive, but you will get a badass boat.
Aeolian island - Lipari
The boat ride from Milazzo to Lipari takes up to 45 minutes. The moment you arrive is breathtaking. Clear blue water, small civilization and a beautiful green landscape with some small mountains. At the pier some people are waiting for you to pick you up or offer you a place to stay. We just had one night, so only explored the main city of Lipari I will tell you about.
On the top of the hill, you'll find Cathedral did San Bartolomeo. This place has some stunning views over the sea. You can't miss it: it's in the middle of town. Just behind it, you find a really nice and picturesque harbour called Chiesa delle Anime del Purgatorio. This is a relaxing place to drink a beer and play a card game. Unfortunately there is not really a beach, but you can easyily walk into the water. In the centre, there're enough bars, cafes and restaurants. All of them have their own charm, so I can't really recommend one. In the evening some bars will have a band playing live music. The atmosphere on the island is good as well as the prices. We didn't snorkel on this island, but the water was clear enough to do so. When you plan to stay longer on the island (which I can recommend), explore it by foot. There are some well marked trails.
Aeolian island - Salina
Salina is a beautiful volcano island. There are two volcanos on the island with a valley in between. The waters are clear blue and the villages are really small and pretty. Snorkelling is perfect here. The biggest volcano is called Monte Fossa delle Felci. The other one is a little smaller, but way more rocky and steep. Both volcanos are not active anymore. What you don't expect is that Monte Fossa delle Felci is a beautiful volcano with lots of trees and flowers, all the way to the top! Our main goal of the trip was to climb this volcano and wild camp on the top. It was an amazing experience.
With the ferry you'll arrive at Rinella, a small beach town. At the beach there's one small shop with limited opening hours. Snorkelling here was real good and we loved spending some hours here. 1 km up hill, there is another town, called Leni. This is the best place to start your trip on the volcano.
A shuttle bus runs to all the places on this island and it turns up on the arrival of the ferries. The timetable you'll find next to the ferry office. It costs 1 euro per person to get Leni form Rinella. Leni is a small dead town, so it's not worth your time. There is one supermarket here (Simpatia) where you can buy your stuff for the journey. See the map.
To climb the volcano from this village is approximately 3hrs. Check in advance what time the sun sets! We did the climb in 2hr30 minutes with a backpack of 13kg. It's quite tough, but doable. The threes provide enough shade to cool down a bit during a break. During your climb you'll have stunning views over the island and sea. The paths are well marked and you have the choice between steep and less steep paths. We took the steep ones, since it brings you quicker to the top. The top of the volcano is higher than the one opposite, so that's good measurement of your position.
The view from the top of the volcano is absolutely astonishing! The best reward after the effort of the climb. There is enough wood here to gather for the campfire. Make sure you'll be ready for the sunset. We had some drinks, ate some food and just sat there enjoying the heavenly moment. In the night, you'll have an other spectacle: (falling) stars! There is no light pollution, so you'll see lots of them. Expect temperatures to drop hard in the night. We had no blankets, so had to cuddle to keep warm 🙂
Sunrise was around 6am, so we packed up camp and made sure we left no trails behind for the early birds. The descending was on the other side of the volcano than the way up. It was beautiful, but also very hard. On your way down, you will notice how far it is to the beautiful Santa Marinavillage. It took us a little bit more than 3hrs to get there. Down in the village we immediatly searched for a shop since we're short on resources. We found a perfect one. Fresh bread and toppings. Afterwards we explored the small town and settled on the beach till the departure time of the ferry. The beach was not as nice as in Rinella, but still beautiful water where you can spot some sealife.
Taorima is probably one of the most touristy places on Sicily. The village is based 200 meters above sea and provides stunning views over the Sicilian coastline. Transport to get here is good: you can either arrive by train or bus (even directly from Catania airport). Just outside the trainstation is a bus stop, the only problem here is that you never know what time it will show up. There is also a walking route from the station to the village, but when we arrived it was closed due to maintenance. Impossible to take it!
What to do and where to go in Taormina
The centre has some great historic buildings and squares. There is also one big street with modern shops and a lot of restaurants. The shopping streets are connected with some picturesque squares. As I mentioned before, it's really touristy. Prices of everything are significant higher than other villages on the island and it's really crowded (we were here in pre-season!). It also took us 3 days to find a normal supermarket (Punto Simply) in stead of an expensive mini market. We stayed in 'Hostel Taormina'. Close to the city centre and a good value for money (25 euro pp/ dorm). Staff was friendly and showed us around. If you have a smaller budget, you should stay in the village Lettojani, this town is next to Taormina. Prices are much better here and you are situated directly at the beach. Buses to Taormina run often, also in the evening.
A little bit uphill you have a small church Chiesa di S. Biagio overlooking the city of Toarmina and the Etna. It's a steep walk, but worth it! (you can also take a bus, but you have to do something sportive to digest all the pizza's). And off course you can visit the ancient theatre of Taormina. This will cost you 8 euro p.p. Is that worth it? Don't think so, we were lucky it was a special holiday with free entrance. We heard rumours you can sneak in. There is a small path going from the bus station and leads to a really small fence without security.
Beach and surroundings
While being there, you want to go to the beach as well. There is a really beautiful path going down and takes you to the stunning beach of Isola Bella. It literally means 'beautiful island'. Rate it yourself. Entrance is 4 euro p.p. Worth it? Yes. It has a really nice garden and you can make some nice pictures of the beach and Taormina. When you lay down your towel on the pebble beach, you will be visited at least once per 4 minutes by Thai massage women. Bit annoying, but just say no and not 'maybe later'. You can take the same way up (45 mins) or take the cable car. This will cost you 3 euro's. Bit expensive, but fun to do once. On the other side of this bay you also have a really beautiful beach. It's hard to find a spot for your towel, since almost the whole beach is occupied by beach beds from the restaurants. This cost between 5-10 euros per day including free wifi, so it's an oké deal.
From Taormina leave a lot of organized tours to the Etna. I found it too expensive (90 euro p.p.). Unfortunately from Taormina it is not possible to go to the Etna by public transport. You should stay in Catania if you want to do this tour by yourself.
Fortunately, there is a really nice tour you can do by yourself from Taormina. Alcantara Gorge is a river going through some scenic rock formations, created by volcanic activity. Buses run often. Drop off is at the parking place which leads you to a shop. Here you pay 8 euro p.p. to go down with the elevator. Ticket also includes a path next to the river through the botanic gardens. Later we learned that there is a free path going down the river as well. Don't go inside the parking place, but walk a little bit further up the hill. There you will see the path which is going down. We spent the whole day by this river. When you walk down stream, you will have all the privacy you can ask for. There are some big rocks in the river which are perfect to lay down your towel and relax while the water surrounds you. The most fun is going up-stream. This will lead you to a canyon where you can go in. Stream is fast here, so it will take some effort to go further inside the canyon. Use the walls to climb, jump and help each other out to go further. Rumours sad there is a little hidden beach, but unfortunately we couldn't get that far. When you're tired and want to go back, lay down in the river and let it do the work for you. Real fun!