Stylishly Solo – The Catania Travel Guide

Hi Everyone!

The pandemic put a lot of plans on hold for many people, myself included. Travelling seemed like a dream that I would escape to anytime I was feeling isolated and boxed in by life. This year though – I finally took my first vacation after three long years! I made the decision in early May when I realized that I was hitting burn out and my anxiety was at an all time high. I booked two weeks off in September and gave myself something to look forward to. I had no idea where I was going to go or what I was going to do but I knew that I needed to feed my travel loving soul. I gave it a bit of thought over the following few weeks and finally settled on Sicily. It wouldn’t be my first time in Italy but it would be my first time visiting south of Amalfi and I was looking forward to exploring, learning and challenging myself in a new environment. After doing a bit of research and speaking with a colleague who had recently visited Sicily I settled on visiting four cities during my vacation – Palermo, Cefalu, Catania and Ortigia Island. I have now been back a week from my travels and I can honestly say that I had my best vacation yet. Sicily is not the easiest place to visit and I definitely had my fair share of challenges but the culture, the food, the people and the environment are all incredible and worth planning a vacation there to experience for yourself. Over the next few weeks I will be posting travel guides for each of the Sicilian gems that I had the pleasure of visiting. First up – Catania.

Located in the east of Sicily at the foot of Mount Etna, Catania is one of the major cities that you can fly into when visiting Sicily. It is underrated when compared to its rival Palermo but I loved Catania. The markets are incredible, the architecture breathtaking and the views of Mount Etna are incredible. It is also the perfect destination for wine lovers as there are incredible vineyards on Mount Etna that are definitely worth a visit.

Where to stay: The UNA Esperienze Palace Hotel Catania, this hotel is located on the main shopping street in Catania. The roof top restaurant features gorgeous views of Mount Etna and it’s within walking distance of the markets, great restaurants and cafes and sights such as the duomo. The rooms are beautifully decorated and the hotel breakfast in the morning is quite good. I had a few minor issues during my stay that I didn’t say anything about until my last night when I got annoyed and sent an email to customer service – I really didn’t expect them to read it until after I had left, and my motivation was just to give some constructive feedback. The response was the most impressive customer service that I received in Sicily. The management of this hotel is clearly motivated to deliver a positive and quality experience to all guests. I will be booking to stay here again on any future visits to Catania and will be suggesting it to anyone that I know that is planning a visit to Catania.

What to do: Visit the markets! During my visit my plans fell thru one day and I ended up with extra time on my hands to just wander around the city. I found myself at the market walking around and admiring the different stalls and vast array of foods that were being offered. As I walked past one place there was a woman offering samples of cheese that called out to me. She had on her sample plate what had quickly become my favourite cheese in Sicily – Formaggio Picante (aka cheese with chilli peppers in it). It was by far the best one that I had eaten so far on my trip (and truthfully the best cheese that I had my entire trip). Seeing how much I enjoyed the sample and being the savvy business woman that she was, she suggested that I sit down to enjoy a drink and a cheese plate (that cheese was a great hook!). I told her that I wanted to finish wandering around the market but I would be back and 15 minutes later I found myself settling into a chair at her stall and ordering a cheese plate with a spritz (hey, when in Italy). I had such a great time people watching while enjoying the wonderful food and drink. If you are at the Catania market stop by Salumeria Patti to experience it for yourself.

Book a wine tour. The tour that I had booked before leaving for my vacation fell thru at the last minute but thanks to a tour guide in Catania I was able to find a new one thru Etna Experiences. My tour included pick up and drop off, a honey tasting, visiting two incredible vineyard sampling different wines, snacks and lunch. If was probably one of the best wine tours that I have experienced. If was well organized, the tour guide was very knowledgeable and personable and the wines were delicious! If you are looking to book a wine tour in Catania I suggest that you visit Etna Experiences website to see the various tours that they offer.

Where to eat: Aside from enjoying the market fare in Catania and visiting Salumeria Patti for incredible cheese and people watching, another great spot for people watching and to rest from the Sicilian sun is Zi Caffe. Located next to the duomo, this cafe has a large terrace with umbrellas and I had one of the best chocolate donuts that I had ever had here. It is definitely worth a stop.

Il Sale Art Cafe – I randomly found this restaurant while eating dinner nearby. It was busy and looked like a great spot to check out so I made a dinner reservation for the following evening. It turned out to be a wise decision on my part as I ended up having one of the best pizzas of my life here. I love spicy food and they had a Calabrian chilli stuffed crust pizza that filled my chilli loving dreams. Even if spicy food is not your thing, their menu is filled with options for everyone and everything that I tried there was delicious (I even ended up going back one other night – it was that good).

Catania is a great city to just wander around and absorb the energy of the city. I found people welcoming and kind and I enjoyed my time in this city very much. It has all of the Sicilian charm of the other cities that I visited but with its own identity and I can see myself visiting Catania again and again. This is not a city to miss if you are visiting Sicily!

Have you ever been to Catania? Let me know your experience in the comments!

I hope that you have a wonderful day! XXS

Restoring Wellness in a Historical Setting

Hi Everyone!

As my love of design has grown over the years, I am frequently researching new projects. I have a special love for transformation projects that modernize older buildings into fresh new spaces while still respecting the original bones of the building. I recently came across today’s featured project and was instantly captivated.

©AlexFilz . Monastero

The Network of Architecture was hired to transform a 17th century monastery into a chic spa and hotel. Located near Lake Garda, Italy the project was twofold – to restore the monastery and make the most of its distinctive elements while converting it to a charming and unique hotel, and to design and develop a new wellness centre that includes a 500 square metre garden, multiple treatment rooms and saunas that would seamlessly integrate into its surroundings.

Like many historical restorations, this one had its challenges. After being cleaned, the building needed to be reinforced, restored and updated under the watchful eye of the local Heritage office who had the power to veto any detail. The heritage office called for a light touch for this restoration so while modern fire and heating systems were added to the building, the plaster walls, stone staircases and rib vaulted ceilings were carefully restored.

©AlexFilz . Monastero
©AlexFilz . Monastero

Throughout the 40 room hotel, the black, grey and white colour palette for the fixtures and furnishings match the austere palette of the monastery. The newer building echoes the original and is mainly built in plaster and stone. The 5,600 square foot spa building has a colonnade wall made of Vicenza stone that is the spine of the building with seven glass and steel cubes attached to it that house the harman, sauna, massage rooms and relaxation areas. Wood panels laser cut in a geometric pattern of the hotel’s logo pomegranates are seen throughout the space. Bleached oak along with cotton and linen effect textiles add warmth to the space and encourage relaxation for its visitors.

©AlexFilz . Monastero
©AlexFilz . Monastero
©AlexFilz . Monastero

The restrained design of both the hotel and the wellness centre provides a sense of peace for its visitors. It encourages people to slow down, lower their voices and take some time for self reflection and restoration.

©AlexFilz . Monastero

This is the perfect wellness retreat for wary travellers to sit back and relax in historical surroundings. The Network or Architecture has done a phenomenal job creating a space for wellness while respecting its history. Love it!

What do you think of this space? Let me know in the comments below.

I hope that you have a beautiful day! XXS

Photo Credits: http://www.interiordesign.net and http://www.noa.network

Real Chic in Miami

Hi Everyone!

I have a confession to make…there are certain reality shows that I absolutely love. It’s not the drama that sucks me in (to be quite honest I don’t even understand it most of the time) but the fashion and the homes. When the Real Housewives of Miami season four premiered at the end of last year, I happily set my PVR for it, excited to see how the fabulous in Miami live. Thankfully they did not disappoint. The liberal use of sequins captured my attention and there was one home that was featured that made all of the screaming throughout the show worth enduring.

Dr. Nicole Martin is hardly your typical housewife, with a successful career as an anesthesiologist this new comber to the show was professional, articulate and frankly a breath of fresh air. Her house is just as chic as the woman herself. Initially I was drawn to this home by the entrance area. I have a deep fondness for arched doors and windows, and this home draws you in with them. Complimented with a beautiful limestone console and reclaimed marble flooring this just might be the entrance of my dreams. The more that I saw of the home, the more I fell in love. At 9000 square feet, it would have been really easy for this home to feel cold but instead it has a cool understated vibe that draw you in.

Large picture windows allow a flood of natural light to pour into the home, highlighting the double height ceilings and the European elk wood floor. Classic and timeless furnishings showcased against cream coloured walls create a clean and contemporary interior.

Made for entertaining, this home has a 3000 bottle wine cellar along with a 20 seat movie theatre and a gorgeous 12 person dining table perfect for hosting those well known housewives dinner parties.

The added bonus to this house is the gorgeous marble that is used throughout the bathrooms. The bold use of a burgundy/purple-ish marble in the powder room is perfection.

Surrounded by lush palm trees and greenery, the outdoor pool area is the perfect spot to escape for a bit of R and R while enjoying the sunny Miami weather.

Overall the design of this home is well thought and chic in a timeless understated manner. It’s warm, welcoming and inspiring for future design projects.

Thank you for stopping by Stylishly Zen today! I hope that you have a beautiful day! XXS

Spaces That Make Me Smile – North Bondi by Greg Natale

Hi Everyone!

A few weeks ago an image came across my Instagram feed of a subtle but colourful french manicure. While it is not normally my style as I tend to stick with classic nudes or the occasional dark red for my nails I fell in love and promptly screenshot the image. The next time that I was at the nail salon I shyly pulled out my phone and asked my manicurist if she could copy the colourful manicure instead of my usual. While this may seem small and insignificant to some, I am slowly trying to break out of the somewhat monotonous routine I find myself in lately and a colourful manicure was my own small act of rebellion in order to change things up. My manicurist was able to achieve the look that I had requested but was not shy in telling me that “it was a trend from last summer”. Truthfully though, I didn’t care – every time I looked at my nails I smiled and I received more compliments about my nails over the following couple of weeks then I ever had before. This experience made me more aware that it was important to do and see things that made me happy and smile, especially as life just feels so hard and boring lately. The little things matter regardless of what that looks like to others.

Today’s project profile made me smile when I first saw it. I am not normally into art deco aesthetic but this one captured my attention from the first image that I saw – it made me smile. Located in North Bondi, Australia this home is a playful respite from the outside world.

Originally built in the 1970’s, Greg Natale opened up the interiors of this home and the results are both fun and memorable. Overlooking the ocean, bringing in the stunning views and optimizing sightlines were key for this project. Adding modernity by blending the living room, kitchen and dining room together the aesthetic of this home is light hearted and welcoming.

I absolutely love the playful touches added to this space especially the light mint colour of the fridge and cabinetry paired with the brass hardware of the stools and the open bar. Love it!

The rest of the colour palette is left light and airy which helps to elevate the lighthearted playfulness of the space. Softened edges such as the arched doorways and mirrors further added a lightness to the home. The bedrooms are kept clean and light as well, and the lime washed walls add a gorgeous subtle texture to the space.

Anchored by camel tones and wood help to keep this space from looking space and dreamlike.

Overall, like my previous manicure this space makes me smile and I hope that it adds a smile to your day as well!

Thank you for stopping by Stylishly Zen today, I hope that you have a beautiful day! XXS

All images via http://www.localproject.com.au

The Sussex House by McKimm

Hi Everyone!

We made it thru a very long January! The freezing temperatures, continuing lockdown measures in place and early sunsets made for an extra long start to the year here in Montreal. Now that we are well into February, hopefully happier times are not far behind but in the interim I am diving head first into researching and dreaming about projects filled with natural light and outdoor spaces. Today’s featured project is located in the Melbourne neighbourhood for Brighton. The home beautifully balances clean architectural lines in a welcoming space while providing a sense of protection to the harsh surrounding environment.

Brutalist design has been a favourite of mine for quite some time and with its liberal use of concrete, clean lines, and natural light via large window this home is straight out of my design loving dreams.

Entering the home thru a gorgeous pivot door, the home offers a sense of journey and discovery as guests move thru the home. Communal spaces such as the kitchen and dining room are kept clean and minimal but offer a sense of welcome to any guests to the home. The refined colour palette of blues, greys and charcoal elevate the elegance of this large family home.

The home provides a deep sense calm and stillness boosted by uninterrupted sightlines. Exposed concrete elevates the level of grandeur within the minimalistic space while elements of brass and timber add warmth without being too stuffy.

The exterior of the home is kept minimal, combining concrete with tonal textures and black trim. Clean lines elevate the minimalistic luxury of the home. Surrounded by greenery and an outdoor pool, the large windows throughout the home help to bring the outdoors inside.

This home is the perfect place to get over the February blues. What are your thoughts on this home? Let me know in the comments below.

I hope that you have a beautiful day! XXS

All images via http://www.thelocalproject.com.au