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

Stylishly Solo – A Guide to Dining Solo

One of my favourite parts about travelling is the opportunity to try new foods and to learn about new cultures through food.  One glance at my Instagram and you know that I love to eat, so it should come as no surprise that dining is an integral part of my travel adventure.  While planning my first solo trip, I really didn’t give much thought to how dining solo would be.  I just assumed that it would be similar to every other dining out experience that I had previously had.  Clearly I was naive.  But because I never thought to just stay in and order room service, I strongly believe that my naivety helped me figure out how to happily dine solo. It takes practice and I don’t think that I will always get it right, especially as dining experiences vary from city to city and country to country.  But, there are a few things that I have learned that help to make the experience more pleasant.  Here are my top five tips for having a great solo dining experience:

  1. Get uncomfortable.  Normally while travelling, I like to stick to the a dining format that works for me – a light breakfast normally at a cafe where I can people watch.  Lunch is not normally a huge meal – just some place that looks decent and not too touristy, a place to rest and refresh during my sight seeing adventures.  I like to make dinner an event – I look for fun restaurants to try, I like to get a little dressed up and I take my time and enjoy my evening.  Whenever I speak with people about my solo travels, dining solo especially going out for a nice meal is what tends to surprise people the most.  The most common response that I get is “I could never do that!  I would be so uncomfortable!”  Dining solo especially at a proper restaurant requires a bit of gumption (so to speak) and it is a great way to get out of your comfort zone. The first thing to do is to really think about why it is that you don’t feel that dining solo is for you. Yes, some people might stare at you, you may get a not so great table as the better ones are left for groups larger then one person and the waiter or waitress may not give you as much attention (or forget about you altogether) as they tend to the other diners in their area. All of these things (and so much more) have occurred to me while dining solo.  I survived and I learned – like anything in life, you have to be your own advocate.  This doesn’t mean causing a scene or berating the staff.  It just means that you need to figure out how to clearly communicate when you need to and to not take the other stuff so personally (which is much harder said then done at times).  Even if your first (or second or third) solo dining experience is not the greatest, take some time to figure out what it was that you didn’t enjoy.  Was it the food?  Try another restaurant.  Was it the service?  If so, what was it about the service that you didn’t enjoy?  Did they ignore you or treat you badly?  Did they rush you or was service incredibly slow?  When I was in Madrid last year, I was really excited to try a particular restaurant where I had heard that the risotto was spectacular.  I arrived practically jumping with excitement only to be rushed thru my meal (two courses was over and done with in under 40 minutes).  While the risotto was spectacular I was a little sad that the experience was over so quickly (just to be clear – this was not a fast food place and my fellow diners were enjoying leisurely meals).  Rather then get upset and vow to never go back despite the fact that the risotto was some of the best that I had ever had, I decided to try a different approach.  I made another reservation for the next day and when I arrived I was greeted by the same server as the day before.  I explained to him that I loved the risotto and that I wanted to enjoy my meal at a leisurely pace.  He happily agreed and I had an incredible meal that I really enjoyed.  I even ended up going back again when I returned to Madrid to catch my flight home a few weeks later (yes the risotto was THAT good).  What I learned was this – since solo dining is still quite rare in many parts of the world it can sometimes be seen as something to be embarrassed about.  Hence why they thought that I wanted to rush thru my meal and get out.  The restaurant had good intentions but initially we just were not on the same page – speaking up got us on the same page and enabled me to enjoy the type of meal that I had been looking for, in a gorgeous setting with incredible food.  That is what I call a win! IMG_3730
  2. Do your research.  The majority of us have the internet at our finger tips and are frequently on social media, so there is no excuse not to do a bit of research beforehand.  Research the type of food that the region that you visiting specializes in, suggestions where you can have an authentic local dining experience, is they take reservations and the location as you want to make sure that you can get to and from the restaurant safely.  Doing a bit of research will help you to get more comfortable with the solo dining experience.  It will also get you excited about the food that you are about to eat and the environment that you will be experiencing.  This helps to make solo dining an adventure rather then just any boring forgettable meal, and it will also help you to avoid the tourist traps for a more authentic dining experience.
  3. Enlist help.  Just because you are travelling solo, it doesn’t meant that you have to figure out and do everything yourself.  Asking your hotel for help and suggestions can save you a lot of stress in the long run.  Some restaurants are inclined to give you better service if your hotel makes the reservation for you as they don’t want you go back to your hotel and complain – word of mouth counts for a lot.  Hotels are less likely to recommend a restaurant where their clients are not being treated well.  There is no harm in using this to your advantage to help to ensure that you enjoy a pleasant meal with good service.  It is also a great way to discover new restaurants that you may not have found otherwise.  While in Naples, Italy a few years ago I asked the woman at the front desk for a restaurant recommendation for dinner.  Luckily she was very honest and told me that most people enjoy a popular restaurant nearby the hotel but her favourite was another one a little further away. I decided to take her recommendation and I ended up at a little eight table restaurant where I had one of the best meals of my life!  While the hotel recommendations are not always the greatest, more often then not in my experience they have been really good.  For this reason, I am always willing to ask my hotel for help – they may just steer you to one of the best meals you will ever have!
  4. Eat at the bar.  If you feel that other diners will stare at you with pity while sitting at a table dining solo, ask to sit at the bar.  I always try to make a reservation for dinner but, when I arrive at the restaurant I don’t feel like being isolated at a table alone I ask if it would be ok to just sit at the bar.  More often then not the restaurant has no issue with this especially as it frees up a table for walk ins.  Eating at the bar can feel more social as bartenders tend to make conversation and there are always a ton of people around who you can converse with.IMG_2932
  5. Look up.  It’s really easy to just bring a book or a magazine with you or to play on your phone the entire evening but you will be missing out!  I have had some great conversations with people while solo dining.  If your nose is buried in a book or your phone you are instantly less approachable.  Look up and look around.  I love to people watch and dining solo is a great opportunity to do so.  I love looking at what people are wearing (once a fashion girl, always a fashion girl), how they interact and I especially like to see what others are eating.  Overall, solo dining is a great way to experience the local culture and to get a better understanding of the people and country that you are visiting.

Solo dining is nothing to be afraid of.  It just takes a little bit of planning and a little bit of gumption, soon you will be on your way to enjoying an incredible culinary experience regardless of where in the world you may be.

I hope that you have a beautiful day and happy dining!  XXS