An April 2004 trip
to Catania by Marianne
Quote: We toured Sicily by public transport. There is a good network of trains and buses. Buses are faster than trains. Travel on Sundays is restricted, sometimes only one bus.
We had no difficulty in finding accommodation but it can be difficult in June, July and August. The B & B owner told us that there are many pre bookings for these months.
Our room was large 6 x 6 metres. There was one double bed and two single beds. There were bedside tables with lamps, a desk, a big wardrobe and three chairs, a tiled floor, and cream-coloured walls. Enough space to walk about. But when there are four people sharing this room it may be a bit full. The bathroom was large enough to be comfortable. The room has windows on one side and a balcony on the other, which gives a nice draught in summer. There is no view, simple houses and a garage across the road. There is also air-conditioning, but we didn’t need this as late April was still quite chilly. There was a small portable television with only Italian channels.
In the morning breakfast was served in the communal kitchen. Big cups of strong coffee, black or white, sweet biscuits, bananas, and oranges.
It is a secure place, the gate can only be opened from the inside with a key from the outside. There are parking possibilities within the gate.
We had a very warm welcome. The proprietor invited us to drink coffee in his kitchen and we talked about life in general and Noto and its sights in particular.
If you are pressed for time and have to decide if you will visit either Ragusa or Noto. Go to Noto and skip Ragusa.
Noto is the best baroque city in Sicily. After a devastating earthquake in the mid-nineteenth century it was completely rebuilt. Take your time to walk around and look at all the architectural details. You will not be able to the Duomo because its copula collapsed in 1996 and restoration work is in progress.
Pollution has taken its toll, but many building have been cleaned and are back to the former colour: a bright yellowish-orange.
The main street is for pedestrians only and lined with beautiful, honey-coloured Baroque buildings. It is a pleasure to sit under shady trees in Piazza Municipio
We went up Via Corrado Nicolaci to see six balconies supported by griffins, galloping horses and fat-cheeked cherubs of Palazzo Villadorata at nr 18.
It is easy to find your way in Noto, walk along the main street at the end turn into a sidestreet and walk back along the parallel street. You need no map. And if you cannot do without go to: Tourist Office in Piazza XVI Maggio (April-Sept Mon-Sat 8am-2pm & 3.30-6.30pm, also Sun in summer 9am
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on June 30, 2004
Bed and Breakfast Alla Stazione, Noto
Viale le p. di Piemonte 113
The bathroom was L-shaped. There were fewer towels per person than we had in other hotels, but we had a hairdryer. The shower was quite narrow, but the water was really hot.
A small balcony overlooked the busy main street but too small to sit on. There was double glazing and louvered shutters.
Breakfast was served in a small breakfast room. We were very early and most of the chairs were stacked and not yet put ready for the guests. An elderly lady made cappuccino and unwrapped the cream-croissants which came straight from the baker. There was red-orange juice straight from a packet. The pre-packed biscottes were no longer fresh.
We finished breakfast at a quarter past seven, when we went down to receptions the lights were switched on and the same lady checked us out.
The hotel has many long and short flights of stairs. The building comprises several house. The good point is that there is also a lift.
After an earthquake Ragusa was split into two. It now consists of Ragusa Ibla, the old town, the lower town and the upper town, the modern centre with shops, hotels, bus station and train station.
We spent most of our time in Ragusa Ibla. It’s a twenty-minute walk from Hotel Rafael. Halfway there are beautiful views of Ragusa Ibla. Weather beaten roof straddle the outcrop of the lower town. The Piazza Duomo in Ragusa Ibla is a pleasant place to sit. The Church of San Giorgio at the top of the Piazza is a beautiful background: a three-tiered façade, robust columns and a balconied belfry, what better place to sip a cappuccino.
We spent some time finding a supermarket. We found one near the railway station: when you leave the station turn right. It just in front of Hotel Jonio.
We stayed in Ragusa for one day, went everywhere on foot and by the end of the day we had seen everything.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on June 30, 2004
Hotel Rafael, Ragusa
Corso Italia 40
From the train station: walk straight on and turn left, walk past a small church and a tiny square in front of Bar San Calogero, a good place for breakfast, straight ahead 120 stone steps. Go up and turn left at the top. This is Via San Vito, five minutes on foot.
From the bus station walk straight into via San Vito. It is less than 10 minutes.
Our room is fairly small and oblong, 3 x 6 m. There are windows with louvered shutters and wooden blinds on the inside, two single beds, a wardrobe with extra blankets. On top of it a fan. There is a table and two chairs. The bathroom is small, but well-equipped. There is no view. The good thing is that the room is very quiet.
Breakfast can be bought in the hotel at €3 p.p. and you can eat it in the small breakfast room with four tables. Next to reception there is a sitting area, a sofa and two easy chairs. There are also back numbers of magazines and newspapers.
In spite of the name Belvedere there was not much of a view from our room. We had room no 36. It is smaller than the other rooms but still at the same price € 64.
There is a small garden with flowers and trees a good place to rest when you come back from the Temples.
All in all it is a good choice, very friendly and helpful owners.
It is a three minute walk to the shopping street, Via Atenea. It is a lively street and traffic free in the evening. In Via Atena you will find restaurants, bars and many places where you can sit and have coffee with a cream-filled croissant dusted with icing sugar. If you want to do some shopping Via Atena has all the big chain stores. There are many restaurants in the alleyways leading off the main street. In Cotile Contarini there is a bookshop with internet access € 1 for 15 minutes. In Via del Celaura there is another place with internet access. A good number of flat screens and nobody. € 2 for 10 minutes. You will have to identify yourself with your passport or Credit Card. When I asked why this was necessary, i got no answer.
There is a pizza Restaurant in Cotile Contarini. It attracts attention in Via Atena, where it advertises its tourist menus at €10. It is not a place I would recommend. The pizza we had was mediocre. I ordered Pizza Napoli with anchovy. After some time I discovered two small pieces of anchovy. The crust was a bit burnt. The two olives were the best part.
The next evening we bought pizzas from the baker, on the left off Via Atena (railway end) near the church. Perfect! Lots of fresh halved tomatoes, fresh herbs, onions and melted cheese.
Hotel Belvedere, Agrigento
Via San Vito 20
Grande Albergo Sicilia is right in the centre of Enna. From the outside
it does not look very promising. It is an oblong concrete building, not
very well maintained. concrete decay has set in and in some part the iron
frame within the concrete is already visible. The entrance is difficult
to see because of the many cars parked in front.
Reception and the entrance hall look very attractive. There are fake art-deco stained glass partitions. The lobby has sets of deep armchairs. Coffee tables and a communal television. The carpet could do with some vacuum
cleaning. The big armchairs used be leather-upholstered. They have covers
to hide the worn leather.
Hidden behind the curtains but still clearly visible flaking paint and
very dirty window frames. There are windows on three sides, very good
in hot summer weather, but in early spring the wind blows through the
lobby. Also because some of the windows cannot be closed properly. The
lobby is non-smoking but when we were there were some ashtrays with stubs
and it smelled of stale smoke.
The good point about the hotel is that there is a lift. But we took the
stairs, walked to the second floor past a dead potted plant, lots of
mirrors and old pictures of Enna.
Our room is small: 3 x 5 metres at most. There are three beds with
pretty blue covers and a beautifully hand-painted wardrobe. As all hotels
in this category it has airco, a minibar and a writing table with a
television, only Italian channels. There is also a tiny balcony with
crumbling concrete and flaking paint. It is too small to sit on. The view is not spectacular: right opposite us a forest of aerial masts for
cellular phones. The bathroom is fully equipped but very small.
We were in Enna on a very windy day and all night the door to the
bathroom and the corridor rattled and we could not stop it. The walls are
not sound proof, we were woken early in the morning by the running water
and toilet flush in our neighbour's room.
We paid € 91 and at this price I had expected more comfort. Breakfast
was included. A buffet which consisted of: cereal, tinned peaches and
prunes, cheese, ham, butter, jam, rolls, cornetto cream and chocolate
type and a choice of pastries, tea or coffee and fruit juice served in
The first day we had breakfast at seven. There was no ham and cheese.
Probably still too early for it although breakfast is served from 7
onwards. The next day we were really lucky. We had the last fruit juice and
there was just enough ham and cheese left for the guests who arrived
straight after us. It was 8.30. None of the dishes was refilled.
Member Rating 2 out of 5 on June 30, 2004
Grande Albergo Sicilia, Enna
Piazza Napoleane Colajanni 7
The B&B is owned by a couple, la signora is German. She also speaks good English. Our room is on the first floor. There is a double bed with a German type bedcover, which we will need as the scirocco, this strong wind so typical of Sicily, was blowing almost right through the house. Once we rolled up the blinds the room filled with light through the double french windows. There is a small balcony with two plastic chairs the type used from Argentina to Zanzibar. But because of the wind we could not sit out.
The room is big enough for two persons to move at the same time. There is a square table with an orange-white checked tablecloth, two upright chairs and two metal easy chairs, two nigh tables with lamps and an empty wardrobe which will stay empty as we will only stay for one night. The floor is tiled and covered with a rug. There is no airco but there is a ceiling fan. There is no attached bathroom, but a communal one and as we are the only guests we have it all to our own.
Breakfast is served in a hall at the top of the stairs. There is a tiny kitchen unit, three tables and sufficient chairs. this is also the place to watch television.
We paid € 35 breakfast included. In the high season the price is € 45. An extra bed costs € 15 but it is without breakfast.
Breakfast consisted of fresh sesame rolls, three types of jam, butter and coffee.
This B&B is a five-minute walk from the entrance to the ruins of Selinute, where we went that afternoon. We had our lunch at the corner of the old train station and the entrance to the site. You cannot miss it. It’s a bar-cum-souvenir-cum-library. There is a good selection of books about Selinunte and other sites, also some cookery books. All books are in Italian, German, French, and some in Dutch This shows what tourists to expect. We had panini with ham and spicy cheese, fruit juice and coffee at € 6 p.p.
The holiday House is the ideal place to stay, especially in summer as the beach is within walking distance. Reservation is recommended in the high season.
The Holiday House, Marinella de Selinunte
Via Apollonio Rodio 23
Attraction | "Villa Romana, Piazza Armerina"
In the parking place there were only three buses but that was quite different when we left. We then walked along a lane of souvenir stalls all selling the same, and came to the entrance (€ 4,50)
The villa is very large. The owner lived here with his extended family and many servants. It was probably the hunting and summer lodge of a rich Roman. Hunting scenes and the famous mosaic of the five girls in bikinis point to this. They date back to the 4th century AD. The house was used until 12th century, when a mudslide covered it. Excavations started in 1950 and he excavators were amazed by the many mosaics, most of them in good condition. The mosaics are a bit dusty and a sprinkle of water would have done wonders.
The mosaics are protected against the elements by plastic roofs, the walkways become very hot in summer. There were notices but all information had been removed. The mosaics speak for themselves but if you want to know more details bring a guidebook.
First we passed the hypocausts and the baths, no mosaics here. Then we entered the house and came to the mosaics. Some of the faces that are depicted have exactly the same facial expression. Some wheels of chariots are not completely rounds and there are some more flaws. Therefore, I think that not a first class artists was engaged. But this makes the mosaics so very real.
I liked the floor that depicts a racing course. The owner of the house was probably in horse-racing himself. In another room there is the hunting scene, another pastime of the master of the house. The hunting scene mosaic is a kind of pictorial story. A big hare is chased, it hides in a bush, and is captured. There are more animals cased and captured. The last scene is the picnic and the barbeque, spirals of blue smoke spiral into the air.
We walk on along a long corridor which shows a circus and many outlandish animals, leopards, tigers and elephants. Some Arab traders sell goods and a Roman points at some of the merchandise.
The next room had fishermen dragging their nets. These days fishing is still done this way. Two long nets are attached to two boats then gathered together and the content emptied on the beach.
It took an hour to see everything at leisure.
There is a bus back to Enna at 1.30 pm and another one at 5.10 pm.
It is 5 kilometres uphill from the train station to the centre of Enna. When the train arrives there are taxis waiting. But if you wait another 15 minutes there is a bus to Enna via Enna Bassa.(the lower lying part of the city)
The bus station is on the outskirts of the upper city, but within walking distance of the historical centre.Walk to the back of the bus station i.e. walk to the wall at the back. Go up the stone stairs turn left and then first right. This is Via S. F. Assissi. This road, slightly downhill, will take you right in to the centre.
If you like, you can go to the centre the long way with views across the valley. Leave the bus station at the front and turn right. The first thing you see are the sepulchre houses in the cemetery, which looks like a small village. This road will take you to the centre.
The Tourist Information office is next to Hotel Grande Albergo Sicilia,
right in the middle of Enna. They have a free map of the city and
timetables of the buses.
The Memorial Church in front of the Tourist Office is: 'In
Memory of Our Heroes Who Fell in the Great War and World War II'. You can't
miss it. At the entrance there are two Italian flags and a custodian,
who had already consumed his morning wine, and explained things to us in
On the walls there are plaques with names and dates, and some photos of
those who killed in action. Right in the middle, on the floor there is
a mosaic of the Aghia Sophia in Istanbul with one of the minarets
falling down. At the back there is an altar made of painted glass, which is
glued on to a wooden frame. The custodian was happy to show this to us
and tapped enthusiastically on the wood and gave us small pieces of
glass to inspect.
The Duomo, the cathedral of Enna is not very spectacular from
the outside. It has a Baroque façade and looks rather austere. The inside
is a revelation, a feast for the eyes. Huge columns support the roof.
The bases and tops are carved with snakes and fearsome human heads. The
roof consists of beautifully carved beams and more heads that look down
on to the visitors.
Next to the pulpit there are two strange contraptions opposite each
other: a kind of scaffolding. It is very ramshackle and therefore
supported by stilts. One houses the choristers and the other one the organ.
These two contraptions are cramped in between pillars. It is quite obvious
that they came from another church, cathedral or monastery as the whole
contraptions clearly does not fit. Adaptation were made so that the
whole things could be placed between the pillars. Unfortunately there was
nobody about whom I could ask where they came from and why they were here.
Along Via Roma, Enna's main street there are many more
churches. I liked best San Giovanni, it is crowned by a copula, a relic from the Arab occupation. The winding streets of Enna also suggest Arab influence.
The Castello di Lombard dominates the town. Originally this
stronghold had twenty towers, of which only six remain. It guarded the
steep slopes on both sides of Enna against invaders. Torre Pisana is the tallest and worth climbing because it provides good view in all directions. The spot just under this tower has stone picnic benches and a good place to have a meal. That's what the French tourists were doing. Their day-to-day itinerary doubtlessly included: Picnic at Enna's Castle. But the tour description only took hot sunny days into account. It was early May. Clouds scudded along the sky, there was a strong wind and the French tourists held on tight to their plastic cups and cutlery.
Enna is a pleasant place to stay but I would not make a detour for it. There are far better places in Sicily. A disadvantage of Enna is that there is only one hotel which it not very good value for money.
The Temple of Concord is truly amazing. A monument far better than any description I had read or seen in pictures.
It is still in such good condition because for some time in its history this temple was a Christian basilica. Christians looked well after their sanctuaries. Thanks to their dedications we can now see an almost perfect Roman temple.
From the train station in Agrigento to the temples takes 45 minutes on foot. You follow either the road signposted to the temples, the route the bus takes, or take one of the many stone steps that lead down. You cannot loose your way because you look down into the valley all the time and you can see the temples in front of you. Either way takes 45 minutes.
The bar at the entrance to Temples is geared at tourists. There are no competitors and prices are high and quality is low.
We were invited to sit down at a table, but be aware, when you sit down prices are higher. We wanted a quick bite but were told to sit down. When we said 'no' we got a scowl. I had a croissant filled with custard but the custard had to be looked for by a searchlight.
If you want something to eat it is far better to walk towards the city, past the museum until you get to a T-junction. Here is a bar-ristorante, tables in front and more place to sit in the backyard and a very good selection of snacks.
If you have seen enough temples and have often enough walked up and down Agrigento’s main street you might like to go to San Leone.
It is 6 kilometres from Agrigento and on the beach. Bus no 2 from the train station will take you there in 20 minutes..
There is a long, narrow beach with beach huts sunbeds and umbrellas. In western direction there is a palm lined-beach promenade. Walk along the tennis court, the skeeler rink, handball court and you will get to innumerable stalls selling sunglasses, belts with sparkling buckles and lots more fashion goods. At the far end is the marina and a children’s funfair. Many fish restaurants line the seaside walk.