In April I flew to Catania, Sicily to check out the island for my project Unplug & Explore. And oh boy, I had a blast! While staying in the Grand Hotel Baia Verde, I unplugged for the week and explored the island.
The weather was extremely pleasant; it was April but already super warm, between 20 and 24 degrees. Hereby my report, divided in three parts: Explore, Unplug, The Hotel. And some general information for if you’d like to visit yourself.
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© All photos by Noni May for Unplug&Explore. Do not use them without permission ©.
As every trip, I had a few things I really wanted to see. Because it’s great to unplug or because it’s a shame you visit the city and not see them.
- An Etna hike
- Palazzo Biscari
- Piazza del Duomo
- Via Etnea
- Villa Bellini
- The Orto Botanico dell’Università di Catania
My favorite thing of the whole trip was the hike on the Etna. The hotel arranged a tour for me on a Saturday (Easter Saturday). I was picked up around 9 at the hotel and in about 1,5 hours we drove to the Etna. In the car the tour guide told me a bit more about the Etna and the region, which was very interesting. I didn’t know Volcano areas are so interesting! You learn about it in school, but when you’re actually there yourself, it’s so much more interesting! The road trip was great for learning more about the Etna region and the small villages you drive through are amazing.
The Etna is the most active volcano of Europe (ieeeh!) but it’s completely safe to visit. So there are different layers of Volcano, which are all very different. You have the newer ones, the black ones, the nature rich ones.. so much difference!
On the mount Etna itself there’s also a difference on nature, depending how high you go. I went to Sapienza Refuge (1.986 mt), where I explored the last eruptions and the old Silvestri Craters. Then I visited the nature path of the Etna Park and the view of the Bova Valley. Afterwards we drove back, and visited Zafferana. I visited one of the most famous organic farms and had a lovely wine and honey tasting afternoon. They also offer great organic olive oils, pesto’s and olives. I also visited a volcano cave, which was not that interesting (mostly dark). I’d recommend a tour where you go through Alcantara Gorges, a beautiful river within high volcano walls.
Doing an Etna hike with a tour guide costs you about €40 – €60, going up higher with the cableway costs you about €30 more. Bring good shoes as you can take more adventurous ways to climb the mountain, where it might snow (I’d definitely suggest that route!). I’m afraid of hights but did it anyways, it was incredible scary but so much fun once I was down again 😉
Of course I was unplugged most of the time, but the hotel offers something I had to review… wifi! Which makes the hotel great for business trips, because besides the wifi they offer a few very classy meeting rooms! I could easily use the wifi while laying on the side of the pool of the hotel… great for keeping Instagram updated about how good life is.. 😉
The hotel offers so much relaxing that it was hard to leave and unplug in the city… my suggestions for unplugging in Sicily:
- Visit one of the beaches. Hotel Baia Verde has a private beach, so there’s again no hurry to leave the hotel. But there are also many, many places in the nature where you can stop, read a boo and picnic.
- Stay around the Hotel pool. The hotel pool is big enough to hold a few groups, so there’s probably always space for you.
- Hotel Baia Verde owns a mini spa, how perfect is that? You can get massages, facials, spray tan (in case you’re afraid to show up near the pool.. go there first!) and a private gym, free to use for every hotel guest. This part of the hotel will keep you busy for a good day.
- Go for a run! One thing I noticed immediately was the amount of runners passing by.. great I had my running shoes with me! I also tried out the gym, which is great when it’s already dark outside and you’d like to do some strengthening exercises.
- Visit The Orto Botanico dell’Università di Catania. A quit place in every city, the one in Catania is actually pretty massive. With an area -Hortus Siculus- with only Sicilian plants. 150 years old but still a nice, quit place to spend an afternoon. Bring a book and something to drink and you’ll have a lovely day! I spent there a good few hours and left pretty relaxed.
The Hotel; Grand Hotel Baia Verde
Snap Traveller arranged my stay at the Grand Hotel Baia Verde and it was an absolute pleasure. The personnel was super kind, and the room was more than perfect. And like you read before, the hotel offers great ways to unplug. If I could live there I absolutely would. But how about the rooms? The hotel is great for everybody: they offer small apartments -ideal for families-, luxurious rooms, smaller rooms and rooms with a view. And the best room: the ‘sea view suite’ the most beautiful sea view I’ve ever seen! Like you’re on a boat! I had a room with a view which was pretty luxe. A bed bigger than me (and probably more m2 than my apartment in Amsterdam – oh how lovely!), a sea view and a terrace. I’d definitely recommend that type of room to everybody visiting the hotel, as I believe it’s the best one (besides the suite with the sea view of course!). There’s nothing like waking up with a sea view, walking a few steps to the swimming pool or having breakfast on your terrace. Hmm.. talking about breakfast, it was great! I’m eating gluten and dairy free, which is always a challenge in Italy… but the hotel offered me great gluten free options. And not only crackers for me, also some madeleine’s! Yaay, every morning I got a different kind of gluten free breakfast, which is great if you’re staying longer than one night.
My room had a small desk, and more importantly two universal contacts – I forgot my worldwide charger for my camera so this was great! The only thing that made my stay at Hotel Baia Verde a little bit harder than necessary: I didn’t have a car. And the hotel is far from the city center and the busses.. ohh the busses don’t drive on time. Actually.. there aren’t times and sometimes I had to wait more than an hour. This caused me a lot of unnecessary stress (is the bus stil coming? How do I get home..). Of course I could have get a cab, but that was about €30, and the bus was only €1 for 90 minutes.. or free if you’re a dare devil.. because the bus is not a common used transportation, no one bats an eye if you don’t have a ticket. But it’s so cheap, why bother not buying tickets? Just make sure you buy them in advance on the station or in the city, as there isn’t a way to get a ticket in the bus itself or near the hotel.
The hotel has a large restaurants, where they will make their way to make you a meal, even if it’s off the menu. Like a gluten free one 🙂
Arriving in Italy it was kinda hard to speak with anybody because no one, and I mean absolutely no one speaks English. So bring your language book if you have one. Prepare some basics so you can find your way, as the public transportation is not organised at all, even the bus drivers don’t understand you. They don’t announce the bus stops, so I’d recommend driving while it’s light outside. My first bus ride was in the dark and I’d never recommend that to anyone, I was lost. Terrible. A bus ticket is only €1 for 90 minutes.
Sicily itself is reasonable priced, you can use euros. I flew from Amsterdam with Transavia, which is a great airline. On the way back we were even complete way before departure time, so we left earlier, which was great. This way I had my connection in Amsterdam, the plane was half empty, and everybody had about 6 chairs to sleep on.
A special thanks to Snap Traveller and Grand Hotel Baia Verde!