- Aug 21 • 2 years ago
NetRefer’s Cultural Traveller – Davide Takes Us to the Roads Less Travelled in Ragusa & Catania
Davide Sava – our thirteenth Cultural Traveller – a Solution Consultant at NetRefer, is a native of Sicily. He studied Computer Science in Catania and Padova, working in a lab in university specializing in robotics. He also has experience working and living in the UAE. He first came to Malta at the end of 2020 when he found a job. Originally meant to move to Barcelona, his plans suddenly changed when he got “the golden call” to work for an Italian company based in Malta. After 6 months, he went through some self-introspection and realized that he wanted to step up things with his career. That’s when he joined NetRefer.
Ragusa – Davide’s hometown – and Catania, are two worlds apart. One is a collection of towns covered in baroque architecture; the other a cosmopolitan city built out of lava stone. One is quiet, idyllic, and full of quaint bars, restaurants, and more; the other busier and bustling with life during day and night. One has some beautiful natural scenery; the other great shopping outlets. But one thing they both share in common (in their own ways) is great cuisine. Davide takes us on a fun tour through these two different but beautiful parts of Sicily!
1. What makes Catania & Ragusa unique?
Coming to Malta from Sicilian places like Catania and Provincia di Ragusa is an almost seamless transition. There’s a lot of overlap in the landscape, architecture, climate, people’s character, and more.
That said, there are still some discerning characteristics. The food, art, and the dizzying amount of churches are a few. The churches, among others, are one of the most prominent Baroque architectural remnants found scattered throughout – even more so in my hometown of Scicli and other parts of Val Di Noto (Ragusa).
Catania is an entirely different beast. Lava stone is used predominantly in most construction work since it’s easy and cheap to source from Mount Etna nearby. As a result, most of Catania is coloured in black, and this intensifies the heat of summer.
2. What are must-visit neighbouring cities and towns, and why?
Scicli, Modica, Ragusa, Noto, Ispica are all within reach of each other and worth visiting because of their unique beauty. All of these towns are listed as UNESCO World Heritage. Then, Siracusa has some fascinating archaeological sites. Two of the highlights include the Necropolis of Pantalica and the Greek Temples.
3. What are staple historical sites any visitor should see in Ragusa & Catania? How about ones off the beaten track?
The first must-visit destination includes the Greek temples. There’s one in Siracusa with an amphitheatre, which is used every year for stage productions of Classical Greek tragedies at sundown. These, set to the setting sun in summer, are truly spectacular.
As mentioned earlier, most Baroque architecture is a sight in itself. These include an overwhelming number of churches. In Modica alone, there are well over 100 of them.
In my hometown – Scicli – there are old buildings dating back to the 19th century, previously owned by nobility. Some of the most famous ones are Palazzo Spadaro and Palazzo Bonelli Patane’. Close by, you’ll find Farmacia Cartia – an old and famous pharmacy. But perhaps, the most iconic building is a desecrated monastery up on a hill.
Then, close by Catania, there’s Taormina, an idyllic hilltop town that’s a sight to behold in itself.
4. If you were an outdoors/trekking type of person, where would you go?
This Riserva Naturale di Pantalica is a historical site – the same one mentioned earlier with the rocky Necropolis. This one is a particularly popular destination for hikers/trekkers because it offers a lot in the way of natural Sicilian topography and environment as well as some iconic historical sites.
5. If someone’s a foodie, any particular types of food or drink you’d recommend and spots to try them out? How about if you’re a sweet tooth?
If you’re looking for amazing sweets, Catania is chock-full of master “pasticceri”. It’s hard to think of only one type of sweet to recommend because just about anything hand-made at local pastry shops – “Pasticceria” will taste amazing.
Then, another highly recommended dessert is the “granita” – shaved ice with flavouring. Most will know the lemon one due to Sicilian lemons being so popular, but there are several other flavours equally worth trying, such as coffee, pistachio, hazelnut, almond, mulberry, and more.
Another sweet summer specialty known throughout Italy – but also especially in Sicily – is our “gelato”.
As for savoury food, there’s an area in Catania called Spinella well known for serving some of the best arancini in all the south.
And since Italy is famous for its huge variety of pasta, Catania has its own provincial recipe – Pasta alla Norma – served with ricotta salata and aubergines. There are several other recipes worth exploring while you’re there, but this is one of the most well-known ones.
6. What are the best beaches to go for a swim?
Ragusa and Siracusa have some of the best beaches in all of Sicily. These include Sanpieri, Lipari, and Cala Mosche. There are others as well. But as a rule of thumb, it might be best to stay away from beaches in Catania. They tend to be more congested, dirtier, and rocky.
7. If you want to go on an art/cultural tour, what are some good spots to visit?
Most of the popular cultural tours visit the same baroque-themed destinations mentioned above. Other interesting tours include culinary ones.
8. Is there a good public transport infrastructure? What is the best way to get around town?
Taking into consideration the size of cities and towns, as well as the distance connecting them, the best way to get around is by car or motorbike.
When travelling across Sicily, you could take a bus but it’s not generally recommended. In this case, it’s still recommended to use a car or bus, not only because it’s more convenient and orderly, but because you have the choice to drive on countryside and less busy roads while enjoying the panorama.
Renting cars is generally a straightforward process. Renting a bike might take a little more searching, although in Catania, it’s easier to find them – especially electric bikes.
9. What are the best seasons to visit Ragusa & Catania? And does it change a lot from one season to another?
Spring is the best time due to the moderate temperatures and overall pleasant weather. Summer’s too hot, but the summer sunsets are some of the most beautiful. They make it worth travelling during that season alone.
10. What are some customs/manners/expressions one should know when visiting?
Many locals in the area are very friendly and receptive. If you’re a visitor showing interest in the food, ways of life, or any aspect of the culture, they’ll welcome you and make you feel at home.
If you have no knowledge of Italian, communication might be tougher with older generations, but younger generations are usually, more fluent. And when you meet, English-speaking Sicilians, you can get ready to have some fun, heart-warming, and lengthy chats!
Standard words or expression in Italian used include:
Ciao = hello
Buongiorno = good morning
Buonasera = good evening
Buona note = good night
Arrivederci = see you
Grazie = thank you
Prego = you’re welcome
11. Is it acceptable to haggle or is it considered rude?
Sicilians have an interesting perspective on this. Generally, many local stores and markets enjoy the idea of haggling. When a tourist starts haggling, their understanding is that s/he appreciates what they are selling but perhaps, cannot afford to pay the asking price. But since s/he is really keen on having it, s/he is asking for a concession.
12. What kind of nightlife can visitors enjoy? Any locales you’d recommend for that?
In Scicli – my hometown in Ragusa – you can enjoy town nightlife by heading to any of the small local bars. The atmosphere is amazing because towns like my hometown of Scicli take up a life of their own since, with lit up streets and bars and restaurants open. The Baroque architecture prevalent throughout the town takes an entirely different appearance.
One of my personal favourites is called My Name is Tannino – a pretty wine bar with a lot of character. Just 50 metres down the street, you’ll find Ummara. This translates from Sicilian dialect as “shade”. And one more worth checking out is called La Grotta. This translates to “cave”, and the reason it was named this way is because it’s built inside a cave.
Night life in Catania is very different, as you’d expect from a city. Apart from many bars and night locales, you’ll find many interesting events. There is a particular kind of festival called Sagra, each one celebrating one particular kind of food, usually cooked in several different ways. For instance, Sagra Del Pesce (Fish Festival) revolves around a variety of fish-based dishes.
13. What activities do you recommend for people travelling with kids?
Most families just head to the beach in summer. So, all beaches mentioned earlier count here as well.
14. How easy is it to make friends with the locals?
It’s very easy overall. However, you’re more likely to find younger generations speaking English than older ones. Also, they’ll have a more open-minded approach, so it makes it easier to connect with younger generations in general. However, this doesn’t take away from the fact that there are many friendly older generations that will extend you a warm welcome regardless of language discrepancy.
15. How safe is Ragusa & Catania? And are there any specific areas to look for hotels and ones to avoid?
Starting with Provincia di Ragusa, it’s very safe for visitors. You can roam around with an easy mind.
Catania used to be notorious for being a little dodgier due to a high rate of pickpocketing. This, however, has declined a lot over the years, and most areas – especially within the city – are safe for travelling. However, it’s good to stay vigilant, especially in some areas.
16. Where can tourists go for shopping? And what kind of things can they shop for?
Catania is one of the favourite destinations for shoppers who like to get branded items at discounted prices at the outlet malls. There’s a shopping neighbourhood called Misterbianco, where you’ll find just about anything on sale.
Another popular store is Ikea if you’re looking to spruce up your house with new furniture.
17. What are some recommended souvenirs travellers should look for?
Apart from some dry or packed food, you can get great chocolate from Modica. And, Sicily is renowned for its fine wine.
In case you’re a music-lover and you like collecting vinyl, there’s an old shop in Catania called Stereo 84 – highly recommended.
18. What would you recommend to tourists who want to take boat rides/tours around the city?
Ragusa offers several highly-rated tours that focus on the Baroque architectural theme, including some great walking tours. You’ll also find similar ones covering more than one town, such as Ragusa, Modica and Noto, all in one.
Modica also has an attractive little port, where many visitors with boats from neighbouring places like Malta dock their boats. This one is called Marina Di Ragusa.
There are several boat tours to keep an eye out for, but one that truly sticks out is a half day sailing boat tour in Taormina Bay.
19. What extreme sports can you try in Ragusa & Catania?
Parachuting is a popular one, especially in Siracusa. Also, since Sicily has a lot of beautiful marine locations, scuba diving is another popular activity.
And, while this may sound counterintuitive, Mount Etna is a popular destination for skiing and snowboarding, among other winter sports.
20. What is the national sport? And when and where can visitors go to watch pro level matches?
It’s Italy! Everyone knows that the national sport is baseball! No, joking apart – just like everywhere else in Italy, football has a fervent following. The biggest two teams are Palermo and Catania, and their resident stadiums are also the major ones, where you can catch pro level matches while the season is on. These two teams also happen to be arch-rivals.
The third most popular team is Messina, but their ranking in the league fluctuates a lot.
21. What are some festivals or concerts to look out for? How about local feasts?
As mentioned earlier, Catania holds food-themed festivals called Sagra. Each one of these celebrates a different food by having it cooked in a multitude of ways.
But one more festival really worth looking out for is called MedFest – short for Medieval Feast – in a town called Buccheri. During this festival that lasts a three days in the third week of August, you’re taken back in time to celebrate the coming together of cultures and religious beliefs in a reenactment. You’ll see a diverse range of foods cooked using traditional methods, shows and parades with actors garbed in traditional costumes, musical performances and buskers and many events for you to experience.
Join the colourful, diverse team that is NetRefer. Meet other Cultural Travellers, share your experiences and make many more memorable ones. You belong here!
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