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Sicily Capitolo 4: Ciao a Noto & Catania

We wrapped up our time in Sicily with two days of indulgence: copious amounts of gelato and arancini and wandering around beautiful Baroque buildings. On our penultimate day, Alex and I spent the afternoon exploring Noto more fully while the rest of the family drove Bri's boyfriend to the airport. 

Having tried Caffé Sicilia earlier in the week, the time had come to taste the offerings of its arch-rival, Dolceria Costanzo (also touted as the best gelateria in Italy). Here the flavours are decidedly tamer, sticking to tried and tested Italian favourites with lemon, chocolate, yoghurt and so on. Nonetheless, they're incredibly delicious, with a wonderfully smooth and creamy texture. Alex and I shared a dreamy brioche filled with hazelnut and pistachio gelato. Best. Breakfast. Ever. 

So who am I backing in the ice cream battle? No one, actually - it's a big fat tie. Caffé Sicilia undoubtedly has the most exciting ice cream flavours I've seen anywhere in Italy (I sometimes dream about the chocolatey orangey genius of Montezuma), while Costanzo takes the classics and does them really, really well. I reckon these gelatieras will be locked in a stalemate for years to come...

Let's take a step away from the gelato competition for a second and consider the cafés themselves. I'd recommend Caffé Sicilia as a place to sit and watch the world go by - it's got a lovely, airy atmosphere and the place is suffused with light (whereas Costanzo seemed a little darker and stuffier). Where Costanzo has the edge, however, is in the savoury food stakes; its arancini, above, were to die for. We chose cheesy ham and spinach variants; Costanzo also do a delicious ragù version, which we tried on our final day.

By midday, the August sun and heat in Sicily is relentless. Diving into an air-conditioned building (or a particularly airy church!) is pretty much key to avoiding heatstroke. We opted for the 18th century Palazzo Nicolaci, its undulating wrought iron balconies designed to accommodate the hooped skirts of ladies' dresses. 

Each of the rooms had its own special purpose or colour theme - this one, with a little Chinese courtier painted on the ceiling, was clearly for tea. 

The main room is devoted to the arts. Historically it was used for giving concerts and performing plays (with a sweet anteroom for the performers, identifiable by a music-themed ceiling fresco), a function that persists today alongside its use as a space for contemporary art exhibitions. 

No sooner had we ventured out on to the streets than the heat forced us back inside for our second icy treat of the day: lemon and apricot granitas at Caffé Sicilia. Granitas are the ideal thing to snack on when it's so hot, and these were honestly the best granitas of the holiday - they genuinely tasted like real fruit. We returned to Caffé Sicilia the very next morning for our final breakfast in Noto: cream pastries, more brioches stuffed with gelato and a truly fantastic ricotta cannolo. And of course I had to have one last scoop of Montezuma - using a miniature shovel, of course. I mean, what other way is there to eat icecream? 

We ordered a giant tray of arancini from Costanzo and hopped in the car to Catania, where Alex and I bade farewell to my family for one last evening in Sicily. 

Catania, situated to the east and north of Etna, has a markedly different flavour from Palermo or any of the immaculately kept Baroque towns of the south. True, we explored the city at night, but I think it's fair to say that it has a much darker atmosphere than other Italian towns I've visited, thanks in part to the abundance of black volcanic building materials present in the pavements, walls and so on. Churches jostle with big fast food joints on the city streets and even Teatro Massimo Bellini, Catania's opera house, is covered in graffiti. And yet...I love it. The city exudes a coolness that springs from its roughness, the dirt, the market square above littered with fruit and vegetables from the day's proceedings. And needless to say, there's a great food scene. 

Our AirBnB hosts had recommended FUD for a taste of modern Sicily, and I was so glad they did. As we arrived, I saw promising signs everywhere: amazing smells emanating from the open doorway, a buzzing queue stretching down the street, and only snatches of Italian conversation to be overheard. 

We arrived at around 8ish and noticed that the diners around us were speaking a mixture of non-Italian languages; by nine o'clock they had been replaced by Catanian locals. Italians really do like to eat late!

These veggie croquettes reminded me of arancini and were ridiculously moreish.

Next up: my first taste of an Italian burger. Yes, not the most typically Italian pick, but when in Catania, do as the Catanesi do! This baby was so huge I had to slice it up to eat it. Hanging my head in shame. 

Unsurprisingly, these were so giant that they ended up defeating us. 

A night time stroll took us past the cathedral and up the stairs of our palazzo to our sweet little AirBnB, where we wrote our postcards before collapsing into bed with exhaustion.

So how did we spend our last morning in Sicily? Like old Italian nonni (grandparents): we bumbled around the little gardens and streets of Catania and breakfasted at a pasticceria on the street in true Sicilian style. Cafe Prestipino, off the university square, is an old-world Italian establishment, where I had a pistachio granita and Alex ordered a cappuccino and a cake shaped like a breast (obviously). The cassatella di Sant'Agata is a traditional Catanese marzipan dessert, its resemblance to a boob referring to Saint Agatha's fate. Her breasts were cut off with pincers. Er, yum...

And that concludes my trip to Sicily! I hope you've enjoyed my Sicily series and that these posts might be helpful to any of you planning to visit Sicily. It's definitely a foodie's paradise, and packed full of places sure to delight one's inner historian or artist. A wonderful holiday with wonderful people. I'm definitely feeling withdrawal pangs for the dolce vita - somebody take me back! 

If you're looking for more Sicilian inspiration, catch up on chapters one (Palermo), two (Siracusa, Etna, Taormina) and three (Noto, Modica, Ragusa)

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