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The Sicilian city of Catania has twice been destroyed and rebuilt – once in 1669 after Mount Etna erupted, and again 24 years later after an earthquake. Etna, which looms over Catania, still belches out clouds of volcanic ash every now and then and evidence of her black lava can be found throughout the city.
Situated on Sicily’s eastern side, on the shores of the Ionian sea, Catania is the launch point to the rest of the island. The city of Marsala on the opposite side is just over 200 miles away, while Palermo, the capital, is 131 miles away. If you take out a hire car in Catania then Sicily is yours to discover. From rich cities to winding country roads, the island has it all.
Fly in to Catania-Fontanarossa Airport, which is just four miles out of the city centre. Palermo Airport is about 150 miles from Catania, Trapani Airport is about 200 miles away and Comiso is a drive of 55 miles.
Alamo, Hertz and Goldcar Rental can all provide a rental car in Catania. Budget, Thrifty and Firefly are also available and have branches at Catania-Fontanarossa Airport.
Catania is a thriving old city, with busy restaurants, bars and shops. The fish market, with its noise and bustle, feels like the centre of the city – or perhaps the centre of the world. A feast for the senses, it is a true local tradition that has become a popular draw for tourists. The hour’s drive from Catania to Mount Etna zigzags through some otherworldly landscapes, taking in old lava flows and barren lunar expanses. The volcano is still active, so check before you go and take care to read the various warnings.
On the opposite side of Sicily is Marsala. Just over 200 miles away, a drive of about four hours from Catania, this town is famous for its wine. Its ancient streets are lined with shops selling Marsala by the bottle. There are also a number of vineyards in the outlying villages. Just off the coast are the small islands of Mozia and Isola Grande and in the shallow waters north of Marsala, toward Trapani, are the photogenic salt pans – easy to reach by car.
Palermo, Sicily’s capital city, is on the island’s northern coast. Baroque palaces and dramatic domes are everywhere here, along with flamboyant Italian charm on every corner. Sicily also offers the opportunity to travel further afield. Catch a ferry to the neighbouring island of Malta. Passenger ferries set off from Catania or from the southern Sicilian town of Pozzallo. Not all the boats take cars, so check before you book. There is also a ferry from Messina to mainland Italy so you could drive from Catania all the way up to Naples, which is a journey of 364 miles, taking around seven hours by car.
If you are getting the ferry to Malta check with your hire company that your insurance will still be valid as you enter a different country. Otherwise, take care on the roads. The speed limit for the motorway is 130 km/h, and 50 km/h in towns, but Sicilian drivers do have a reputation for speed.
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