by Tobias Sauer
Not only the presence of active volcanoes is the reason, why it is getting hot in the east of Sicily and on the Aeolian islands.
Sicily occupies a very special position in the Mediterranean: it is not only the largest island, but also the most centrally located, strategically important, and has been fought over since time immemorial by various groups and peoples. The differences to the Italian mainland are clearly visible. Perhaps due to the geographical distance to the Vatican, Sicily is also the cradle of the Italian gay movement, where the most important Italian gay and lesbian organisation ArciGay was founded in 1980.
In the east of the island, far away from Palermo (in the northwest) and the repressive ideas of honour and masculinity originating from Mafia circles, people are far more open and very relaxed. Foreign tourists are met warmly in a typical Sicilian way, but one should be prepared for the fact that – unlike in Ibiza – even people in tourism often speak little German or English. But this is part of the charm and at the same time means that with a few bits of Italian (or a small phrasebook with useful phrases) you will enjoy the country and its people twice as much. The Sicilians will thank you with great hospitality.
The approach by air to Sicily’s unofficial h gay capital Catania, the second largest city on the island, is spectacular: Shortly before landing, the plane has to circumnavigate a large snow-covered obstacle, Mount Etna. Europe’s most active volcano is always dominating the horizon when you are in Catania or nearby Taormina. You can see red glowing lava flowing from the edge of the crater at night. The volcano Stromboli on the island of the same name, near the northeastern tip of Sicily, is also active, while the volcanoes of the other Aeolian islands are dormant. Your first place to see in Catania’s baroque city centre, dominated by black lava stone, should be Piazza Francesco d’Assisi. The church and its numerous depictions of saints merit a quickt visit, including the patron saint of the city, Agata, who carries her cut-off breasts on a tray before her.
Don’t miss to have short break at the historic gay café and restaurant Caffè Neva, just across the square, before entering the pedestrianised zone. There are hundreds of bars and trattorias with terraces offering everything from traditional Sicilian cuisine to organic nouvelle cuisine. If you can imagine the streets full of people and a vibrant outdoor nightlife – think of Barcelona, but with better ice cream, you’ve come to the right place.
Apart from the famos gelato, you should also try a Granita, the predecessor of Gelato, which can even be eaten at breakfast in Sicily and Seltz, a thirst quencher made from mineral water, lemon juice and salt. Every kiosk in town sells them. If you want to go clubbing, take a taxi to viale Kennedy, which runs along the sea, and get off at number 80, on Fridays at number 93. The latter is a regular beach resort during the day, but turns into a gay open-air disco every Friday night. The nearby gay club Pegaso’s has no direct access to the sea, but a swimming pool. A mostly young and mixed crowd meets here on weekends. You will be pleased to know that even heteros have to buy a membership card of homo organization ArciGay as admission to the club.
Drag shows or events like the election of “Mister Kalon” are held here, for whose title both homos and heteros compete. If you wish to see more of the island than just Catania, it is best to rent a car. Nearby Taormina is more chic and a tourist city à la “Traumschiff” (German soap). Cruise ships dock here every day and unload thousands of passengers. Only a few homophile bars and hotels still bear witness to the former gay capital of Sicily, although gays still flock in droves to the huge ancient Greek theatre for opera, dance and film performances in summer.
If you are looking for an unforgettable evening, drive up from Taormina to the village of Castelmola in late afternoon and enjoy one of the most spectacular views of the Mediterranean shortly before and at sunset. After dinner in the cathedral square, stop for a drink at Turisi – a hetero bar whose decoration consists of penises in all colours and shapes.
Further north, the Aeolian (also called Liparian) islands are ideal retreats for couples who want to spend a few days in the summer doing “dolce far niente” (sweet idleness). In winter, the sea is often too rough to reach the UNESCO World Heritage-listed islands by hydrofoil. Even though there is little purely gay entertainment here, there are many gay-friendly accommodations, often run by gay couples: One partner takes care of the hotel, the other of an often fantastic little restaurant.
Each island has its own identity. Lipari, the biggest island, has a good gay scene night life down at the harbour. In the Marina Pub Sammy there are regular drag shows, but on the beach you see mainly young families. Panarea is the smallest island, but no less lively and is a hotspot for the Italian jet set, whose representatives head for the island with their yachts. The discotheque Raya is one of the most famous in the whole Mediterranean, the motto here simply is “See and be seen” (and one should be prepared to fork out generously for this privilege). Apart from Cala Zimmari on Panarea, the beaches of the islands are made of pebbles and not sand, so you should think of bringing an air mattress..
Your back will thank you for that and you will be rewarded with the deepest blue of water you have ever seen in your life. For your very private dip into the sea, you best rent one of the small boats that can be obtained in every harbour. Most hotels on the islands also have pools, many of which are filled with warm thermal water from the region. Beside Filicudi, Salina is perhaps the quietest and in many respects most lovable of the islands. Romantics will certainly appreciate its lush greenery and quiet holiday atmosphere. The best way to explore the island is to rent a scooter. Do not miss to visit Pollara beach, where Oscar awarded film “Il Postino” was shot and that is one of the most beautiful beaches of the archipelago.
Those who like it hotter can visit the island Vulcano, which is famous for its thermal mud baths, or to Stromboli, whose volcano erupts regularly. There you can do choose between “Vulcano Watching” tours or crater climbs for the more adventurous holidaymakers. It couldn’t get hotter.
(Published in Spartacus Traveler 02/2010)
Official hompage of the region of Sicily
Website offering useful information on the city of Taormina
HOW TO GET THERE
Air Berlin offers more than 20 non-stop services during summer timetable from Berlin-Tegel, Dusseldorf, Frankfurt, Hannover, Cologne/Bonn, Munich, Nuremberg and Stuttgart (return flights from ca. 180 Euros), www.airberlin.com
AMT Alibus links the airport to the city center every 20mins (ca. 1 Euro). Interbus links the airport Taormina via the motorway (travel tim ca. 1,5 hours, 5 Euros) and carries on from there to Castelmola (another 15 mins, 2,50 Euros return), www.interbus.com
Giuntabus links Catania airport and Milazzo from April to September, hydrofoils of companies Siramar and Ustica Lines take you to the Aeolian islands. A single ticket to Milazzo costs ca. 20 Euros, travel time about two hours,
Hotel Valentino (Piazza Spirito Santo 39, Catania) Centrall located gay-friendly hotel in fin-de-siècle atmosphere. winter garden, www.hotelvalentinocatania.it
Villa Romeo (Via Platamone 8, Catania) Gay three star hotel near the railway station, decorated in kitch, rather small rooms, but fantastic breakfast. Next door is sauna Mykonos that belongs to the same owner as the hotel, www.hotelvillaromeo.it
BAD (Via Cristoforo Colombo 24, Catania) Gay-friendly bed & breakfast near market square. Friendly staff and trendy design, www.badcatania.com
Villa Schuler (Piazzetta Bastione/Via Roma, Taormina) The villa built in the 19th century hosts a gay-freindly three-star hotel with a breathtaking view of Naxos bay in these days, www.hotelvillaschuler.com
Villa Enrica (Via Serra 11, Lipari) Hotel on the top of a hill in Lipari with beautiful rooms and unique view of port and sea. The budget sister hotel is on a the beach near Canneto, www.villaenrica.it
Nievski (Scalinetta d‘Alessi 15/17, Catania) No place hipper. Non-conformists, anarchists and people of all sexual orientation mingle on three floors, www.nievski.it
Neva Caffè (Piazza San Francesco d‘Assisi 4/5, Catania) This trendy gay bar cum restaurant is the meeting point for the gay scene for an aperitif or dinner. Karaoke on Thursdays, drag shows on Sunday.
Le Capannine (Viale Kennedy 93, Catania) The 30,000 sqm beach resort turns into a gigantic gay disco on Friday nights, organised by Cristina Garofalo, www.cristinagarofalo.it
Pegaso’s (Via Kennedy 80, Catania) Gay club for young and local muscle-maries, including outdoor swimmingpool and disco tent in winter. Best day is Saturday, www.pegasos.it