The first time I was driven through Giarre on the way to somewhere else, I had one of those moments in which I asked myself why I had never been here before. It just looked so inviting and worthy of exploration. Even from the highway I could see Giarre has a lovely atmosphere created by a well-preserved historic character, some unusual old churches, piazzas, and Art Deco architecture, numerous appealing shops selling eye-catching hand-crafted items like wrought iron, pottery and antique furniture, and long avenues that frame incredible views of the sea to the east and Etna to the west (as in the photo above).
This desire to see a bit more of Giarre is what made us go there for my first visit to the place one afternoon some months ago for one of our spontaneous lunches senza bambino. We had no idea where to go and had to ask at a local bakery for some advice. We discovered there were slim pickings at Giarre; even though it seems like a big enough and busy enough town, apparently it is not a place for restaurants.
We were told we had just two choices. The first one was in a modern section of the city and based on superficial appearances alone, did not even tempt us to get out of the car to look at a menu. The second one was more of what we had in mind, a small trattoria, La Tavernetta, located just off the main road in the center of town. It serves traditional local dishes in a low key environment and filled up to maximum capacity within 10 minutes of our having sat down. At the time we took this as a good sign, even though it may simply have been because this is the only inviting restaurant in town.
Needless to say, we did have a good, basic lunch with a notable house appetizer plate and excellent fresh macaroni pasta. However, I feel obliged to mention a negative review a dentist living in Giarre has given of the place after the fact. Maybe I wouldn't make a special trip to Giarre to eat at this restaurant again, but if I did find myself hungry in Giarre neither I nor my truly Italian husband would hestitate to go back for another meal.
My second visit to Giarre happened this past weekend and we did not go for food, but for a family outing to the town's aquarium. I have to thank Jill of Sicilian Simplicity for having written about the aquarium in her blog. I had no idea it existed despite my numerous efforts to find kid friendly activities in the area. My husband as well as other long time Catanese residents we call friends also had never previously heard about the place. Am I not getting creative enough in my attempts to find fun things to do with kids? Do I know the wrong people? Or is this just a case of poor advertising?
Don't know the answers to my questions just yet, but what a great discovery! The aquarium is small but sweet and was so much fun for all. We had the place entirely to ourselves which was fantastic for our son who could run around as he pleased. It has two floors full of small and large fish tanks, with the local mediterranean water life a particular highlight. It was interesting to be able to examine and fully appreciate the sea creatures we normally see when snorkeling in the controlled environment of a fish tank. And there were even mori eels, lobsters and an octopus! The aquarium has a functional website that gives detailed information about everything you can find inside and more that should be checked out by anyone interested.
Just the right amout of time later for toddler time (under an hour), we were done with the aquarium. But, to our surprise, our trip didn't end here. Driving through Giarre in order to get back to the highway, we lucked out and discovered a gorgeous landmark establishment, Fabbrica Finocchiaro, that has been specializing in the art of making chocolates since it opened in 1914. The building's Art Deco interior is exceptional and there are numerous nooks including an outdoor garden for enjoying a tea or coffee or a sampling of their chocolates (we brought a box home and have been in chocolate heaven since). Afer the fact, I found their website (unfortunately only in Italian) which will make anyone in the area who has not been their yet want to make a trip to Giarre, and they even serve breakfast and have occasional piano concerts in the evenings.
The final quick stop we made on the way home was to purchase a terracotta piggy bank we noticed on our way in, an eye catching display item in front of one of the artisanal shops along the highway. I said it was for my son, but have since realized I like it so much that it may really be for me! Only foreseeable problem with this piggy bank--no way to retrieve the coins without breaking open the piggy :(. My husband says that's the whole point of this type of piggy bank, but I don't think I'll ever want to break it and I don't think my son will be very happy when he can't easily get his coins back! On the brighter side, this could provide an excellent excuse to go back to Giarre for a replacement piggy, and of course, another visit to our new discoveries.