Friday, July 24, 2009

Catania's sandy beach: the Playa

Most people I know complain about the Playa, Catania's so-called riviera beach zone: the water is ugly, it is too far away, there is too much traffic, the beach is crowded, the sand is annoying. And while such statements could be considered true, they usually come out of the mouths of those who are partial to the rocky beaches of the scoglieria coastal area, with its black boulders, turquoise waters and abundant sea life that feel quintessentially Mediterranean island rather than man-made beach resort. But, as I have discovered on numerous visits to the sandy shore, the Playa (also spelled Plaia) has its own culture and its own place in Catanese summer and therefore must be addressed on its own terms.

First a little background. This stretch of golden sandy beach begins just after Catania's (unsightly) port and extends 18 km in the direction of Siracusa, ending at the Agnone Bagni area. But the core lido zone is the area just beyond the port and here you will find a densely packed beach front with a total of 3 public beaches (not so recommended as they are usually crammed full of people on top of people on top of litter) and 29 lido beach clubs that vary in size and offerings, but that with a montly fee provide a cabina (small wooden cabin that serves as a changing/storage room), the use of the maintained and lifeguard protected waters, and facilities like bar, playground, swimming pool, restrooms, showers and more. 

It is in the beach clubs that you will find families hanging out in the patch of sand in front of their cabina enjoying copious amounts of home cooked food, adults seated around fold up tables playing cards, groups of teens huddled together in their speedos and bikinis with their uniformly tanned skin, and of course the children, lots and lots of children of all ages, enjoying the freedom of open sand, warm water and small waves.

The first thing that strikes you about the Playa is the breeze. There is always a steady cooling breeze that at times can be a strong wind that flings sand in your face and makes you run for cover (in fact a part of the bay is zoned for wind surfing). Then there is the unique view. Immediately to the west are the cranes and large ships of Catania's port, perhaps not so ideal for a beach setting, but also not so uncommon for big city beaches (Los Angeles' Long Beach comes to mind). But in sharp contrast to industrial Catania is the best view of Mt. Etna you can have from the city, completely unobscured from its foothills to its peak, a truly awesome sight. I should also mention that Catania's airport, Fontanarossa, is just behind the Playa, meaning that a constant flow of airplanes is also part of the scenery (this is a plus for my son and his little friends who universally seem to get a kick out of airplane sightings). 

I prefer to arrive at the Playa in the late afternoon/early evening, the time of day when most people are heading home. This helps make the schlep less stressful, as Catania's traffic is manageable in the 4 to 5 o'clock range, at this time of day the sun doesn't burn quite so much, and, best of all, in the late afternoon there is always a sense of peaceful calm on the beach that never fails to transport me to a world where I forget myself and nothing matters but the loveliness of the day. 

And here we play in the waves and on the sand, engrossed in beach play as the time speeds by and before we know it the light is changing, the beaches are empty, the umbrellas are closed, the red flags are up, stomachs are grumbling.  A stop at the playground en route to the token-operated warm shower to rinse off the sand, a change of clothes and our afternoon at the beach is over. 

P.S. These photos were taken on our first visit to Lido Excelsior, which I would definitely recommend for its smallish, family-oriented feel and cute sandy playground. Lido Azzurro is also a good choice for a larger more elaborate facility.


  1. My (3) grandparents were from Carlentini, Lentini, and another from Palermo (area). Also still have relatives in Catania too. I feel like I learn something from visiting your blog, and enjoy your unique perspective, and point of view too. Very insightful - like the post today... Thanks!

    Hugs to sweet Bianca -

  2. our 'organised' beaches are very different to these ones :we have colourful beach umbrellas, with 2 deck chairs and a little plastic table underneath each one. they cost about 5 euro per set. i think they are far too expensive to use on a daily basis. and we always go late in the day to the beach because anything before 5pm, and you will burn

  3. Thanks for the great tips! We're always looking for new sandy beaches to explore. Rugged beauty is nice, but nothing beats stomping down sand castles when you're four!

  4. I am far from the beach, so any beach would be lovely! I still miss the wonderful beaches of southern California, with their wild waves and golden sand... here we go to the lakes, and the beaches are grassy, and lovely in a very different way.

  5. I'll be righgt there if there's a breeze! I've seen that beach many times but never ventured onto it so thanks for the tips. There's a surprise for you at my blog.

  6. Hi Janis, how wonderful for you to have such strong roots to this incredible island! Thank you so much for your kind comments. I really find it enjoyable to share my experiences living here and it means a lot to me that you appreciate that too. Bianca is so huggable and I will give her a special one from you!

    Hi MK, I couldn't agree more about going to the beach in the evening--so much better. I have a hard time with the beach resort system and prefer lying in the sand on a towel!

    Hi Emily--I can guarantee that your kids will love the Playa! Pure 4 year old fun.

    Hi Beatriz, tell us more about your lakes in your blog! Would love to see some pix!

    Hi WL, I hope I do not mislead you! I have always been lucky with the breeze at the Playa!


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