Thursday, May 29, 2014

Swim like a local: Catania's rocky beaches

Weclome to Catania's rocky beaches! Also known as the Scogliera or la Riva dei Ciclope (Cyclopes Riveria). 
Acicastello's free access rocky 'beach': a favorite among locals for swimming and sunbathing.
Most everyone who comes for a visit is initially startled by these so-called rocky 'beaches'. They just don't feel like beaches! There is no room for beach combing (but you can go rock hopping!). There is nowhere comfortable to lie down (that's why lidos, or private beach clubsbuild wooden platforms over the rocks in the summer and rent lounge chairs). And it can be tricky to get into the water (that's why little staircases are suspended from rocks or wooden platforms to make it easier to get in!). But, if you have an open mind, are willing to give Catania's rocky beaches a try, and are mentally prepared to experience rockiness before you get here, then you just might find yourself a convert like I have. 

This rocky, cliffy landscape stretches from Catania to Acireale and was created by past eruptions on Mt. Etna when the hot lava flowed down its slopes and into the sea. According to my beloved Blue Guide, lava reached the sea in 396 BC, 1169, 1329 and 1381, each time drastically changing the shape and appearance of the land, coast and beaches. 

The result is a strip of gray-black coast formed of basalt rock boulders, stones and pebbles. If you take the time to explore and look closer you'll discover that these rocks are varied in shape, size and texture, and they are jumbled together in an unending array of unexpected configurations forming secluded coves, arches and even small caves. Plus, they're fun to climb on!

And the water? Deep blue-green, transparent and beautiful. This area is great for snorkeling, spotting little coastal fish and other sea creatures like starfish, sea snails, sea urchins, sea cucumbers, crabs, and even eels slithering along the bottom if you have a good eye.

There are many swimming spots to chose from on the outskirts of Catania. 
Some are free access zones and others are private beach clubs that you have to pay to get into to.

Free Access Zones

These spots are for those who prefer less crowds, no lounge chairs, and a more 'natural' setting. Also, you shouldn't mind climbing up and down the rocks to get into the water.  Good water shoes are a must as the rocks can be really pointy and these areas are home to prickly creatures like sea urchins.

La Scogliera: If you drive or walk along Via Aicastello (street map here) keep your eyes open for paths that lead from the sidewalk down onto the rocks. Any of these are potential free spots for laying out on the rocks and taking a dip in the refreshing water.

This spot is a real favorite among the locales. From the road, next to the Lido Bellatrix, there is a small path that will lead you down to a staircase and some easy to walk on boulders that provide a secluded spot for a swim. Find a smooth rock to spread your towel on and watch the locals to see the best way to get in and out of the water.
Favorite Catanese swimming spot at the Scogliera
Scogliera cat

Acicastello: From the main piazza, underneath the castle, is an area of lava rock that forms a flat plateau perfect for sunbathing, fishing and easy access to the sea. Climb down the stairs and ramble over the rocks to find a spot that you like. Here the rocks are pretty bumpy, so good water shoes are a must to protect your feet. The locals love it here too and you'll have the thrill of swimming beneath a Norman castle for a truly unique experience.
Acicastello's Norman castle. The flat bed of lava rock at the base encircles the entire castle and makes for a secluded swimming spot away from the crowds.

Acitrezza: In this sweet fishing town the waterfront boardwalk consists of private lidos, a working fishing port and free spots for swimming. Talk a walk along the boardwalk to see what appeals to you. Or, even better, pay a few euros to one of the fishermen at the port to be boated across the bay to the little island known as Isola Lachae. Here the water is crystalline turquoise blue and wonderful for snorkeling. You'll be able to experience the best of the Cyclopes Riviera away from the crowds of the lidos. In the summer many small boats anchor around here to enjoy the beautiful water so do be careful when you are out for your swim.
Isola Lachae, Acitrezza
View of the water and Acitrezza from Isola Lachae

Private beach lidos

You have to pay an entrance fee to get into these private beach clubs but the daily price isn't too high and you have the convenience of amenities likes bars, chairs to rent, wooden platforms or grassy areas to lie on, and stairs for getting into the water.  The lidos of course are less 'natural' and you may contend with more people, but you still get the same beautiful water.  There are many to choose from but I just list the two that I have personally been to.

La Grotta Smeralda (La Scogliera): This is a small little beach club but very sweet. I enjoyed our day here very much and loved  the long wooden stairs that lead you down to the secluded cove you can access here for a luxurious swim. There is very  little information about this lido on the internet, but if you are looking for a smaller, less chaotic local establishment, this one might be your kind of style.
Entrance to the Grotta Smeralda Lido

Ciclope (Acitrezza): This mega lido has been around forever and is much loved by the Catanese. It feels like a little village and does get very crowded in the summer. This lido is just next to Acitrezza and the rocky shore is more pebbly than cliffy, so if cliffs are not appealing to you this might be an easy way for you to enjoy a swim in the sea with all the amenities your heart desires at your fingertips. I used to come here when my son was little because of the swimming pool and playground on the premises. We also enjoyed going on walks along the shaded paths to explore the different sections of the lido, which in addition to the pool include a large seafront area, a fish pond, changing areas, and several bars.
The Ciclope Lido is more like a park than a lido - full of so much greenery

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