Santa Tecla is a small town on the east coast of Sicily (Catania) that sits in the shadows of Mount Etna and it’s the perfect place to go if your looking for an authentic Sicilian experience. Although I am sure many, if not all of the locals spoke English, they didn’t attempt to speak to us in English much, which was great. We got to use our few pre rehearsed phrases and learn a few new ones during our week’s stay too which made us feel far away from England and normal tourist life. We’d go back in a heartbeat, and haven’t just yet only because we’ve been exploring so many other new places. Here are some reasons to visit this pretty little town that will hopefully encourage you to consider a trip there one day soon.
Mount Etna looms over Santa Tecla and you have great views of the volcano from almost everywhere in the town. The cliffs are made from black lava left from previous eruptions and the entire town was built on an ancient lava flow.
We were lucky enough to meet local guide and photographer, Sebastian, as we researched day trips to get a closer look. He took us out for the day to explore the volcano and made sure there were plenty of mountainside stops so we could all admire the views and he took us to one of his favorite local cafés high up above sea level to have a beer and a sandwich with him for lunch.
We saw petrified wood and black gorges driven through forests where lava had once flowed in destructive rivers, and abandoned homes that were unlucky enough to have been in it’s path.
Sebastian was quite a poser and made us stop every 15 minutes to take photos, which we found funny at the time, but now I’m glad he did because we have so many photos to remember the day by.
It was a very different way to spend a day, but well worth taking the time to explore the volcano and see its impact on the landscape with such a experienced and knowledgeable guide.
Santa Tecla has 9 or 10 small restaurants and bars that will keep you busy for a week or so if you want to eat out a lot. Just a couple of kilometers down the road though is the town of Stazzo which is a little bit more lively and has a central square with a couple of bars and an ice cream parlour overlooking a little harbor. There are plenty of restaurants in Stazzo to explore too though, spread out along the narrow streets. We walked there a few nights for dinner and sat and watched the sun set over the harbor. If you’re after a sweet treat or dessert in Stazzo, try ice cream and brioche from the ice cream parlour and bar in the harbour!
The walk home is pretty dark though (no streetlights), but with an iphone torch to lead the way it only took 15 minutes. The noise of the crickets in the fields on the way home is a sound I can still hear really clearly now and is a lasting memory of the trip.
Despite the slight language barrier we faced no issues getting by in Santa Tecla. Locals were patient with us in a town that doesn’t get a lot of English speaking visitors.
I remember the groups of old men playing dominoes in the street in the early evenings as we walked past them on our way to dinner and I used to look forward to seeing them and watching their games for a while as we passed.
One night in particular, we stopped at a café for a drink after dinner and shared the terrace with a large group celebrating a birthday. They welcomed us into their party and shared their champagne, fruit and horse steaks (!) and we spent some time experiencing real Sicilian life.
Every meal we had in Santa Tecla was delicious. Even the bread, cheese and meats we brought from the local deli to have for breakfast some mornings. Being on the sea, most restaurants specialize in seafood and of course pasta. We arrived on our first day and by the time we had dumped our bags were starving. We stumbled into a little restaurant, a little bemused as to what was going on with our lack of language skills, but were served plate after plate of delicious pasta, including squid ink pasta for the first time. The waiter then summoned us over to the fish counter and selected a live octopus too for us to eat after letting it crawl up his arm. Here is it, cooked and ready to eat.
Santa Tecla Palace Hotel
This hotel is by far the largest in the town and is a popular location for Sicilian conferences and local business meetings. It is really easily accessible at one end of the main street in the town but has views to die for. Not only does it have a great restaurant and bar that is open to non-residents throughout the day and night, it has one of the most spectacular pools I’ve ever seen. The infinity pool at Santa Tecla Palace merges effortlessly into the ocean beneath it and it’s the perfect place to watch the sunset or read a book. There is access to the ocean too from a small jetty on the cliffs surrounding the hotel if you fancy a more refreshing dip too. We were staying at an Airbnb about a 10-15 minutes walk away from the hotel, but after visiting for lunch, decided to treat ourselves to a night in the hotel too so we could get the full experience. Whether it’s for a swim, for lunch, or for a drink in the evening, visit Santa Tecla Palace and enjoy the view!
The wedding chapel
Our Airbnb was at the far end of Santa Tecla, almost the last building before the walk to Stazzo. Opposite the entrance to our apartment was a wedding chapel set in a garden. There were no walls or a roof, just benches and an altar surrounded by beautiful greenery. There was at least one wedding there each day during our stay and we could hear the singing and music from our apartment poolside and loved watching the guests arriving and the bride and groom zooming off in a decorated car together after the ceremony.
Go to Santa Tecla if you want to get away from it all, and I mean really get away from it all. Traffic, crowds, the busy life you’re used to will be hard to imagine after a few days in this pretty coastal town.