Sicily's second largest city, Catania was founded as a Greek colony around 730 BC, going on to have rulers including the Romans, Moors and Spanish. Today, its fascinating history can be witnessed in its ancient ruins, countless churches and splendid palaces.
On your mission to discover Catania's historical gems, start on the Piazza Duomo in the UNESCO-protected Baroque city centre. This is where you'll find the jewel in the city's architectural crown, the Cattedrale di Sant' Agata. Crafted from local volcanic rock, this 18th-century cathedral is open to the public daily. Back on the square, admire the quirky Fontana dell'Elefante, so named for the smiling elephant that sits atop it.
When it comes to palaces, it doesn't get much more ornate that the Palazzo Biscari. Be sure to book a tour in advance to be dazzled by its rococo interiors. For something less flamboyant, head up to the imposing Castello Ursino, a 13th-century fortification that today houses the excellent Museo Civico and its collection of archaeological treasures. Follow that with a relaxing stroll in the beautiful Villa Bellini, a stunning landscaped garden dating from the 19th-century. Other unmissable sights include the ancient Roman amphitheatre and the bustling Fish Market, located just behind the cathedral.
A World Heritage Site, the active volcano of Mount Etna is a popular destination for those staying in Catania. Following a scenic one hour drive, you can take a cable car up to an area 2,500 metres high, before hiking or taking a bus the rest of the way to the top - truly spectacular views await.
With a rental car, you can also easily reach Castello degli Schiavi (Castle of the Slaves) in Fiumefreddo di Sicilia, a Baroque palace that is most famous for being featured in two of The Godfather films. The ruins of an ancient Roman bathhouse complex, the Thermae in Misterbianco are also well worth a visit.
The region is excellent for making the most of the urban and rural character of France, in a delightfully mild-to-warm climate that's perfect for drives when you rent a car in Bordeaux. Temperatures are usually hotter than the UK throughout the year, reaching the high-20°C or even higher in the middle of summer. Spring and autumn can be an ideal time to visit, when it's less busy and you can appreciate the changing colours of the magnificent surrounding forests. As well as the enormous Landes de Gascogne, you can easily drive to the Périgord Limousin Natural Regional Park. Head here for the day and visit Brie, home of the much-loved cheese, or perhaps even stop for a day or two and enjoy some camping in the inspiring surroundings. You'll see many of the most beautiful landscapes of the Aquitaine and Haute-Vienne regions here.
When you rent a car in Catania, you'll enjoy the freedom to go where you want, when you want. Overall, driving in and around the city is a breeze, though there are a few things worth keeping in mind: the blood alcohol limit for driving in Sicily is half that of the UK, so it is best not to drink at all when driving. All passengers are required to wear seatbelts, while children under the age of four must be in a child's seat. Note that driving is on the right side of the road and drivers' licences issued in the EU are accepted - just be sure to carry it with you when driving.