I had been to Sicily as a child when we travelled to Italy by ship but I really did not remember it. However thoughts of Ispettore Montalbano (TV series that I was obsessed with a few years back which is set around Ragusa), the food and the warm Mediterranean climate were an inspiration to visit as well as the proximity to Malta, which we are visiting next. We picked the south east corner and as luck would have it, decided to start in Siracusa. We managed to secure a beautiful apartment through Air B’n’B in Ortigia, which is a tiny island attached to Siracusa by bridge. It is magical.
We spent the first full day exploring Ortigia, which was colonized by the Corinths in 734BC – photos above – and we rented a car on the second day to tour the baroque wonders in Noto, Modica and Ragusa. We got a rather spiffy white Alfa Romeo Giulietta. Mark drove – he enjoyed the challenge of making sure he knew how to approach roundabouts as a “left-hand” driver. When we rented the car, we were told by the man at Europcar that they do not insure theft of the car to the same level if we take it to Catania. I asked him what was wrong with Catania – he replied that they steal a lot of cars there (“sono tutti ladri!”).
The first stop on our itinerary was Noto, a beautiful baroque town which houses a famous Gelateria – Pasticceria Costanzo. As luck would have it, it was closed, but we enjoyed the Baroque wonders and a gelato from rival ice cream makers at Cafe Sicilia. These towns with narrow streets are also an opportunity to use the wide angle lens on my SLR camera, as everything fits in the shot so much better than it would with a regular lens.
Next stop was at Modica, a beautiful town divided into Modica Bassa and Modica Alta. There are quite precipitous climbs in this beautiful baroque town, but it makes it easier to take scenic photos. Montalbano fans will note that the church in the photo below is where his on-off girlfriend Livia, who lives in Genova, catches a bus taking her to and from the airport.
Lastly we went to Ragusa Ibla, the old part of Ragusa which was, along with other close by towns, destroyed by earthquakes in the 1600s and rebuilt baroque style. The highlight was two beautiful churches, San Giovanni Battista and San Giorgio designed by architect Rosario Gagliardi. The former has a massive flight of steps and its dome and cross sit high above neighboring buildings on a hill. They are both beautifully ornate. The piazza of both of these churches also feature in the Montalbano series. I was a bit star struck being there – I looked around for the Commissario, half expecting him to appear with the hapless Catarella or the womanizing Mimi’.
We arrived home tired after a long day (made longer by a surprise visit to the town of Avola and its one way streets – ie. we got lost) having completely fallen in love with the south east corner of Sicily. One and a half more days here until our next stop – Malta – where Mark’s father was born and a place he cannot wait to see.