Highway lanes separated by pink oleanders, turquoise waters, lush hills covered in vineyard, cacti, lemon and orange tree plantations, and in the distance, surrounded by a mysterious haze, the volcano, eternally looking down to us like an unimpressed spectator. Sicily.
The contrast between the chic baroque towns of the south-east, the misty medieval towns and castles suspended on hilltops mid-island, the run-down coastal towns of the west and the two metropolises, Palermo and Catania, offers so much to the eye and the rest of the senses to last for a lifetime.
Our two-week trip around Sicily is now a dream come true. We returned satisfied, soothed and totally charmed by the unspoilt beauty of this island closer to Africa than Europe. We took photos, wrote travel notes, made sure memories are kept vivid and real. It is only with great joy that we talk about this experience.
And now it is time to share it.
I dedicate this first post on Sicily to Syracuse and its old town, Ortigia island, the place that marked both the beginning and the end of our trip.
A former Greek colony on the east coast, Syracuse/Ortigia feels indeed different – more Greek – than any other place on the island. We loved the streets flanked by oleanders and cafes, the marina, the historical squares, the lively market, and definitely the restaurants and the shops.
My favourite part of town was Giudecca (the Jewish quarter), its narrow streets and sunkissed limestone buildings being such a delight for the eye in the hours before sunset, which is best enjoyed at Largo Aretusa, a few steps from the fountain with the same name.
An unforgettable experience in Syracuse was seeing Heracles at Teatro Greco, the ancient Greek theatre, as the night felt down. The actors in black, long robes, the beat of the drums, the pine trees against the purple sky – a truly magic moment, when it could have just as well been the 5th century BC once again.
For shopping, there was only one place I was eager to go to – Ortigia – for some of my favourite perfumes, cremes and scented candles, all inspired by Sicily and made with natural ingredients from the island.
For food, we were the happiest at Latteria Mamma Iabica, a real gem, a place where the chef has the pleasure of sitting down at your table to introduce you to the dishes he prepares in the kitchen. At Mamma Iabica we had pasta prepared like never before, so many tastes and textures in one plate, all peppered with breadcrumbs, as they do in Sicily. Pasta con le sarde (pasta with sardines) is a must-have while on the island. Our hosts recommended we also dine at Retroscena, a Greek fusion restaurant in the Jewish quarter, with a beautiful, romantic decor. We took the advice and were not disappointed. A place we loved to lunch at daily when in Ortigia was family run A puttia delle cose buone (all the savoury food photos in this post are taken there.)
Talking about hosts, we stayed at PhotoGuest, a B&B located midway from Syracuse and Ortigia, a place I couldn’t recommend more, if only for the generosity, advice and professionalism of the couple running it. Most of the places you will see in the photos, such as my absolute favourite, the Jewish quarter, were, in fact, recommended by them.
Our next stop in Sicily were the world heritage baroque towns of Noto, Ragusa and Modica. All these in a future post.