Our fifth day in Sicily was quite relaxing. For once we didn’t spend too much time driving, and had only two goals: visiting the famous beach of Fontane Bianche and visiting Siracusa (or Syracuse).
Unfortunately on this day the weather wasn’t particularly merciful: it was cloudy and quite windy, which certainly robbed the beach of part of its charm. This is what we were hoping to see:
And this is what we actually saw:
To make it short: after half an hour we were back into our minivan heading toward Syracuse, where we had reserved a few rooms at the Hotel Villa Politi, thanks to a friend’s recommendation. This is an historic palace in the outskirts of Syracuse. Beautifully decorated, you could breath the history of the place (it used to be the residence of Winston Churchill during the Second World War). But what makes it unique is that it sits right above the Latomie dei Cappuccini, a cave used during the ancient times to extract the stone for the construction of many buildings and statues in the area. This was later used as a prison for the Athenians soldiers, left here to die.
After checking-in and relaxing in our gorgeous bedrooms for a few minutes, we left and went visiting Syracuse (or Siracusa…). The highlight of this city is Ortigia, an island where there are many attractions, including the beautiful Baroque piazza with its Duomo.
It was beautiful to walk around admiring the buildings, visiting the churches and enjoying a gelato. It was the day after Easter, and while I was expecting to find most of the stores closed (Italians celebrate also the following Monday, known as Pasquetta), surprisingly enough they were all open, including the museums (half of our party visited the Museum of Archimede).
And then our day was almost over: we had dinner in Ortigia and later headed back to our hotel, happy for some time well spent.
Caltagirone wasn’t originally in our itinerary, it was suggested by a local who revealed us one of those secrets you rarely hear about:”Go visit Caltagirone, where you’ll find a gorgeous staircase that is 130 meter long and whose steps are covered by polychromatic ceramic tiles”. Said, done. The day after we were there, thanking the serendipity for our fortunate encounter, because the staircase of Santa Maria del Monte is indeed an incredible work of art: each one of the 142 steps is covered by colorful tiles, and the most amazing thing is that each step has a different pattern. Not only that, but also the view from the top is spectacular.
Next stop: Ragusa Ibla. This lovely town was our first taste of the famous Barocco Siciliano, with its Duomo di San Giorgio strategically placed diagonally to be fully admired from the square. And it’s in the square that we discovered another treasure: the Gelateria DiVini where they produce a delicious gelato made with…wine. And (get ready) more precisely with: Brachetto, Moscato and Passito di Pantelleria. I also tried the gelato made with ricotta. No need to say anything else besides the fact that we were all almost levitating from the pleasure.
The Castello di Donnafugata is another insider tip I got from a Sicilian friend of mine. Even though it is called a castle, the building is actually a XIX century mansion. However, the reason why we included this location in our plan is its stone maze, which, in my opinion, is not very well made (the entrance and the exit are the same), but where the kids had a blast nevertheless.
After Donnafugata our plan was to visit Modica, but eventually we only drove through it, since we thought that the attractions we were seeing from the car weren’t worth a stop. Therefore we headed straight to our last destination: the lovely baroque town of Noto. First we checked-in our hotel, the Grand Hotel Sofia, dropped the luggage and then walked to the town center, unaware that we were about to have the best culinary experience ever at the Trattoria Ducezio, a hidden food sanctuary known by the locals. Walking by night on the streets of Noto was an unforgettable experience. The town offers a vibrant social life after the sunset, with groups of people chatting in the squares, sitting on the Cathedral steps or listening to the music of a street band. We returned the day after, early in the morning, to visit the Cathedral (which offers a pretty disappointing interior), but with the daylight the magic was gone. It would have returned a few hours later along with the moonlight.
The third day was the highlight of our trip. After having breakfast “family style” (which is everybody sitting around a big table filled with delicious food, laughing and chatting with the B&B owner) and picking fresh lemons directly from the tree (even the leaves smelled like lemon!), we headed to a place that is still unknown to the most: Scala dei Turchi.
Scala dei Turchi is a white cliff near Realmonte, in the Agrigento area. You need to leave the car in a parking spot nearby and walk for about 20 minutes on the beach in order to reach it, but once you get there you become fascinated by what you see: a huge, white and smooth cliff right by the sea, against the bluest sky (if you are lucky to get there on a sunny day). The kids climbed on the rocks while we admired the view and enjoyed such an incredible place. Unfortunately we couldn’t stay long, we had a very busy schedule that day, so we left, bringing with us fantastic memories (and photos).
Our next stop was the complete opposite: a very touristic place which was nice, all right, but disappointing after all. The Valle dei Templi features the remains of 7 antique temples, but only one is well preserved: the Tempio della Concordia. What’s nice about this site is that, besides the temples, there are many other archeological remains and the view over the valley, with the sea in the distance, is fantastic. But it was so crowded (note: it was the end of March) and hot (note again: end of March!) that I don’t even imagine how one can enjoy this place in peak season. Parking was another issue since it wasn’t too close to the entrance.
Fortunately our third and last stop was a pleasant revelation (at least for an archeology fanatic like me): the Villa del Casale in Piazza Armerina. This place is in the middle of the nowhere, and still to this day historians wonder why our ancestors chose this location to built such a grand villa. Here you can almost breathe the glory of that magnificent time not only by admiring the fine mosaics, but also the structure that reproduces in a modern way the architecture of the building. When our visit came to an end (I was the last of the group to leave the place, and I honestly would have stayed longer…), we headed to the B&B Giucalem where we were welcomed by Giuseppe, who offered us some homemade limoncello and made us feel at home from the start.