The hidden beauties of Sicily’s South-East: Noto, Modica, Ragusa..

July 31, 2017 0 comment

We recently went on a just-the-two-of-us-little-getaway to celebrate our not-so-little-twenty-years-anniversary. Yep, even typing this big number, I can hardly believe it. For beauty, history and good food, the South-East of Italy is hard to beat. And it won’t break the bank.

Here is a snapshot of the places we loved. Everything is within 2hours of Catania more or less. We chose to arrive into Catania and leave from Ragusa, with an itinerary from north to south.

We landed in Catania airport where we rented our car, and headed to the city for lunch to get the pulse of things. Catania is a city of decaying beauties, one that has seen it all, the good times and the bad times.  The fish market near the cathedral is an authentic and lively place full of men shouting their stories. Two of them started a fight right by me, insulting each others in Italian ma che cazzo, che stronzo, guardalo !

We had a first delicious meal of antipasti and fresh fish at Osteria Antica Marina, seating on the small terrace observing the market close down. And then we set off to explore the region..

OUR 4-NIGHTS ITINERARY WENT A LITTLE LIKE THIS…

– The day that we landed in Catania with an early flight from London, we headed to Noto for 2 nights. Noto is aptly called the pearl of baroque.
This little city feels like an open museum. Mama mia, it is such a special place, frozen in times. A little surreal when you arrive. Different shades of pinks from washed out pinks to orangey pinks. Churches and duomos and ice creams and stairs to clim up and down…

– We drove one evening to Siracusa for the Greek tragedy festival and to walk around the charming island of Ortigia.

– And then we spent our other 2 nights in magical Modica, perhaps my favorite of all. Modica is like a painting, especially when you watch it from Casa Talia’s terrace, with the old town in front of you and the church bells ringing loud in the valley.

We took a few side roads to the beach as we went along.

IN NOTO, WE LOVED:
– Walking up and down the Corso Vittorio Emmanuelle as you should and stopping for an ice cream, as you should.
– This perfectly curated exhibition of Marc Chagall x Ottavio Missoni on the Corso.
– Checking out the winemaker association in a courtyard near the Corso.
– Waking up at Palazzo Trigona right by the cathedral, with breakfast served on our huge terrace. The rooms have been renovated with dubious taste, there is not much service (it’s a b&b) but the view is a killer.
– My ice creams of montezuma chocolate and spicy fior di latte, at the atmospheric yet unassuming Cafe Sicilia, which chef Giorgio Locatelli describes as the best ice cream in the world here ..
– A day at the beach at Marina di Noto: we were pretty much alone and jumped in the chilly spring Mediterranean sea.
– Lunch in Marzamemi, which turned out to be my absolute favourite meal, both for the location and the sublime food: La Cialoma , make sure to book a table on the terrace by the water. I would go back anytime for those raw langoustines.
– An easy dinner with the locals at Trattoria Fontana d’Ercole, although for something a little more refined,  Manna would have been a good option. Or Crocifisso.

IN ORTIGIA & SIRACUSA, WE LOVED:
An evening of Greek tragedy right in the Ancient Greek theater, part of the world famous Greek Festival of Siracusa … Don’t worry, if you don’t speak Italian you can rent headsets for a live translation in English!
A dinner at La Foglia: the owner Gianfranco is a friend of a friend and treated us with the warmest welcome and the most delicious homecooking. The place is quirky, with tables spreading onto the street. Gianfranco is an interesting man: a well known author and researcher on neuro science as well as a wonderful restaurateur in a city that he loves and where he was born.
– If we had spent the night in Ortigia, we would have slept at Hotel Gutwoski (they were asking for a 2 nights minimum so we skipped).
The old school Pasticceria Artale on Via Lanolina for the delicious pastries of almonds, pine nuts and other specialties.

– Good to know:
Park in Parking Talebe at the entrance of Ortigia as it’s very tricky to get around Ortigia by car.
Treat yourselves to a ride in a limited edition Piaggio Motorino on the main square, fun and soooo romantic.

IN MODICA, WE LOVED: 
Staring at the view from our room at Casa Talia, a very special bed and breakfast, or rather a cluster of houses renovated with lots of style, a mix of old and new, by two architects from Milan. They fell in love with Modica some 12 years ago when the city was quite derelict. Over the years, they have been adding to their concept of slow living, purchasing neighbouring houses and rehabilitating them carefully, for comfort and style. Major crush.
Climbing the 110 steps of the bell tower in San Giovanni church, the tallest viewpoint over the city in the cita alta
Our very special meal at the one-michelin star restaurant Accursio. The chef, who gave his name to the restaurant, trained in one of the three-star michelin restaurants in Ragusa before opening this little gem recently. The food is a mix of local ingredients with modern twists, without trying too hard. The atmosphere is relaxed chic. The design is rather minimalist with touches of local craftsmanships, all put together stylishly by the owners of Casa Talia. A wonderful place for a special occasion without breaking the bank.
The oldest chocolate factory in town, Bonajuto. Did you know that Modica is world-famous for its chocolate..?! And at its peak, the old city of Modica used to have a university, two cathedrals, and 100 churches…imagine!
Sampieri for the 3km long beach with sand dunes, and a wonderful fish restaurant called Vota Vota where it’s best to reserve ahead as it’s fancy, but incredibly tasty.

One thing that we did not enjoy so much: our lunch at Osteria dei Sapori Perduti, very slow service and cooking too heavy for a hot day.

IN RAGUSA IBLA, WE LOVED:

Walking around the city on Sunday evening when the whole population seems to come to the old town for an ice cream and a walk.
Walking again up and down on Monday afternoon when Ragusa is at its quietest, and taking our time to visit the many many churches.
Visiting the gardens near the pretty Antico Convento dei Cappuccino
Driving around on the windy roads to soak in the incredible views of this city.
I wish we had time for a meal at I Banchi, the restaurant of famous chef Ciccio Sultano, whose 3-star restaurant Duomo is known to be incredible.
I was disappointed by our dinner at two-stars michelin Locanda di Serafino. The service was spotless and friendly, but the atmosphere and the decor were a killer, and the food not anywhere close to the other delicious meals that we have enjoyed in the region.

…And then, it was already time to head back home, with our Ryanair flight in the tiny airport of Comiso, 20′ drive from Ragusa Ibla.

Links to bookmark: this one about the region with lots of food addresses, and this one from the US edition of CN Travel, with a focus on Noto.

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