Monday, 24 August 2015

More Baroque towns - Noto and Ragusa

A second guest post from my conscientious brother-in-law, Bill.  Grazie Mille!
According to many tourist guides and websites, Noto is the most perfect of Sicily's Baroque towns. After a quiet Sunday morning waiting for the sun to come out we backtracked down the road from Modica towards Syracuse, arriving in Noto at lunchtime just as a local cycling race finished.  The streets quickly emptied as the restaurants filled with hungry cyclists and spectators, and made us wish we'd booked.
But up an unassuming side street, past trays of cherry tomatoes drying in the early spring sunshine, we found a small restaurant with an unusually English/Italian name - Enoteca, Emily’s Wine.  And, as we've come to expect in Sicily, we were the only patrons - well for a short while anyway
Maurizio, the waiter/sommelier/owner, offered us some rustic appetisers, including a fresh homemade ricotta to die for. Perhaps it was made from donkey’s milk in a grotty cave. We didn't ask as it was delicious. Then we enjoyed more Sicilian specialties of involtini, sardines in a roll with orange, and caponata-topped swordfish. Maurizio spoke to us in Italian and described in detail the ingredients and cooking techniques. Needless to say we smiled and nodded our appreciation as once again we ate very well in this charming little restaurant.  
Suitably fortified we set out to see the sights of Noto.
The centrepiece of the town is the baroque Cathedral of St Nicholas.  It was reopened in 2007 after 11 years of rebuilding following its collapse in 1996, caused by “unremedied structural weakening” and “injudicious building alterations” discovered following an earthquake in December 1990 which seriously weakened it. 
After wandering through the Cathedral we popped across the road to the small theatre Comunale Vittorio Emmanuale which, although charming, wasn't particularly spectacular.  In fact, that was our general feeling about Noto.  For us, it didn't quite live up to the rave reviews in the tourist guides but it was a pleasant enough town to wander around as we walked off another delicious Sicilian lunch.
Ragusa was the final Baroque town we visited during our week exploring this tiny but fascinating corner of Sicily. We came to a unanimous agreement that the guidebooks have done Ragusa a disservice, as in our collective opinion, Ragusa was more interesting and spectacular than Noto. 
There are two Ragusas: Ragusa Ibla, the old town on the lower hill, and Ragusa Superiore, ironically inferior in interest to Ragusa Ibla but on the higher hill. We parked at the lowest possible point and initially climbed 300 plus steps to what we thought was Ragusa Ibla, but which turned out to be Ragusa Superiore. 
On the positive side we discovered an extremely helpful, but badly located tourist information office which provided excellent information about Ragusa Ibla, 300 steps back down and 200 steps back up. And an extra 50 steps up to the Duomo San Giorgio. 
In summary, Ragusa Ibla has lovely baroque buildings, palaces, gardens and several cafes selling artisan gelato, which was just what we needed to replenish our blood sugar levels after climbing those stairs.  

Prossima fermata, Agrigento!

Friday, 14 August 2015

A golden day in Scicli

We made the most of our week with Gen and Bill, touring the Baroque towns of Sicily.  Each day, we left the apartment bound for another Baroque town certain that it couldn't be as charming as Modica.  And each afternoon, we returned to the apartment bubbling with excitement after discovering another uniquely beautiful spot.  The Baroque towns of Sicily charmed us, completely.

Scicli was my favourite, but the competition was tough.
Sicili's almost empty streets were dotted with
the odd, enterprising local.
Some of the locals persuaded a gullible tourist to model the local pasta making process.
Same town, different gullible tourist model, with another charmingly enterprising Scicli local.
Local romance...
provided welcome entertainment when viewed from a shady seat.
And of course there was a delicious lunch of local pasta,
where once again, we had the restaurant to ourselves.  
A perfect day in Scicli.
E' stata una giornata d'oro!

Where we ate:
La Grotta is a fabulous little restaurant set into a cave in the side of the mountain behind the main town of Scicli.  The food is traditional cucina povera: simple pastas with delicious vegetable sauces topped with roasted breadcrumbs, the poor man's parmesan, as the chef explained.  
Click HERE for the menu etc.
Read reviews HERE.

And just one more thing.  
Just after we left Milan, I was invited to contribute a photo to a travel blog.  If you are heading to the northern Italy over the next couple of months, have a look at the links in the following blogpost.  There are some great photos showcasing different places to visit in our old 'home town'.
20 Italy Bloggers Share Favorite Photos of Milan.