Monday, 20 July 2015

Modica, Sicily

Guest writer, our brother-in-law Bill and his wife, Stefano's sister, Genevieve.
Grazie mille to our brother-in-law Bill for this guest post.  Bill and Gen joined us for a week in Sicily exploring the baroque towns of Modica, Noto, Scicli and Ragusa.  

I'll hand the keyboard over to Bill.
It was wonderful to be met at the airport in Catania by Jenny and Stefano, and whisked away in their hire car.  Stefano quickly demonstrated how he had adapted to Mediterranean road protocol with panache, and Jenny's unambiguous and very audible relief at being able to retreat to a back seat is an unforgivable slight on his driving.

We drove towards Siracusa and arrived there an hour or so later in time for lunch.  Avoiding the obvious tourist traps at the waterfront, the well-tuned Jenny/Stefano radar detected the Basirico Ristorante up a side street. And what a gem it turned out to be. Delicious food, with complimentary entrees and dessert.  We remain puzzled as to why we were the only table of diners, a pattern which continued throughout our week in Sicily and which bore no reflection at all on the standard of the food we enjoyed.
We couldn't linger long in Siracusa as we needed to get to Modica, our 'home-base' for five of our seven nights in Sicily.  So after a short stroll we were again on the road.
Modica set a pattern for Sicilian towns given UNESCO heritage endorsement - grotty on the outskirts but with an original and vibrant town centre.
When we eventually found our apartment, it came as no surprise that we had initially missed our street "Vico Medica", as it turned out to be an alleyway marginally narrower than the car.  
Stefano was prepared to attempt entry but we were spotted by a Grandpa on a balcony, who turned out to be the owner.  Within seconds we were surrounded by Grandpa, his daughter Christina, her English-speaking friend Lorenzo and his unnamed acquaintance.
Our little street was just past the red awnings. Blink and you would miss it. We did, several times.
We were then treated to an entertaining hour-long induction to the apartment by Lorenzo, with support from Christina. It was recently renovated, very spacious and quite magnificently decorated and furnished in traditional Sicilian style.  It had been vacant for many years until restored to its former glory, though maybe not with UNESCO money.

The old town centre of Modica, where we stayed, is divided by multiple steep valleys and ravines, and is a mish-mash of roads choked with traffic, narrow streets, alleyways, steps going to all points of the compass, and most of the buildings give an impression of old age and gentle decay.
Lorenzo scribbled out points of interest on a town map, and recommended restaurants and lookouts offering superb views but which, he said, were only accessible by car. For Stefano that simply represented a challenge, so we conquered them in due course, mounting narrow steps unknown to most tourists except perhaps Australians, or New Zealanders. And the views were superb.
Christina volunteered to give us a guided tour of the town one evening, which turned out to be in her little car. Before you could say "grazie", the others had snared the back seat and Yours Truly was in the front, watching stone walls flash pass centimetres away, dogs and cats scattering in all directions and elderly Modicans mouthing curses behind us. (Slight exaggeration, Christina drove like the expert native that she was and Modica sparkled at night.)
Cristina very kindly took us on a whirlwind tour of Modica by night.  Beautiful views in all directions.
According to a guidebook, Modica has 29 churches, which may seem slightly excessive for a town of more than 50,000 people, but not all churches seem to be in active service. The centrepiece, Chiesa San Giorgio, is a truly imposing piece of confection from the outside, and the interior is awe-inspiring.
What I liked most about Modica were the small local shops, some on the main roads, but many tucked away in the back alleys. While there were supermarkets, it seemed that people still enjoy strolling to their local shops, having a chat and buying small quantities of fresh food daily.  Along our street where there was a specialty bread shop, a tiny shop selling fresh fruit and vegetables, and a shop next to it selling cured meats and cheeses typical of Modica.  Down the next block was a tabacchi, which is supposed to sell stamps, but in our experience, never do.  
Our favourite local shop was the gelateria with a unique serving of flavours displayed on the bonnet of an old Fiat 500. Fortunately it was located immediately under our apartment so most evenings we ventured downstairs for dessert, enjoying our cups and cones at a table on the footpath, watching the world go by.  

And finally, Modica was an excellent spot from which to explore the surrounding area.  

Dopo Modica siamo andati a Noto, Scicli e Agrigento.

Where we stayed:
We were the first guests in this spacious, partially renovated and very clean apartment which was listed on AirBnB.  CLICK HERE