South-east Sicily: so much more than a beach vacation

Opener Pantalica

A guest contribution by Ina Hiester

Great panoramas, streets lined with wildflowers, deep gorges, hikes through beautiful nature parks. Magnificent baroque buildings, numerous steps, sleepy alleys, a busy market. And in between very special oases, where I can let the many impressions of a trip sink in, which is also a little farewell. My fourth and last winter in Sicily is drawing to a close. A good reason to take a closer look at at least part of the island. From land, without sails, without anchors.

Detail of Pantalica

"The long time on the water made me hungry for land"

I eyed my rental car at the airport in Catania with skepticism. As a full-time sailor After almost four years without a car, I not only lack driving experience, but I also know all too well how “creative” the Sicilians' driving style can be. Will that go well? My first destination, Modica, is 120 kilometers south of here, and I have to smile a bit when my smartphone predicts that as I drive off I will have to be there in a good hour and a half. First of all, I always drive much slower than the speed limit allows - no wonder: 50 kilometers per hour correspond to 26 knots and are therefore almost three times as fast as the maximum speed of my sailboat!

And secondly, thanks to Corona, I've been stuck in a Sicilian port for the past few months, which is why I have to pull over to the right every few kilometers - just to be a little amazed. I love the sea, but all the time on the water has made me hungry for land and so I can't get enough of the sight of this picturesque landscape, which is just being kissed awake by spring. After many breaks and more photos, a lunch snack in the somewhat sleepy town of Palazzo Acreide, more breaks and more photos, I reach Modica about four hours later - 1-0 for me.

Modica: a guest in the chocolate city

The first oasis of my trip that Residenza Hortus, located in the heart of Modica. The baroque city, whose numerous stone houses, alleys, churches, stairs and palaces nestle in a large canyon, is known, among other things, for its chocolate culture. Modica chocolate is processed at low temperatures and only refined with sugar and spices, nuts or citrus fruits. The sugar crystals are retained, and since the chocolate also contains neither vegetable fats nor milk, it is not creamy and tender, but a bit rough on the tongue - but all the more intense in its aroma. In addition to fresh mandarins from the region, I delightedly discover a tablet of the dark delicacy on the kitchen table of the Residenza Hortus as a welcome greeting and treat myself to a piece right away. This is how Modica tastes: a little crumbly, but that's why it's so real.

Chocolate covered townhouse in Modica
The terrace of the Residenza Hortus
The water room in the Residenza Hortus

The Residenza Hortus is hidden behind high, old walls not far from the Cathedral of San Giorgio. Three bedrooms, a spacious living-dining area with wine cellar, a sun-drenched terrace and a garden with jacuzzi invite you to slow down and relax. During the renovation of the once completely dilapidated property, the historic charm of the residence was preserved and emphasized rather than suppressed by simple design elements and art.

Saint Giorgio in Modica
Modica at dusk

After an evening stroll through the streets of the city and a relaxing, dreamless night in the old walls of the residence, I visit the just a few streets away the next morning Casa Kimiyà. Both houses were brought back to life and extensively restored by the artist and designer Luca Giannini with great attention to detail. From the originally furnished Casa Kimiyà, a spectacular panoramic view of the city opens up to me, which I leave behind shortly afterwards with a heavy heart: another farewell - as bittersweet as their chocolate.

Mood on the roof terrace of Casa Kimiyà
View of the roof terrace in Casa Kimiyà
The bedroom upstairs

Feeling good in the midst of nature: I Carusi and the Riserva Vendicari

About 40 kilometers east of Modica I turn right just before the town of Noto. A little later I follow a wood-paneled sign onto a gravel road and reach the old manor "I Carusi". While I am always driven by a certain spirit of enterprise in cities, because there is so much to see and marvel at, I am immediately gripped by an almost magical calm. I brush off "fomo", the fear of missing out, and let my gaze wander dreamily over the landscape that surrounds me. I Carusi is idyllically situated on a hill, embedded in six hectares of organically managed almond and olive groves.

Operator Simona has lovingly renovated the farm and turned it into a real oasis of wellbeing. In addition to five tastefully furnished residential units, the main house has a dining area with a winter garden and veranda that lead to the large garden with pool. From here I have a wonderful all-round view of the gentle, rural surroundings and the promisingly glittering sea on the horizon.

View of the I Carusi farm
Spend relaxing hours by the pool at I Carusi
Pool from I Carusi
Romantic evening atmosphere at I Carusi

It is only two kilometers to the beach and the nearby nature reserve, the Riserva Naturale di Vendicari. I am the first visitor here early the next morning. For a small parking fee, I wander through extensive heathland, swamp and moorland areas in the next few hours, which offer numerous plants and animals valuable habitat. After a lunch break in the baroque city of Noto, my journey takes me further north.

Riserva Vendicari
I Carusi sunset
Noto

Casa Sabir: Syracuse with all your senses

At a moderate pace I reach Ortygia, the historic old town of Syracuse, in the late afternoon. Ortygia is a kind of focal point of Sicilian culture and history. Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs and Normans - they all shaped the small island, which can only be reached from the mainland via two bridges, and left their mark here. Residential houses, alleys, museums, shops and restaurants are crowded together in a confined space, and the historic market attracts numerous residents and tourists every morning. Right here, where the market stalls bend under fresh fish, crunchy vegetables, colorful fruit and tempting spices in the morning, I visit the last oasis of my journey: Lucas Casa Sabir.

The high, airy rooms of the apartment are on the second floor of an old building. The simple, elegant furnishings emphasize the old wall paintings that surprisingly came to light during the renovation work. Here I let the rest of the day end in a relaxed manner after a short walk on the waterfront and a good glass of red wine. When I open the balcony doors the next morning, my spirits are suddenly awakened. The splendid play of colors in the market stalls seems close enough to touch, intense fragrances rise up to me, oriental melodies mix with the self-confident calls of the salespeople, which I am only too happy to comply with.

Glance into the bedroom of Casa Sabir
Spices on the market in Syracuse
Market sentiment

A last detour into nature: Pantalica

On the last day of my trip, before going back to everyday life at the port, another nature park is on my program. My good friend Carmelo has long been in my ears that as a hiking enthusiast I should definitely go to Pantalica in spring - and now I know why. Pantalica, like Palazzo Acreide, Modica, Noto and Syracuse, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The place is famous above all for its more than 5000 chamber tombs carved into the limestone, dating from the 13th to 8th centuries BC. Come from BC.

However, I am particularly enthusiastic about the landscape, which I explore partly on wide hiking trails and partly on narrow paths. It goes up and down, deep into the gorge, along the stream and then back up to the ridge. The flowers of the White Affodill glow in the sunshine and the lush green of the meadows and trees contrasts wonderfully with the gray of the limestone cliffs. Carmelo, thank you, your persistence has paid off.

Hiking in Pantalica
Flowering time in Pantalica

When I return the rental car in the evening, I have a queasy feeling. In the tunnel just before Catania, the truck driver behind me kept fading in and I'm afraid that one of the taillights might be broken. I ask the nice gentleman from the car rental company about it. “How fast did you go?” He asks me. “Almost 80, as fast as allowed!” I proudly reply - and we both have to laugh.

A few practical tips at the end:

  • Modica, Noto and Syracuse are also accessible from Catania by public transport Means of transport; the Riserva di Vendicari can be easily reached by bike from Noto. Getting to Pantalica without a car, however, will prove to be rather difficult.
  • Who is cater for yourself would like to find very good fruit and vegetables at reasonable prices in the markets, at the small stalls on the roadside and in the many "Ortofrutta" shops. All larger supermarkets have at least a small selection of organic food. In Syracuse, I recommend visiting the “Natura Sì” health food store.
  • Lots of Sicilian Restaurants proudly rely on products from the region and also label them on their menus. In the Sacro Cuore district in Modica, only organic ingredients are used in the “Babbio”. In Syracuse I enjoyed a wonderful organic meal in “Olivias Natural Bistrot” before my hike through Pantalica. Anyone who, like me, is also gluten-free should ask for “senza glutine” dishes in restaurants - in Sicily this is surprisingly often not a problem.
Ina on the jetty, photo credits: Brittni Moffatt

 

Ina is a digital nomad and lives on one Sailboat in the Mediterranean. When there is a doldrums, the frees avowed minimalist Bays and Beaches of plastic, is on the lookout for special places for Good travel, photographs and writes articles on environmental and sustainability topics of all kinds.

Photo credits: Ina Hiester, Brittni-Moffatt (Ina profile picture)

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