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Residenza Hortus

Stylish in the midst of Sicilian baroque cities

A guest in south-east Sicily: a guest contribution by Ina Hiester

Luca Giannini's accommodations in the southeast of the Italian island of longing prove that Sicily is so much more than sun, sand and sea. In the midst of the baroque cities of Modica and Syracuse, both of which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Luca has breathed new life into old walls and created little oases of wellbeing in which ecology, design and contemporary art go hand in hand.

I have already spent many winters in Sicily, and yet the island always manages to touch and surprise me. So this time too. As Full time female sailor using her boat usually anchored at a suitable distance from the mainland on the coasts, the contrast to Lucas's three wonderful accommodations could hardly have been greater - because they are all right in the heart of picturesque Sicilian cities. My pronounced need for peace and quiet instead of city noise, for serenity instead of hectic, for real well-being instead of hyper-modern chic, was completely satisfied in all places. And so my little boat escape felt a lot more like an oasis hopping than a city trip.

Saint Giorgio in Modica

Stop at the Residenza Hortus

Lorenzo welcomes me at the agreed time in front of the gates of the towering Cathedral of San Giorgio in Modica, where he has even reserved a parking space for me. Immediately to the left of the cathedral, he leads me steeply uphill on a small lane and only a few moments later we are standing in front of old walls with a large iron door. "Welcome to Residenza Hortus“, He says with a small but somehow knowing smile on his face, opens the gate and gives me a few seconds to take in the precious, very first impression of this gem. It is hard to imagine that he has ever reaped anything other than the expression of satisfied arrival on the faces of the guests.

A secret oasis with three en-suite bedrooms, a spacious living-dining area, a wine cellar and a terrace with a garden is wonderfully safe here. Sunlight squints through the trees, which will provide wonderful cooling shade in summer. Luca, who has brought this place back to life with the greatest possible respect and environmentally friendly materials from the region, tells me later:

“When I discovered the 400-year-old building, it wasn't much more than a ruin. However, upon opening the rusty iron door, I felt an immediate connection, as if the place had been waiting for me for a long time. The stone remains were overgrown by plants, the seemingly mysterious garden (Latin: Hortus) a kind of spontaneous gathering of pomegranate, mandarin and orange trees. The garden has something very meditative about it and quickly gave the place its name: Residenza Hortus. "

Entrance of the Residenza Hortus
The garden

The four elements in the Residenza Hortus

In the Residenza Hortus there is a harmonious balance of the four elements. The garden symbolizes the earth; I will spend the night in the room dedicated to the element of fire. This is indicated by playful flame engravings in the stone elements and a fireplace. I can also clearly assign their respective elements to the other two suites: in the water room there is a spacious bathtub right behind the round bed. The air room on the upper floor can be reached via an iron spiral staircase and leads onto the magnificent terrace with a direct view of the cathedral and the garden.

The furnishing style is minimalist and tasteful, and Lucas contemporary paintings give the place the very personal signature of a person who once suspected a paradise in a ruin. “As an artist I tried to leave a kind of imprint that makes this place unique and at the same time preserves its essence. To revive a place means to listen to it, because its “Genius Loci” (that is the protective spirit of a place) has a very delicate voice. You have to find the right time to hear them, ”says Luca.

An ideal place to spend a great vacation with loved ones

The living room of Residenza Hortus invites you to lounge around and listen to music, and looking at the kitchen I wish I had come with a whole load of friends with whom I could gather around the large kitchen island to cook together. At the same time, I really enjoy having these old walls just for myself.

Insight into the kitchen
The spiral staircase of the Residenza Hortus
Impressions from the Residenza Hortus
The garden is a real oasis of wellbeing

After a restful, dreamless night, I open all the doors and windows facing the garden and invite the spring sun rays to start the day with me and a cup of steaming coffee. Shortly afterwards, I literally get stuck on the terrace, which quickly warms up to summer temperatures and gives me the feeling of being above everything else. When it gets too warm here, I look for a shady spot down in the garden and although I have brought my laptop and a lot of work with me, my gaze wanders again and again and gets caught in the old walls.

Every now and then the bells of San Giorgio remind me that I am in a city, otherwise I only hear the occasional bark of a dog in the neighborhood. The Residenza Hortus is a private, quiet place to arrive - in Sicily, and with yourself. I haven't seen too much of Modica itself - but that should change in Luca's second accommodation, Casa Kimiyà.

A successful mixture of Orient and Occident in Casa Kimiyà

Aurora picks me up at the Residenza Hortus and just a few minutes' walk later she opens the doors for me Casa Kimiya. The term “Kimiyà” comes from the Arabic and means alchemy, and according to this doctrine of the properties of fabrics, a successful mixture of old and new, shabby and chic, orient and occident can be found here on two floors.

Bedroom of Casa Kimiyà

Architect and artist Luca says that the special charm of the house, which was built in the early 20s, suffered a lot in the 60s and 70s from the renovation work that was felt to be contemporary at the time. As with the Residenza Hortus, the aim here was to bring the true essence of the building back to light with a lot of imagination, without suffocating it with too many frills.

A spectacular view of the baroque city of Modica

When I enter the house, I follow my instinct for light and space and shortly afterwards I stand on the balcony adjoining the kitchen, from which I have a spectacular view of the baroque city of Modica with its many palaces, churches and stone houses, which is dreamy a kind of huge canyon nestles. Luca shares my enthusiasm:

"Modica is like an amphitheater in which a dramatic light show is staged from sunrise to sunset under mostly cobalt blue skies."

It takes a few minutes before I can detach myself from the great panorama and let my gaze wander through the apartment. And to gently run your hand over the bedspread of the bedroom adjoining the kitchen with the beautiful majolica tiles and to perceive all the small details - both ancient artifacts and contemporary works of art.

The view from the kitchen is amazing
Relaxed hours on the roof terrace
Spend relaxing hours on the roof terrace
View of Modica

On the ground floor, next to the bedroom and the kitchen-living room, there is a pretty, modern bathroom, next to which a staircase leads to the upper floor. Here, too, I want to go outside to the wonderful roof terrace with lounge area and seating area. While the Residenza Hortus is a place of refuge removed from the city's hectic rush, Casa Kimiyà presents me with the beautiful Modica on a silver platter - so postcard-like that I don't even feel like diving into the narrow streets. Because nowhere else do I get such a beautiful view as from here.

During the renovation, as much as possible was reused and upgraded

There is also a bedroom and a second bathroom on the upper floor. “During the renovation, we reused and upgraded as much as possible. In addition, only environmentally and health-friendly paints and varnishes were used. In Casa Kimiyà I have created a harmonious environment in which traditional, Sicilian influences mix with modern features that tell the connection between my soul and that of this enchanting place, ”says Luca.

Change of location and move into Lucas' latest project, Casa Sabir

Change of scene. About 70 kilometers north-east of Modica is the historic center of the city of Syracuse on the island of Ortygia. Large squares, small alleys, pompous fountains, museums, culture, history, restaurants - all of this is here in abundance in a very small space. For me as a sailor, Syracuse has always been a very special place, because it is from here that I have set off many times on multi-day trips to Greece, replenished my supplies with Italian delicacies, and treated myself to my last Sicilian pistachio ice cream. It was also always the first Sicilian port to be approached after a sun-scorched Greece season. It is all the more special for me to visit the city "only" as a tourist without having to worry about whether the anchor will stop in the bay and we can fill up our water tanks somewhere.

Seafront of Syracuse

The Casa Sabir, Luca's latest project, is located in the middle of the historic Ortygia market, where traders sell their goods day in and day out - fresh, crisp vegetables, colorful fruit and tempting herbs and spices. Pierpaolo leads me through the high rooms, including two bedrooms, a wine studio, a large kitchen and two bathrooms, which are simply and stylishly furnished and only complemented by Lucas art here and there.

During the renovation work, old wall paintings were discovered

It didn't take much to give Casa Sabir its very special charm, because during the renovation work, Luca discovered old wall paintings, which he carefully uncovered and whose stylistic element he only emphasized with a few contrasting elements, such as designer lamps and handmade furniture. Luca describes the "subtraction process" of his renovation work as follows:

“It's like a sculpture: you have to study volume, light, balance and perspective and remove superfluous material to discover the soul of the house. And then you free them like old music that hasn't been played for a long time. "

The kitchen in Casa Sabir is well equipped
Glance into the bedroom of Casa Sabir
View to the balcony

The rooms, which are mostly in subtle gray and dusky pink tones, exude calm and elegance - but as soon as I open the doors to one of the balconies, which Luca has wisely glazed several times and thus well soundproofed, the full force of the intense Sicily hits me, as I know and love it. From above I look down on a magnificent play of colors, suck in intense fragrances and am confronted with a noise level that is more reminiscent of a fair than a small weekly market, despite the off-season. I can see not only screaming calls, but also oriental melodies from the turmoil, and I am fascinated by being right in the middle of it all and still just being an observer of this spectacle. Until at some point I'm hungry and I can no longer resist the temptations of the market stalls.

Look at the market
Detail from the balcony
Oranges from the market in Syracuse

Ina is a digital nomad and travels through Europe by land and sea. The journalist is always on the lookout for special places for Good Travel, philosophizes about travel in her column, takes photographs, makes music and writes articles on all kinds of environmental and sustainability topics.


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