Tuesday, October 7, 2014
Buongiorno! We've just returned from an absolutely magical week away in Sicily - we had an amazing time. Have you been? It was our first, "proper" vacation together this year, believe it or not, and I'd been so looking forward to it. We flew into Comiso and rented a car, touring the Ionian coast before embarking on an agriturismo (farm-stay) at a beautiful resort in Central Sicily and spending our final evening in the pretty, awe-inspiring hillside town of Modica.
Here are the highlights, if you'd like to see!
I'm a huge beach bum when it comes to vacations - are you? My favorite holidays are probably the beach-oriented trips we took to Santorini, Thailand, and Vietnam. I love falling asleep in the sun and triumphantly peeling off my swimsuit to reveal tan lines at the end of the day!
Our first stop in Sicily was Syracuse, which is composed of two parts: the mainland and Ortigia, the historical centre of Syracuse. We stayed at the gorgeous Musciara Siracusa Resort, which had its own private beach with dreamy furnishings like the veranda above and the comfiest beach-side pillows ever.
The first thing I did when we arrived was ...
... order a huge bowl of spaghetti alle vongele. How could I resist? I was in Sicily! The clams were sweet and delicious and the tomatoes were out of this world. Cooked simply with a few ingredients (garlic, white wine, clams, parsley, tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil), spaghetti alle vongele is one of my favorite dishes.
Afterwards, we strolled into Ortigia and got (intentionally) lost in the maze of alleyways that opened up into courtyards like the one above, until an elderly Sicilian lady came out from behind a laundry line to point us in the right direction. "Grazie!" we shouted over our shoulders as we found our way out. "Prego!" came the immediate response. I was charmed.
We continued walking until we reached the Piazza Duomo and found the Fountain of Diana at the Piazza Archimede, which looked spectacular in the sun.
By then, I was getting a little hot and bothered (it was gloriously sunny!), so we stopped for some gelato. I'd read on a blog before our trip that Sicilians often liked to enjoy their gelato sandwiched in warm brioche - for breakfast! I couldn't believe it, but when I saw it on the menu, I knew I had to try it.
Let me tell you: it was the most delicious ice cream sandwich I've ever had. The gelato was pistachio with melted dark chocolate and the brioch was warm, sweet, a little sticky, and very chewy. John had serious food envy, but he helped me finish it in between licks of his own gelato cone.
After another night's stay in Syracuse, we headed off to Taormina, on Sicily's east coast.
Can I just say? John is fantastic at driving in other countries (actually, he's just a great driver in general). He kept a cool head even when cars behind us practically leapt into our exhaust pipe and drove at inexplicably high speeds or when an exit turned out to be an abrupt right turn off a major freeway. I tend to hyperventilate when I can't set the GPS correctly.
In Taormina, we stayed at the beautiful Hotel Villa Belvedere, a grand hotel built in 1902 with magnificent views of Mt. Etna and the Bay of Naxos. Also, their pool had a 100-year-old palm tree growing from an island in the middle of it - how amazing is that? I spent a lot of time floating on my back, looking up at the palm trees and the clear, blue sky.
The next morning, we got up and (literally) ran to the Teatro Greco, an ancient Greek theatre, before the busloads of tourists and cruise groups could descend. And I'm so glad we did. This was the view when we ran to the top of the amphitheatre:
Breathtaking, isn't it? Especially with Mt. Etna looming in the background. Could you imagine watching a performance here (sadly, no events were taking place during our visit, otherwise we would have gotten tickets!) with the sun setting? Just incredible. It's one of my favorite memories of the trip.
From there, we hiked 5k up to Castelmola - a village built around a ruined castle near one of those peaks you see in the photo above. (Side note: J. Crew, Gap, New Balance, and Longchamp are not appropriate attire to hike up a rugged mountainside. Not really.)
We found this empty, quiet little church near the top - the view was breathtaking.
And rewarded ourselves with a glass of granita limone - a refreshing, lemon-flavored shaved ice dessert that made our hot trek to the top worth it!
That night, as we walked back to Hotel Villa Belvedere after another delicious meal, we couldn't decide where to go next in our trip. We hadn't booked anything for the Thursday or Friday before we left, preferring to leave those days free so we could decide closer to the time. Initially, this put me in a bit of a panic (I'm a planner and a control-freak), but I could see why it was a brilliant idea on John's part: this way, we could go with what we felt like and not be committed to a particular place just because we had booked it in advance! I'm really getting the hang of this last-minute thing ...
We knew we wanted to stay in the countryside somewhere but ... where? The places we had researched before we left were now fully booked. I started to panic a little. Taormina was nice, but just too touristy - I couldn't imagine staying for another day, let alone two. I also wanted a break from the hustle and bustle of cities and towns. Finally, I stumbled upon a review of Masseria Susafa, an agriturismo resort in Central Sicily, near Polizzi Generosa. The next day, while sitting by the pool, I booked it!
When we arrived, I couldn't believe how picturesque it was: butterflies and bees fed on the lavender bushes by the rooms, which were originally farmers' houses, now converted into individual hotel rooms with comfy, rustic, farmhouse charm. I don't want to post too much here as I'd love to write a separate post about our stay. It was really incredible and I'd highly recommend you try an agriturismo stay if you're travelling through Sicily.
After two nights of the best food we'd had on the trip so far and the tranquil surroundings of Masseria Susafa, we regretfully packed up our bags and left for Modica. It rained to match my mood as I was so sad to leave the farm!
Funny story: on our way to Modica, I really, really, really needed to use the bathroom. I regretted having that cup of coffee and juice at breakfast. "It's only an hour to our next stop," said John. "Do you think you could wait that long?" I nodded bravely, but it soon became clear that he'd have to pull over - like, immediately. So we found a little lay-by (not a rest area!) where a very British-looking older couple had also pulled over to consult a map. Without a glance in their direction, I tore off towards a bush, which I swear had been designed for such pit-stop emergencies (it was a good height and perfectly angled away from the road). Desperate times.
To cut up the journey to Modica a bit, we stopped off to see the mosaics at Villa Romana del Casale, a Roman villa constructed in the 4th century. Although the pathways were pretty heavily blocked by large tour groups, we still caught some excellent glimpses of the intricate mosaics that lined the floors of the villa. My favorites were the "bikini girls", who are depicted playing sports such as discus and weight-lifting (those dumbbells ... I die). Nice abs, right?
By the time we arrived in Modica, it had stopped raining and the sun started to peek out of the clouds. We stayed at an Airbnb which was delightful and centrally located on the main street in Modica's Old Town, Corso Umberto I.
The sweeping, panoramic views of the rooftops in Modica were utterly breathtaking.
This is what both John and I had envisioned Sicily to be like, so we were caught off guard when we arrived in the modern, busy cities of Syracuse and Taormina. In contrast, this lively hillside town had an air of sophistication and character, both which really came out at night when people emerged for their evening stroll (the passagiata) before mealtime.
And dinner is late! We tried to make a reservation for dinner at 7 pm in Taormina and the concierge at our hotel apologetically told us that it was a bit early ... 8 pm is the typically the earliest that most restaurants open and most Sicilians don't eat until 9 pm. I was stifling my yawns in this sweet little Modica restaurant when a baby in its stroller was brought in, followed by a 3-year-old and his parents. The 3-year-old sat quietly in a grown-up chair while his parents carefully considered the wine menu in silence! I was super impressed.
Modica was so pretty and charming - I wish we had another day there to ourselves, but unfortunately, we had to fly back to London early the next morning.
Before we went, I snapped a few more photos:
The door and shutters of the houses and apartments in Modica are just phenomenal; they're, like, real versions of those imitations you find in so-called "shabby chic" furniture stores. I couldn't get enough of the intricate wood carvings and detailed brass door-knockers. And the colours of the walls made the whole city look as though it had an Instagram filter applied to it - all light, sandy browns, warm rose-gold tones, and sea-foam greens. Just gorgeous.
Cats. Were. Everywhere.
So, that's it really. If you're planning a trip to Sicily, let me know! And if you've been before, tell me where you went!
Thanks so much for reading, and, ciao!