On this route through Ragusa, Modica, Avola, and Noto, the Southeast Sicily, we will tell you about the two days we spent discovering the deep and authentic Sicily; the one that can not be known in any other way than living with Sicilians during 48h.
We were lucky that some friends invited us to spend two days with them and we would know a little more about the culture of the island. They lived in the Giarratana, a town that could be perfectly any small town that we have in Spain.
As soon as we stepped into their house, the smell of Sicily flooded us. We were greeted with amazing Sicilian homemade food, baked onions (cipollas) that make Giarratana famous -Its sweet onions the size of a small melon– and an incredible homemade tiramisu that has been the best we have tasted.
As soon as we finished eating, our route through Southeast Sicily began.
WHAT TO SEE IN SOUTHeast SICILY
Our two-day itinerary through Southeast Sicily included the baroque cities of Ragusa, Modica and Noto. We also enjoyed the coastal town of Ávola and the Cavagrande del Cassibile.
This was the distribution:
- Lunch in Giarratana (where our Sicilian friends lodged us)
- Afternoon in Ragusa
- Afternoon in Modica
- Dinner in Palazzolo Acreide
- Morning in Cavagrande del Cassibile
- Afternoon in Ávola
- Night in Noto
It is impossible to talk about Ragusa without mentioning the catastrophe that ravaged the city. In 1693 an earthquake of magnitude 7.4 almost collapsed each building and ended with the lives of 10,000 people. This earthquake affected not only Ragusa, but all the Southeast Sicily villeages. It is even documented that the movement caused a tsunami that affected the Aeolian Islands (Stromboli) and did nothing but worsen the catastrophe.
The streets of Ragusa tell you their story. The city perched on a hill is divided into that which is situated on Ragusa, torn down by the disaster, Ragusa Ibla, and the one that formed above the hill as the new beginning, New Ragusa.
During the afternoon we spent there, we only had time to walk around Ragusa Ibla, the old town.
First, we visited the Duomo di San Giorgio and then we took Granite on a terrace overlooking the hill.
As a finishing touch to our quick visit to Ragusa, we found a store of local artisan products, in the cathedral square itself. The name was Paniere di Sicilia. Either if you go with intention of buying or not, I recommend you enter the establishment.
In addition to letting us try everything, the quality was unbeatable and the lady who attends was very kind.
Without a doubt, the best of all we got was a pistachio pesto that tasted great.
Our next stop was Modica. It was a quick but unmissable visit for me, addicted to chocolate. And is that Modica is a benchmark in the cocoa industry. The type of chocolate produced here is by cold processing, the same recipe used by the Aztecs. Although the taste can be similar to any good chocolate, the texture is very different.
During the production of this cocoa does not melt the dough so that finally it is a granular texture. I recommend you to try it in the Antica Dolceria Bonajuto, the oldest chocolate factory in Sicily, since 1880. The decoration is beautiful and the best, they let you taste all kinds of flavors; with salt, chili pepper, pistachio, 100% black, etc.
After the tasting, we walk through Modica. As it happened with Ragusa, the earthquake of 1693 destroyed the city. Virtually all the buildings that rise are after that date. For example, the Duomo di San Pietro, whose construction began 4 years after the earthquake, showing, therefore, the baroque aspect of all the cities that were rebuilt then.
During our walk, we listen to the opera from a playground so we follow it. Without knowing how we arrived there, we found ourselves in an art exhibition. The Soprano that animated the works was none other than the neighbor upstairs. She, without knowing it, gave life to the gallery that was filling with people trapped with her song.
And Sicily did not stop surprising us for a single day. At the most unexpected moment, as in a courtyard of a chipped building, you can find magic.
To end our first day with our Sicilian friends, we went to dinner at a town very close to Giarratana, Palazzolo Acreide.
We dined in a terrace of a traditional pastry shop, Pasticceria Caprice that began conquering us with his arancini until finishing off with his insurmountable Cannoli Gelato.
RISERVA NATURALE ORIENTATA CAVAGRANDE DEL CASSIBILE
The next morning we got up early. We were really looking forward to the plan that our friends had prepared us for the day: visiting the Riserva Naturale Orientata Cavagrande del Cassibile.
It is a canyon through whose gallery runs the channel of a river of turquoise waters that in summer is full of Sicilians looking for fresh water in which to pass the heat. The trail has no loss being all downhill. In half an hour we were in the river. However, they know the area so well that managed to take us to a part of the river where we were alone all morning.
The setting could not be more amazing. Fresh and crystalline waters framed by lush trees under the skirts of the mountains.
We were like children, jumping from one pool to another.
I think it was the only day of the trip that we really rested. After a sandwich of Mozzarella, tomato and basil, with Sicilian flavor, prepared by our friends, we lay down under some trees. So many days of travel made us need a moment like that. Once we woke up, we took the last bath and went back up the canyon to go to Ávola.
Ávola is a coastal town that is located in Southeast Sicily. Its most beautiful beach, the Spiaggia Del Gelsomineto is also the shore of the mouth of the river that runs through the Riserva Naturale Orientata Cavagrande del Cassibile; the same river where we had bathed hours before. Despite being the last hours of the afternoon the beach was overcrowded.
Its very shallow waters and fine sand make it the perfect place to spend the day with the family. It is not a place much visited by tourists. However, all the people from the Southeast Sicily towns come to this beach in the hot months to enjoy its crystal clear waters.
Ávola, moreover, is known for its wine, the Nero d’Avola. However, what I liked was not the wine but the Dolcemente Piccante alternative: the Arancino to the Nero d’Avola.
If you like the Arancini, I promise you that you will love this. The flavor of the wine mixed with rice and ricotta was the greatest gastronomic discovery of this trip. And I swear that it is difficult to opt for one of the delights that we tasted because in Sicily everything is spectacular.
Here we also tried the Chinotto, a cola drink made in Sicily since 1920. I did not like the taste too much, I suppose to be more used to Coca Cola. But I really enjoyed knowing this drink and knowing that there are other producers besides the red giant.
We were missing the last stop to close the two days we spent touring Southeast Sicily.
Noto, the stone garden or the Sicilian Baroque Jewel, as it is also known. I do not know if it will be as beautiful by day as by night, but under the lights of street lamps, it outgrows its name. Noto ooze splendor on each of the facades. Maybe the story will ring you. Like Ragusa and Modica (practically all the cities of Southeast Sicily suffered it), Noto was destroyed by the earthquake of 1693.
This time we did not visit the old part but the new one, the reborn. In it, the architects put all their effort in extolling the city according to the aesthetics of the time. They managed to bring Noto to the top as far as the Baroque is concerned. Noto is the best example of Sicilian Baroque, and therefore Italian, of the world.
I am not an expert on the subject but thanks to the help of our friends, I managed to identify the concave lines that make the Sicilian Baroque so peculiar.
Every detail of the facades is extremely taken care of. The city itself is a museum, where the only price is to keep your eyes as open as you can to not to miss any detail.
During the summer nights, the city vibrates. Crowds of visitors are on the steps of the Cattedrale di Noto, the city’s nerve center.
However, the less frequented streets are also impeccable and are shown to the delight of the pedestrians.
BAROQUE SICILY WITH LOCAL people
After reading this article, you will understand that for us, the two-day route we took through Southeast Sicily was the best part of our trip. Perhaps we did not visit so many well-known monuments, or we didn’t saw so many points of interest, but traveling accompanied by locals who worry about showing you their culture is something that is priceless.
I invite you to try to make friends wherever you go, either in the baroque cities of Sicily or anywhere in the world.