Dear readers, it has taken a while to find the name of this blog post. L’arma râ Sicilia, (The soul of Sicily, written in Sicilian and not in Italian) – Ragusa and Southeast Sicily. I could not call it any other way. In this entry I will explain you the two days we spend discovering Sicily, the authentic; the one you can not see any other way, living and breathing with Sicilians for 48h.
Before explaining you what we lived those two days, I want to introduce you a friend of Dani, Jonathan, he is from Giarratana, a small village in Southeast Sicily. He and his girlfriend Anthea had invited us to spend two days with them. So we would know a bit more in depth the culture of the island.
Thus, we started after seeing the archaeological park of Neápolis in Siracusa. The fields of olive trees reminded me of any town in Spain. Looking out the window of our car nobody could guess if it was a country or something else. At noon we went to Giarratana, a village that could be perfectly any town in Spain.
It knew that Dani and Jonathan knew of the period that Dani had been working in Oxford, where agreed to practice languages. What they did not know was that they had only met a couple of times. The truth is that this fact could have remained totally overseen because of the way that they received us could they could have thought that they were friends from years ago.
I HAVE NEVER FELT SO WELCOME
At just taking one step inside this house the Sicily smell flooded us. We were greeted with amazing homemade Sicilian food, baked cipollas (onions) for which Giarratana is famous. Its sweet onions have the size of a small melon. And an amazing homemade tiramisu that was to die for with pleasure. However the best of all was not the food, not even the amazing room in which we were allowed to sleep (by far the best bed we slept in on the whole trip). The best thing was to feel at home, to let us know the essence, the soul of Sicily, the laughter, the endless talks, adopt Pepuccina the dog for 2 days and feel part of the family.
Jonathan had everything prepared to take advantage of every second of those rare two days accompanying us by Southeast Sicily. He wanted to show us the best of the area.
WHAT TO SEE IN SOUTHWEST SICILY
The first afternoon we went to know Ragusa, capital of the Ragusa region where Giarratana is located and one of the most important cities of Southeast Sicily.
It is impossible to speak of Ragusa without telling the catastrophe that ravaged the city. In 1693 an earthquake of magnitude 7.4 almost completely collapsed each building and ended the life of almost 10,000 people. This earthquake did not only affect Ragusa, but all the towns of Southeast Sicily. It is even documented that the movement caused a tsunami that affected the Eolas Islands (Stromboli) and that did nothing but worsen the catastrophe.
The streets of Ragusa tell you its history. The city perched on a hill divided where is situated on top of the Ragusa, which was overrun by the disaster, Ragusa Ibla, and which was formed above the hill as a new beginning, the new Ragusa.
During the afternoon we spent there we only had time to stroll around Ragusa Ibla. The old town.
First we visit the Duomo di San Giorgio. Afterwards we take Granite in a terrace with a view to the hill.
Finally, and as a final touch to our quick visit to Ragusa, we find a local handcrafted products shop, in the cathedral square itself. The name is Paniere di Sicilia. Either you go with intentions to buy or not I recommend 100% that you to enter. In addition, to letting us try everything, the quality is unbeatable and the lady who treats it super attentively. And it is not for tempting you but just as we, who entered without any intention of buying anything, you will surely do!!!
Undoubtedly the best of all we took was a pistachio pesto that was to eat it to spoonfuls.
Our next stop was Módica. Quick but unforgettable visit for me, an addict to the chocolate. Modica is a benchmark in the cocoa industry. Here the type of chocolate is produced by cold processing, the same recipe used by the Aztecs. Although the taste may be similar to any good chocolate the texture is very different.
During the preparation of this cocoa does not melt the dough so that finally a granular texture remains. The best is that you test it in the Antica Dolceria Bonajuto, the oldest chocolate factory in Sicily, since 1880. The decoration is lovely and the best, they let you test all type of flavors; with salt, guindilla, pistacho, 100% black, etc.
After the tasting we strolled through Modica. As happened with Ragusa, the earthquake of 1693 destroyed the city. Virtually all buildings are later than that date. For example, we saw it with the Duomo di San Pietro, whose construction began four years after the earthquake, thus showing the baroque aspect of all the cities that were then rebuilt.
During our walk we listen the opera from a playground so we follow it, without knowing how we arrived until 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 Jonathan and Anthea, we went to pick Pepuccina, her beautiful dog, and went to dinner in a village very close to Giarratana, Palazzolo Acreide.
We had dinner on a terrace of a traditional pastry, Pasticceria Caprice that began charming us with its arancini to top with its unsurpassed Cannoli Gelato.
After dinner we strolled around the village and, exhausted for the day, we went to sleep.
RISERVA NATURALE ORIENTATA CAVAGRANDE DEL CASSIBILE
The next morning we got up early. We were really looking forward to the plan that Jonathan and Anthea had prepared us for the day. To visit 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 Jonathan and Anthea know the area so well that they 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 Mozzarela sandwich, tomato and basil, with Sicilian and life flavor, prepared by our friends, we lay down under some trees and took a nap that felt like heaven. After so many days of not stopping we really needed a moment like this. After waking up we took a last bath and went back up the canyon to head to Avola, the village of Anthea.
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 late in the afternoon the beach was overflowing. And its very shallow waters and fine sand make them the perfect place to spend the day as a family. It is not a site very visited by tourists. Nevertheless all the towns of South-east Sicily approach this beach in the hot months to enjoy its crystalline waters. I particularly found it an unbeatable way to end the day. Jumping waves on the beach and talking with our friends.
However this was not all that Avola had prepared for us. This region is also famous for its wine, the Nero d’Avola. However, what I liked was not the wine but the alternative of Dolcemente Piccante. The Arancino al Nero d’Avola. If you like the Arancini I promise you’ll drool with this one. The taste of the wine mixed with rice and ricotta was the greatest gastronomic discovery of this trip. And I swear it is difficult because in Sicily everything is spectacular.
Not happy with the two I ate, I bought two more for the next day. And also use them to try to attract some donkeys that we found along the way.
Neither I was willing to share my Arancino nor did they trust me.
Returning to the Dolcemente Piccante confectionery. The Arancino al Nero d’Avola was not the only thing we tried. Chinotto is a cola drink made in Sicily since 1920. I didn’t like the taste very much, I suppose to be more accustomed to the Coca Cola. But I really enjoyed knowing this drink and knowing that there are other producers apart from the red giant.
We were missing a 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 Soria 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 Jonathan I managed to identify the concave lines that make the Sicilian Baroque so peculiar.
Every detail of the facades is extremely careful. 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.
OUR SICILIAN FRIENDS
Sometimes we travel too fast. Almost always. We grab those 22 days of vacation that we have and try to squeeze them, as if the rest of the year worked disappears without meaning if you do not cease the day.
That makes traveling too superfluous. Running through streets on the other side of the world without giving you time to remember the cobblestones smell or what color is the grass there. It is the condemnation of being an explorer locked in the system. And yes, I confess, I can become the most volatile of the travelers, who is uncomfortable sleeping two nights in a row under the same roof and the one that needs every day to be the best day of the trip.
However, in Sicily I learned something thanks to Jonathan and Anthea. I learned that I had been doing it wrong. That traveling without having made a friend is to watch a movie. That if you want that a trip that moves you, you have to share experiences with a local. So, I present you the last chapter of this post. A chapter that I never could have written if there was not fellow Sicilians.
SICILY HAS MUCH TO COUNT TO ITALY
Phoenicians, Siccans, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Normans, Spaniards… Sicily has been inhabited for over 4,000 years. Each civilization that made it its own left signs in its language, its gastronomy, its customs, its architecture.
From the Unità d’Italia (1861) march along with the rest of territory that today we know as Italy. However, there is a Sicilian sense of colony towards Italy that causes some movements to ask for the independence of the island, as it was in the past, an independent territory.
In my personal opinion, I do not think that this trend is only due to the differences caused by the six centuries of Greek domination, the six centuries of Roman domination or the six centuries of Catalan-Spanish domination that influence the island in a way that the boot is not accused. According to what I interpreted from my stay there, the struggle for independence is rooted in discontent in the treatment and consideration that the rest of Italy has over Sicily, where they are treated as second category Italians. They completely obviated that when the unification of Italy took place the Kingdom of the two Sicilies was the third most powerful empire in Europe at the time. However, after the unification Italy fell, taking Sicily with it and impoverishing it in such a way that never again resurfaced.
I know nothing of Italy except for Sicily; an island that I adore for all the incredible moments that I spent in her. Thus, and the independence movement, I repeat to Dani that help me to cross out Italy. Because Sicily is not Italy at least until Italy does not listen all the centuries of history that Sicily has to explain to it.