Just sitting in the van after scoffing a scrumptious pasta based meal, cooked by Trace, listening to the crickets, the insects not dreadfully dull band from Lovett, Texas and watching the sun set after a day of sunshine where the temperature reached a balmy 23°. Spring has really arrived here in the last week and it is great to feel the warmth of the sun on the bones of your body once again. We left Syracuse round about 11 am Saturday morning and headed for the baroque city of Noto, the first of the rococo clad cities of South East Sicily rebuilt after the earthquake that flattened the area in 1693. These cities; Ragusa, Scicli and Ragusa are now being bought to the attention of the wider public by the success of the TV detective, Montalbano.
Our initial thought was to drive to Noto, have a look around and spend the evening in the car park offered up by the Camper Contact App. Unfortunately the car-park was built on a slope far too acute for our liking and so we had a change of plan, ditching the unreliable Camper Contact and turning to our preferred German Oracle we decided to spend the afternoon in Noto then head down to the coast to sleep. On a positive note the car park was handy for access to the historical centre and like a couple of mountain goats we bounded up the steps opposite and made our way towards the most handsome street in Sicily, Corso Vittorio Emanuele.
The first thing that springs to mind is Bath. We are talking the place in Somerset and not the art of removing filth from one’s body with the aid of soap and water. Both cities benefit from the golden hue of the sandstone buildings which seem to glow when the evening light approaches. It has a wide pedestrianised boulevard that is a pleasure to walk along with Two Piazzas to break up the arrow straight avenue. Here are some Pictures:
Man with Horn
Palazzo Nicolaci di Villadorata
As you can see the nobles did not hide the money when it came to building this splendid place. Unknown at the time, their vision has turned into a sterile tourist attraction. This place gives off no warmth, it is as if nobody lives here, there is no community. It is just a few expensive traveller emporium trying to sell you local foodstuff and ceramics at highly inflated prices. It is a stunning place to wonder at the architecture, but the town gives nothing back, it is not a two-way experience. The other thing Noto is famous for is Ice-Cream, some say the best ice-cream in the world is made here and we would love to tell you if this is true, but we can’t as the shop is shut until March.
We were about to leave as we couldn’t see anything to do for the next hour before the Cathedral opened when we had a stroke of luck. There was a funeral, you can see the hearse in the picture above, and the Duomo flung open its doors for the service. This Cathedral collapsed in 1996 during a thunderstorm and took eleven years to restore. In our opinion the restoration is like the rest of the town; sterile. The dead man’s family were quite pleased to see the congregation swollen by a brace of Brits, three Koreans, two French families and an Icelandic lesbian couple. Their happiness did not last the whole service as once ‘the infiltrators’ had their couple of snapshots they left. And so did we to the coastal town of Cicirata. Isn’t that the name of a Mexican dance?
funeral Service in Duomo
The streets of Noto
The Journey to Cicirata
This was a beautiful spot to stay, lovely and flat, quiet, on the beach and close to many amenities. We had a quiet night catching up with some ‘Benidorm’ and Tracy made Fajitas which after all this Italian food came as a bit of a shock to taste buds and bottom. Next morning we got up and paid a visit to the supermarket before heading south but not before we watched a couple of Sandwich Terns beating off an Egret from their fishing grounds. Fascinating but just too far away for a picture.
For those of you that don’t know you can see pictures of where we stay by clicking on the ‘our journey’ menu option at the top of the page, some of the entries even have descriptions.
Our next planned stop was the Riserva Naturale Oasi Faunistica di Vendicari, a coastal preserve for Premier League birdwatching. Sadly the car-park was shut and we had nowhere to leave the Homie without blocking the entire access. Yes I know if we were locals we would have just got out and left it. But we’re not. So after a 25 point turn and a few bushes demolished we headed south for Portopalo.
This being Valentine’s Day and me being a man I thought we could turn up at lunchtime and smooch our way into a restaurant. No such luck. Valentine’s Day here in Sicily appears to be a family day rather than the chocolate-eating-fat-fest it is in the Anglo-Saxon world. Not to be defeated I whisked the van up to the top of the cliffs, parked-up and did us a BBQ. It was smashing and as a bit of a bonus a stray dog turned up and eat all the bits of food we couldn’t eat; mostly bones.
The end of Sicily
Looking North from our BBQ spot
He ate everything we didn’t and nearly my hand
Doesn’t get any more romantic than here
We stayed at our cliff-top love nest until morning where we headed for our second baroque city, Modica. This might look easy on a map but we had to go through the town of Pachino. Not known to many people but the 15th of February is the Festival of Tarmac in Pachino. This is where they celebrate ‘the boys from the blackstuff’ by closing every street in and out of the town in a random fashion. To put the icing on this very dark gateaux they block any alternative route with lorries bedecked with bitumen. As the town’s namesake, Al, said in the Godfather; ‘Just When I Thought That I Was Out, They Pull Me Back In’.
Finally released we drove the fifty minutes to Modica without any incident.
The approach to Modica is very much a Lynmouth/Lynton affair with the road descending down a gorge and on to a former river bed. We parked up near to the market and made our way along the main street of Corso Umberto. What a difference to the sterile Noto this is. This is a living breathing lung of a place. It reminded us of Ludlow in Shropshire with its unhidden attraction to anything and everything foodie. After a stroll around we headed for the most famous of the foodie shops; Dolceria Bonajuto. Unlike the antiseptic artisans of Noto the boys in this bustling town do not shut down for winter and are there on-hand to serve and sell you the best chocolate this side of Peru.
The shop with the factory out back is like an old-fashion chemists with artefacts displayed behind old oak cabinets. After a taste or two of this purest chocolate we purchased the odd bar. This chocolate contains no milk, no soya, no palm oil, no butter; just cocoa and sugar with flavourings such as cinnamon, vanilla, orange and peppers. Here are the pics of our purchase and the shop.
Yep, 11 bars of choccie and a bar of Nougat
Bench for rolling chocolate
So where next for us after all that sugary indulgence? The chocolate museum next door. We did try and sneak in for nothing but were caught by one of the three full-time staff. The other two were watching TV on their phones. And if I know Italian TV it will be a sort of panel show consisting of old men with transplanted hair speaking rubbish and being feted by young buxom blondes while the audience howls in hysteria.
I have wasted some money in my time but the €2.50 charged for this makes the top ten. It consisted of one room with a map of Italy made out of chocolate. If your kids in their second year of primary school had achieved the same standard you would be thinking about Private Education. It was rank. The second room had about busts made out of chocolate and here is a picture of the best one. Grrrr, waste of money.
The best of a very bad bunch
Needed to be cheered up we had a granite before heading up to Modica Alta. It is not often that Tracy says she can live somewhere other than Devon but Modica is one of those places. This town has the lot. Here are some pictures:
Even steps are loved
Looking up from Lower town
Not everything has been re-developed
Back streets of Alta
Duomo San Giorgio with Angel
Looking over the Gorge from Alta
Steps down from San Giorgio
Cafe des Arts Balcony. Great Ice Cream
We just loved wandering around this town absorbing the atmosphere and we will be coming back for an evening meal after a passeggiata in our finery as we have found a smashing place to park overnight for free. We will leave you with a picture from a location from Inspector Montalbano and the journey back down the mountain to our present location.
Montalbano banged on this door, episode: The wings of the Sphinx
The Journey to Sempiere
Love to all