I’ve left finishing up my travel stories in Sicily for far to long, thought I was almost done but realizing I still have a bit more to finish off. My last post ended in Agrigento where we visited from our hill top villa in Castrofillippo but before we got there I missed writing about the amazing cities we visited from our base in Avola; Ragusa, Modica and Siracusa.
It was stifling hot when we arrived in Avola, the afternoon temperatures often got into the high 30’s and even a dip in the sea wasn’t particularly refreshing at bathtub warm temperatures of 23 degrees. It was scorching so we focused on visiting the amazing, sandy beaches along its beautiful coastline. Everywhere we went it was busy, a test of patience and stress levels to find parking, a way down to the beach and a spot to place our beach towels on the sand.
We visited the incredible beaches of Marina di Avola right on the edge of town, Lido di Noto to the south and the wonderful beach of Fontane Bianche about 45 min. north of Avola. We brought our own beach pads, umbrella, cooler and a packed lunch down to the beach for a few blissful days of lounging, swimming and chillaxing by the sea. Boy I wish I could teleport back in time right now!
A few other days were spent doing some more serious sightseeing at some of the famed baroque cities surrounding the area. The best was the picturesque town of Ragusa, its ancient center perched on a hilltop overlooking the surrounding countryside.
Ragusa is a UNESCO-listed heritage site in the Monti Iblei area that was decimated by the 1693 earthquake that destroyed much of south eastern Sicily. It was rebuilt in the baroque style of the times, a perfect place to just wander its character- filled lanes while absorbing the ambiance and amazing architecture. A highlight was the Duomo di San Giorgio with its ornate railings, ringing bells and detailed façade.
We stopped here to take in the action of the piazza over a refreshing granita and sweet bun, a quick reprieve from the heat of the midday sun. We continued on down the street to the Giardino Ibleo, its public park and pride of the town.
We wandered the green gardens, an oasis amongst the typically brown, sun-scorched grasslands that were often on fire throughout the area. It had some lovely buildings, fountains and view points to take in as we made our way through the grounds. We didn’t make it to the modern, upper town of Ragusa Superiore but if you have time there is more to see; another cathedral and the Museo Archeologico touted to be worth the visit.
Our next day trip was to the city of Siracusa, we arrived by car and searched for a parking space after a bit of a hairy drive through its busy, narrow streets. It’s a mixture of modern and ancient, a vibrant city center surrounded by sea on the island of Ortygia
We started the morning walking through the outdoor market and then later decided to get on the ‘hop on off’ bus. It was cheap but not terribly thrilling, it gave us a lay of the land but really everything is within walking distance on the island. We saw the Aretus Fountain, the Cathedral and Piazza del Duomo, the Teatro Greco, Maniace Castle and Doumo Square.
We didn’t bother but there is a large archeological park that is just off the island, we stopped there on the ‘hop on off’ bus tour. Lots of people were getting off to visit the park, famed catacombs and necropolis but we had tired of ruins and just wanted to enjoy it’s culture and ambiance.
It was our last day in Avola and I needed a haircut, so I went out to find a barbershop we had passed earlier on our walks about. It was an old, slightly rough around the edges shop but with so much atmosphere. I had the best haircut ever and straight razor shave from an older Sicilian gentleman that didn’t speak any English. Despite my limited Italian we had a great chat and I felt as though I was in an Italian Indie, where Sophia Loren was going to walk through the door any minute to turn eyes and chat with the locals.Even a mundane task like getting a haircut was a cultural experience here!
On our last night in Avola we did a little shopping and finished the evening with dinner at an outdoor restaurant in Piazza Umberto. The town got lively as night fell, it was so vibrant and full of ambient culture that we felt like we were in an Italian dream. The food was excellent, the wine superb and a perfect evening was capped off with a gelato while strolling home.
The beaches were definitely a highlight in this area of Sicily, the countryside is dry and arid but there is so much culture and more of these fantastic baroque towns to explore that we hope to return one day.