Cruising through Sicily’s stunning and lesser known south east corner, you might start to feel a little conflicted. On one hand, you may want to tell all your friends to stop what they’re doing and come immediately! However, the desire to keep this endearing pocket of the island a secret may triumph…
Take Siracusa for instance, a UNESCO protected city full of energy and history, divided into the mainland and its beating island heart, Ortigia. From the interesting architecture to the buzzing, local markets and streets teeming with craft shops, it’s hard not to fall in love with. Wandering around the narrow, pretty lanes, you’ll discover something fascinating at every turn – from churches with no roofs to tiny, tucked away ristorantes serving excellent food.
And then there’s the Archeological Park, housing relics of the Greek and Roman eras. Most impressive is the huge 5th century BC Greek theatre. Believe it or not, it is still in use today for the annual Greek Theatre Festival. When you’ve finished exploring for the day, sit along the lungomare (seafront) in Ortigia and watch the sun set over the water.
Elsewhere, step back in time as you visit the unmissable late Baroque towns of Val di Noto. Collectively, they make up a UNESCO World Heritage site, of which Sicily has 7. They were all rebuilt following a devastating earthquake in 1693, whereby the architects were given free rein to add their flourishes.
You’ll see this in the expressive gargoyles of twisted, wrought iron balconies and the colourful marble used inside churches. Nearest to Siracusa, Noto is a great spot for lunch or gelato. Dine among the grand, honey coloured buildings or climb up a bell tower on the main street, Corso Vittorio Emanuele, for magnificent views across the town.
Heading west along the winding mountain roads, the sight of Modica as it appears will take your breath away. Its remarkable buildings seem to tumble down the sides of 2 hills, with the heart of the town nestled in between. If you’re feeling especially active, you can scale the stone staircases that separate the upper and lower parts of the town.
All that exercise surely deserves a treat, which Modica is perfect for! Famed for the art of chocolate production, you’ll find the oldest chocolatier in Sicily here, Anticua Dolceria Benajuto. Tuck in to the delicious cocoa treat, which uses an Aztec recipe and comes in a range of unusual flavours such as cardamom and nutmeg.
Other Baroque gems of the Val di Noto include Ragusa and Scicli, brimming with grand palazzi and divine dining options. Fans of the detective series Inspector Montalbano may recognise filming locations in Scicli and might also like to visit Punta Secca on the south coast, where you’ll find Montalbano’s fictional home.
After site-seeing to your heart’s content, indulge in a well-deserved glass of local wine, Nero d’Avola, at one of the region’s stunning sandy beaches such as Fontane Bianche – bliss!