We stayed at a beautiful but overpriced lodge right next to the Valley of Temples where we were able to observe the night lighted monuments in all their glory. The next morning we headed to the archaeological park and joined a small group for a two hour walk along the valley. We were happy to find out that our guide was Greek who studied archeology in Palermo. The Valley of the Temples is one of Unesco’s world heritage sites. Akragas was “founded as a Greek colony in the 6th century B.C. and became one of the leading cities in the Mediterranean world. Its supremacy and pride are demonstrated by the remains of the magnificent Doric temples that dominate the ancient town, much of which still lies intact under today’s fields and orchards”. (source whc.unesco.org). Indeed, the Temple of Concordia is one of the most impressive and well preserved Greek temples and believe me I have seen quite a lot.
Our next destination was the Baroque towns of the south, Ragusa, Modica and Noto. We continued on SS115 to Ragusa, the provincial capital. The city was devastated by an earthquake in 1693 and was rebuilt above the ruins of the old town. Today it is known as Ragusa Superiore and the old town, which was also rebuilt is called Ragusa Ibla. The upper town has a dominant baroque style and an imposing cathedral, San Giovanni Battista. Ragusa Ibla is the place to spend a couple of hours if this is all you can spare. It is built on a hill crossed by narrow winding alleys in a typical medieval style. The most impressive monument, the Cathedral of San Giorgio was built starting in 1738 by architect Rosario Gagliardi, in substitution of the temple destroyed by the 1693 earthquake. What is impressive is that the historic center of Ragusa Ibla – as in Modica and Noto – are fully functional residential areas and not simply touristic destinations.
We continued to Modica for an overnight stay. The town naturally resembles Ragusa and is built around the steep slopes of a valley making the walk rather difficult but worthy. There is not much of a nightlife in these small towns and it did not help that we were already in the shoulder season. We had a very good Sicilian dinner at the terrace of our beautiful boutique hotel, Palazzo Failla, which happened to be one of the dining picks for Lonely Planet. I was unfortunate with the selection of wine, but this is what happens when you try to communicate in the local language, pretend to be a know-it-all and not following the recommendations.
The next day we headed to Noto and stopped at the Riserva Naturale on the way to enjoy a swim in this protected coastal area, ideal for birdwatching. Noto is the most impressive of the three towns, considered the masterpiece of Sicilian baroque style. The imposing cathedral of San Nicolo is right on Corso Umberto, a pedestrian street with an abundance of beautiful palazzi, churches and shops. There is a harmonic blend of older and newer buildings with red-gold facades that one can better observe from the belltower of the Chiesa di San Carlo al Corso.
Our next overnight stop was Syracuse, one of the most important Greek colonies in Sicily and a Unesco world heritage site. We stayed in Ortigia, a wonderful small island at the south end and connected to the main city by bridges which preserves the baroque architectural style. It is the heart of Syracuse and hosts a large variety of shops, restaurants and bars making it the most lively of all the places we have been in Sicily. Its must-see Duomo (cathedral) was built by bishop Zosimo in the 7th century over the great temple of Athena (5th century BC) and you can still see the ancient doric beams along both sides of the temple.
We woke up early to drive back to Catania and get on the plane to Naples. We managed to tour the most part of Sicily in six days and the tight schedule did not make justice to this beautiful island. Sicily combines three millennia of history in beautifully preserves sites and an interesting view on contemporary south Italy. Food is from good to excellent and the people are friendly. What to ask more?