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Sicily's Southeast | Ortigia, Siracusa, Noto

Updated: Dec 10, 2019


I recently embarked on my 10th trip to Italy, this time a week-long excursion to Sicily's southeast.

My to-do list was simple and in no particular order:

1. Slowly wander around old streets.

2. Bask in sunshine.

3. Admire cool architecture.

4. Take in ancient sites.

5. Consume drool-inducing Sicilian food and wine of

all variations.

View towards the south of the island with Castello Maniace in the distance

Depending on what you are after, early spring can be a great time to see Sicily. In late March, the temperature remains between a very pleasant 60-70 degrees farenheit with plently of sun. Also, because it's off season, the prices are cheap. I grabbed a return flight on Easyjet from Bristol to Catania for £80.

For accommodation I opted for a cosy, clean and perfunctory one-bedroom Airbnb apartment in Siracusa's old town, Ortigia, for about £36 per night. There aren't many tourists flooding the streets just yet so it's also a bit quieter and has a very local feel to it.

 

Ortigia | Wandering the ancient streets

One of the island's many colourful Baroque streets

Ortigia is an island just off Siracusa on the mainland. It's the most ancient, preserved and striking part of the city. It's old, some the of buildings are falling down and there is a need for some investment. However, I could not help but get a true sense of community from its local residents. The beaming sunshine may have something to do with it, but the people here seem genuinely happy.

A view from the Piazza del Duomo

The history of the island is fascinating, beginning with the Greeks who discovered it circa 500 BC. You can see remnants of ancient structures including a temple just before the street market. There are also ionic columns visable within the walls of the Baroque-style Duomo in the main square.

 

Enjoying sunshine in the square

 

Most of the old streets are narrow and winding and many are dotted with boutiques, local artisan shops, cafes or restaurants. You can get a little lost here, which makes it a perfect place to slowly uncover on foot.

 

Loved these amazingly colorful table settings at a restaurant down a little street

 

This little guy stood watch outside the shop next to our flat every day

 

Outside the maze of meandering alleys, the island is surrounded by sweeping sea views. It takes about an hour to walk along the footpath which will take you high above the crashing waves and back down along the calm harbours of the bay.

The most southern tip of the island features Castello Maniace, built in 1239 which is open for visitors today, complete with an outdoor cafe and plenty of places to have a seat and take in the sun.

View across the calm bay, sea front restaurants to the left

 

Fishing in the afternoon

 

The Ortgia Street Market

Those who know me, know that if there is a market in town, I always head there immediately! Ortigia's market does not disappoint as it provides a display of local, seasonal vegtables and fruits, spices, honeys and (of course) counter after counter of the early morning's freshly caught fish ranging from swordfish to tuna to prawns, oysters, musssels -- and much more.

The vendors shout loudly as they try and sell their goods to family cooks, restauranteurs and tourists alike, making it a really lively place. It's open Monday through Saturday from the early morning until about 1PM.

Even in March, the vegetable market is dominated by artichokes, fennel and very ripe tomotoes.

 

Dried chilies, oregano, tomatoes, fruits. Almonds and pistachios.

 

The Greek and Roman Ampitheaters

Across the bridge and about an hour's walk up Siracusa's main street lies the Archeological Park of Siracusa. If you don't fancy the walk, there is a hop-on, hop-off mini bus from the Fountain of Diana in Ortigia. It's well worth a trip as the park contains two reasonably intact ampitheaters.

A view out to sea from the top of the Greek ampitheater

 

The Greek ampitheater was founded in the 5th century BC and offers views out to sea whilst the Roman ampitheater offers views of the centre staging area (think Gladiator).

Greek ampitheater

 

The park itself provides a nice place for a stroll, some shade and a bit of peace. There are also some caves to explore and a few cafes if you fancy a bite or a drink. Judging by the massive coach park and multitude of souvenier shops across the road, I imagine the place gets pretty busy in the summer.

The Roman ampitheater

 

What and Where to Eat

It's hard to go wrong in Sicily but it is possible to get caught up in a gastronomical tourist trap if you aren't careful. Generally, my rule of thumb is to look and see if locals are dining at a particular establishment. If the answer is yes, you're usually good to go. Here are a few places worth checking out.

Via Cavour, 28, 96100 Siracusa SR, Italy | +39 392 461 0889 | www.siciliaintavola.eu

This small restaurant is located in the centre of Ortigia and offers up well-cooked classic dishes, including fish straight from the market and freshly prepared pasta using local seasonal ingredients. There is a view to the kitchen and the service is helpful but not pushy. I recommend booking in advance during the high season as we barely got a seat.

Freshly caught tuna with sesame seeds and red onion

 

Ricotta ravoli with cherry tomatoes in a pistachio pesto

 

Tiramisu - classicly delicous decadence

 

Riva Giuseppe Garibaldi, 6, 96100 Siracusa SR, Italy | +39 0931 66104| http://www.ristorantedarsena.it/index.php/it/

Located on the seafront next to the harbour, this family owned and operated restaurant delivers on flavour and freshness. They had plenty of freshly made pasta on offer as well as a selection of fish from the market. Great service, a nice al fresco setting for lunch and good people watching.

 

Home-made pasta with pumpkin, swordfish and pistachio cream

 

Left: stuffed swordfish rolls, lightly fried | Right: Al fresco exterior

 

Lemon torte to die for

 

Ortigia Market - Via Emmanuele De Benedectis 6 | 329 985 2500 | www.caseificioborderi.eu

The gentleman pictured below is a bit of a hero in the world of sandwiches, pardon the pun (only some of you will get that!). Andrea Borderi runs this deli and cheese shop and it's been in his family since 1930. The deal here is to grab a place in line whilst Andrea concocts a masterpiece sandwich for you. Andrea decides what he piles high on the freshly made sliced bread but whatever it is, it's delicious and worth waiting for.

Sandwich maker extraordinaire Andrea Borderi hard at work

 

Layers of goodness - mortadella, buffalo mozerella, roasted peppers and loads of other yumminess

 

Via Saverio Landolina 7/9, 96100, Syracuse, Sicily, Italy | +39 0931 67384

Whether you stop here for a morning croissant and an expresso or an afternoon snack, this place has what you want. Located just off the main square, this cafe specialises in pastries and sweets but also offeres gelato and my favourite, arancini.

 

My idea of an afternoon snack on vacation: arancini & a glass of grillo | My husband's idea of an afternoon snack: coffee and something very sweet

 

Piazza Cesare Battisti, 4 96100 Siracusa SR, Italy | +39 0931 60069 | www.fratelliburgio.com

Located at the very end of the market, right next to Borderi, is Fratelli Burgio. This is another deli, although offering indoor seating with a touch of sophisication. On the only rainy day during the week, I took a seat here to sip wine and sample their sharing platter called 'terra.' It was all delicious.

Terra sharing platter - selection of local meats, cheeses and spreads including mortadella cream, fresh mozerella, salami and a deconstructed cannoli

 

Anima e Core

Via Claudio Mario Arezzo, 9, 96100 Siracusa SR, Italy | +39 0931 66506

This pizzeria is located slightly off the main drag of restaurants in Ortigia but is well worth a look. This is a pizzeria with a difference, providing options like fried pizza, which I tried. It was delicious and guilt-inducing. The ingredients are fresh and it's a nice open space. The portions are plentiful and the staff are friendly and attentive.

Fried pizza and a bright space

 

Fried courgette flowers stuffed with ricotta - another guilty pleasure

 

Verga Courtyard - Cafeteria, Via della Maestranza, 33, 96100 Siracusa SR, Italy

| https://cortile-verga-cocktail-bar-bistraw.business.site/

I was first attracted to this place because of it's delightful setting, nestled just off the bustling street in a quiet courtyard. This a a proper cocktail bar with a smalll selection of really delicious light bites.

Courtyard calm

 

Left: Mushrooms on sourdough, poached egg, truffles | Right: Tuna tartar

 

Noto | A brief afternoon

It is well worth a day trip to sun-drenched, Baroque Noto. Sparing my husband from having to take responsibility for driving in what some say is one of the most chaotic places on Earth, I opted to catch the bus from the main bus station in Siracusa. It was easy enough to purchase tickets from the kiosk at the station, but you can also get them directly on the bus from the driver.

Steps leading to the Baroque church

It was nice to see a bit of the interior along the way as the bus drove through mile after mile of lemon tree farms. I recommend arriving in Noto late morning to have a gander, followed by lunch in the sunshine at one of the many cafes and restaurants along the main street.

Lemons for miles

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