After spending 36 hours in Rome to conquer jet lag and revisit some of our past highlights, we flew to Catania for 12 days in southeastern Sicily. We did not get to do everything we wanted. It seemed like the perfect time to be there, with no rain and no need for heat or air conditioning. Here is a brief summary.
We used three bases as we don't like repacking constantly: three nights in Syracuse at a two bedroom apartment in the Casa Nizza; four nights in Ragusa at the studio apartment in the Sabbinirica B&B; and four nights in the apartment at the Agriturismo Sillitti outside of Caltanisetta. We felt like we won the lottery with the selected accommodations. The owners of the apartments were magnificent hosts and the B&B was run perfectly.
Driving is not my favorite pastime but it was essential to have a car once we left Syracuse. I ordered the Italian auto club map and tracked its journey from Venice to Bergamo to Brussels to my home in the US. It is physically huge and gives the appearance of being comprehensive, until you zero in and discover that except for the largest roads on the island, almost none of the roads are marked by highway number. As we spent most our time on smaller roads, the map was close to useless. Google maps was our gps system, and it was significantly challenged. Remember that Google maps is more interested in supposedly saving you 30 seconds off of an hour trip than in making the drive easy. That's how you end up in the middle of nowhere on a road that is turning into a sheep path. I heard similar complaints from drivers who rented cars with built-in gps systems. Fortunately, most of the scenery we drove through was drop dead beautiful. We had a compact car, not a mini, and we were grateful for the small size. There were plenty of occasions where a larger car could not squeeze through. And by all means purchase all of the insurance with no deductible. Somebody hit our car, but when we returned it, all the company cared about was that the gas tank was full and we were on our way.
We could have spent more time in Syracuse, especially if we took day trips that are available from there. It had a good combination of markets, sites, restaurants, history, shopping and walking, walking, walking.
Ragusa was a terrific base for making daily drives of an hour and a half or so, each way. We enjoyed the Vendicari Reserve along the coast. The fishing village of Marzamemi, south of the Reserve is, unfortunately from a tourist's point of view, enjoying a boom, and it may just boom its charm away. Although it's probably very nice to have dinner there along the shore, its status as a charming fishing village is under attack.
We found a wonderful, tiny deli in Ragusa from which we bought lunch a couple of times. Hillside walking meant that no matter how much we ate, we always seemed to have an appetite for dinner. On those rare occasions when dinner was unnecessary, there are some great outdoor spaces in Ragusa where cocktails, accompanied by free "tapas", did the trick.
Other places we visited from Ragusa were Modica, Scicli,and the coast south of Scicli. Scicli is a town that should not be missed. And here's one of those travel moments to remember. Despite the fierce reputation Scicli parking police have, when neither my wife nor I could get the payment machine to work, and I had no coins to insert, I was approached by a parking officer. After using Google translate to explain our situation, she tore off a piece of paper, wrote "no charge" and signed her name, and told us to put the paper on the dashboard. Parking solved!
From the Agriturismo we visited Enna, Aidone, Caltagirone, the Valley of the Temples, and the Turkish Steps. The museum in Aidone was spectacular. The cook at the Agriturismo was so magnificent that we decided to eat dinner there every night. Of course, as with everywhere else on Sicily, the food is so fresh that it's difficult to mess it up. My wife noted that if you lived there, you probably could have a life's worth of meals eating only food farmed or fished nearby.
We feel like we only scratched the surface of Sicily, and recommend it highly as a destination.