Sicily, The fun
We are just beginning to wrap up our winter here and after spending 6 months in Marina di Ragusa, we have a few tidbits to share with others planning to visit the area.
First, it must be said that as I write this, we are in still in the grips of Covid and lockdown. Even though parts of the world are beginning to ease restrictions, here in Sicily, we are tightening even as we speak. Entering our second year of this virus, we just clamped down from yellow, to orange and then red just in March/April alone. The sliding scale of restrictions has allowed for temporary freedoms to be restored after a period of safety and low Covid numbers. But soon after “yellow” restrictions – which permits restaurant and café openings as well as movement between commune’s, the numbers spike and lockdown ensues.
We had a few weeks of “Yellow” in March though, and with it, we hit the ground running. Winter boat jobs and school-work tossed aside and replaced by travel and to experience and enjoy as much of Sicily as we could possibly manage while we were able.
Sicily, the largest island in the Med and 1 of the 20 regions of Italy, is home to an astounding 7 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. While we arrived with the goal of seeing them all, we have thus far managed only 4, though with lockdowns and restrictions of travel between commune’s we consider ourselves lucky to have managed that. Historical evidence of human habitations date back to as early as 12,000 BC but some of the better known residents of this island, and the very reason for the rich artistic and culinary history include the Phoenicians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Normans (and others). Following the Norman conquest of southern Italy, Sicily was later united as the Kingdom of Two Sicily’s with the Kingdom of Naples. In 1860 during the revolt led by Guiseppe Garibaldi during the Italian Unification, Sicily became part of Italy.
Given so much to see and such diversity, we had a hard time deciding what we would do first but since we have a Florida boy who loves snow and skiing, Mt. Etna was the dream spot for Jack.
Possibly at the top of the list for our crew was the impressive Mt. Etna which has been “brewing” and sputtering with increased frequency since the beginning of the year. Not only does this fit nicely into the 4th grade curriculum -we have been learning about earthquakes and volcanoes, we also hoped to go skiing and sledding on Mt. Etna.
With tops of over 10,000’ (3,300 meters) Mt. Etna is a stunning stratovolcano on the east side of Sicily, Italy. Though much larger than the more famous Mt. Vesuvius, Mt. Etna is 2.5 times Vesuvius’ height and the largest mountain in Italy south of the Alps. While we were fortunate to see many eruptions both day and night while we were there, the heat from the near constant activity and our late visit due to lockdown restrictions meant that there was only a tiny bit of sledding snow left and the ski resorts never did open this year.
Still, our accommodation at an agro-turismo spot felt quaint and special to us and allowed me time away from the galley. Breakfast and dinner were prepared daily and with the scents of cooking emanating from the kitchen most days, it felt like we were being cared for by a kindly Italian Nonna. Simple and delicious, Sicilian home-cooking is healthy and plentiful. Due to the rich fertile land of the volcano, wine and agriculture abounds here and the food tastes incredible. Citrus, pistachio and honey are just a few of the culinary hallmarks of the area.
Having volcanic ash raining down from above is truly a memory for a lifetime.
Second on the list is Agrigento. Founded on a plateau overlooking the Mediterranean azure water and reported to be one of the last cities founded during the Golden age of Ancient Greece and a leading city of Magna Graecia according to Wikipedia, it is reported also to be the largest and most “in tact” collection of Greek Temples outside of Greece. Walking through the remarkable Valley of the Temples, one can almost feel the many lost civilizations who once called this area home.
This is only one small paragraph but it has involved multiple trips to the Noto villages which is the 3rd UNESCO Site on our list of favorites. Though we are “living” in Marina di Ragusa, nothing could be further from the “real” Ragusa, for which the marina was named. The eight towns in the south eastern side of Sicily are as follows: Caltagirone, Militello, Cal di Catania, Catania, Modica, Noto, Palozzolo, Ragusa, and Scicli. All of these town suffered severe damage during the earthquake of 1693 and were all rebuilt. What makes these towns so fabulous is the Baroque style of architecture popular in the early 18th century, and the brilliant way in which the towns are laid out on the hillside. The cathedral in Scicli is breathtaking and the ceramic and pottery in Caltagirone is worth several visits. Modica is known for their unique flavor and style of chocolate. Each of these towns is worth it’s own visit.
Probably the most frequented area of UNESCO acclaim and the place we have visited the most since our arrival is Siracusa, in addition to spending the first 6 weeks here upon arrival in Sicily. Itself a Unesco site, the archeological significant sites in this adorable area (the island of Ortigia actually) cannot be overstated. I could spend 1500 words regaling you with the details of several visits but as I have already covered Siracusa in other posts, I’ll leave it there. But don’t go to Siracusa without going to the amazing Borderi sandwich shop and the one next to it at the market. And go hungry! The market, only open until 1:30 and closed Sundays is a must see on any trip and lunch at Borderi is the icing on the cake!
The sites we have yet to cover are: The Villa Romana del Casale, an open air museum only 42 miles from where we are in Marina di Ragusa. This is reported to have the most impressive collection of Roman Mosaics and wall paintings in existence dating back to a 4th century residence. It is not known to whom the residence belonged, but certainly a high -ranking aristocrat is presumed.
The 7 Aeolian Islands of volcanic origination on the North coast of Sicily. Hope to see these islands on our way past to Naples.
And finally, Palermo. Historically significant from the Arab and Norman times, and including 9 religious or civil significant monuments. The moment we go back to “yellow”, look for Instagram shots of this area since it is the highest priority for us at this point. We are not permitted to leave our commune except for approved reasons of which, tourism is not one. But we are ready and when we get the green light, we are there!
If you are a boat person planning a winter in this area, I can’t give it a higher recommendation. Though we certainly missed most of what is classically Sicilian with regard to food and entertainment due to Covid, we have never met a more loving, kind and life- giving group of souls. Even without the food and entertainment, we have LOVED our time here in Marina di Ragusa. As we are wrapping up the winter here, I will be putting together a list of people, businesses, or places that we recommend for visiting yachts to the area. Suffice to say, even in Covid times, this place tops our list of winter destinations. Look for a future post on good to know info for your travels to Sicily. Including a dentist, a vet, an Italian teacher and the best agents in the world!
So that is all for now! Ciao!