By ferry over the deep blue Strait of Messina, little did I know of the never yet experienced, but truly wonderful part of southern Italy I was going to discover.
The first stop on our weekend getaway was to Giardini Naxos. Situated in a bay right on the coast of the Ionian Sea, what once was just a quiet fishing village is now a popular tourist destination famous for its beaches and panoramic view of the surrounding hills and bay. We stayed seaside at the Hotel Palladio and enjoyed our first bite of Sicilian food with a lovely lunch at A Putia Enoteca right below our hotel.
After a beautiful stroll along the boardwalk, in the afternoon we took a trip to the lovely town of Taormina. Located on a hillside of Monte Tauro, Taormina is a popular town with remnants of both Greek and Roman pasts. The town offers a variety of attractions such as the ancient Greek theater built in third century BC, the medieval quarter, ruins of a medieval castle and Madonna della Rocca, and it’s location on a terrace provides absolutely stunning views of the coast and Mt. Etna. Among the lively streets lined with little shops and bars, you’ll discover why Taormina’s art treasures, natural history and perfect panoramas make it a most-worthy destination on any travelers list.
Above all, I think my favorite town we visited was Syracuse. Once described by Cicero as “the greatest Greek city and the most beautiful of them all”, this Greek Corinthian founded city and capital of the province of Syracuse mixes both ancient and modern history to create a gorgeous city of art, architecture and culture. Our program placed us right in the heart of the Old Town at the beautiful Antico Hotel Roma . Old Town is located on Ortygia island and as the oldest part of Syracuse, is comprised of a labyrinth of charming ancient and medieval streets that make it a wonder to walk around and discover. At the end of the island is the Castello Maniace and though we weren’t able to visit it because it was closed, just being able to walk down the seashore and explore quaint shops and lovely cafes made Ortygia that much more enjoyable. As we waited for our late, yet delicious seafood dinner at La Tavernatta de Piero, we rented bikes provided for free by our hotel and biked through the island’s end glowing with a magical and serene ambiance perfect to end the night.
One of my favorite antipasti was the caponata, a traditional Sicilian antipasti made up of eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes, celery, onions, capers and olives. Different places put their own twist on it, but I would order it anywhere just because I liked it that much. In terms of flavors and tastes, Sicily is known for it’s local oranges and pistachio. Whether its fresh squeezed orange juice or pistachio flavored granita, anything in those flavors will most certainly be made of the highest regional quality.
Among the endless and delicious traditional dishes that make up Sicily, Sicily is a seafood lovers paradise. Given that the whole region is an island, seafood is a staple in Sicily and rightly so. The fresh pesce e frutti di mare includes the whole , wonderful sea, with dishes like (shrimp linguine or squid ink pasta) many sardines, octopus, and famous swordfish, so indulge in the sea and eat as much, or all, as possible. Once you finish you a seafood feast, it would be almost a sin to leave Sicily without trying a famous cannoli. A hint for finding “real” cannoli; make sure the crème has not yet been filled inside the cone to be sure of the freshest quality and heavenly taste!
Our last stop landed us once again on the beach in Marina di Ragusa. Set on a beautiful beach lining the Mediterranean coast, my favorite part was being able to take long walks up and down the Lungomare Andrea Doria e Bisani to enjoy the sea breeze, salt water and coastline views. During our first day, our class took a day trip to Ragusa. Ragusa lies on a limestone hill between the Cava San Domenica and Cava Santa Leonardo valleys. Due to the huge earthquake that destroyed the town in 1693, the city was largely rebuilt with many baroque buildings dating to this era. Once there, you can visit the magnificent baroque beauty of the Duomo di San Giorgio , walk through the breathtaking Giardini Iblei and get lost exploring the winding roads for outstanding views of Ragusa Ibla.
Just about an hour east of Ragusa is the town of Noto, a city filled with inspiring baroque architecture and holds one of Sicily’s most stunning historic centers. Our short time in Noto allowed us to go inside the Basilica San Salvatore, Palazzo Ducezio, Teatro Comunal Vittorio Emanuele and even see the masterpiece of flowers for Infiorata. Our stay at the Hotel Miramare proved delightful not only in its locations but also for the hotel’s restaurant for providing a gourmet meal for me, (applause for the octopus and gluten-free veggie pizza), and all the other twenty-one students and professors.